Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Gospel of Matthew and Tanakhic Prophecies of the Messiah

The Gospel of Matthew and the Tanakh: An Analysis of Alleged Prophecies About Jesus

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“It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”

-          Mark Twain

One of the most common arguments made by Christians in favor of the New Testament account of Jesus is the presence of several alleged prophecies in the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) that allegedly corresponded to Jesus’ life and teachings as told in the Gospels.[1]  One of the best sources for this claim is the Gospel of Matthew.  Of the four canonical Gospels, it is undoubtedly this gospel which relies on the Tanakh more than the others in an effort to prove the Christian point of view regarding Jesus.[2]  But are these passages from the Tanakh truly amazing prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus in the New Testament?  In this article, we will attempt to answer this question.  Through a thorough empirical investigation, we will determine whether the Christian argument is worthy of acceptance or whether it should be rejected.  It is hoped that the evidence presented will support the latter view. 

The Alleged Prophecies[3]

            Given its reliance on the Tanakh to prove the Christian view regarding Jesus, it is no surprise that the Gospel of Matthew wastes very little time before attempting to build the alleged connection between the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament”.  The first alleged prophecy is mentioned in Chapter 1:

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).”[4]

It is claimed that the virgin birth of Jesus was a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, which states:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

On the surface, this appears to be an impressive prophecy which is amazingly fulfilled in the virgin birth of Jesus.  However, there are a few problems with this line of reasoning.  First, the Hebrew word which has been translated by Christians as “virgin” is “almah”.   However, this word is actually best translated as “young woman”.  Even the New International Version admits as such in a footnote to Isaiah 7:14![5]  Furthermore, as C. Dennis McKinsey astutely points out (emphasis in the original):

“The actual Hebrew word for virgin is betulah.  Gen. 24:43 in the RSV and Ex. 2:8 in the KJV show almah as meaning ‘a young woman’ or ‘maid’, respectively, not ‘virgin’.  Who knows Hebrew better than the Hebrews, and they say in their modern Masoretic text that almah should be translated as ‘maiden,’ not ‘virgin,’ in both Gen. 24:43 and Ex. 2:8.”[6]

Since the word used in the Hebrew text actually does not mean “virgin”, then the logical conclusion is that Isaiah 7:14 is certainly not a prophecy about the virgin birth of Jesus.  If Isaiah was actually prophesying the virgin birth of Jesus, then he would have used the Hebrew word “betulah”, but since that is not the case, it is sufficient proof that the verse was not meant to be a prophecy about the virgin birth.  

            Moreover, according to the prophecy, the child was to be named “Immanuel”, yet nowhere in the New Testament is Jesus ever called by that name![7]  Some Christians have claimed that “Immanuel” was a description and not a name and was thus applied to Jesus, whom they regard as God-incarnate.[8]  Yet this argument is very easily refuted.  Isaiah 7:14 shows clearly that “Immanuel” is a name and not a description.  The verse clearly states that the child will be named “Immanuel”.  The original Hebrew word used is “se-mow”, which means “his name”.[9]  The same word is used consistently throughout the Bible (in at least 145 places) in reference to a person’s name.[10]  For example, Genesis 4:25 states:

“Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him [se-mow] Seth, saying, ‘God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.’”

Will the Christians who argue that “Immanuel” was simply a description and not a name also argue the same for “Seth”?  It seems unlikely.  

Furthermore, in the very next chapter of the Book of Isaiah, “Immanuel” is mentioned again but this time, he is actually directly addressed by God (which proves that he is not “God with us”):

“The LORD spoke to me again: ‘Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah and rejoices over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates—the king of Assyria with all his pomp.  It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck.  Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land, Immanuel!’”[11]

This illustrates three important points:
  1. Since God refers to Immanuel by name, then the latter could not be divine (as the author of the Gospel of Matthew claims).
  2. If it was just a description, God would not have referred to the child by name as “Immanuel”. 
  3. Since Isaiah 8 mentions such people as the king of Assyria in the time of Immanuel, then Immanuel could obviously not be Jesus since the Assyrian empire had become extinct long before Jesus was even born.[12]
Hence, there is undeniable evidence that Isaiah 7:14 was not a prophecy about the Messiah.  It could not be referring to Jesus.

            The second alleged prophecy, according to the Gospel of Matthew, concerns the birth of a promised ruler in Bethlehem, which the author equates with Jesus:

“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.  ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’’”[13]

The alleged prophecy is found in Micah 5:2-4:

“‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.’ Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.  He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.  And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.”

Once again, this appears to be an amazing prophecy fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.  Unfortunately, the truth is far less impressive.  When read in its full context, the passage in Micah 5, though Messianic, cannot possibly be referring to Jesus.  This is because, like Isaiah 7:14, the prophesied leader mentioned would contend against the Assyrian empire:

“And he will be our peace when the Assyrians invade our land and march through our fortresses.  We will raise against them seven shepherds, even eight commanders, who will rule the land of Assyria with the sword, the land of Nimrod with drawn sword.  He will deliver us from the Assyrians when they invade our land and march across our borders.”[14]

As we previously noted, the Assyrian empire was destroyed centuries before Jesus was even born.  How then could he lead the Israelites against the powerful Assyrians?[15]  Clearly, this prophecy could not apply to Jesus.  Furthermore, the passage does not mention that the promised leader would come from the town of Bethlehem but from the clan of Bethlehem Ephrathah.[16]  In other words, the author of the Gospel of Matthew failed to realize that the reference was not to the town of Bethlehem but to a clan of the same name. 

            The third alleged prophecy concerns the flight of Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus to Egypt in order to escape the murderous plans of Herod.[17]  According to the author of the gospel, their return from Egypt after Herod’s death was apparently prophesied centuries before:

“So he [Joseph] got up, took the child [Jesus] and his mother [Mary] during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”[18]

The reference to Egypt and God’s “son” is found in Hosea 11, but when read in context, it is clear that not only did it not have anything to do with the Messiah, but that it was not even a prophecy:

“‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.  But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.  They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.’”[19]

As the verses indicate, the “son” is not the Messiah and the call “out of Egypt” is not referring to his return from Egypt to his place of birth.  As Louay Fatoohi explains:

“The term ‘Israel’ denotes the ‘children of Israel,’ and the specific event that the passage is talking about is the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, which happened 12 centuries before the birth of Jesus.”[20]

Furthermore, the “son” was judged for worshiping false gods such as Baal, despite being “called” repeatedly by the merciful Lord.  If Hosea 11 was indeed referring to the Messiah, does that mean that he worshiped idols?  Certainly, Christians would vehemently deny that Jesus was an idol worshiper, and for good reason.  Why then do they claim that Hosea 11 was a prophecy about him?  It is obvious that there is no rational way to defend the Christian argument. 

            The fourth prophecy mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew concerns Herod’s massacre of male infants in order to protect his throne from the Messiah.  As previously mentioned, it was Herod’s attempts to find Jesus and to kill him which caused Joseph to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt.  According to the gospel:

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’”[21]

The passage in question is found in Jeremiah 31:15.  However, the context has again been ignored.  The very next few verses show that Jeremiah 31:15 is not a prophecy about the murder of Jewish children by a tyrannical king, but rather about the lamentations regarding the Jews’ exile to Babylon:

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,’ declares the Lord.  ‘They will return from the land of the enemy.  So there is hope for your descendants,’ declares the Lord.  ‘Your children will return to their own land.’”[22]

There is absolutely no doubt about the context of the “weeping and great mourning” mentioned in verse 15.  It has nothing to do with Herod’s alleged massacre of all male infants in the area of Bethlehem, for if that was the case, then logically, we would expect that the murdered children would have been resurrected from the dead.  After all, the prophecy states that the children would “return to their own land”.  Since they had allegedly been murdered, the only possible interpretation is that they would have been resurrected.  Of course, such an event never happened (since not even the Gospel of Matthew mentions it), let alone the massacre itself.  The only logical interpretation is that the phrases “they will return from the land of the enemy” and “your children will return to their own land” refer to the end of the exile in Babylon.

            The fifth prophecy referred to in the Gospel of Matthew concerns Jesus’ return to the Holy Land from Egypt and his settling with Joseph and Mary in Nazareth:

“Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.”[23]

Unlike the previous examples of alleged prophecies which turned out to be only misquoted passages taken out of context from the Tanakh, this alleged prophecy about Nazareth surprisingly does not fall into that category.  Unfortunately, this does not mean that it is a true prophecy fulfilled in Jesus.  The problem lies in the fact that such a prophecy is nowhere to be found in any of the books of the Hebrew Bible.  The phrase “what was said through the prophets” would certainly apply to the Bible, since a whole section of Biblical books are known to Jews as “Nevi’im” (Prophets), starting with the Book of Joshua and ending with the Book of Malachi.[24]  In fact, in none of the 21 books of the Prophets, the 5 books of the Torah and the 13 books of the K’tuvim (Scriptures) is such a prophecy found.  If such a prophecy did exist at one time, perhaps passed by word of mouth, then it has been lost to history.  Hence, it is an unprovable prophecy.

            The sixth prophecy which allegedly was fulfilled by Jesus concerns his settlement in Capernaum as an adult:[25]

“Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”[26]

In this case, not only is the Biblical passage in question not a prophecy about the Messiah’s settlement in Capernaum, but what it actually says is nothing like what the Gospel of Matthew claims:

“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”[27]

The differences between the two renditions are plainly obvious.  Yet even the New International Version’s rendition of Isaiah 9:1-2 is not entirely accurate.  In the Hebrew Bible, the verses in question are even more dissimilar from the Gospel of Matthew:

“For there is no weariness to the one who oppresses her; like the first time, he dealt mildly, [exiling only] the land of Zebulun and the land of Naftali, and the last one he dealt harshly, the way of the sea, and the other side of the Jordan, the attraction of the nations.  The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light; those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, light shone upon them.”[28]

As can be seen, what the verses actually say is nothing like what the Gospel of Matthew claims.  They concern, once again, the ravages of the Assyrian empire on Israel, as Rashi explains in his commentary on Isaiah 8:23:

“For the king of Assyria, who was given the mission to oppress and to besiege her and their land [(var.) your land], is neither weary nor slothful to come upon them as many as three times: one in the days of Pekah, when he took Ijon, Abel-beth- maacah,… and Kedesh,… and Galilee, the entire land of Naphtali (II Kings 15:29). And that exile took place in the fourth year of Ahaz, and in the twelfth year, ‘the Lord incited Pul, the king of Assyria… and exiled the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh.’”[29]

The evidence for this context can be clearly seen from God’s earlier warning of an imminent Assyrian invasion:

“…therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates—the king of Assyria with all his pomp.”[30]

As for the part of the passage referring to the people seeing “a great light”, this denotes the eventual defeat and fall of the Assyrian king Sennacherib.[31]  This event is described later in the Book of Isaiah, when Sennacherib was poised to attack Jerusalem but ultimately was forced to withdraw:

“Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.”[32]

In the light of these facts, the Gospel of Matthew’s contention that Jesus’ visit to Capernaum was prophesied by Isaiah cannot be sustained.  The relevant verses in Isaiah make no mention of the Messiah but rather of the events surrounding the struggle between Israel and the Assyrian empire.

The seventh prophecy concerns Jesus’ various miraculous deeds, such as driving out demons and healing the sick:

“When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.  This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.’”[33]

The alleged prophecy is found in Isaiah 53:4, and is part of a larger passage regarding the “suffering servant”.[34]  From the context of the verses, it is clear that the servant is not the Messiah but rather the nation of Israel, as Rashi explained in his commentary to Isaiah 53:4:

“So is the custom of this prophet: he mentions all Israel as one man, e.g., (44:2), ‘Fear not, My servant Jacob’; (44:1) ‘And now, hearken, Jacob, My servant.’ Here too (52:13), ‘Behold My servant shall prosper,’ he said concerning the house of Jacob.’”[35]

Furthermore, since when did Jesus take upon himself the “infirmities” and “diseases” of those he healed?  When he drove out the demons, did the demons then possess Jesus?  When he healed the leprous and the sick, did he become leprous or sick himself?  Clearly, the answer is no. 

The eight prophecy concerns the refusal of most of the Jews to accept Jesus’ ministry and how this stubbornness had been prophesied by Isaiah:

“In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.  For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’”[36]

The corresponding passage is found in Isaiah 6, and when read in context, it should be clear once again that there is no prophecy involving the Messiah:

“He [God] said, “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’”[37]

Upon comparison of the Gospel quote and the actual verses, some major differences can be seen.  The Gospel of Matthew puts the verses in the future tense (hence trying to make it appear like a prophecy) whereas the actual verses are in the present tense.  It is also clear that God is referring to the people’s stubbornness regarding Himself, and not the Messiah.[38]

 In addition, the Gospel of Matthew ignored the next few verses which explain that the people’s hearts will not remain “calloused” forever and that they would eventually understand and repent for their sins:

“Then I said, ‘For how long, Lord?’  And he answered: ‘Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.  And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste.  But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.’”[39]

As we can see, the actual prophecy states that the people would eventually come to understand and repent, but only after a catastrophe would befall them.  Obviously, this prophecy did not come true in Jesus’ time or even after it.  According to Rashi, the prophecy was concerning the exile that was to come upon the Jews for their sins.[40]  If this referred to the Jews’ rejection of Jesus, and their subsequent destruction at the hands of the Romans, then it was a false prophecy since the Jews still did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah even after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE.  Even now in modern times, almost 2,000 years later, the Jews are still ardent opponents of Jesus’ status as the Messiah!

The ninth prophecy concerns Jesus’ use of parables in his ministry, an aspect of the Messiah that was allegedly prophesied in the Book of Psalms:

“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.  So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’”[41]

The specific verse in question is found in the 78th Psalm, but when read in context, the claim that it was a prophecy about the Messiah speaking in parables can be easily refuted:

“My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.  I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.  We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.”[42]

Once again, when we compare the Gospel of Matthew’s rendition to the actual verses, obvious differences can be seen.  While the Gospel of Matthew claims that the prophecy spoke of the Messiah speaking in many parables, the speaker in the psalm only states that he will open his “teaching” with a parable.  In other words, the Gospel of Matthew makes the speaker’s single parable into multiple parables.  Also, while the Gospel of Matthew claims that the Messiah would speak of “things hidden since the creation of the world”, the psalm speaks of “hidden things…[which] we have heard and known…”  In other words, if the psalm was referring to the alleged “parables” that Jesus used, then the logical conclusion is that the people that Jesus preached to would have already known and understood them.  If that is the case, then it contradicts the previous alleged prophecy which spoke of the people’s inability to understand Jesus’ parables! 

       Furthermore, it is clear from the context of the verses that the speaker in not the Messiah.  In fact, in the original Hebrew, the psalm begins with the phrase: “[a] maskil of Asaph”.[43]  A “maskil” is defined as a “didactic poem”.[44]  Psalm 78 is one of 12 psalms whose authorship is ascribed to Asaph, who was a contemporary of David and is referred to as a “seer” in the Bible.[45]  Hence, the speaker of the psalm is Asaph who is teaching his listeners.  There is no allusion to the Messiah at all.
          
          The tenth prophecy relates to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey:

“This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’’”[46]

This specific prophecy is found in the Book of Zechariah:

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!  Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!  See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”[47]

Unlike most of the other alleged prophecies which the Gospel of Matthew appealed to, Zechariah 9:9 was indeed a prophecy, and it was Messianic.  According to Rashi:

“It is impossible to interpret this except as referring to the King Messiah, as it is stated: “and his rule shall be from sea to sea.” We do not find that Israel had such a ruler during the days of the Second Temple.”[48]

However, there are still problems with the Gospel of Matthew’s appeal to it.  First, the prophecy speaks of the Messiah being “righteous and victorious”, which according to Rashi, means that he would be “saved by the Lord”.[49]  If this prophecy was speaking about Jesus, then we must come to one of two possible conclusions:
  1. Zechariah 9:9 was a false prophecy since the New Testament insists that Jesus was not “saved by the Lord” but was instead crucified by his enemies in order to serve as a blood sacrifice for the sins of mankind. 
  2. Jesus was not crucified by his enemies and was indeed saved.  This scenario would be in line with the Islamic point of view.[50]
Second, the prophecy does not state that the Messiah would ride on a donkey and a colt, which would be physically impossible.  As Fatoohi explains, this error in the Gospel of Matthew was probably due to the author’s use of a defective Greek translation of the original Hebrew:

“The Hebrew text of this Old Testament prophecy talks about one animal which is described twice, but its Greek translation uses ‘and,’ mentioning two animals instead.  Matthew relied on the Greek translation of the Old Testament so he made Jesus ride on two animals.  He had to change the earlier part of the story to make Jesus order his disciples to bring a donkey and a colt.  The fact that Jesus could not have ridden on two animals at the same time did not bother Matthew!”[51]

Hence, while it could be a reasonable assumption that the prophecy could apply to Jesus, the Gospel of Matthew does not properly quote it, thereby having Jesus perform the rather difficult task of riding on two animals at the same time.[52]  However, if we assume that the prophecy does refer to Jesus, then it either failed to come true (since the Gospels claim that Jesus was killed by his enemies) or it contradicts the standard Christian claim of Jesus’ crucifixion since it actually states that the Messiah would be saved by God and be victorious.[53]

            The eleventh prophecy concerns the alleged appeal by Jesus to a psalm in order to defend himself against the Pharisees:

“While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, ‘What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?’  ‘The son of David,’ they replied.  He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’’  If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?’  No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.”[54]

For those who are familiar with the Gospels’ presentation of Jesus as the Messiah, an obvious contradiction should be readily visible in the above passage.  Here, Jesus allegedly questions the claim of the Pharisees that the Messiah would be called the “son of David” by claiming that David himself considered the Messiah to be superior.  If that is the case, then why do the Gospels, including the Gospel of Matthew, consistently refer to Jesus (the Messiah) as the “son of David”?  In fact, the author of the Gospel of Matthew even begins his work with this epithet (!):

“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…”[55]

Moreover, Rashi’s commentary explains that the psalm was referring not to the Messiah, but to Abraham, which would make sense if David was referring to him as his superior:

“Our Rabbis interpreted it as referring to Abraham our father, and I shall explain it according to their words (Mid. Ps. 110:1): The word of the Lord to Abraham, whom the world called ‘my master,’ as it is written (Gen. 23: 6): ‘Hearken to us, my master.’”[56]

This would also explain why the Gospel of Matthew refers to David as the “son of Abraham”!

            The twelfth prophecy concerns Jesus’ prediction that when he would be arrested, his disciples would forsake him:

“Then Jesus told them, ‘This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’’”[57]

This prophecy is found in Zechariah 13:

“‘Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!’ declares the Lord Almighty.  ‘Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones.’”[58]

While this verse is Messianic in nature, the unnamed “shepherd” is not the Messiah.  This is proven by the fact that it is the next few verses which speak of the Messianic events, and it is in these events which the Messiah obviously could not be involved if he had already been “struck”:

“‘In the whole land,’ declares the Lord, ‘two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it.  This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.  They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’’”[59]

The reference to the “one-third” being “put into the fire”, according to Rashi, is describing the events of the Messiah’s war against Gog and Magog:

“And I will bring the third in straits in the smelting-pot of fire (Jonathan), so that some of the proselytes should bear the birth pang of the Messiah and the war of Gog and Magog with Israel. From there they shall be tested [as to] whether [or not] they are true proselytes.”[60]

Further proof that the Gospel of Matthew’s interpretation is not correct is that the actual prophecy describes immense bloodshed, in which two-thirds of the people will be killed and the rest will survive to be tested in their faith.  The logical question to ask (if this prophecy indeed applied to Jesus) is when did these events occur after Jesus was allegedly killed?  After the crucifixion, was there any incident in which two-thirds of the Jewish population was killed while the remaining one-third had faith and was tested and did they have faith in Jesus as the Messiah?  The answer is no.[61]

            Moreover, according to the Gospel’s interpretation, the “flock” was not the people of Israel, but the disciples of Jesus!  We have to ask when two-thirds of the disciples were killed while the remaining one-third survived and were tested in their faith.  Clearly, this never happened. 

            The thirteenth and final prophecy involves Judas’ betrayal of Jesus:

“The chief priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.’  So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners.  That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.  Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: ‘They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.’”[62]

We briefly dealt with this alleged prophecy in the article concerning the crucifixion of Jesus.[63]  As stated in the article, not only is the alleged passage a mixture of verses from both Jeremiah and Zechariah, it is not a prophecy at all.  Furthermore, it is also true that even in the Gospel’s rendition, the verse clearly states that Jeremiah was commanded by God to buy the field.  Hence, if the verse was actually some sort of cryptic prophecy, then it would mean that the priests were commanded by God to buy the “field of blood”!  Such a claim would of course be absurd.  

            Finally, it is also worthwhile to point out that the field that Jeremiah purchased was in Anathoth,[64] which is a town situated between Michmash and Jerusalem.[65]  However, the “field of blood” was supposed to be in Jerusalem![66]  Clearly, they could not be the same field and the Gospel of Matthew’s appeal is obviously erroneous.       

Conclusion

          In this article, we have analyzed the thirteen alleged prophecies which the Gospel of Matthew asserted were fulfilled by Jesus.  A comprehensive examination of these assertions has provided indisputable and sufficient evidence to nullify them.  Therefore, we must conclude that the author of the Gospel of Matthew erred in appealing to the Tanakh in a vain effort to prove his presentation of Jesus as the Messiah and the “son of God”.  As to whether the author deliberately twisted the Tanakh for his own theological agenda or was simply ill-informed, Allah knows best!



[1]  Christians proudly list numerous such prophecies in apologetic debates as proof that the Christian view is true.

[2] Louay Fatoohi, The Mystery of the Messiah: The Messiahship of Jesus in the Qur’an, New Testament, Old Testament, and Other Sources (Birmingham: Luna Plena Publishing, 2009), p. 79.

[3] For a complete list of these “prophecies”, see the following: http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Matthew-OTQuotations.htm

[4] Matthew 1:22-23 (New International Version).

[6] C. Dennis McKinsey, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995), p. 120.

[7] On a related note, the Gospel of Matthew also mistranslates the meaning of the name “Immanuel”.  Matthew 1:23 claims that the name means “God with us”, yet the actual meaning is “God is with us”.  The removal of the word “is” is clearly a theological attempt to make Jesus appear divine (even though Jesus was never called “Immanuel” anyway).  See Rashi’s commentary on Isaiah 7:14: http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15938#showrashi=true

[8] In a personal email correspondence between myself and a Christian, the latter made the following argument: “Immanuel is a description. Matthew verified it applied to Jesus.”

[11] Isaiah 8:5-8.

[12] According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, the Assyrian state was destroyed in the 7th-century BC by a Chaldean-Median alliance (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/39555/Assyria).

[13] Matthew 2:3-6.

[14] Micah 5:5-6.

[15] It should be pointed out that the prophecy in Micah 5 did not actually come true anyway as the Assyrian empire was not destroyed by an Israelite king, but by the Chaldeans and Medians, as stated previously.

[17] There is no historical evidence for the so-called “Massacre of the Innocents”.  No source from the period, whether Christian, Jewish or Roman, mentions Herod’s massacre of male infants.  Josephus, who carefully documented Herod’s many other crimes, also failed to mention the massacre (see McKinsey, op. cit., p. 339).

[18] Matthew 2:14-15.

[19] Hosea 11:1-2.

[20] Fatoohi, op. cit., p. 83.

[21] Matthew 2:16-18.

[22] Jeremiah 31:16-17.

[23] Matthew 2:22-23.

[25] For the purposes of this article, we have ignored Matthew 3:3 and its appeal to the Tanakh regarding John the Baptist.  In this article, we are concerned with the alleged prophecies regarding the Messiah only.

[26] Matthew 4:13-16.

[27] Isaiah 9:1-2.

[28] Isaiah 8:23, 9:1.

[30] Isaiah 8:7.

[32] Isaiah 37:36-38.

[33] Matthew 8:16-17.

[34] Matthew 12:17-21 also appeals to the “suffering servant” verses in Isaiah 42:1-4. 

[36] Matthew 13:14-15.

[37] Isaiah 6:9-10.

[39] Isaiah 6:11-13.

[41] Matthew 13:34-35.

[42] Psalm 78:1-4.

[45] 2 Chronicles 29:30.

[46] Matthew 21:4-5.

[47] Zechariah 9:9.

[49] Ibid.

[50] See our article “The Crucifixion in the Bible and the Quran: A Critical Examination” for more on the Islamic view on the crucifixion.

[51] Fatoohi, op. cit., pp. 84-85.  Fatoohi also notes that the other gospels did not make this error, though he is incorrect in stating that the reason for this was because they were not influenced by the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, since the Gospel of John does refer to the prophecy.  Only the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke do not mention the prophecy.

[52] This difficulty would be compounded by the fact that the colt would be much smaller than its mother.  Riding two animals of the same size would at least be an easier task, though still difficult.

[53] Christians may argue that this part of the prophecy will be fulfilled in Jesus’ second coming, yet this argument fails for the simple reason that nowhere in the Tanakh is the second coming prophesied or even vaguely suggested.

[54] Matthew 22:41-46.

[55] Matthew 1:1.

[57] Matthew 26:31.

[58] Zechariah 13:7.

[59] Zechariah 13:8-9.

[61] Some may point to the catastrophes that befell the Jews in their rebellions against the Romans.  While great numbers of Jews were killed during these rebellions, there is no definitive evidence that one-third of them survived due to their faith despite facing great trials.  Josephus states that around 1.1 million Jews were killed and 97,000 were taken as captives in the first revolt against Rome (Wars of the Jews, 6:9).  In addition, the estimate of the total population of Jews who had lived in the Roman Empire has ranged from as low as 1 million to as high as 8 million and that between one-quarter to one-third of the population lived in Israel (Darrell L. Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), p. 109).  Giving Josephus the benefit of the doubt, then the total population in Israel would obviously have been higher than 1 million.  In any case, there is no proof that one-third of the Jewish population survived while the rest were killed.

[62] Matthew 27:6-10.

[63] See the section titled “Judas’ Betrayal and Death”: http://quranandbible.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-crucifixion-of-jesus-in-bible-and.html

[64] Jeremiah 32:7.

2 comments:

  1. jesus christ came to this world ,,,,rome fell.islam began its golden age from 700 AD to 1700 ad more than a millineum ..Now the age of christ all the jewish has been fulfilled their diaspora their land gone their language lost their lands turned to deserts by god..And then suddenly they able to straggled back to their homeland greatly opposed by the muslims israel god made their land bloom their ,their protector usa strong their language came from doorstep of death,they fought off all the islamic powers and made them intelligent and win many nobel prizes but you are still in the AD 30 .Should not you so smart think can outsmart god ..use your mental faculty to get some meaning ful work done polemics is just polemic

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    1. What a hilarious rant! You can barely write one coherent sentence and you come up with asinine comments which do not disprove the false doctrines in your so-called "Gospels of Matthew". Yet you speak of "mental faculty"? Just because you are too dumb to see the see truth does not mean the rest of us are.

      Now, do you have any intelligent/constructive comments to make about the article or are you just going to rant like most brain-washed Zionist fanatics?



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