One of my rabbis hobbies is discussing theology with people of other religions, sometimes Christians, sometimes atheists, sometimes just random people. The single group of people most likely to engage others are Christians of the evangelical persuasion. In particular from this group are people who call themselves “Messianic Jews.” Messianic Jews practice a form of Christianity that utilizes a number of Jewish trappings in order to make it more palatable to Jews so it makes it easier to convert them. This could include incorporating Hebrew into the service, using shofars, and basically anything that the pastor deems appropriate. The two largest Messianic Jewish groups are Jews4Jesus and Chosen People’s Ministries.
The person that has been nice enough to dialogue with me over the past few weeks and has given me permission to publish our conversations is Steven B. Kaplan of Jewish Outreach International www.savethejews.org. It is of course common courtesy to mention the web site.
There’s so much to talk about and he has already brought up a number of issues. I am writing up summaries of the conversations on each point so that it is more clear than a running conversation. I have also invited Mr. Kaplan to proofread my work and comment when he feels something needs amending.
Introduction to Isaiah 7-9
Yeshayahu (Isaiah) here is giving a prophecy to the wicked king of Yehuda (Judah) by the name of Ahaz. He’s so bad that he really deserves to be destroyed. He is faced with a war with Aram (the seat of the Assyrian Empire) and Ephraim, one of the tribes that was part of the kingdom of Yisrael (Israel), long after the kingdom of Yisrael had split in two. Isaiah promises Ahaz that he will get a sign from G-d that he will win the war, but will take a pounding first. Despite Ahaz’s protest, Isaiah tells him a son will be born who will be very special, eating honey and curds from infancy. His name will be Immanuel (with G-d). This son will bring about a new glory to the kingdom of Judah and to G-d.
The classical understanding is that the prophecy is for that time period and the prophecy is specifically to comfort Ahaz that his kingdom won’t be destroyed.
Christians interpret the whole thing radically differently. They say based on the books of Matthew and Luke that it is talking about Jesus and that this is a messianic prophecy (a prophecy that specifically describes the qualities of the Messiah. They believe that:
- This prophecy is meant for the end of days.
- This describes Jesus.
- It foretells Jesus being born from a virgin.
- When the verse 9:6 says “…he will call him Wonderful Counselor, Mighty G-d, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, it means G-d is calling Jesus these things.
I was bothered by this and asked a few questions.
- Would it count if she was a virgin before the first intercourse only? You know that the scientific wisdom for a long time was that virgins couldn’t conceive the first time so maybe that would have been considered something already. What about artificial insemination?
- Why does getting a name that refers to the person having the name of G-d make them G-d?
- How do you know that it is G-d calling the son all of these things?
These questions address three issues we have with saying that this refers to Jesus:
- We don’t really care if the mother of the mother of the Messiah was a virgin. We care if Jews are sleeping around, but there’s no reason the Messiah can’t be from a second marriage. Almost all of the famous couples that are the Messiah’s fore-bearers mentioned in Tanakh (the Bible) were on a second relationship or had children before (Avraham and Sarah-Isaac was born after many years of not conceiving; Yaacov and Leah- Yehuda was son #4; Yehuda and Tamar-Tamar was previously Yehuda’s daughter-in law; Ruth and Boaz-Ruth had two previous husbands; David and Bathsheva-a questionable adulterous relationship). You get the point. We believe virgin birth is a non-Jewish concept (ex. Athena, Horus) is distinctly not Jewish.
- Many Jewish names contain the name G-d (ex. Eliyahu-G-d is my god, Yisrael-Struggle with G-d) and Yaakov even calls an altar G-d. It doesn’t mean these people or things are G-d just that they are infused with G-dliness.
- There are four way to read the verse 9:6 (it’s the second half being discussed)-he will call him…. 1. man calling a man these things 2. G-d calling a man 3. a man calling G-d 4. G-d calling G-d. Jews read it as readings two or three-either G-d is calling the son (whom tradition tells us is Hizkiyahu-Hezekiah) these things or the son, called Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace) is calling G-d Wonderful Counselor, Mighty G-d, and Everlasting Father. Christians read it as G-d calling G-d, that G-d (whom they call the Father) is calling Jesus (the Son) all of these things.
I await his reply to these questions, and clarifications as well.
I hope that’s not too confusing.