Six Messianic Expectations and One Messiah

Jewish messianism is a concept study. The word “messiah” means “anointed one” and is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.” The Hebrew Bible records the anointing with oil of priests ( Exod. 29:1-9 ), kings (1 Sam 10:1;2 Sam 2:4;1 Kings 1:34), and sometimes prophets (1 Kings 19:16). Also, when God anointed or authorized for leadership, in many cases he provided the empowering of the Holy Spirit to complete the task (1 Sam. 16:13; Isa. 61:1). However, just because someone was anointed in the Old Testament to perform a specific task doesn’t mean they are “the Messiah.” Hence, we can conclude that “anointed one” was not used as a title with a capital “M” in the Old Testament.

Also, there are hardly any texts in the Jewish Scriptures that say “When the Messiah  comes, he will do x, y,  and z. However, most Jewish people think there is going to be a messianic age. Let me give an example:

The only way to define “the Messiah” is as the king who will rule during what we call the Messianic age. The central criterion for evaluating a Messiah must therefore be a single question: Has the Messianic age come? It is only in terms of this question that “the Messiah” means anything. What, then, does the Bible say about the Messianic age? Here is a brief description by  famous Christian scholar: “The recovery of independence and power, an era of peace and prosperity, of fidelity to God and his law and justice and fair- dealing and brotherly love among men and of personal rectitude and piety” (G.F. Moore, Judaism, II, P 324). If we think about this sentence for just a moment in the light of the history of the last two thousand years, we will begin to see what enormous obstacles must be overcome if we are to believe in the messianic mission of Jesus. If Jesus was the Messiah, why have suffering and evil continued and even increased in the many centuries since his death.” (1)

“The state of the world must prove that the Messiah has come; not a tract. Don’t you think that when the Messiah arrives, it should not be necessary for his identity to be subject to debate – for the world should be so drastically changed for the better that it should be absolutely incontestable! Why should it be necessary to prove him at all? If the Messiah has come, why should anyone have any doubt?” (Rabbi Chaim Richman, available at http://www.ldolphin.org/messiah.html).

Remember:  the Jewish Scriptures don’t reveal an explicit, fully disclosed, monolithic “messianic concept.”  To build on the comments stated here, Stanley Porter says:

Intertestamental and New Testament literature suggests that the expectation was all over the map. Some Jewish people did not expect a Messiah. Others thought that the Messiah would be a priestly figure, still others a royal deliverer. Some scholars interpret the evidence to suggest that at least one group of Jewish thinkers believed there would be two messiahs, one priestly and one royal. From what we know we can be certain that the New Testament did not create the idea of the Messiah. But we can also be sure that there was nothing like a commonly agreed delineation of what the Messiah would be like. The latter point means that modern-day Christians who shake their heads about why the Jewish people did not universally recognize the Messiah, considering all the fulfilled prophecy, really do not understand Old Testament literature.-Porter, The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments (McMaster New Testament Studies), 29.

Varied Messianic Expectations at the Time of Jesus

#1: The Davidic King Expectation

While God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17: 6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15), he also promised David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam.7:12-17; 1 Chr.17:7-15). In other words, David’s line would eventually culminate in the birth of a specific person who will guarantee David’s dynasty, kingdom, and throne forever.  Royal messianism is seen in the Psalms. For example, in Psalm 2  which is a coronation hymn, (similar to 2 Kings 11:12) is  the  moment of the king’s crowning. God tells the person to whom he is speaking that He is turning over the dominion and the authority of the entire world to Him (v 8). While David did have conquest of all the nations at that time, (Edom, Moab, Ammon, Philistia, Amalek, which is described as the conquest “of all the nations”  1 Chron. 14:17; 18:11) in Psalm 2, one day God will subjugate all the nations to the rule of the Davidic throne. (2)

In Psalm 89, the Davidic King will be elevated over the rivers and seas (v.24- 25) and  is the most exalted ruler on earth (v. 27). He also  will be the “firstborn” and enjoy the highest rank among all earthly kings. As Israel went into the Babylonian captivity, the prophet  Hosea says that Israel will be without a Davidic king for many days (Hosea 3:4).However, in the last days, God kept his promise of the Davidic covenant by rebuilding Israel which includes the re-establishment of the Davidic kingdom (Isa.11:1–2; Hosea 3:5; Amos 9:11–12).  The Davidic King will be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2) and would be unlike any past Davidic king (Is.7:14-17; 9:6-7;11:1-10), even though he is not spoken of specifically  as “The Messiah.” Ezekiel also spoke of a new David who would be a shepherd as well as a “prince” and a “king” to Israel (Ezek: 34:23-24; 37:24-25). There are other texts that speak of the Davidic King as the “Branch” who will reign and rebuild the temple and be a king-priest on His throne (Zech. 3:8; 6:12–15; Jer. 33:1–8, 21–22).

One of the most valuable resources that speak to the Messianic expectation of the time of Jesus is found in The Psalms of Solomon. The Psalms of Solomon is a group of eighteen psalms that are part of the Pseudepigrapha which is written 200 BC to 200 A.D. Even though these works are not part of the Protestant Canon, they are dated just before or around the time of Jesus. Therefore, they help provide the historian with valuable information about the messianic expectations at the time of Jesus. In it, there are two passages about a righteous, ruling Messiah:

Taught by God, the Messiah will be a righteous king over the gentile nations. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy and their king shall be the Lord Messiah. He will not rely on horse and rider and bow, nor will he collect gold and silver for war. Nor will he build up hope in a multitude for a day of war. The Lord himself is his king, the hope of the one who has a strong hope in G-d. He shall be compassionate to all the nations, who reverently stand before him. He will strike the earth with the word of his mouth forever; he will bless the Lord’s people with wisdom and happiness. And he himself will be free from sin, in order to rule a great people. He will expose officials and drive out sinners by the strength of his word.” (Psalms of Solomon 17.32-36)

Even though this is one expectation in the Second Temple Period, it is not the most prominent one in the New Testament.

#2: A Transcendent Messiah/The Son of Man

“Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself throughout His ministry. First of all, “Son of Man ” is employed to Jesus’ earthly ministry (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37); Second, the Son of Man was to suffer and die and rise from the dead (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33). Third, the Son of Man would serve an eschatological function (Mk. 8:38;13:26;14:62; Matt.10:23;13:41;19:28:24:39;25:31). In other words, there is a correlation between the returning Son of Man and the judgment of God.

The term “Son of Man” in the time of Jesus was a most emphatic reference to the Messiah (Dan. 7:13-14). The title reveals divine authority. In the trial scene in Matthew 26:63-64, Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Dan. 7:13 and Ps. 110:1 to Himself. Jesus’ claim that he would not simply be entering into God’s presence, but that he would actually be sitting at God’s right side was the equivalent to claiming equality with God. By Jesus asserting He is the Son of Man, he was exercising the authority of God.

As Randall Price notes:

“ The concept of the Messiah as a “son of man” after the figure in Daniel 7:13 is expressed in a section of the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch known as Similitudes, which has been argued to have a date as early as 40 B.C. It  should be noted that scholars have found in Similitudes four features for this figure: (1) it refers to an individual and is not a collective symbol, (2) it is clearly identified as the Messiah, (3) the Messiah is preexistent and associated with prerogatives traditionally reserved for God, and (4) the Messiah takes an active role in the defeat of the ungodly. New Testament parallels with Similitudes (e.g., Matt. 19:28 with 1 Enoch 45:3 and Jn. 5:22 with 1 Enoch 61:8) may further attest to a mutual dependence on a common Jewish messianic interpretation (or tradition) based on Daniel’s vision.” (3)

#3: A Miracle Working Messiah

Even though miracles are often overlooked in the traditional messianic expectation (as in the article I posted),  it is evident that Jewish people at the time of Jesus did look for signs/miracles to accompany the Messiah’s work. In the New Testament, the Greek word for kingdom is “basileia,” which denotes “sovereignty,” “royal power,” and “dominion.” The references to the word “kingdom” can be seen in two classes: First, it is viewed as a present reality and involves suffering for those who enter into it (2 Thess 1:5). Second, the kingdom is futuristic and involves reward (Matt 25:34), as well as glory (Matt 13:43). In observing the ministry of Jesus, He demonstrated one of the visible signs of His inauguration of the kingdom of God would not only be the dispensing of the Holy Spirit (John 7: 39), but also the ability to perform miracles. But if the kingdom is breaking into human history, then the King has come. If the Messianic age has arrived, then the Messiah must be present.

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,  because he has anointed me  to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives  and recovering of sight to the blind,  to set at liberty those who are oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”- Luke 4: 18-19

Even in the Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions a similar theme as seen in the Luke 4 text:

“He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.” (4)

Also,  Paul says:

“ For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:22-24

Paul notes here about how Jews demand signs. While actions by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah etc. show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophets such as Moses. “Signs” have a specific apologetic function in that they are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God.

“Sign” (sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). As far as the “signs’ Jesus does,  29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs three “signs,” at the beginning of his ministry; the water turned into wine at Cana at Galilee (2:1-12), the healing of the son of the royal official at Capernaum (4:46-64), and catching of the fish in the sea of Galilee (21:1-14). The link between the first two signs in Jn 2:12 while the link between the last two are seen in Jn 7:1, 3-4, 6, 9. Jesus follows the pattern of Moses in that he reveals himself as the new Moses because Moses also had to perform three “signs” so that he could be recognized by his brothers as truly being sent by God (Exod. 4: 1-9). In the exchange between Nicodemus said to Jesus, Nicodemus said, We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2). Also, the signs of Jesus are part of the apostolic preaching:

#4: A Prophetic Messiah

Moses and Jesus both claim to speak the words of God. It is also evident at the time of Jesus, that Jewish people were looking for a prophet like Moses. For example:

The people said, “When they heard these words, some of the crowd began to say, “This really is the Prophet!” (John 7:40)

Now when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, “This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14)

John the Baptist began to preach, he was asked, “Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:19-23).

Also, Peter refers to Jesus as the prophet of Deut. 18:15-18:

And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.—Acts 3: 17-24

Peter is referring to the Deut.18: 15-18 text:

 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

Here, we can notice the emphasis, “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” The prophet only respeaks the words of God (cf. Jer 1:9: Isa. 59: 21). God said to Moses “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exod. 4:12).

 We see  in the context of Numbers 16, Moses faced his opposition in that they challenged his headship and authority.  Hence, they challenge the idea that Moses has a special mission and that he was sent  from God.  In response, Moses  defends his mission in that he has never “acted on his own,” i.e., claiming for himself an authority which he did not have.  Moses says, ” Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord”  (Num.16:28).

 As far as Jesus being like Moses, we see a similar pattern in that Jesus doesn’t claim to speak or act on his own authority:

 So Jesus answered them and said, My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him”  (John 7: 16-18)

So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught meAnd he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”

I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world. (John 8:26)

For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12: 49-50).

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works (John 14:10).

Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (John 14:24).

For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me (John 17:8).

Also,  while actions by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah etc. show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophets such as Moses. “Signs” have a specific apologetic function in that they are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. Hence, the signs Moses does proves he is truly sent from God.  Moses had struggled with his prophetic call when he said “ But they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ (Exod. 4:1). God assures Moses that  the “signs”  will confirm his call:  

 God says, “I will be with you. And this will be אוֹת “the sign”  to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).

“If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (Exod 4: 8-9).

We see the signs are used to help people believe.

 Moses “performed the “signs” before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31)

“Works” are directly related to the miracles of Jesus (Jn. 5:20; 36;10:25; 32-28; 14:10-12; 15:24) and is synonymous with “signs.” Interestingly enough, when Jesus speaks of miracles and he calls them “works” he doesn’t refer to  Exod. 4:1-9, but to Num. 16:28, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.” For example:

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25).

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me;  but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38).

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me (John 5: 36)

#5: A Priestly Messiah

The priest (Heb. cohanim) was anointed in his role as a mediator between God and the Jewish people because of his ability make to make atonement (Lev.4:26;31,35;5:6,10; 14:31).  There are implicit passages in the Hebrew Bible that discuss a priestly aspect of the Messiah (Hag:1:12-14; 2:2-4; 20-23; Zech:3:6-10;4:2-5,11-14).  In the Qumran community which predated the time of Jesus was convinced there were possibly two Messiahs, one priestly and one royal (1QS 9.11; CD 12.22-23; 13. 20-22; 14. 18-19; 19.34-20.1; CD-B 1.10-11; 2.1; 1Q Sa 2. 17-22). The Messiah’s priestly work is seen in Psalm 110:1-4.

As Harvey E. Finley says:

Psalm 110:4 reads: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’” This is a royal psalm. Two significant points are made about the One who is to sit at God’s right hand. First, the order of Melchizedek is declared to be an eternal order. Second, this announcement is sealed with God’s oath. Neither of these affirmations applied to the Aaronic order of priesthood. As with Melchizedek, Jesus was without the ancestral, genealogical credentials necessary for the Aaronic priesthood ( Hebrews 7:3; Hebrews 7:13; Hebrews 7:16), he was also before Aaron and the transitory, imperfect law and Levitical priesthood  ( Hebrews 7:11-12; Hebrews 7:17-18 ; 8:7 ). Melchizedek, Aaron, and his descendants all died, preventing them from continuing in office ( 7:3).  Jesus has been exalted to a permanent priesthood by his resurrection and enthronement at the right hand of God in the heaven (8:1). (5)

#6: A Suffering Messiah

As far as any expectation of a suffering Messiah, see Michael Brown’s pdf here.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that the are a variety of Messianic expectations, I think Jesus is the most likely candidate to fulfill all six of the ones mentioned here.

Sources:

  1. David Berger and Michael Wyschogrod, “Jews and Jewish Christianity” A Jewish Response to the Missionary Challenge (Toronto: Jews for Judaism, 2002), 20; cited in Oskar Skarsaune,  In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity (Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 302.
  2.   Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darrell L. Bock, and Gordon H. Johnston, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing The Promises, Expectations, And Coming of Israel’s King ( Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2012),  80.
  3. See The Concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament at http://www.worldofthebible.com/Bible%20Studies/The%20Concept%20…;
  4.  Evans, C.A., and P. W. Flint, Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1997). Qumran is the site of the ruin about nine miles south of Jericho on the west side of the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in nearby caves. The Dead Sea Scrolls contains some 800 scrolls with parts or the entirety of every book of the Old Testament except Esther, discovered in the caves near Qumran.
  5. Harvey E. Finley, Melchizedek” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996).
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Why Would God Become a Jewish Man? A Look at the Jewish Background of the Incarnation

A quick note: If you want to study this topic further, there are other articles on this website that deal with the reliability of the New Testament. However, I am starting with the following premises and conclusion.

1.The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence.
2.The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate. This claim to divinity was proven by a unique convergence of His messianic actions/His speaking authority, and His resurrection.
3.Therefore, there is reliable historical evidence that Jesus is the incarnation of The God of Israel.

The Incarnation

“I used to think the becoming incarnate was impossible for God. But recently I have come to the conclusion that it is un-Jewish to say that this is something that the God of the Bible cannot do, that he cannot come that close. I have second thoughts about the incarnation.” -The late Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide.” (1)

Over the years I have heard the objection that the deity of Jesus was something that was invented by the Christian Church. For the Muslim, Jesus is regarded as a prophet, but is certainly not God in human flesh. Furthermore, for the majority in the Jewish community, it has been said that the incarnation doesn’t find it’s roots in Judaism. I have also heard the objection that Jesus never claimed to be God.

In order to cover all these issues, I would have to type up several posts. So I hope to clear up a few issues here:

For starters, there are some good reasons as to why Jesus would never say “I am God.” The Hebrew Bible forbids worshiping anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9). For Jesus to ever say something so explicit would insinuate that he was calling upon his audience to believe in two “Gods”- the God of Israel and Jesus. And to Gentiles this would allow Jesus to fit nicely into their polytheism (the belief in many gods).

In Judaism, there is a term called “avodah zarah” which is defined as the formal recognition or worship as God of an entity that is in fact not God. In other words, any acceptance of a non-divine entity as your deity is a form of avodah zarah. (2)

Remember, no Greek or Roman myth spoke of the literal incarnation of a monotheistic God followed by his death and physical resurrection. The attempt to say that the Jewish believers were simply emulating the Gentiles in their polytheism won’t work. After all, there are several references to the negative views of Gentile polytheism (Acts 17: 22-23; 1 Cor 8:5). The New Testament shows that the early Jewish believers have negative views of gentile polytheism (Acts 17: 22-23; 1 Cor 8:5). The Jewish people regard Gentiles as both sinful (Gal 2:5) and idolatrous (Rom 1:23). Also, the old argument that Jesus’ divinity was simply borrowed from paganism or some sort of mystery religion is overly problematic. Scholars were showing the inherent problems with this thesis as far back as the 1970’s. If anything, the Jewish people were resistant to Hellenism and paganism.

Titles for Jesus

So as we look at the incarnation, we can observe that several of the Christological titles for Jesus in the New Testament find their foundation in Judaism. So let’s look at some of these titles and see if we can learn about the Jewish background of the incarnation.

1. Wisdom

One aspect of looking at Jesus’ deity draws on Israel’s Wisdom literature. Israel’s Wisdom literature includes books such as Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon. Protestants do not accept Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon as part of their canon. In examining the following texts, it can be observed there are amazing similarities. Hence, it would be hard to deny that the “high” Christology of the New Testament was not greatly influenced by Wisdom Christology. By the way, Christology is the study of the person of Jesus. First century Jewish people were strongly monotheistic, so to them, the figure of Wisdom was not a second God. Wisdom is described not only as a personification of God, but as a separate person from God.

One passage in the New Testament that plays a pivotal role to the deity of Jesus is John 1: 1-3, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” The theme of incarnate Word of God is displayed in other New Testament Scriptures such as 1 Cor. 8:6; Col.1:15-17; Heb.1:2-3; Rev.3:14.

The point of these Christological passages is that God created the world through Jesus and by Jesus. Scholars who specialize in Christology have labored to find an explanation for pre-existence in Judaism that can form the background for Christology. As Oskar Skarsaune notes in his book In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity, “The question becomes which thing or person-which X-is playing an imperative role in Judaism in statements such as “God created the world through X,” then the answer can be explained by glancing at the Jewish writings of the Second Temple period; the only explanation for such an X is the Wisdom of God.” (3)

For example, some of the Scriptures speaking of the Wisdom of God are seen in Prov. 3:19, “The LORD by wisdom founded the earth, By understanding He established the heavens,” as well as in Prov. 8:29-30, “When He set for the sea its boundary so that the water would not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth; then I was beside Him, as a master workman.” Here is a look at some Wisdom texts:

1.Wisdom: is seen with God at creation (Prov. 8: 27-30; Wis. 9:9; Sir. 1:1). Jesus: is seen with God at creation (John 1: 8).

2.Wisdom: God created the world by Wisdom (Wis. 7:22; 9:1-2; Prov. 8:27). Jesus: God created the world by the Word (Jesus) (John 1:3).

3.Wisdom: Is the “pure emanation of the glory of God” (Wis. 7:25-26). Jesus: is the “Reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being (Heb. 1:3; Col 1:15).

4.Wisdom: Invitation to draw near, bear Wisdom’s yoke and learn (Sir. 51:23). Jesus: Invitation to draw near and take “my yoke….and learn from me (Matt 11: 28).

5.Wisdom: Whoever finds wisdom finds life (Prov. 8: 35; Bar. 4:1). Jesus: Is the giver of life (John 6: 33-35; 10:10).

6.Wisdom: People reject Wisdom and find ruin (Prov. 1: 24-31; 8:36; Sir 15:7). Jesus: People who reject Wisdom are lost (John 3:16-21).

7.Wisdom: Has its dwelling place in Israel (Sir. 34:8; Wis. 9:10; Prov. 8:31). Jesus: Has come from God into the world (John 1:1; 9-11). (4)

As Skarsaune says:

“Jesus appears in roles and functions that burst all previously known categories in Judaism. He was a prophet, but more than a prophet. He was a teacher but taught with a power and authority completely unknown to the rabbis. He could set his authority alongside of, yes, even “over” God’s authority in the Law. He could utter words with creative power. In a Jewish environment zealous for the law, only one category was “large enough” to contain the description of Jesus: the category of Wisdom.” (5)

2. Lord (Gk. Kyrios)

One of the most common Christological title that Luke uses in the book of Acts in regards to Jesus is “Lord.” In Acts 1:24, the disciples address Jesus as “Lord” and acknowledge that he knows the hearts of all people. Hence, the willingness to do this place Jesus in a role attributed to God in Jewish expectation.” For a Jewish person, when the title “Lord” (Heb. Adonai) was used in place of the divine name YHWH, this was the highest designation a Jewish person could use for deity.

As Baker”s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes:

“While kyrios was common as a polite, even honorific title for “sir” or “master, “calling Jesus “Lord” to imply divine associations or identity was by no means a convention readily adopted from the Roman world. In Jesus’ more Eastern but militantly monotheistic Jewish milieu, where the title’s application to humans to connote divinity was not only absent but anathema, the title is an eloquent tribute to the astonishing impression he made. It also points to the prerogatives he holds. Since Jesus is Lord, he shares with the Father qualities like deity ( Rom 9:5 ), preexistence ( John 8:58 ), holiness ( Heb 4:15 ), and compassion ( 1 John 4:9 ), to name just a few. He is co-creator ( Col 1:16 ) and co-regent, presiding in power at the Father’s right hand ( Acts 2:33 ; Eph 1:20 ; Heb 1:3 ), where he intercedes for God’s people ( Rom 8:34 ) and from whence, as the Creed states, he will return to judge the living and dead ( 2 Thess 1:7-8 ).” (6)

3. Jesus is given “The Name”

What is even more significant is the statement in Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other NAME under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” How could Jesus be declared as the only one whom God’s salvation is effected? In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identification of the being and essence of its bearer.
James R. Edwards summarizes the importance of this issue:

“In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identifi cation of the being and essence of its bearer. To the Jewish people, an idol could not properly have a “name” because it has no being represented by the name (Is. 44:9-21). The “name” to which the apostles refer does not signify an event, but a person, in whom the authority and power of God was active in salvation. The saving activity of God was and is expressed in the name of Jesus Christ.The name of Jesus is thereby linked in the closest possible way to the name of God. “No other name” does not refer to a second name of God, but to the unity of God with Jesus, signifying one name, one nature, one saving activity. The shared nature of God and Jesus is signaled in the most striking way by the custom of the early church to pray to God in the name of Jesus.” (7)

So just as in the Hebrew Bible where the name of God represents the person of God and all that he is, so in the New Testament “the Name” represents all who Jesus is as Lord and Savior.

4. Jesus is the New Temple

According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal, nor capital offense. Therefore, the claim to be the Messiah was not even a blasphemous claim. (8) Why was Jesus accused of blasphemy? According to Mark 14:62, Jesus affirmed the chief priests question that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Coming Son of Man who would judge the world. This was considered a claim for deity since the eschatological authority of judgment was for God alone. Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 to himself. Also, many parables, which are universally acknowledged by critical scholars to be authentic to the historical Jesus, show that Jesus believed himself to be able to forgive sins against God (Matt. 9:2; Mark 2: 1-12).

Forgiving sins was something that was designated for God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9) and it was something that was done only in the Temple along with the proper sacrifice. So it can be seen that Jesus acts as if He is the Temple in person. In Mark 14:58, it says,”We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ The Jewish leadership knew that God was the one who was responsible for building the temple (Ex. 15:17; 1 En. 90:28-29).(9)

Also, God is the only one that is permitted to announce and threaten the destruction of the temple (Jer. 7:12-13; 26:4-6, 9;1 En.90:28-29). (10) It is also evident that one reasons Jesus was accused of blasphemy was because He usurped God’s authority by making himself to actually be God (Jn. 10:33, 36). Not only was this considered to be blasphemous, it was worthy of the death penalty (Matt. 26:63-66; Mk. 14:61-65). (10)

5. Jesus as the Shechinah

In the Bible, the Shechinah is the visible manifestation of the presence of God in which He descends to dwell among men. While the Hebrew form of the glory of the Lord is Kvod Adonai, the Greek title is Doxa Kurion. The Hebrew form Schechinah, from the root “shachan,” means “dwelling” while the Greek word “Skeinei” means to tabernacle.

The Shechinah glory is seen in the Tankah in places such as Gen.3:8; 23-24; Ex.3;1-5; 13:21-22; 14;19-20; 24; 16:6-12; 33:17-23; 34:5-9. In these Scriptures, the Shechinah is seen in a variety of visible manifestations such as light, fire, cloud, the Angel of the Lord, or a combination of all of these. The ultimate manifestation of the Shechinah was seen in the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai (Ex.19:16-20).

The Shechinah continued to dwell in the holy of holies in Tabernacle and the Temple (Ex.29:42-46; 40:34-38; 1 Kin.8:10-13). Upon the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian captivity, the second temple was finished. However, the Shechinah was not present in this temple. Haggai 2:39 is a critical passage since it discusses that the Shechinah would return in an even different and more profound way. Therefore, in relation to the incarnation, the Shechinah takes on greater significance in John 1: 1-14. As John says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” As already stated, the Greek word “Skeinei” means to tabernacle. John 1:14 literally says,” the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.”

The story of Jesus has tremendous parallels to the Shechinah story in the Hebrew Bible. In the Hebrew Bible, the Shechinah would appear and disappear at certain times while eventually making a permanent home in the tabernacle and the temple; the Shechinah also departed from the Mount of Olives. Likewise, in the New Testament, Jesus as the visible manifestation of the Shechinah, also appeared and disappeared; He also departed from Israel from the Mount of Olives. (11)

Remember, the rabbis could speak of taking upon oneself the yoke of Torah or the yoke of the kingdom; Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” (Mt 11:29). Also, the rabbis could say that if two or three men sat together, having the words of Torah among them, the shekhina (God’s own presence) would dwell on them (M Avot 3:2) ; Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be among them” (12)

6. The Word/The Memra

In the Hebrew Bible, the “Word” is discussed in a manner that takes on an independent existence of its own. As seen in John 1:1-2, the “Word” has a unique relationship with God; all things were made through Him. In this passage, John is emphasizing that the Word is with God and yet God at the same time. Paul taught a similar theme in 1 Cor. 8:6 when he says “For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”

There are other New Testament passages that communicate that the Word is Messiah Himself (Eph.3:17 and Col. 3:16; 1 Pet.1:3; John.8:31;15:17). There are also other passages in the Hebrew Bible that speak of the significance of the Word such as Ps. 33:6,“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,” while in Ps.107:20 the divine word is sent on a mission: “He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.” But why is the Christological title “Word” so significant in relation to Jewish monotheism in the first century?

In Judaism, one of the most common themes was that God was “untouchable,” or totally transcendent. Therefore, there had to be a way to describe a connection between God and his creation. (14)

Within Rabbinic thought, the way to provide the connection or link between God and his creation was what was called “The Word” or in Aramaic, the “Memra.” (15) The Targums, which were paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures play a significant role in how to understand the Memra. Since some Jewish people no longer spoke and understood Hebrew but grew up speaking Aramaic, they could only follow along in a public reading if they read from a Targum. The Aramic Targums employed the term “Memra” that translates into Greek as “Logos.” (16)

While John’s concept of the Logos is of a personal being (Christ), the Greeks thought of it as an impersonal rational principle. A good way to try to understand the term “Memra,” is to see what a passage in Genesis would have sounded like to a Jewish person hearing the public reading of a Targum. In Gen.3:8, most people who would have heard the Hebrew would have understood it as “And they heard the sound of the Word of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden.” (17) Therefore, it was not the Lord who was walking in the garden, it was the Memra’ (Word) of the Lord. The Word was not just an “it”; this Word was a him.” (18)

Conclusion: Why the Incarnation?

One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is free and personal, that he acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and that his actions includes already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intensions. The God of Israel is a God who is relational and wants people to come to know Him. The principle of progressive revelation means that God does not reveal everything at once. In progressive revelation, there are many cases where the New Testament declares explicitly what was only implicit in the Hebrew Bible. One of these truths is the Jesus is the long awaited Messiah who takes away not only the sins of Israel, but the entire world (John 1: 29; 3: 16). Although general revelation shows man is under condemnation, it is not sufficient for salvation. If the God of the Bible is a good God, it would make sense that He would give a fuller revelation of Himself to humanity.

In Matthew 16: 13-17, it says that when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

In conclusion, a question that we all have to ask is, “Who is Jesus?”

Sources:
1. Skarsaune, O, In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity (Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 335-36.
2. Berger, D, The Rebbe, The Messiah, And The Scandal Of Orthodox Indifference. Portland, Oregon: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. 2001, 171-173.
3. Skarsaune, In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity. 320-337.
4. Holmgren, F.C., The Old Testament: The Significance of Jesus-Embracing Change-Maintaining Christian Identity. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1999, 157.
5. Skarsaune, O. Incarnation: Myth or Fact? St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House 1991, 35-36.
6. This is available online at http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/jesus-christ-name-and-titles-of.html
7. These issues were pointed out in Edwards, J.R., Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Group, 2005.
8. See Bock, D.L., Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism: The Charge Against Jesus in Mark 14:53-65. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.
9. Craig, W.L., Reasonable Faith: Third Edition. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008, 307.
10. Ibid.
11. These points were laid out systematically in Fruchtenbaum, A.G, The Footsteps of Messiah: A Study of Prophetic Events. Tustin CA: Ariel Press, 1977, 409-432.
12. Skarsaune, In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity, 331.
13. Skarsaune, Incarnation: Myth or Fact?, 131.
14. Brown, M. Theological Objections, vol 2 of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 2000, 18.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid.
19.

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The Scandal of the Incarnation: A Closer Look at the Incarnation in Jewish Thought

Introduction

In the introduction of his book called The Case For The Real Jesus, author and apologist Lee Strobel says that a basic search for Jesus at Amazon.com will produce 175, 986 books on the most controversial figure in human history. Opinions about Jesus can range from him being a social revolutionary, an eschatological prophet, a social reformer, a source of a higher power, or even an enlightened being. For the Orthodox Christian, Jesus is God incarnate.It is assumed that the incarnation (a key doctrine in Christianity and to Messianic Judaism) is a concept that is foreign to mainstream Judaism. In Judaism, there is a term called “avodah zarah” which is defined as the formal recognition or worship as God of an entity that is in fact not God. In other words, any acceptance of a non-divine entity as your deity is a form of avodah zarah.

Let’s look at what Jews for Judaism says about this issue:

“The Jew equates worship of Jesus with idolatry. A Jew sees no room for discussion of this issue. A man cannot be God and that’s all there is to it. The missionary effort to present scriptural quotations as evidence to support his devotion to Jesus, is wasted on the Jew. God gave the Jewish people an understanding of Himself before He gave them the scriptures. The Jewish people read scripture in light of their understanding of God. It was God Himself who gave the Jewish people their conception of God, and it is through the lens of this fundamental teaching that we understand all subsequent revelation. The words of the prophets do not have the power to alter that which God Himself has taught us. The exact opposite is true. Our conception of God is the criterion by which the prophet’s words are evaluated.” (see full article here)

The Maimonides Objection

Moses Maimonides (1138-1204), was a medieval Jewish philosopher whose writings are considered to be foundational to Jewish thought and study. Maimonides asserted that since God is incorporeal, this means that God assumes no physical form. Therefore, God is Eternal, above time, Infinite, and beyond space. Maimonides also stated that God cannot be born, and cannot die. For Maimonides, the Messiah will be born of human parents, nor be a demi-god who possess supernatural qualities. (1) And as of today, Maimonides objections have carried on throughout the Jewish community. Therefore, for some Jewish people, a divine Messiah is not even on the table for discussion.

Jacob Neusner and the Incarnation

Jacob Neusner is one of the most prolific scholars on Judaism. You can see his credentials here. By the way, he also wrote a book called A Rabbi Talks With Jesus.

As far as Christianity and Judaism finding common ground Neusner says there is an irreconcilable division between both faiths. As Neusner says:

“ Judaisms and Christianities never meet anywhere. That is because at no point to Judaism, defined by Torah, and Christianity defined by the Bible, intersect. The Torah and the Bible from two utterly distinct statements of the knowledge of God. The Torah defines Judaism, all Judaisms- and the Bible defines Christianities — all Christianities. The difference between Torah and the Bible cannot be negotiated, and those shaped by the one can never know God as do those educated by the other. That is why faithful Judaism can never concede to the truth of Christianity; at its foundations it rests on a basis other than the Torah of Sinai” (2)

But what I find interesting is that Neusner wrote a book called The Incarnation of God: The Character of Divinity in Formative Judaism (Binghamton, NY: Global Publications, 2001). In it, Neusner explains his view of the incarnation of the Torah in the person of the sage. Ibid., 202-210. Neusner elsewhere says:

Since rabbinical documents repeatedly claim that, if you want to know the law, you should not only listen to what the rabbi says but also copy what he does, it follows that, in his person, the rabbi represents and embodies the Torah. God in the Torah revealed God’s will and purpose for the world. So God had said what the human being should be. The rabbi was the human being in God’s image. That, to be sure, is why (but merely by the way) what the rabbi said about the meaning of Scripture derived from revelation. Collections of the things he said about Scripture constituted compositions integral to the Torah. So in the rabbi, the word of God was made flesh. And out of the union of man and Torah, producing the rabbi as Torah incarnate, was born Judaism, the faith of Torah: the ever present revelation, the always open-canon. For fifteen hundred years, from the time of the first collections of scriptural exegeses to our own day, the enduring context for midrash remained the same: encounter with the living God.”  (3)

I should note that even though Neusner makes these statements, he is in no way affirming the Christian view of the incarnation. However, it is fascinating that he has attempted to engage the topic.

The Shekinah

In the Bible, the Shekinah is the visible manifestation of the presence of God in which He descends to dwell among men. While the Hebrew form of the glory of the Lord is “Kvod Adonai,” the Greek title is “Doxa Kurion.” The Hebrew form Schechinah, from the root “shachan,” means “dwelling” while the Greek word “Skeinei” means to tabernacle. (4) The Shechinah glory is seen in a variety of visible manifestations such as light, fire,a cloud, the Angel of the Lord, or a combination of all of these. For the Jewish people, the ultimate manifestation of the Shekinah was seen in the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai (Ex.19:16-20).

In relation to the Torah and Jesus, it is also significant to note the following comment by New Testament scholar Oskar Skarsaune:

The Word became flesh and tabernacles among us” (John1;14, authors translation). In the Wisdom poem of Sirach 24, Wisdom becomes incarnate as the Torah given at Sinai-and at the very center of the Torah is the sacrificial service of the tabernacle temple). That is probably the meaning when Wisdom is said to make priestly service in the holy tent on Zion (Sirach 24:10). If Jesus was incarnate, this could make us understand that he not only taught the way of life, but that he had to be the true high priest, bringing the final sacrifice doing the final priestly service in “the holy tent.” At the very center of the Mosaic Torah are atoning sacrifices. Jesus, the Torah in person, atoned with his own blood. We see this in the Holy of Holies imagery in Romans 3;25. Hebrews also links the Wisdom Christology to the theme of Jesus as the high priest in chapters 5-11. (5)

What is interesting is that the rabbis could say that if two or three men sat together, having the words of Torah among them, the Shekhina (God’s own presence) would dwell on them (M Avot 3:2). So how does Jesus fit into this scenario? Perhaps we should recall that Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in MY name, I will be among them” (Matt 18:20). (6) In this case, Jesus is the walking Shekinah who has the authority to bring’s God’s presence to all humans. Hence, Jesus never pointed to the Torah or anything other than his own person.

Conclusion

In relation to the impossibility of an incarnation in Jewish thought, I find this quote to be rather interesting:

“I used to think the becoming incarnate was impossible for God. But recently I have come to the conclusion that it is un-Jewish to say that this is something that the God of the Bible cannot do, that he cannot come that close. I have second thoughts about the incarnation.” -The late Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide.” (7)

I have barely scratched the surface in discussing the Jewish background of the incarnation. But we can conclude that the dogmatic assertion that the incarnation is the product of Hellenized thought is mistaken. I have written a post that discusses this issue in greater length here.

Sources:

  1. Rabbi Shraga Simmons.“ Why Don’t Jews Believe In Jesus?” available at https://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/jewsandjesus/, accessed July 22, 2018.
  2.  Paul Copan and Craig A.Evans, Who was Jesus? A Jewish-Christian Dialogue. (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2001), 125.
  3. Jacob Neusner, Midrash in Context: Exegesis in Formative Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 137.
  4. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah: A Study of Prophetic Events (Tustin CA: Ariel Press, 1977), 409-432.
  5.  Oskar Skarsaune. In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity. (Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 329.
  6.  Ibid, 331.
  7.  Ibid, 335-336.
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Answering the Objection “If Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, where’s the peace?”

In a previous post, I discussed some of the common objections anti-missionaries and groups like Jews for Judaism make to the claims about Jesus being the Jewish Messiah of Israel and the nations. 

One objection that always comes up is that if Jesus is really the Messiah, how come there’s no peace in the world?  So one of the traditional objections is that Jesus is not the Messiah since he did not fulfill the job description. One of the Jewish expectations is that the Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer.23: 5-8; Mic.5:4-6), and usher in a period of worldwide peace.The Messiah is supposed to put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is.2:1-22; 25:8; 65:25; Mic.4:1-4). Thus, if the Messiah has come,  it seems that there is supposed to be societal and political transformation.  Isa. 2:2–4 speaks of international harmony under the ruling Messiah will occur. While messianic salvation has been inaugurated in this present age, societal transformation of the nations has not happened yet. Passages like Isaiah 2, Micah 4:1-3  Isaiah 19:24–25, and Zechariah 14 predict nations will worship God.

So we  are supposed to see the challenge: anti-missionaries can string together some texts in the Jewish Scriptures and then say “Case closed, Jesus is not the Messiah.” If you read the texts just mentioned, some of them don’t even mention a personal Messiah at all.  Also, as I have said before, Israel’s faithfulness and the role of the Messiah go together. Thus, if Israel doesn’t fulfill their side of the covenant, there is a delay in blessings. 

One text anti-missionaries  try to use is Isaiah 11: 6-9:

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the land will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6-9).”

Now, it is obvious this text speaks of some sort of utopia conditions on earth. As Richard Bauckham says here in his online article: 

“Occasionally this passage has been read as an allegory of peace between nations, while inattentive modern readers sometimes see it as a picture simply of peace between animals. In fact, it depicts peace between the human world, with its domestic animals (lamb, kid, calf, bullock, cow), and those wild animals (wolf, leopard, lion, bear, poisonous snakes) that were normally perceived as threats both to human livelihood and to human life. For the Israelite farmer, the unacceptable face of wild nature was these dangerous animals. What is depicted in the prophecy is the reconciliation of the human world with wild nature. Significantly, humans and domestic animals are all represented by their young, the most vulnerable. Each of the pairs of animals in verses 6-7 is carefully chosen, so that each predator is paired with a typical example of that predator’s prey. Especially from verse 7, it is clear that this peaceful condition is possible because the carnivorous animals have become, like the domestic animals, vegetarian. No doubt, this also includes humans. The pairing of the snakes and the children (v 8) differs from the other pairs in that the child is not the prey of the snake, but its poison is nonetheless dangerous to a child who ignorantly interferes with its hiding-place. This is a utopian (or, we might say, ecotopian) picture of the future kingdom of the Messiah that harks back to the primeval utopia that Genesis depicts as the beginning of human history.

Originally, all the creatures of the earth were vegetarian (Gen 1:29- Bauckham Page 3 30), and violence both among humans and between humans and animals came with the degeneration of life on earth that provoked the Flood (Gen 6:11-13). Isaiah’s description of the peaceable kingdom probably also alludes to the human responsibility for other living creatures that God gave humans at creation (Gen 1:26, 28). The first depiction of animals at peace (Isa 11:6) concludes: ‘a little child shall lead them.’ This is a reference to shepherding practice, in which the domestic animals willingly follow the shepherd who leads them to pasture. Even a small child can lead a flock of sheep or herd of goats, because no force or violence is required. In the ecotopia of Isaiah the little child will be able to lead also the wolf, the leopard and the lion. It is a picture of gentle and beneficial service to wild animals, which the animals now willingly receive. It is how we might imagine Adam and Eve related to the animals in the garden of Eden. This is not to say that the messianic kingdom is merely a return to the garden of Eden. It is more than that, but the original innocence of humans and animals does provide a model for the way this prophet envisages the future.”

Anti-missionaries like to say that  in worshiping a deified Messiah/God man, Christians and Messianic Jews are committing idolatry. But the question  is what kind of ordinary, anointed, Davidic King  can usher in such a peaceable kingdom on earth and restore the earth back to Eden? The other problem is that perhaps there is societal peace unless there is peace between people. And the only way there can be peace between people is if mankind’s heart is changed. Thus, there needs to be atonement. I talk more about that here.

To see more about this objection, see Michael L Brown,  General and Historical Objections 

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The Biggest Challenge to Sharing the Gospel and Doing Apologetics on a College Campus

People often ask me what are some of the most common challenges to doing outreach and apologetics on a college campus. I direct two apologetic ministries. One is at The Ohio State University (64,000 students) and the other is at Columbus State Community College (30,000 students).  I discuss this in this short clip here.

 

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Remembering Larry Hurtado and his contributions to early Christology

For those that may not know,  New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado recently lost his battle with leukemia. I was saddened to hear this and I as I look back over the last several years, Hurtado’s work on early Christology was a huge blessing to me. If you have never read any of his books, a few stand out here.

 

The earliest records we have for the Christology of Jesus are Paul’s letters.  And 1 Cor. 15:3-8 and 1 Cor. 11:23 along with other, short Christian creeds include II Timothy 2:8, and Romans 1:3-4 show that the core  teachings of the Gospel (Jesus died for our sins and rose again) pre-date Paul. Hence, the core of the Gospel was being circulated very early and even before Paul was a believer.

Let’s look at Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 8: 5-6:

“For though there are things that are called gods, whether in the heavens or on earth; as there are many gods and many lords; yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we live through him.”

Here is a distinct echo of the Shema, a creed that every Jew would have memorized from a very early age. When we read Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which says, “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is our God, the Lord is one,” Paul ends up doing something extremely significant in the history of Judaism.

A glance at the entire context of the passage in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 shows that according to Paul’s inspired understanding, Jesus receives the “name above all names,” the name God revealed as his own, the name of the Lord. In giving a reformulation of the Shema, Paul still affirms the existence of the one God, but what is unique is that somehow this one God now includes the one Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Therefore, Paul’s understanding of this passage begets no indication of abandoning Jewish monotheism in place of paganism.

For a Jewish person, when the title “Lord” (Heb. Adonai) was used in place of the divine name YHWH, this was the highest designation a Jewish person could use for deity. Furthermore, it would have been no problem to confess Jesus as prophet, priest, or king since these offices already existed in the Hebrew Bible. After all, these titles were used for a human being. There was nothing divine about them.

 Hurtado  describes the early devotion to Jesus as a “mutation.” One of the primary factors that Hurtado presents for the cause of this “mutation” in the context of Jewish monotheism is the resurrection itself and the post-resurrection appearances. Some of the features in the early Jesus devotion are as follows:

First, there are hymns to Jesus ( Col 1:15-20; Phil.2:5-11) which are exalted things about him done in song.

Second, there are prayers to Jesus: we see prayer to Jesus in prayer-like expressions such as “grace and peace” greetings at the beginning of Paul’s letters and in the benedictions at the end. Also, the early followers of Jesus are seen “calling upon” the name of Jesus as Lord (Acts 9:14, 21; 22:16;1 Cor. 1:2; Rom. 10:13), which is the same pattern that is used in the Hebrew Bible where it refers to “calling upon the Lord” (Gen. 12:8;13:4 ;21:23 ; 26:25; Psalms 99:6;105:1; Joel 2:32).

See his lecture here which is called “How did Jesus become a God.”

Hurtado will be greatly missed. I appreciated his scholarship on the early Christology topic.

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Three Stages in the Formation of the Gospels

The Case for Jesus by Brant Pitre

If you haven’t picked up The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ by Brant Pitre, I highly recommend it. As I have noted before on this blog, even though  the Christian can always offer certain dates for the Gospels, it should remembered that there was a gap of time between the ascension of Jesus and when the Gospel authors actually wrote their individual biographies about the life of Jesus.  Therefore, there was  a period where the words and deeds of Jesus were committed to memory by the disciples and transmitted orally. Remember, the home, the synagogue, and the elementary school was where Jewish people learned how to memorize and recall information such as community prayers. As Craig Evans notes in his article on Jewish Scripture and the Literacy of Jesus, according to the Shema, which all Torah observant Jews were expected to recite daily, parents were to teach  their children the Torah ( Deut 4:9; 6:7; 11:19; 31:12-13; 2 Chr 17:7-9; Eccl 12:9).

Pitre, notes there were three stages in the formation of the Gospels. This is nice summary of the role of the oral tradition/the memory aspect to the formation of the Gospels. He says the following:

Stage 1. The Life and Teaching of Jesus:

 As a Jewish “rabbi” (rabbi), Jesus “taught” (didaskō) his “students” (mathētai) in the context of a rabbi-student relationship. His students lived with him and learned from him for some three years. During this time, Jesus expected his students to “remember” (mnēmoneuō) what he said and instructed them to begin “teaching” (didaskō) others while he was still alive (see Mark 4:1-20; 6:1-13, 30; 8:18; 9:5; 11:21; and parallels).

 Stage 2. The Preaching of Jesus’s Students:

 After Jesus’s death, the students of Jesus “remembered” (mnēmoneuō) what he had said and done, and they “taught” (didaskō) others about what they had seen and heard. Their preaching was based on the skilled memories of trained students and the rehearsed memories of disciples who repeatedly preached about what Jesus said and did (see John 2:22; 12:16; 15:20; 16:4; Acts 4:2-20; 20:35).

Stage 3. The Writing of the Gospels

Eventually, the evangelists “wrote” (graphō) either what they themselves “witnessed” (martyreō) or what was “handed on” (paradidōmi) to them by “eyewitnesses” (autoptai) who were present with Jesus “from the beginning” (see Luke 1:1-4; John 21:24).  If this description of the stages of tradition through which the life and teaching of Jesus have come down to us is basically correct, then three important implications follow. First, Jesus’s disciples were students who remembered what he did and what he said. Although nowadays we tend to use the word “disciple” to refer to a “believer,” in the first century AD, it literally meant “student” (Greek mathētēs; Hebrew talmid).9 Being a student in the ancient world was radically different from what it is like today, when it simply means you may (or may not) listen to a fifty-minute lecture three times a week for a semester. Being one of Jesus’s students meant following him everywhere, and listening to him all the time, for anywhere between one and three years. As the Gospels make clear, it also meant remembering what he said (Matthew 16:9; Mark 8:18; John 15:20; 16:4). In the words of John Meier: Jesus called individuals to follow him literary, physically, as he undertook various preaching tours of Galilee, Judea and surrounding areas…. Following Jesus as his disciple meant leaving behind one’s home, parents, and livelihood. One could not follow Jesus simply by staying at home and studying his teachings or by going to his school-house and attending his lectures.

If we take seriously the evidence for the apostolic origins of the Gospels, then the four Gospels are not based on the memories of just anybody. They either contain the memories of Jesus’s students (the Gospels of Matthew and John) or are based on the memories of Jesus’s students that were passed on to their followers (such as Mark’s record of Peter’s preaching). Even Luke’s Gospel claims to be based on the testimony of those who were eyewitnesses “from the beginning” of Jesus’s public ministry (Luke 1:1). Notice how different this is from the now widespread theory that our information about Jesus is primarily based on decade after decade of anonymous storytelling. Of course uncontrolled stories about Jesus circulated; the Gospel of Luke even mentions anonymous “reports” (Greek ēchos) making the rounds during Jesus’s lifetime (Luke 4:37).

However, as I have argued in earlier chapters, that’s not what the four Gospels claim to be. They are not the last links in a long chain of anonymous rumors and stories. They are ancient biographies and authoritative accounts of the life of Jesus based on the testimony of his students. As such, they function in part precisely as controls over what was being said about Jesus.11 Second, in the years between Jesus’s death and the writing of the Gospels, the disciples of Jesus would have frequently rehearsed their memories in the course of preaching and teaching. In fact, as Dale Allison points out, the disciples would have likely begun “rehearsing” the teachings of Jesus already during his lifetime, starting with the first time they were sent on mission by Jesus himself (see Matthew 10:1-23; Mark 6:7-12; Luke 9:1-10).12 One reason this is important is that, as Richard Bauckham states, “Frequent recall is an important factor in both retaining the memory and retaining it accurately.”13 Anyone who is a teacher knows this to be true. I might not be able to tell you what I did last week, but I could give you a three-hour lecture about Jesus and the Jewish roots of the Last Supper with zero preparation because I have been talking about it all the time for the last ten years.14 That’s one key difference between rehearsed memories and incidental memories.”-Kindle Locations, 1516-1562.

Feel free to read more on this topic at our following links:

Jesus, the Gospels, and the Telephone Game Objection

Jewish Scripture and the Literacy of Jesus by Craig Evans

With no scripture in place, what controlled doctrine in the 1st century? By Darrell Bock

The Issue of Oral Tradition: Dr. Darrell Bock

How Reliable were the Oral traditions about Jesus? – Dr. Craig Keener

Mark Roberts on Oral Tradition/Telephone Game Objections

A Look at Oral Tradition/The Orality Phase of the Jesus Story

James M. Arlandson: Historical Reliability of the Gospels

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