Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Conversions and De-Conversions – All the Messianic Prophecies

I felt lost and directionless.  I wanted to feel the Divine numinous power that I had felt years before, back when I was attending Calvary Chapel and on fire for Jesus.  But in that interval of time my Faith stopped making much sense.  I wanted to retreat back to the Christianity that I was familiar with, yet the closer I got to that, the less sense it actually made.  My devotions seemed to be trite and empty, my prayers unanswered and meaningless.  All through my life of Faith, there were signs and stumbling blocks that challenged my Faith.  My education in science, my exposure to different cultures, my increasing distaste of proselytizing, and my growing realization that fundamental tenets of the Christian creed did not always correlate  with real life around me, all presented challenges to the religious framework that I tried my mold my life into.  But finally, at the age of 42, the foundation that supported my Christian paradigm started to crack.  I found myself retreating into the type of Fundamentalism that I hated.  The old, comfortable, Fundamentalist faith that I understood so well, was making me frustrated and intolerant, my wife confused and angry, and was seriously endangering our young marriage.  It was all driving me crazy, but I did not know how to live without it. 

The bottom line was that I desperately wanted to be a good husband, which drove me closer to Jesus, which then frustrated me to no end.  Trusting everything to Jesus, as I knew how to do it, was not working.  Reading the Bible was not working.  Fervent prayer was not working.  40 Days of Community, or Service, or Purpose, or whatever it was that Rick Warren was wanting me to do for 40 days, was definitely not working.  I tried to speak to Rosemary about my concerns, but her Catholic background left her unequipped to deal with my Fundamentalist anxieties.  I wanted to talk about these things in my home Bible Study group, but fear kept me from knowing how to approach them with the topic.  There was no easy way to tell my fellow Believers that I was losing my own Beliefs, and worse, I had no real idea why I was losing my beliefs.  I did not doubt because I was angry with Church hypocrites, or because I suddenly came to disbelieve the Bible, or because my devotional time with Jesus was lacking.  Not at all.  In fact, I missed that kind of Faith in my life, and the personal intimacy that I had once felt with my Savior.  I still thought that I had Faith of some kind.  But the promises made to me by God, the promises that I relied on as a Believer, no longer had any efficacious power.  The Christian Faith was all I had, and all I understood, but it was no longer something that gave me any peace in understanding, hope for the future, or the joy of a happy marriage.  I needed something different but I was terrified of changing the religious beliefs that I had held my entire life.  I had no idea what it was that I was looking for, but I had been warned many times over the years that looking for something outside of Christ, when I should have been content with the grace that Christ provided, could only lead to trouble.  Truth be told, I was terrified of losing my Faith.

After one Sunday morning service at  , I found myself wandering into the old, empty church library.  Stacks and stacks of devotional books were lined up on the shelves.  I did not see any books newer than perhaps ten years.  It was as if the church had stopped collecting books, and the empty and unused library had turned into a giant closet.  I browsed the shelves while my some friends chatted with Rosemary in the main foyer.  I saw a book that I was sure would add some conviction to my floundering faith.  I pulled a thick book off the shelf, a book stuffed full of apologetics that I had once found convincing and powerful.  I was determined to read all 600 pages of Herbert Lockyer’s All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible, and through that book allow the power of the Holy Spirit to renew my Faith.  Only twelve years previous,  I had found apologetic arguments for the divine nature and authority of the Bible to be powerful encouragement to my Christian Faith.  I figured that all I needed was to remind myself of God’s amazing prophetic power, and my Faith would flower back to life.  I needed the neglected assurance that I knew apologetics could provide.

I still had loads of old Chuck Missler sermon cassettes, or Briefing Packages as Missler called them, stored in shoeboxes.  I had practically memorized every one after repeated plays over the years.  He and many other ‘Bible teachers’ would astound their Calvary Chapel congregations with one Messianic Prophecy after another, and cite the overwhelming odds against them occurring by chance.  God had accurately predicted everything about the coming Messiah hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years before He was born in a manger.  Hundreds of prophecies were given concerning Jesus, I was told, and given the incredible odds, it was impossible not to believe in the divine origin of the Scriptures.  But those sermons were given in the late 1980s and early 90s.  I had not studied Christian apologetics in over twelve years.  I had wandered away in the intervening time.  I had stopped attending church to focus on my physics education.  I had gotten married, gotten distracted with other worldly concerns, and I just needed an avenue to find my way back to God.  Reminding myself of God’s power, through apologetics, was the answer.  There was once a time when studying Messianic Prophecies filled me with awe and wonder at God’s handiwork.  I viewed Messianic Prophecy as indisputable proof of the reliability of the Bible and the trustworthiness of Jesus.  A 600 page book detailing every known reliable Messianic Prophecy was just what I needed to again feel the magic and power of the Scriptures.  I had once believed that every page, every word of the Bible centered on the person of Jesus Christ, and that even the most obscure passage of the Old Testament had hidden meaning that pointed to the Messiah.  My job was to search through all the Scriptures, all of it, from beginning to end, and discover for myself how it all centered on the Person of Jesus Christ.  Scripture, through Messianic Prophecy, demonstrated itself to be true.  It was absolute certainty and divine verity!    If any bit of old apologetics was going to save my Faith, this was going to be it.  As Lockyer stated in his introduction, “Human oracles are fallible, but the inspired Word, containing divine oracles is different.  Instead of ambiguous and untrustworthy utterances, we find teachings distinct and definite, inspired and infallible, authoritative and authentic.” (p 17)

But I had changed in the intervening years since the time I had fervently believed everything I heard from the Calvary Chapel pulpit.  An education in the proper application of critical thought sharpened my discernment, and what I had one accepted at face value, I now had to look at some level of scrutiny.  The problems with the book started in the opening pages, in which Lockyer described the overwhelming odds against Messianic Prophecies occuring by chance.  Lockyer attempted to demonstrate the fantastic odds of any man fulfilling any number of the stated prophecies in the Old Testament.  I remembered Pastor Skip citing the same absurd odds, and I found them convincing years before I ever knew how probabilities were actually calculated.  Now, after receiving college instruction in the theories of probability and statistics, I actually had some competence to analyze some of Lockyer’s astounding claims – such as:

“The literal fulfillment of a prophecy is the seal of its divine origin.  Prophecies of centuries concerning the final sufferings of Christ were fulfilled during the twenty-four hours leading up to His crucifixion.  According to the law of compound probabilities, the chance that they all happened together by accident is 1 in 537,000,000.” (p 17)

I immediately knew there were going to be problems with this book.  According to Lockyer, who cites Arthur Pierson’s God’s Living Oracles, there are:

“over 300 predictions about the Messiah to be found in the Old Testament.  According to the law of compound probability, the chance of their coming true is represented by a fraction whose numerator is one, and the denominator eighty-four followed by nearly one hundred ciphers.  One might almost as well expect by accident to dip up any one particular drop out of the ocean as to expect so many prophetic rays to converge by change upon one man, in one place, at one time.” (p 17)

And just like Skip Heitzig, Lockyer never demonstrated how these fantastic odds were calculated.  I was very early into reading this book, and I was already disappointed with the approach that was being taken.  Reading Lockyer’s citation of precise odds of supposedly historical events, without even a hint of derivation, left me unconvinced.  How was Lockyer calculating the number of all possible events occurring, which is a fundamental necessity in any probabilistic calculation?  And how was Lockyer figuring that all the possible variables that would go into any calculation of these historical events occurring were actually random?  Are all possible outcomes of any of these prophecies equally likely?  Is making predictions of the coming Messiah the same as predicting which card I randomly draw from a shuffled deck?  Or is it possible for certain people and events to willfully interfere, and make calculations of non-random events nearly impossible?  Lockyer, like every other Christian apologist I had ever heard claiming proof from prophecy, never mentioned this or any other methodology to their claimed probabilities.  He just threw fantastic odds out at me, and expected me to accept them at face value.

I used to tell my freshman physics students that when I graded their homework, the answer to a given problem was one of the least things I was interested in.  Many students had a habit of presenting sloppy calculations but printing their answer as neatly as possible in a giant read circle.  The answer was not important to me, I told them.  Physics and math instruction taught me that the answer was not nearly as important as the process or methodology that produced that answer.  If a student demonstrated clever derivation, clear thinking and proper use of their problem solving skills, but somewhere in the long chain of reasoning slipped in a silly arithmetic error that resulted in a wrong answer, I was more likely than not going to give them full credit.  If a student gave a correct answer in a bright red circle with no demonstration of how they got that answer, they got no credit.  The answer is not interesting to me, but the process is interesting.  Herbert Lockyer committed the worst mistake he could have made had he been a student in one of my classes.  He just blurted out answers without showing his work, and expected full credit.

I could see immediately how my mind had changed in the last twelve years.  I had once accepted almost everything my beloved pastors said, with full acceptance and with no though to question their word.  I never thought to ask Skip Heitzig, after one of his sermons full of fantastic claims, how he knew those things were true.  There was once a time when I would have greeted Herbert Lockyer or any other author of apologetic works with no critical scrutiny whatsoever.  Now, after receiving a full university education, I understood better what critical thinking was, and how to scrutinize fantastic claims, to the best of my ability, if I cared at all how truthful those claims were.

The book from first page to last was loaded with logical absurdities.  There was not a single prophecy that was stated as a clear and precisely stated prediction of something that would occur in the future.  Most alleged Messianic Prophecies were not even stated as predictions.  They were not even in the same genre.  They were Old Testament phrases ripped out of all context or connection with the poetry that surrounded it.  Worse, Lockyer never gave any indication that there was a context to even worry about.  For instance in one of the best known Messianic Prophecies, he claimed that there are specific predictions regarding the Messiah’s birthplace and childhood home.  He cited them as,

 “I…called my son out of Egypt” (Hos 11:1).  “But thou Bethlehem … out of thee shall he come forth” (Mic 5:2) (p 64)

Lockyer never bothered to explain any of the context that these were taken from.  It is as if Lockyer were not even using the Bible, just a scraps of paper from fortune cookies with snippets of verses without any contextual framework.  “I called my son out of Egypt,” stated as is, reminds the devout Christian of the Father lovingly calling the babe Jesus from Egypt back to the safety of Nazareth.  But a quick reading of the actual King James text from which Lockyer (sort of) quotes:

Hosea Chapter 11
1When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.
As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.
I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them.

First, Lockyer intentionally quoted only a portion of Hosea 11:1 in his book.  The carefully placed ellipses that Lockyer inserted in place of actual scriptural text, changed the entire meaning of the text to make it sound better than it really was.  In fact, his whole book was covered with only half quotes of verses.  There were sneaky ellipses in place of text everywhere!  This had to have been an intentional move by Lockyer to make obviously mundane verses sound more like actual predictions.  It was willful deception!  Second, it became clear that even if verses were quoted in full context, there was no prediction anyway.  None at all!  But for some reason that I could not then figure out, it was taken by the Evangelist Matthew as some kind of prediction.  Why?  I had no idea.  But I could see that it was not.  There was no way.

Lockyer went down the laundry list of what I call the usual suspects: those Messianic Prophecies that are well known amongst Fundamentalists and usually the only referenced to non-believers as evidence for the Faith. 

Jesus will crush Satan’s head.  Prophecy: Genesis 3:15 - Fulfillment: Galatians 4:4, Luke 2:7.
Jesus’s hands and feet will be pierced.  Prophecy: Psalm 22:16 - Fulfillment:  John 20:27

etc, etc, etc, with no discussion of context, genre, or any other critical analysis that would have made some sense of the texts.  It was just taken for granted that the reader would understand that the Old Testament said one thing, then the New Testament somehow mirrored it.  No, at the time I could not give any alternative explanation for how these supposedly prophetic scriptures came to be written or what their original intent was.  But to suppose that two similar passages of Scripture needed miraculous intervention to explain their existence was shooting a mouse with an elephant gun.  It just did not seem to be necessary.

The worst of the usual suspects came from Lockyer’s treatment of Matthew 2:23.  Lockyer went down his laundry list of fulfilled predictions, and without quoting Scripture, simply states:

He shall be called a Nazarene.  Prophecy: Isaiah 11:1 – Fulfillment: Matt. 2:23

OK, Matthew 2:23 is the fulfilled prediction:

And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
But the actual prediction claimed, but never quoted, by Lockyer is:

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: (Isaiah 11:1)

What?  This made absolutely no sense to me.  How in the world could anybody, using any rules of grammar or logic, possibly conclude that Isaiah 11:1 was a prediction that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene?  Yet this was the best that Lockyer could come up with.  If Matthew 2:23 claimed it was a fulfilled prophecy, Lockyer was going to find any prophecy by hook or by crook, and not even quote the verse for his readers’ scrutiny!  He gave no argument or justification for his implicit claim that ‘a stem of Jesse’ or ‘a Branch shall grow out of his roots’ could be equated with being called a Nazarene.  Nothing!  Lockyer just placed the citation down without actually quoting the text, and having tricked the unsuspecting reader, moved right along.  This book was not made for any reader with an ounce of critical acumen.

It even got worse.  Not only were most of the alleged predictions not even stated as predictions, most would not be open to analysis even if they were genuine predictions.   Lockyer padded his book and the total number of Messianic Prophecies with types of prophecies that could never possibly be verified.  Lockyer had written an entire chapter, for instance, on prophecies concerning Jesusspreexistence.  “The Old Testament abounds in references to our Lord’s pre-existence”, gloated Lockyer (p 34).  So something like “In the beginning God created” (Genesis 1:1) was verified by Lockyer with something like “all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:16).  How could I, a struggling Christian, desperate for any apologetic assurance to salvage what Faith I could, use this as evidence for anything?  Forget about me, how could anybody use this as evidence for anything?  There was no historical fulfillment of prophecy in something like this.  It was just one theological statement confirming another theological statement, and I was astute enough at this point to know that this could be done with any sacred writing.  Lockyer cited dozens more prophecies of Jesussdual nature that were unverifiable theological statements, and so vague in meaning that they could be interpreted to mean whatever Lockyer wanted.  There is not a single, unambiguous, clear, and certain prediction in the Old Testament like, “The Messiah will have a dual nature, fully human and fully divine”.  Instead I got cloudy statements like, “out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).  I had a hard time imagining a person reading this for the first time, a person completely ignorant of Christianity, who could possibly interpret Micah 5:2 as a prediction of a coming Messiah who would later be identified as Jesus, as He had come to be understood.  The Christian who is fully indoctrinated in Christian teachings will read passages like this and immediately see the Christian doctrine in it.  It is much like seeing the Face on Mars on a Viking Orbiter photograph, when it is actually a big pile of rocks on a heavily eroded Martian hillside.  But even if it was a clear prediction, it was a prediction of purely theological nature that could never be evaluated.  Lockyer gave page after page, entire chapter of nothing more than self-affirming statements of Faith!  It might as well have been one creed agreeing with another.   Self-affirming theological statements could be found in something as absurd as The Celestine Prophecy.  In fact, I knew plenty of people who were able to do just that. 

Another chapter was devoted to prophecies of the character of Jesus.  Like prophecies of purely theological character, there was no way to confirm or even evaluate prophecies of the person’s internal character.  Jesus was predicted to be Holy.  Prophecy: “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6).  Fulfillment: “Thy holy child Jesus…” (Acts 4:27).  If some evangelical statistician wished to evaluate the fantastic odds of Psalm 2:6 coming true, how would he proceed?  What possible methodology could be used to evaluate this supposed ‘prediction’?  How could it even be called a prediction of anything – Psalm 2:6 is not even phrased as a prediction.  It is a statement in a different category from prediction.  It does not fit the definition.  It is just a line from ancient poetry, seemingly pulled at random from all contexts!  The quatrains of Nostrodamus were clearer than the puzzle ciphers that Lockyer was somehow able to decode.  Every prophecy concerning Jesusscharacter was just as unconvincing as the prophecies of Jesussholiness or preexistence.  Lockyer detailed for my edification predictions and fulfillments of Jesussrighteousness, goodness, justice, guilelessness, spotlessness, patience, and plenty more ambiguous, arbitrary, and unclear statements of Faith, read as prediction.

Lockyer set the standard for what he considered Divine prophetic fulfillment so low, I am not sure if he even had a standard.  He even counted personal affirmations of Jesus as evidence that He fulfilled something from the Old Testament.  When Jesus said of Himself, “I am the light of the world”, it echoed the words of God atop Mount Sinai.  When Moses asked God through the burning bush what His name was, God replied “I AM THAT I AM … Say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you (Exodus 3:13,14).  Sure, when Jesus said “I AM the resurrection and the life”, it seemed reasonable to me that Jesus was claiming to be the I AM behind the burning bush a thousand years before.  But was this recording of His words supposed to be taken as fulfillment of prophecy?  I mean, anybody could say or claim something.  To me, that is hardly miraculous, and certainly could not be considered a random variable for establishing a probability.  Yet Lockyer spent whole chapters on prophecies like these that could be fulfilled by a mere acceptance of a verbal claim.  There was no possible means of analysis or verification. 

This was bad.  In fact, this was devastating for somebody looking for justification to continue holding on to a life-long held Faith.  The holes in the logic were finally becoming obvious.  But as bad as it was, I was not even halfway finished with Lockyer’s collection of Messianic Prophecies.  I had only read the Messianic Prophecies that were solid enough to be classed in a section of the book called, ‘Specific Messianic Prophecies’.  Lockyer devoted the entire second half of his book, over 300 pages, to what he called ‘Symbolic Messianic Prophecies’.  At this point, any scrap of reason that Lockyer may have employed up to this point was spit on, trampled over and tossed in the compost bin.  Lockyer was finished with the firm ground of specificity, and was about to begin using types, allusions, models and metaphors as evidence of the Supernatural.  I was sunk.

“Throughout our study,” explained Lockyer, “we are endeavoring to prove that Jesus is prefigured not only in events and in things but also in persons.  As to the true significance of a type, it can be defined as an illustration from a lower sphere of a truth belonging to a higher” (page 265)  But Lockyer also cautioned, “…in no other phase of Bible study is there so much need of ‘sanctified common sense’ as in the handling of types.  Fancy, absurd, exaggerated interpretations must be shunned.” (page 265)  The problem was that Lockyer never defined what sort of type was within the realm of sanctified common sense, and what was absurd fancy.  There was no method of following “sanctified common sense” when categories were named but never defined.  Lockyer justified his use of symbols by claiming that the search for symbolism made the Old Testament vibrant in understanding.  “The Eastern mind has ever been pictorial, and as the Bible is an Eastern book, it is but natural that it should abound in figurative language.  To read all the Old Testament books without seeing Jesus, not only in direct predictions and promises, but also in veiled pictures and parables, leaves our reading somewhat flat and insipid.  When, however, we keep looking for Him, even in most unexpected places, our meditation becomes most satisfying and profitable.” (page 211).

How do I go about finding veiled predictions of Jesus?  According to Herbert Lockyer, I could find them in the lives of ‘conspicuous persons’.  In this way, desired aspects of the lives of various Old Testament characters could be gleaned as prophetic of Jesus, that is, if a desired match could first be made.  “The blood of Abel cried out for vengeance; the blood of Jesus ever cries out for forgiveness and mercy … Murder did not silence Abel, just as Calvary did not silence Jesus.  Faith is endowed with immortality and cannot therefore die.” (page 214)  Good enough, Abel is, by virtue of his murder, miraculously prophetic of the sacrifice of Jesus.  Similarly with Moses, Joseph, Aaron, Abraham, Job, and many others.  If Jesus’s death allows us to take possession of what God has already given us, then for Lockyer that is close enough to, let us say, Joshua!  If God provided help for Moses when he could not handle the sole burden of leadership, this must be prophetic of Jesus since He can handle the terrible burden of our sin.

According to Herbert Lockyer, prophetic types could also be gleaned from prescribed offices.  If Jesus could reveal God to man, then Jesus must be a prophet.  If His sacrifice bridged man to God with an everlasting covenant, then Jesus must be a priest.  If some day He is to rule over His redeemed subjects, then He must be a king.  With these common offices proclaimed of Jesus, it is then easy to find their prophetic counterparts in the Old Testament.  No, Lockyer rarely named a prophet, and by virtue of his office, designate that prophet as a foretelling counterpart.  The prophet Samuel, for instance, was not a symbolic type of Jesus just because he was a prophet.  No, what Lockyer did was far worse than this.  Persons were not the prophetic type, but descriptions were.  For instance, “Priests were consecrated to office by an anointing with oil.  The term Messiah, meaning ‘the anointed One,’ is applied to the high priest (Lev. 4:3, 5, 16; 6:22; 8:12), and is prophetic of Him who is our high priest” (page 269).  “The Psalms appear to be fuller than any other section of the truth of the glory of His kingdom when He shall take to Himself His right and power to reign in millennial bliss over all the earth … All through the psalter we find the constant blending of sovereignty and sacrifice.  We see Him as king and priest; prophet and priest, with His offices being interdependent, and inherent in the one person.  While in some of the king-passages there may be a reference to Israel’s great kings, David and Solomon, the language used is infinitely more glorious and mighty than their respective reigns, and must be thought of as predictions of Christ as king, and His kingdom (Ps. 2:21; 24; 45; 72; 100) are evidence of One who is coming as
A priest greater than Aaron and Melchizedek
A prophet greater than Jonah
A king greater than Solomon” (page 271) 

So there you have it – prophecy by tautology.  If Jesus merely fits the described job office, then it must be miraculous!  If the job office is somehow more elevated than it should normally be, it must be miraculous!  In my mind, this was like claiming that the United States Constitution was somehow a supernatural prediction of the existence of President Barack Obama. 

But Lockyer was saving the worst for last.  For his next proof from prophecy, Lockyer moved straight into Chuck Missler territory.  Missler, once my favorite Bible teacher, often claimed that every word of the Old Testament somehow pointed to Jesus Christ, and it was our privilege as believers to hunt for that spiritual treasure in the pages of Scripture.  I was very familiar with how Missler dredged prophetic types and symbols of Christ out of Old Testament historical events, religious rituals and, most importantly, from the architecture of the Tabernacle and the rituals of Levitical feasts and festivals.  In this way, for instance, Noah’s Ark was a prophetic foretelling of Jesus, since both the Ark and Jesus were the salvation of the Faithful.  The Passover Lamb of Moses was slaughtered and applied to the doorposts of the chosen people.  The bones of the lamb were not broken, and it was to be memorialized as a justification for God’s chosen people.  After all, Jesus himself was called The Lamb of God, wasn’t He?  The pillar of smoke by day and fire by night led the Children of Israel through the wilderness; it went before them, it served as their shelter and defense, and remained with them until the end of their journey – all claimed as miraculous foretelling of the character of Jesus.  The parting of the Red Sea served as a pathway to salvation – need I elaborate?  Even the manna from Heaven was prophetic of Jesus.  The manna was provided miraculously to the people as a gift from Heaven.  Lockyer, despite his cautions to keep within the bounds of ‘sanctified common sense’, often presented evidence that would appear ridiculous to anybody not already obligated to believe.  Manna was small like a wafer, just like the town that Jesus was born in was “little among the thousands of Judah” (Micah 5:2).  The manna was round and easy to handle, which can be easily seen to “typify Jesus in the circle of His eternal being” (page 301).  Manna was the color of coriander seed, so it was easily discovered, just like You Know Who.  It was made with honey and had the taste of fresh oil, just like You Guessed It.  This is literally on the level of claiming that the banana must be a miraculous creation of God since it so easily fits in the human hand.  Oh good grief, apologists are not this dense, are they? 

I discovered that with Herbert Lockyer, Messianic Prophecy was boundless in ludicrous and one-sided logic. The Burning Bush of Moses is somehow prophetic of the whole history of the Jewish People.  Just like the Burning Bush, the Jewish people were continually tortured, tormented, scattered and destroyed; and just like the Burning Bush, the Jewish people could not be extinguished.  Aaron’s dead rod was resurrected by the act of budding, just as … well you get the idea.

Just like Chuck Missler, Herbert Lockyer took great zeal in dissecting the description of the Tabernacle, primarily from the book of Exodus, and giving mystical and prophetic application to its contents, construction, architecture and its associated rituals.  Which, Lockyer reasoned, made sense considering God spent only six days creating the entire universe, but a whole forty days explaining to Moses the details of the Tabernacle.  Lockyer thus set out to demonstrate that the symbolic meaning of the Tabernacle was an endless labyrinth of cipher codes and riddles.  Lockyer spent 140 pages of his 600 page book on the Tabernacle alone, and the illogical reasoning just got more absurd with each turned page.

Every detail of the Tabernacle, no matter how trivial, was used as some prediction of Jesus.  Lockyer never showed how the Bible itself specified that it was to be taken as prophetic.  He never demonstrated or described any methodology that the Bible specified, or that he was to use, beyond ‘sanctified common sense’.  Lockyer could claim that the very architecture of the Tabernacle, with its various courts and chambers, could all somehow typify Jesus, and since there were no rules to his procedure he had no rules to break.  He could easily say that everywhere the Bible mentioned silver, it actually meant blood – therefore if the ugly badger skins of the tabernacle were supported by silver pegs, then this must mean that Jesus, who had no beauty that we should desire Him (Isa. 53:2), and yet rested on a foundation of His blood, was foretold in this obscure description of the Tabernacle.  There was no reason to think that silver meant blood, brass meant judgment, or iron meant strength.  There was no reason to think I could sneak secret meanings into symbols.  Why is Jesus resting on blood?  Because it fits the typology.  If we wish silver to mean love or faith or justice or sacrifice or anything else we perceive as a virtue, it would fit just as well.  Lockyer was shaving the edges of the puzzle pieces to make them fit.

The sheer absurdity of Lockyer’s prophetic reasoning can be demonstrated with how he tortures a single aspect of the Tabernacle, and how he extrapolates and distorts it beyond all logic.  The gate of the outer court of the tabernacle is described in a total of three Biblical verses:

Exodus 27:16
16 And for the gate of the court shall be an hanging of twenty cubits, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, wrought with needlework: and their pillars shall be four, and their sockets four. 

Exodus 38:18-19

18 And the hanging for the gate of the court was needlework, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen: and twenty cubits was the length, and the height in the breadth was five cubits, answerable to the hangings of the court.
19 And their pillars were four, and their sockets of brass four; their hooks of silver, and the overlaying of their chapiters and their fillets of silver. 

This is all Scripture describes of the gate of the outer court.  But Herbert Lockyer expounded on the typology of its prophetic elements for five full pages!  Lockyer saw the face of Jesus in gate to the outer court as much as a deluded believer will see the face of Jesus in a toasted tortilla.

First, explained Lockyer, the very fact that a gate to the outer court actually exists speaks of God’s gracious generosity in providing the sinful Israelite with a way to enter into the Tabernacle for cleansing.  Lockyer uses this bare fact as an excuse for a little preaching.  “What a world of misery and woe our would have been had the Lord Jesus not have come!  Think of the world with no church, no Bible, no Gospel, no holy men and women!  Why such a world would be but a reflection of hell!  But let us ever be grateful to God that there is a gate divinely provided whereby mankind can enter in and be reconciled to God.” (page 365)  Not only this, but Lockyer explains that the gate to the outer court was the only gate, and follows this simple observation with another full page of preaching on Christ as the only gate to salvation.  The gate to the outer court was 20 cubits wide which, Lockyer observes, is wide enough to admit any sinful Isrealite who wishes cleansing, which Lockyer followed with another half page of preaching.  Lockyer locks onto the width of the gate, leans over the pulpit at his faithful audience and preaches, “Think of the Width of God’s love – Think of the Width of Man’s need – Think of the Width of Christ’s Redemption”! (page 367)

Lockyer was far from finished with dissecting the symbolic meaning of the gate to the outer court.  The gate to the outer court was a strong gate, composed of four pillars and kept secure by sockets, pins and cords.  Needless to say, Lockyer tied this to the salvation of Jesus which is also strong, but that was just the beginning for this bit of typology.  The gate was strong because the way into the outer court was composed of four pillars, just like the work of Jesus is supported with the four infallible pillars called the Gospels.  Not content with being predictive of the four Gospels, Lockyer then claimed that the number four was the number that connected the threefold Trinity of God with the oneness of the world.  There are four pillars supporting the outer gate, just like there are four … fill in the blank.  Lockyer claims the four pillars represent the four great elements of the earth, the four principle divisions of the day, the four seasons of the year and the four cardinal points of the compass.  The methodology of this kind of reasoning was apparent to me.  Find a number in the architecture of the Tabernacle, any number that we run across, and find something in the life of Jesus make it predict.  If we can not find anything in the life of Jesus, try something else even tangentially relevant, in this case, even mistaken attributes of the natural world!  Lockyer makes the number of Gospels fit in his description of the gate to the outer court - maybe the number of disciples, the number of years in Jesus’s ministry or the number of people Jesus took with Him to witness His transfiguration would fit in other places.    Lockyer not only pulled this trick with the number of pillars supporting the gate to the outer court, he did this with the number of spaces between the pillars!  With four pillars, we get three spaces between the pillars, which “clearly illustrates the Saviour who Himself declared that He was the Way, Truth,  Life (John 14:6).  Across these three openings we can also write His threefold title, so fragrant to sinners saved by His grace – LORD JESUS CHRIST.” (page 368) Of course, with this golden opportunity of the number three presented to him in this most contrived manner, he cannot pass up an opportunity to use this as predictive of the Trinity.  Three spaces between the four pillars?  This is a clear and unmistakable reference to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Sure, why not?  How could anybody miss this?
Lockyer continued for page after page, wrenching every drop of meaning he could out of the gate to the tabernacle’s outer court.  The gate was illuminated since it was pitched toward the East – therefore Jesus.  After entering the outer court through the gate the first thing one sees is the brazen alter, brass symbolizing judgment and water symbolizing washing – therefore Jesus.  The sheer beauty of the gate, the warming rays of the sun shining upon the four pillars with a curtain of fine needlework, colored in blue, purple and scarlet – therefore Jesus.  The colors of the linen somehow represented divine attributes.  Lockyer explained that the blue in the linen curtain represents Heaven, the scarlet of course is a symbol of blood.  The purple, which intertwined the linen with the blue and scarlet, is naturally and mixture of those two colors.  The heavenly mingled with fleshly blood must be prophetic of the dual nature of Jesus; He who came to earth from Heaven, fully God, yet paradoxically fully Man.

Lockyer continued his exposition of the gate to the outer court by considering the brass sockets, which for some reason represent the judgement of Jesus, and the silver hooks, which somehow represent His blood – therefore Jesus.  “What a beautiful gate we have in Jesus!  How miserable would have been our lot had he not come and combined all that the colors of the gate suggest in that wondrous life of His?” (page 372)

In the previous few paragraphs, I described Lockyer’s absurd prophetic extrapolation from a single piece of tabernacle architecture.  Lockyer continued in this vein, dissecting and mysticizing every dimension of the tabernacle, every piece of furniture, every feast, every offering, every ceremony, even pulling prophetic meaning from the tassles dangling off priestly garments.  No minutia was too small for Herbert Lockyer.   I could not believe that into this book was packed all this irrationality, especially considering that Lockyer lead off each chapter with warnings not to get carried away with the imagination when studying Messianic Prophecy.  What was the boundary between ‘sanctified common sense’ and fanciful imagination?  Whether Lockyer used his ‘sanctified common sense” or not, Messianic Prophecy simply had no rules to follow.  It’s logic was as bogus and fraudulent as using the architecture of Stonehenge or The Great Pyramid to predict the future.  Come to think of it, Chuck Missler did that too.

My old Calvary pastors constantly told their faithful congregations that apologetics was useful for defending and justifying the Gospel of Jesus to unbelievers and skeptics.  They told me that Messianic prophecy could be a great witnessing tool!  Non-Christians were willfully repressing their innate knowledge of the True God, but they showed their true reprobate nature by denying the obvious signs that were given to us by God.  Christianity, I was constantly told, was a reasonable and rational Belief, not a blind leap of Faith, and apologetics evidences like Messianic Prophecy was clear evidence of the truthfulness of the Gospel.  I still remember that tearful evening when I converted to Christianity and devoted my entire life to His purpose.  I converted because at the time I was miserable and desperate for answers that I thought Jesus could provide me.  I did not convert to Christianity because of apologetic arguments and evidence.  But if an unbelieving skeptic were to ever ask me why I was a Christian, I could confidently claim that it was due to rational evidence.  But Lockyer let the cat out of the bag.  According to him, instead of using Messianic Prophecy as a witnessing tool for unbelievers, it was to be used as cement for a Faith that was already there.  After demonstrating a prophecy of the Virgin Birth of Jesus that was, like all others, a statement ripped out of all context, Lockyer confessed:
In the presence of such a holy miracle, ‘there can be no fitting attitude of the human intellect save that of acceptance of truth, without any attempt to explain the absolute mystery.’  With this ‘mystery of godliness’ in mind, we should give heed to this dictum:
I will seek to believe rather than to reason;to adore rather than to explain;to give thanks rather than to penetrate;to love rather than to know;to humble myself rather than to speak - page 61
I was dumbstruck at this confession of something that I think I already knew deep down but was afraid to accept.  The Christian apologists that I had placed so much trust in had no real interest in reason, rationality or evidence.  The Christian apologist was not spending vast amounts of their time and energy into cooking up these evidences for the Faith to convince anybody.  It was a front.  The Christian, Lockyer confessed, was to believe first, and fit reason to that belief later.  In over 600 pages of Lockyer’s text, I could not find a single ‘Messianic Prophecy’ that I could imagine any non-Christian would find convincing or even merely plausible.  Not a single one.  And I, a Christian struggling desperately to hold on to any kind of Faith that would keep me within the Christian fold, was finding each and every one of these astounding prophecies to be strained contrivances at best.  There was no nice way of saying it.  I discovered that I was being lied to.  These claims of Messianic Prophecies were not misstatements.  I was not missing some slippery nuance of interpretation in the Scriptures.  I was being told the Bible contained things that were simply, blatantly not there.  Effort was being made by this Christian apologist to deceive me into believing.  It did not take me long to correlate the lies of Herbert Lockyer with lies of every other Christian apologist I had ever heard.  I recognized the same tactics and strategies used by Christians like Skip Heitzig, Chuck Missler, and other apologists that I had trusted and respected in the past.

I do not remember praying after reading this book.  I was too furious.  I thought of my Josh McDowell books, the countless apologetic cassettes that I had practically memorized, and the endless assurances from my pastors that Christianity was a Faith of evidence and reason.  All I could think of was that I was lied to.  Herbert Lockyer’s book All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible single handedly did more damage to my Christian Faith than any book I had ever read before or since. 


At some point, I decided to bring my doubts up to the Christians that I felt closest with at the time – my home Bible Study group.  I did not tell them that I was having doubts about my Christian Faith; I was afraid to expose too much.  I simply told them about the disappointment that I felt reading Lockyer and his giant book of Messianic Prophecies.  “They felt so contrived to me.  I mean some of them made sense, but most of them just seemed so far flung.  It was like reading stuff into a Nostradamus prophecy to make it look true.”

They had just the reading material for me!  New paperbacks were making the rounds in popular Evangelical circles and they suggested that I read them to rejuvenate my Faith.  “I know how you feel”, the group leader’s wife told me.  “We all sometimes feel tired from the burdens of the world.  It is spiritual burnout.  Nothing to be ashamed of, but it can really affect your Faith.  Have you ever heard of this new book called, Blue Like Jazz?  You should read that!  It is really good.  Another good one is Velvet Elvis.  They are written for Christians who are exhausted by their own Faith.  They sort of give a new and fresh way to look at Faith.”

So on that recommendation, I read the new and popular paperback by college student Donald Miller called Blue Like Jazz.  I could tell that my Bible Study home group had no idea why my Faith was dying.  I read Blue Like Jazz in a single evening and found it to be condescending tripe. 

Another girl in my recommended a new, in-depth Bible Study course being offered by La Puerta del Cielo Baptist Church.  This wasn’t just the same thing I had always heard before about the Bible, she assured me.  The elderly couple who taught the class were engineers, and were surely able to relate to my scientific reasoning.  So on her recommendation, I joined her for the inaugural first session in the new in-depth Bible Study course.  I sat in the outdoor patio on a cool Monday evening with about a dozen other thirsty students of the Bible.  The elderly engineer said that the Bible could withstand the scrutiny of honest doubters.  We knew it could handle scrutiny because we knew it was the inspired Word of God.  The entire Bible, this engineer told us ala Herbert Lockyer, pointed to Jesus Christ.  After all, it could be demonstrated that the center of the Bible was THE LORD.  Literally – the center of the Bible!  Psalm 118:8, the very center of the Bible, tells us, “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.”  The very center of the Bible warns us to trust God over man.  And what is at the very center of Psalm 118:8?  THE LORD, with six words before and six words after!  The entire Bible surrounds THE LORD!

I felt like Herbert Lockyer himself was teaching this in-depth class.  The session of the class was not even 10 minutes old and I had heard more illogical nonsense than I cared to hear.  I turned around and saw the dozen or so other students furiously taking notes as they absorbed every absurdity the instructor told them.  My mind shut down and I daydreamed until the class was over.  I never went returned.

I did not know what to do.  I was angry, frustrated and disgusted.  I felt like I was being made a fool of, and I did not know where to turn.  I had never in my life read anything related to my Christian Faith that was not first approved in some way by my Church.  Any book I read was from the Church library or bookstore.  Teaching pamphlets and cassettes were not read until first recommended by church friends.  I never encountered anything that deviated from the Orthodox.  I never knew of anything that was not first filtered by the Party Line of Orthodoxy.  Of course I knew that such things existed.  One of my favorite science writers, Isaac Asimov, had his Guide to the Bible in the old university library, but I always felt unsure about checking books like that out.  I had always loved his science writing, but I knew that he, along with other favorite writers like Carl Sagan, were definitely not Christians.  What could non-Christians possibly know about the Bible or my Faith?  I almost felt queasy at the thought of reading books by ‘pseudo-intellectuals’, as Pastor Skip Heitzig had called them.  They may have known the Bible, but they did not know the Author of the Bible, and thinking themselves wise, they would make themselves out to be fools.  But if I was not going to tell my Christian friends about the true dire condition of my Faith and Doubts, then I had to remove all fear and forge ahead.  I went to the public library and started browsing the section few Christians venture into – Religion

I no longer cared about only reading safe, orthodox opinions that I knew I would agree with before I even read it.  I had done that for years.  But the Master Physician’s diagnosis was not working and I needed a second opinion.  I grabbed the first thing that looked challenging, hence, heretical to my Faith.  The thin book by David Penchansky had a title that I would keep hidden from my fellow believers like a secret issue of Penthouse.  I opened Twilight of the Gods: Polytheism in the Hebrew Bible, and immediately read the opening, shocking words, “Many texts in the Hebrew Bible assume a polytheistic universe...”  It was scholarship.  It was damnable heresy.  And I could not put it down.  I read it like a parched animal laps water in the oasis.

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Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

This is, as usual, terrific stuff, compellingly written. Have you ever thought about publishing your story in a conventional medium?

unkleE said...

I have probably said this before HiS, but I am finding your story interesting in itself, but also because I faced many of the same questions . For example:

"education in science, my exposure to different cultures, my increasing distaste of proselytizing, and my growing realization that fundamental tenets of the Christian creed did not always correlate with real life around me, all presented challenges"

My education was engineering and hydrology, but near enough, and I certainly felt all the other things you mention here. And I also came to a similar conclusion to you about OT prophecy.

But the interesting thing is that these questions led us both in different directions. You have described your journey here, whereas I felt that these questions didn't diminish my faith in Jesus, just required me to re-apparaise it.

So, for example, when I realised that the alleged OT prophecies of Jesus were often fanciful, I checked out some scholars who explained that was because Jesus and the NT writers employed Jewish methods of OT interpretation which were much more creative, and didn't look to the OT for proofs but for illustration.

So thinking through these questions actually increased my understanding and strengthened my faith. The interesting question is why we each took different paths. And I suppose the second question is, would you be interested in approaching these things again from a more historically accurate viewpoint than many christians unfortunately do?

HeIsSailing said...

Larry says:
This is, as usual, terrific stuff, compellingly written. Have you ever thought about publishing your story in a conventional medium?

Thanks Larry, but after noticing all the typos in this article I am surprised anybody could read it, much less find it compelling. I have never thought of publishing it, but thanks for asking.

UnkleE says:
But the interesting thing is that these questions led us both in different directions. You have described your journey here, whereas I felt that these questions didn't diminish my faith in Jesus, just required me to re-apparaise it.

UnkleE, Why did you feel “required” to re-appraise your Faith? I felt no such requirement impinging on me. I just felt like I needed to do my best to get to the truth, Faith or no Faith.

The interesting question is why we each took different paths

Not much of a mystery really, when you feel required to maintain Faith and only re-appraise it when challenges come. I do not value Faith so much that it must be held onto no matter what.

. And I suppose the second question is, would you be interested in approaching these things again from a more historically accurate viewpoint than many christians unfortunately do?

To what end? I am fully aware that ‘Proofs from Prophecy’, like most Christian apologetic nonsense, is an invention made up by liars and swindlers intent on keeping me an unquestioning, ignorant, pusillanimous Christian at all costs. If I know the real motivations of the Gospel writers, that will not get me one inch closer to believing anything they say.

unkleE said...

Hi, HiS, I think you have read too much into my words. So let me clarify:

"Why did you feel “required” to re-appraise your Faith?"

I didn't feel required to re-appraise. Rather, like you, I examined the evidence and the evidence didn't require or necessitate anything more that changing a few things, based on the conclusions of scholars.

"Not much of a mystery really, when you feel required to maintain Faith and only re-appraise it when challenges come. I do not value Faith so much that it must be held onto no matter what."

This comment is based on the misunderstanding I have pointed out above. I don't value faith in that way either. My faith is based on the evidence, in this case, the evidence of scholars. And that indicates there is a different way to respond to the OT prophecies than how you responded. I was wondering what led to you responding in the way you did?

"To what end? "

To the end you have already pointed out - to do your best to get to the truth. If your response could have been different, then I thought you may be interested in exploring the other option.

EricW said...

A critique of David Penchansky, Twilight of the Gods: Polytheism in the Hebrew Bible by a biblical scholar (Heiser does a lot of work for Logos Bible Software and has a PhD in Hebrew Bible and Semitic Languages):


DoOrDoNot said...

I had a similar experience withthe book, Gods word in Human words.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

Thanks Larry, but after noticing all the typos in this article I am surprised anybody could read it, much less find it compelling. I have never thought of publishing it, but thanks for asking.

Typos are for editors to fix. The genius strides on seven-league boots, leaving innumerable small errors in his wake (Joan Robinson on Marx). This is top quality work, and I'm I professional; I know whereof I speak.

HeIsSailing said...

Eric, thanks for the link to that review. In hindsight the reviewer is correct. I think Penchansky may have stretched the theme of Polytheism a bit too far. Much of what he took as Polytheism really looks like just poetic personifications of things like Wisdom. But that book still had plenty to convince me that there was polytheism in certain places in the Bible. Thanks again for reading.

HeIsSailing said...

Larry, I appreciate your kind words. Publishing this series in a more conventional medium would require that I do more research into my family history, especially my childhood. My mom barely escaped been swallowed up by some family run apocalyptic cult. If you read the earlier entries in this series, you will notice that my memories of it are pretty sketchy - but it is important stuff. Researching is going to peel open some ugly family scars.... I will have to think about it. Thanks again for reading.

HeIsSailing said...

UnkleE says:

To the end you have already pointed out - to do your best to get to the truth. If your response could have been different, then I thought you may be interested in exploring the other option.

UnkleE, I have three more articles to write in this series. Maybe two if I make them long enough. I have decided to address your response in the final entry of this series. Please look out for that. Thanks again for reading

Alice said...

I did a Romans commentary/ study/whatever back on my blog as a believer. I noticed the out of context prophecy, too.

And I agree with Larry, this would make a wonderful book.

HeIsSailing said...

Thanks for reading and taking an interest, Alice. I am always happy to meet new people who visit and can relate to what I am trying to say.

Alice said...

Your story is very good and you tell it well. I am also interested in your Christ myth posts, but they will have to wait until the weekend (ah, server life) is over.

(oh and I accidentally deleted one of your comments, but was able to repost it, sorry 'bout that)

HeIsSailing said...

Thanks Alice! That means a great deal to me that people are interested in my experiences. The Christ Myth stuff is really just an extended book review/discussion. Those articles are just a personal hobby that I do not expect to get much traffic on.