Immanuel CAN'T: Another Bogus Biblical Prophecy
When it comes to defending the Bible, nothing is more appealing to believers than prophecies, and one of the most widely quoted is Isaiah chapter 7, verse 14:
"...Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
In Matthew, chapter 1, Isaiah's prophecy appears fulfilled:
"Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph...took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus."
But does this truly complete Isaiah's prediction? The initial validity of a prophecy (before it is 'fulfilled') depends upon three factors: specificity, uniqueness and factuality. For example, a prophecy that something bad will happen next month is so unspecific that it could be 'fulfilled' by practically anything.
Likewise, a prophecy that tomorrow the sun will shine -- something that has occurred countless times before -- isn't unique, and doesn't require any great foresight. Even if it does turn out to be a clear day, it's hardly prophetic.
Lastly, if someone points to Pippin's vision of the White Tree as a valid prophecy of Sauron's attack on Gondor, one need remind them that the Lord Of The Rings is a work of fiction, crafted by the author to continue his established narrative. It's consistent, but not factual.
Isaiah's Immanuel prophecy is certainly unique. After all, a virgin birth is hardly an everyday occurance (though some propose that the word "virgin" has been mistranslated). It's also specific in its mention of the name Immanuel, though it's not the actual given name of the New Testament child who supposedly fulfills the prophecy. In fact, Jesus is never mentioned by name here, nor does his name appear ANYWHERE in the entire Old Testament!*
*(I've explored this more fully in my hub, The Missing Messiah)
Once a prophecy is 'fulfilled,' its culmination must survive the same scrutiny as the original prediction. For those of us who consider both the Old and New Testaments works of fiction, it's easy to see both the original prophecy and its supposed culmination in Matthew as analogous to Tolkien's tale. It's simply an author maintaining a story line -- even more plausible, given that the New Testament was written years or even decades after the events it supposedly describes, leaving its authors greater freedom to employ artistic license.
Still, this initial analysis hinges entirely on whether one considers the Bible fact or fiction. At this point, if you accept the Bible as true, the prophecy still passes the factual test. However, a 'fulfilled' prophecy must pass one additional test of validity: continuity. In other words, does the culiminating event accurately fulfill what the prophecy originally predicted? This is where the Immanuel/Jesus prophecy ultimately fails, undermined by the Bible itself.
First, some historical context is necessary. According to the Old Testament, after the death of Solomon the larger kingdom of Israel split into the smaller kingdoms of Israel (in the north) and Judah (in the south). At the time of Isaiah's prophecy, Pekah ruled Israel and Ahaz ruled Judah (Ahaz is the king to which the prophecy is told).
The unraveling of the Immanuel/Jesus prophecy begins when we examine verse 14 in its entirety -- adding its beginning, which is often overlooked, forgotten or omitted altogether:
"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
The inclusion of the first half immediately changes the intention of Isaiah's prophecy. Immanuel's birth is no longer significant in its own right. Rather, it is a SIGN OF SOMETHING ELSE more significant yet to come.
In the preceding verses, God explains to Ahaz that Rezin (the king of Syria) and "the son of Remaliah" (Pekah, the king of Israel) have allied and plan to attack Judah. He declares:
"Thus saith the Lord God, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass... Moreover the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God..."
Which returns us to verse 14. God has instructed Ahaz to request a sign that Israel and Syria won't succeed in their attack, then proceeds to offer that sign -- the birth of the child Immanuel. There is no reference to a 'savior' or to mankind's redemption, and no mention of the name Jesus.
In the next chapter of Isaiah, he prophesies the birth of yet another child (Mahershalalhashbaz) as a sign of another event: the takeover of Judah by Assyria (after the conquest of Israel and Syria):
"And he [the king of Assyria] shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel."
Not only is Isaiah's first 'birth' prophecy obviously not about Jesus, he makes a second, very similar prophecy regarding another impending military action, which reinforces (through repetition) the true intention of the first.
Even more damaging is the original prophecy's chronological place in history. The Bible identifies Ahaz (who received the prophecy) as a contemporary of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III, who ruled from 745-727 BCE. As a 'sign', the birth of Immanuel is obviously supposed to occur prior to Tiglath's conquests, dating it to more than SEVEN CENTURIES before Jesus' time! Thus, the birth of Immanuel and the birth of Jesus are obviously two separate events, separated by hundreds of years.
The Matthew verse clearly suggests that it fulfills the Isaiah prophecy. As we can see, it absolutely DOES NOT, making this portion of the Bible either a careless mistake or an intentional lie. How many more will it take until we conclude the same about the entire Bible?