I believe strongly in defending the Christian faith and putting forth the strongest argument possible. At the same time, I am a firm believer in not overstating our case or presenting claims not supported by the data.
One example is this familiar passage that is often read at Christmas:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 ESV)
I have recently heard two apologists (not just any apologists but two of the most highly respected apologists) use this passage as Old Testament evidence for the incarnation of Jesus. They argue that Isaiah is prophesying that the Messiah will be both God and man. The reference to ‘child’ is the human body of Jesus that was born in Bethlehem to Mary. The reference to ‘son’ is about the eternal sonship of Jesus, that is that he is the Son of God. In two different ways, Jesus was both a child and a son, one referring to his humanity and the other to his divinity.
That is a very clever interpretation. Unfortunately, it is not supported from what we know about Old Testament literature. What we have here is not a prophecy about the incarnation but an example of parallelism, specifically synonymous parallelism. In synonymous parallelism, a statement is made and then the same statement is made again with different words. So in Isaiah 9:6, ‘son’ is a synonym of ‘child,’ just as ‘given’ is a synonym of ‘born.’ Isaiah is not giving new information in the second part, he is simply restating for emphasis.
Why do I bring this up? I am certainly not trying to weaken the Christian belief in the incarnation. I believe that Jesus is both God and man. However, we have a responsibility to keep our arguments as tight as possible. While seeing a deeper meaning to ‘child’ and ‘son’ sounds neat, it does not take much research to discover this is not supported by Hebrew poetic style. We need to build our arguments on solid biblical foundations and not clever interpretations.