Blaising Misunderstands the Birth Pangs Illustration (#3)

Filed in Pretribulationism, Uncategorized by on May 25, 2011

Blaising Misunderstands the Birth Pangs Illustration (#3)

Charles Cooper

In the new book, Three Views on The Rapture: Pretribulation, Prewrath, or Posttribulation, Craig Blaising, who defends the pretrib view, insists:

Most interesting is Jesus’ description of these early phenomena (Matt. 24:5-8; Mark  13:6-8) as “the beginning of birth pains”…While the metaphor of labor is used in various biblical texts to describe divine judgment, the onset of labor is particularly used in Isaiah 13 to describe the coming of the day of the Lord. Features from the Isaiah 13 prophecy of the day of the Lord reappear at the end of the narrative just before Jesus speaks of the sign of the Son of Man. Quoting from Isaiah 13:10, Jesus says, “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky” (Matt. 24:29). Between these references to Isaiah 13:8 and 13:10 unfolds the eschatological narrative with its Danielic structure. (pp. 45-46)

Before we point out the errors in Dr. Blaising’s proposal, let’s make sure we understand exactly what he is saying. Blaising is continuing to make his case that Matthew 24 “is a deliberate intertextual weaving of the day of the Lord imagery into Daniel’s time of the end structure.” (p. 47) This then allows Blaising to draw the conclusion that the day of the lord and Daniel’s final week are identical.

Absent from Blaising’s defense of his position is an explicit reference in Scripture. Rather, Blaising must build his case on similarities, generalities, broad patterns, and sophisticated typologies that exist more in the mind of the author than in the biblical text.

Evidence of our criticism of Blaising’s methodology is reflected in the extended quote above. His understanding of the use of Isaiah 13 in Matthew 24 renders the passage incomprehensible. He so very much wants Matthew 24 to prove his position that he misunderstands how the birth- pains illustration is being used there.

It is true that the majority of scholars believe that Matthew 24:29 most closely parallels Isaiah 13:10 – based on the Septuagint’s translation of the Old Testament. Score one for Blaising and his interpretation of Isaiah 13. However, Blaising’s insistence that Isaiah 13:8 and the birth- pains metaphor that appears in Matthew 24:5-8 force the material in Matthew 24:9-28 to be, in essence, God’s day-of-the-Lord wrath during the entirety of Daniel’s final week.  We believe this is
plainly untrue.

First, we must determine whether Matthew 24:5-8 is utilizing the birth-pains metaphor from Isaiah 13 or from some other place in the O.T. If it can be proven that Matthew 24 does indeed reflect the metaphor in Isaiah 13, we still must not assume that Matthew uses it in the same way that Isaiah did. That is a conclusion that must also be proven, and not merely taken for granted  as Blaising does.

Isaiah 13:6-13 states,

Wail, for the LORD’s day of judgment is near; it comes with all the destructive power of the sovereign judge. For this reason all hands hang limp, every human heart loses its courage. They panic – cramps and pain seize hold of them like those of a woman who is straining to give birth. They look at one another in astonishment; their faces are flushed red. Look, the LORD’s day of judgment is coming; it is a day of cruelty and savage, raging anger, destroying the earth and annihilating its sinners. Indeed the stars in the sky and their constellations no longer give out their light; the sun is darkened as soon as it rises, and the moon does not shine. I will punish the world for its evil, and wicked people for their sin. I will put an end to the pride of the insolent, I will bring down the arrogance of tyrants. I will make human beings more scarce than pure gold, and people more scarce than gold from Ophir. So I will shake the heavens, and the earth will shake loose from its foundation, because of the fury of the LORD who commands armies, in the day he vents his raging anger.

To read Isaiah 13:8 in its context is to be reminded of the utter necessity of context when seeking to understand the Scriptures. It is also important to go slowly when attempting to build a conclusion on typologies or patterns. Blaising argues that Matthew 24:5-8 reflects the sense of Isaiah 13:8. We disagree for the reasons listed below.

First, the birth-pains metaphor of Isaiah 13:8 describes the conduct of the wicked as they realize the wrath of God is imminent. In contrast, that same metaphor in Matthew 24 does not refer to the wicked that will soon experience the wrath of God, but instead focuses on the signs of the end of the age.

Second, the birth-pains metaphor in Matthew 24 is a sign to the Lord’s followers that they are not in imminent danger. The Lord Jesus specifically commands his followers to “Make sure that you are not alarmed.” Throeō “[θροέω]” is the Greek verb used here, and it “is connected with θρόος, ‘a tumult.’” In the New Testament it means “to be troubled, as by an alarm, alarmed.”[1] If, as Blaising concludes, the day of the Lord begins at the same time as Daniel’s final week, then it is inconceivable that believers should have no mental anguish about the panic the world is experiencing. There is not a single example in all of Scripture where God instructs his people not to be concerned (alarmed) about the wrath of God. If Matthew 24:5-8 does indeed call people not to concern themselves with God’s wrath, it is unparalleled elsewhere.

Third, the birth-pains metaphor in Isaiah 13 focuses on the actual pain associated with giving birth. However, in Matthew 24, the actual birth itself is not in focus, but the beginning stage of the birth process is. Mathew 24 contrasts the difference between beginning birth pains (no concern for the saints) and hard labor (real concern for the saints). Matthew 24:9 explicitly continues the birth-pains metaphor and heightens the anxiety and danger involved. Matthew instructs, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death.” In Isaiah 13 the wicked are the objects of God’s day-of-the-Lord wrath. In Matthew 24 the saints are the objects of the wrath of the wicked.

Fourth and finally, the birth-pains metaphor in Isaiah 13 specifically refers to the destruction of the wicked, but in Matthew 24 it results in the deliverance of God’s elect. Beginning birth pangs, hard labor, and deliverance are the three phases of the extended metaphor utilized in Matthew 24. To limit Matthew 24 to the same intent as Isaiah 13 with reference to the birth-pains metaphor would limit Matthew’s intent. It is not the anguish of the delivery upon which Matthew dwells, but unlike Isaiah 13, Matthew focuses on the results of the process: new life.

So again, Blaising has misunderstood the intent of the text, which renders his whole argument weak and unconvincing. The pretrib position does not rest on explicit Scripture. Rather, it is derived from the sum of its presuppositions, assumptions, similarities, and allusions. Even one explicit Scripture would be great! But, regrettably, we shall have to wait for it.

[1] Morris, L. (1992). The Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.

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