Question: The enclosed copy of Mart De Haan's "Been Thinking About It" column in Our Daily Bread, June 07 issue, raises serious questions in my mind. He seems to be saying that Matthew was mistaken in his writings concerning fulfillment of certain prophecies. As if the Holy Spirit would cause Matthew to write in error! I would be interested in your opinion.
Response: The article is good, once we get past the title ("Missing Prophecies") and introductory first page. Though he does not deny all biblical prophecy, Mart alleges that most "prophecies" that Christians for centuries have cited as proof of the Bible and of Christ as the Messiah aren't really prophecies at all, thus sowing doubt in readers' minds. He is saying that millions of Christians, who for centuries have believed these prophecies, have been mistaken. That claim puts him in a class by himself!
His opening lines troubled you: "I grew up hearing that one of the strongest reasons for believing in Jesus is that He fulfilled hundreds of predictions in the Jewish Scriptures. Years later I found myself wondering where most of those prophecies were. More often than not, when I checked the sources for myself I found obscure or mysterious statements, written in the past tense, and referring historically to someone other than a future Messiah" [italics added].
Of course, much prophecy doesn't directly claim to be prophecy. For example, the Passover is a historical event that happened to Israel, but it is also prophetic, portraying Christ as the Lamb of God who would die for the sins of the world. Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac is history (Gen:22:1-14) and is not presented as prophecy--yet it clearly foretells the Father offering His Son on the same Mt. Moriah some 2,000 years later. Abraham's servant finding a bride for Isaac (Gen 24) is a beautiful portrayal of the Holy Spirit seeking a bride for Christ; the story of the brazen serpent raised up on a pole in the wilderness (Num:21:5-9) to heal those who would look upon it in faith who had been bitten by the poisonous snakes clearly foretold Christ lifted up on the Cross for the sins of the world. Christ himself said: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn:3:14,15).
De Haan would not disagree with these prophetic portrayals. He does a good job of pointing out that much of Israel's history is also prophetic of the birth, life and ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. That would have been fine had he left out the introduction that casts doubts and reads like it was written by a rank unbeliever. (By the way, this column has been published in a new Been Thinking About book.)
He offers just one example of the many prophecies he says don't hold up under scrutiny: "Matthew says this [Christ's being taken as a child to Egypt then back to Israel by Joseph and Mary] happened ‘that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.' But where is the prediction? Matthew happens to be quoting the ancient prophet Hosea [11:1] who, in context, was looking back to the birth of the nation Israel rather than forward to the birth of a personal Messiah."
Wrong. Both were in view--one past, the other future. Israel is called God's "firstborn" but never His Son. Any mention of the Son of God refers (and can only refer) to the Messiah. For example, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee" (Ps:2:7) refers, Paul tells us, to Christ's resurrection (Acts:13:33). "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry" (Ps:2:12) can't possibly refer to Israel. Nor could "Israel" be the answer to the question, "What is his son's name?" (Prov:30:4)! The same is true of "unto us a son is given" (Isa:9:6). This can only be the eternal Son of God come as a man. Nebuchadnezzar marveled that, of the four men walking around in the flames, "the form of the fourth [was] like the Son of God" (Dn 3:25)! That definitive term refers only to the Messiah, so this is a valid prophecy, and De Haan is simply wrong when he says that "called my son out of Egypt" refers to Israel.
Even more serious is what he says about Matthew (and by implication all Scripture). De Haan says Matthew is wrong in declaring that "called my son out of Egypt" foretold the events recorded in Matthew:2:12-15. Then he implies other "errors" that he doesn't cite: "the gospel writer Matthew repeatedly claimed fulfillments [of prophecy] where most of us would probably agree there are no clear predictions [italics added]." So we decide that Matthew was wrong whenever we disagree?!
No, De Haan is wrong. Worst of all, he is either accusing Matthew and other Bible prophets of not being inspired in some of what they wrote; or he is accusing the Holy Spirit of making mistakes so that the Bible He inspired is wrong in certain places. We can only assume that Mart didn't realize what he was saying.