Jesus: Reformer of Judaism or Founder of Christianity?

I have found “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus” to be rather refreshing. Granted, all the quests may be coming to an end.

Anyway, rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism.(1) In this study, scholars have placed a great deal of emphasis on the social world of first- century Palestine. The scholars of the Third Quest have rejected the idea that the Jesus of the New Testament was influenced by Hellenic Savior Cults. (2)

Some of the non-Jewish scholars that have been active in the Third Quest are Craig A. Evans, I. Howard Marshall, James H. Charlesworth, N.T. Wright, and James D.G. Dunn. In his book Jesus and the Victory of God,Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2, author N.T.Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.” (3)

As Philip Yancey says,

“Is it possible to read the Gospels without blinders on? Jews read with suspicion, preparing to be scandalized. Christians read through the refracted lenses of church history. Both groups, I believe would do well to pause and reflect on Matthew’s first words, “a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” The son of David speaks of Jesus’ messianic line, which Jews should not ignore; a title without significance for him.” Notes C.H. Dodd,”The son of Abraham speaks of Jesus’ Jewish line, which Christians dare not ignore either.” (4)

Jaroslav Pelikan also makes a signifcant comment:

“Would there have been such anti-Semitism, would there have been so many pogroms, would there have been as Auschwitz, if every Christian church and every Christian home had focused its devotion and icons of Mary not only as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven but as the Jewish maiden and the new Miriam, and on icons of Christ not only as Pantocrator but as Rabbi Jeshua bar-Joseph, Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth?”(5)

New Testament scholar Scot McKnight has made a great contribution to the continuity of Jesus’ relationship with Israel. He says:

“Scholarship is now recognizing that Jesus’ mission was directed toward the nation of Israel. This means that his understanding of God himself must be oriented toward an understanding of God that emerges from the covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David, which guided the history of the nation to the time of Jesus. The God of Jesus, accordingly, is the God of Israel, who is now restoring the nation and renewing its people as he had promised long ago.” (6)

Two areas where a Jewish framework helps:

#1 Jesus and the Name of God

As McKnight says:

“At no place have Christians been more insensitive to Judaism that when it comes to what Jesus believes and teaches about God. In particular, the concept that Jesus was the first to teach about God as Abba and that this innovation revealed that Jesus thought of God in terms of love while Jews thought of God in terms of holiness, wrath, and distance are intolerably inaccurate in the realm of historical study and, to be quite frank, simple pieces of bad polemics. The God of Jesus was the God of Israel, and there is nothing in Jesus’ vision of God that is not formed in the Bible he inherited from his ancestors and learned from his father and mother” (7) “Countless Christians repeat the Lord’s Prayer. When Jesus urged His followers to “hallow” or “sanctify” the Name of God (Matt 6:9), many are unaware of what that may have meant in Jesus’ day- in part, because Christianity has lost sight of God’s awesome splendorous holiness. A good reading of Amos 2:6-8 discusses this issue. “Reverencing the Name of God” is not just how Israel speaks of God-that it does not take the Name of God in vain when it utters oaths or when someone stubs a toe or hits a finger with an instrument -but that God’s Name is profaned when Israel lives outside the covenant and by defiling the name of God in it’s behavior” (Jer 34:15-46; Ezek. 20:39; Mal 1:6-14).
God’s Name is attached to the covenant people, and when the covenant people lives in sin, God’s Name is dragged into that sin along with His people. So, when Jesus urges his followers to “reverence,” or “sanctify” the Name of God, he is thinking of how his disciples are to live in the context of the covenant: they are to live obediently as Israelites.” (8)

#2 Righteousness: As McKnight says:

“When most Christians think of this term, they are faced with two problems: First, that the apostle Paul used this term so much in the sense of “imputed” righteousness and did so in an innovative, however, effective, manner; and second, that is what the cognate in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek is not so in English. Fundamentally, the term “righteousness” along with its cognates, describes an Israelites relationship to God and his Torah, and that relationship is conceived in its behavioral categories: the righteous Israelite is one who does Torah as a covenant member (Deut 6:25; Job 22:6-93; Ps 1:4-6; Ezek.45:9) Jesus teaches about such righteousness as did his Jewish ancestors, as well as John (Luke 3:7-14; Matt 21:28-32), to describe those Jewish followers of his who wholeheartedly conformed their obedience to Torah, as taught by him (Matt 5:17-48), in the context of renewal of the covenant taking place though his offer of the kingdom.” (9)

Some other aspects of Jesus’ Jewish life:

Jesus participated in Mikvah: (Matt. 3:13-16)
Circumcision (Lk. 2:21): Jesus’ parents are obedient to Mosaic Law by having him circumcised on 8th day
Mary’s Purification (Lk. 2:22-24): Mary follows purification law (Lev. 12)
Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem every year at Passover: (Lk. 2:41)
Jesus’ model prayer bears resemblance to typical Jewish prayers:(Matt. 6:8-13)
Jesus wore “tzit-tzit” or fringes: (Matt. 9:20)
Jesus revered the Temple and ceremonial worship:(Jn. 2:16)
Much of Jesus’ teaching is done in context of Jewish Holy Days: Sabbath (Matt. 12); Feast of Tabernacles (Jn. 7); Feast of Passover (Matt. 26); Hanukkah (Jn. 10)
Jesus taught in the synagogue: (Lk.4:14-20; Jn. 18:20)
Jesus gathered disciples:(Matt. 8:23)
Paul says Jesus became a servant to the Jewish people: (Rom. 15:8)
Jesus settled disputes: (Mk. 9:33-37)
Jesus debated other rabbis:(Matt. 12:1-14)
Jesus viewed His mission to the lost sheep of Israel: (Matt. 15:24)
Jesus commissioned the seventy to go to the lost sheep of Israel: (Matt. 10:5-6)
Jesus viewed himself as being revealed in the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms, (Lk. 24:44); (Jn. 5:39)
Jesus taught Scripture was authoritative: Jesus quotes passages from the Torah in the temptation in the wilderness: (Matt. 4:1-11)
Jesus discussed how Scripture (The Tanakh) is imperishable in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:2-48)
Jesus also discussed how Scripture is infallible: (Jn. 10:35)

Jesus: Reformer of Judaism or Founder of Christianity?

It is important to note that there was no Christianity at the time of Jesus. Jesus certainly didn’t see himself as a Christian nor called his followers Christians. Even most Jews acknowledge that Jesus is not the founder of Christianity. They tend to think Paul is. Granted, this is mistaken as well and has been talked about elsewhere. Anyway, given the Messiah is the ideal representaive of his people, he is called to help Israel fulfill her calling. Hence, we should see Jesus’ messianic mission as to Israel on behalf of the nations. As we see here:

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers,[c] cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics[d] or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”- Matthew 10: 5-15

And here:

“And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” – Matthew 15: 21-24.

However, we see at the end of Matthew that Jesus commands his followers to bring the nations into God’s redemptive plan (Matt 28:19).

As Richard Baukham says:

“Matthew frames the whole story of Jesus between the identification of him as the descendant of Abraham in the opening verse of the Gospel and, in the closing words of Jesus at the end of the Gospels, the commissions of the disciples of Jesus to the make disciples of all nations. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham (1:1-2) not with Adam, as Luke’s does (3:38) nor with David, which would have been sufficient to portray Jesus the Messiah the son of David, which certainly is an important theme here in Matthew’s Gospel. However, for Matthew, Jesus is the Messiah not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. He is the descendant of Abraham through whom God’s blessing will reach the nations.”(10)

Did Jesus succeed in reforming Israel?

The answer is yes and no. There is no doubt that a large part of national/ethnic Israel rejected him. One passage that is misunderstood is the following: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits”-Matthew 21:43. Some have said that this teaches God divorced and judged unfaithful Israel (who had murdered the Messiah) and married a faithful bride: His Church. However, a more careful reading shows that the “you” of Matt 21:43 is identified in Matt 21:45 not as Israel or the Jewish people but as ‘the chief priests and the Pharisees,”—the temple authorities who confronted Jesus in Matt 21:23-27. The “people” referred to in Matt 21:43 is not the church in contrast to to the Jewish people, but the new leadership group that will replace the old.

Furthermore, Craig Keener notes that “nation” here probably recalls Ex 19:6 and strict Jewish groups that characterized themselves as “righteous remnants” within Israel (e.g.,Qumran) could also view themselves as heirs of the biblical covenant community. In this period “ethnos” applies to guilds, associations, social classes or other groups oe even orders of priests: urban Greeks used the term for rural Greeks, the LXX for Gentiles, and Greeks for non Greeks. Matthew implies not rejection of Israel but of dependence on any specific group membership, be it synagogue or church (The Gospel f Matthew: A Social Rhetorical Commentary), pgs,515, 516

There has always been a faithful remnant who did believe and went on to carry out what Israel had always been called to do which is to be a “light to the nations.” The Abrahamic Covenant was prophetic. In this sense, there are several aspects of the covenant such as land promises, etc. But as far as Gentiles, they are supposed to receive spiritual blessings, but ultimately these were fulfilled though one specific “seed” of Abraham—the Messiah. Also, the true Israel is those that are circumcised in heart (see the rest of Romans as well). However, Romans 11: 12 indicates a staged progression in blessing the Gentiles. The “riches” Gentiles are experiencing now during the state of Israel’s “stumbling” will escalate with the “full number” of national Israel’s salvation (see Rom. 11:26). The 10 references to “Israel” in Romans 9-11 refer to ethnic/national Israel so the Israel who will be saved in Rom 11:26 must refer to ethnic/national Israel. Israel will experience a national restoration and salvation at some point in the future.There is no reason to think that “Israel” in Rom 9-11 is referring to “spiritual Israel” which is composed of Jews and Gentiles. Also, there is no use of “Israel” in the Gospels/Acts which does not refer to the Jewish people/nation, the Israel of the Jewish Scriptures. Israel will be grafted back in when the fullness of the Gentiles leads it to respond (Rom 11:11-12; 15, 30-32).

Also, given Israel’s calling it should be no shock that in Ephesians 2: 11-3:6, the Gentiles recipients are addressed as those who were formally without the Messiah. They were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise\, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2: 12). So Israel was already near (Eph. 2:17), but the good news is that now along with Gentiles they even brought closer to God (Eph. 2:18). So through a believing Jewish remnant, we now have over 1 billion non-Jews that have come to know the one true God. With that said, I say act one of the messianic task is a success!

 

Sources:
1. Craig, W L. Christian Reasonable Faith, Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 240-241.
2. Ibid.
3. Sheller, J. L., Is The Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, New York. Harper Collins Publishers. 1999, 191.

4. Yancey, P. The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1995, 55).

5. Ibid.

6. McKnight, S, A New Vision For Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1999, 19.

7. Paul Copan and Craig A. Evans. Who Was Jesus? A Jewish-Christian Dialogue. Lousiville: KY.Westminster John Knox Press. 2001, 84-85.

8. Ibid, 84-85.

9. Ibid.

10. Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian in a Postmodern World (Carlisle: Paternoster; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 33

Advertisements
Uncategorized

A Look at Messianic Prophecy: A Look at the Timing of the Messiah’s Coming: Genesis 49:8-12: The Universal Rule of the Messiah

Introduction

Anyone who has studied evidential apologetics will see that many apologists have laid a great emphasis on messianic prophecy as one of the keys to demonstrating Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. One thing that is left out of these discussions is that when it comes to prophecy, it is not always predictive. The Greek word for fulfill is πληρόω (pleroo) – which has a much broader usage than “the prediction of an event.”

For example, in Matthew 5:17- Jesus says he came to “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets. In this passage “fulfillment” has a sense of embodying, bringing to completion, or perfecting. Fulfillment is one of the main themes of the New Testament, which sees Jesus and his work bringing to fruition the significance of the Hebrew Bible. However, let’s look at a case of predictive prophecy.For a prophecy to be predictive it must meet the following criteria.

1. A biblical text clearly envisions the sort of event alleged to be the fulfillment.

2. The prophecy was made well in advance of the event that was predicted.

3. The prediction actually came true.

4. The event predicted could not have been staged but anyone but God.

5. Clear Prediction: Is the prophecy publicly available with a reliable text and evident interpretation?

6. Documented Outcome: Is the prophecy documented by publicly available facts?

7. Is there evidence for it in world history?

8. Proper Chronology: Is there empirical evidence that is available presently and publicly to document that indeed the prophecy does predate its fulfillment? [1]

It must be remembered that the strength of this evidence is greatly enhanced if the event is so unusual that the apparent fulfillment cannot plausibly explained as a good guess.

One of the most pivotal texts that speak to a time frame about the first coming of the Messiah is Gen. 49:8-12:

“Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. (Gen 49:8-12)-KJV: NOTE: I chose the KJV here because most other translations replace “Shiloh” with “until he comes to whom [obedience] belongs.” Please read on:

In the previous context (Gen. 49: 1-7) we see the following issues:

1. Jacob, prophesied various details as to the fortunes and fates of the descendants of these men.

2. God is revealing to Jacob the future history of his descendants.

3. The older brothers are disqualified from the birth-right (i.e., Reuben, Simon, Levi).

4. Jacob foretold a future for the tribe of Judah that pictures him as the preeminent son – the prominent tribe.

5. Judah: is the name of the son of Jacob/or the name of the southern kingdom of the divided nation of Israel.[2]

We see the following about this passage:

1. The Messiah has already been declared to be a man, descended from Abraham (Gen. 22:18)

2. His descent is now limited to being a son of Judah

3. He is going to be a King

4. The rule of Judah is envisioned by Jacob as extending beyond the borders of Israel to include the entire world.

5. The nations of the earth shall benefit (i.e., on the idea of a beneficial rule see comments on v. 11, 12) is in keeping with the author’s view of God’s covenant promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: “in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”

Let’s take Genesis 49:8-12 and see what outside Jewish literature says (i.e.,The Apocrypha, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Philo, The Talmud, Josephus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Rashi, and the Targumim). This is a similar approach that Michael Brown has taken in his book Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Volume Three: Messianic Prophecy Objections.

First of all, let me introduce what is called a Targum:

1. Targums are the Aramaic Translations of the Jewish Scriptures (The Tanakh), that were read in the synagogues on the Sabbath and on feast or fast days.

2. Scholars usually assume the Targums were needed because the loss of Hebrew fluency by Jewish people growing up during the exile.

3. Targums are supposed to represent rabbinic Judaism after C.E. 70. Targums originated in Palestinian Judaism but later editions were done in Babylon.

4. All of the extant Targums seem to date from 2nd century C.E. and later, yet a number of the translations would preserve readings that were current in the first century. [3]

Let’s see how a couple of Targums read Genesis 49:8-12:

Targum Onkelos

The transmission of dominion shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor the scribe from the children’s children, forever, until the Messiah comes, to whom the Kingdom belongs, and whom the nations obey. He binds the foal to the vine, his colt to the choice vine; he washes his garment in wine, and his robe in the blood of grapes. He shall enclose Israel in his city, the people shall build his Temple, the righteous shall surround him, and those who serve the Torah shall be with him. His raiment shall be of goodly purple, and his garment of the finest brightly -dyed wool. His fountains shall be red with his vineyards, his vats shall drip with wine; his valleys shall be white with corn and with flocks of sheep.”

Targum Psuedo Jonathan

Kings and rulers shall not cease from the house of Judah, not scribes teaching the Torah from his seed, until the time when the youngest of this sons, the Messiah, shall come and because of him the peoples shall flow together. How lovely is the king Messiah, who is to rise from the house of Judah.”[5]

Also, Midrash Rabbah 97 says the following about the prophecy:

Furthermore, the royal Messiah will be descended from the tribe of Judah as it says [quoting Isaiah 11:10]. Thus the tribe of Judah were descended from Solomon who built the first Temple Zerubbabel who built the second Temple and from him will be descended the royal Messiah who will rebuild the Temple. Now of the Messiah it is written [quoting Psalm 89:37]. [6]

Even Rashi who was a leading Tanakh and Talmudic exegete of the Middle Ages says about Genesis 49:10:

The Scepter shall not depart from Judah from David and thereafter. These (who bear the scepter after the termination of the kingdom) are the exlilarchs (princes) in Babylon, who ruled over the people with a scepter, who were appointed by royal mandate…nor the student of the law between his feet. Students: these are the princes of the land of Israel…until Shilo comes the king Messiah , to whom the Kingdom belongs. [7]

David Baron (1857 – 1926) a Jewish believer and scholar was author of “The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah”, “ Types Psalms and Prophecies,” and “The Servant of Jehovah” says the following about Gen. 49:8-12:

With regard to this prophecy, the first thing I want to point out is that all antiquity agrees in interpreting it of a personal Messiah. This is the view of the LXX Version [Septuagint—KB]; the Targumim of Onkelos, Yonathan, and Jerusalem; the Talmud; the Sohar; the ancient book of “Bereshith Rabba;” and among modern Jewish commentators, even Rashi, who says, “Until Shiloh comes,that is King Messiah, Whose is the kingdom.”[8]

It is also worth noting that The Dead Sea Scrolls help shed some light on this text as well: In 4Q Patriarchal Blessings, the interpretation of the Genesis text reads:

A ruler shall not depart from the tribe of Judah while Israel has dominion. There will not be cut off a king in it belonging to David. For the staff is the covenant of the kingship; the thousands of Israel are the feet, until the coming of the Messiah of Righteousness, the branch of David, for to him and his seed has been given the covenant of kingship over his people for everlasting generations.” [9]

A Closer Look at the word “Scepter” and “Shiloh”

The precise meaning of “Shiloh” is challenging. It is either a reference to a place, as it is elsewhere in the Old Testament (e.g. Joshua 18:1,8,9; 19;51; I Samuel 1:13, etc.), or, it may refer to q proper name for the Messiah. This is seen in the Talmud in Sanhedrian 98b which answers the question of what the Messiah’s name is by saying, “Shiloh is his name, as it is said, “Until Shiloh Come.”[10]  In Judaism, Names describe the nature of the Messiah’s mission.

The NIV may have the best translation which says NIV: “until he comes to whom it belongs.” In this case, “Shiloh” is taken as a possessive pronoun. This translation favors the LXX (Greek Septuagint) reading. Furthermore, in Ezekiel 21: 25-27,  Ezekiel uses the Shiloh text as part of a judgment oracle directed against Zedekiah to declare the Lord’s intention not to put a ruler on David’s throne ‘until he comes to whom it belongs.’ Since both Genesis 40:10 and Ezekiel 21:27 deal with Judah and the government or ownership of that tribe, the argument becomes quite compelling.[11]

We see in the prophecy that “Scepter” is a “symbol of kingly authority” and will remain in Judah’s hand until “Shiloh comes.” In the minds of the Jewish people, “Scepter” was linked with their right to apply and enforce the law of Moses upon the people, including the right to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment. The prophecy declares that Judah will finally lose his tribal independence, and promises a supremacy over at least some of the other tribes until the advent of the Messiah.

When did Judah lose their tribal independence?

Judah did have possession of the scepter and staff until Herod obtained kingship over Israel in 38 B.C. While Judah ceased to be an independent tribe, they did still continue to be a self-governing nation within the Roman Empire. They did lose the right to administer capital punishment. This is seen at the trial of Jesus in that it was the Romans who enforced the death sentence. This transfer of power is even mentioned in the Talmud: “A little more than forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the power of pronouncing capital sentences was taken away from the Jews.“–Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin, filoi 24.[12]

What Are the Strengths of Prophecy?

1. This verse indicates that He (The Messiah) will have to come before the Tribe of Judah loses its identity.

2. The rabbis passed laws which would preserve the identity of the tribe of Levi, but Jews from other tribes lost their identity.

4. Therefore, the Messiah will have to come before 70 A.D.

5. The “Scepter” did depart in the sense that at the coming of Jesus we see the Jewish people lost their power to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment.[13]

 But let’s look at another aspect of the prophecy:

Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you. “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Gen 49:8-12)-NASB

We have been discussing the temporal element of this prophecy. Remember, “Until” in vs 10 is inclusive in the sense that the dominion of the tribe of Judah would not end with Shiloh’s  coming, but would continue on after the arrival of this divine world ruler. In other words, Shiloh himself must belong to the tribe of Judah.

But there is another aspect of this prophecy that remains partially unfulfilled. Apparently, an individual from Judah’s seed came who will rule over both his own nation Israel and the “peoples” of not just Israel but the rest of the world (also see Gen 17:6; Exod. 15:16; Deut. 32:8).  In other words, the Gentile nations will come to him in submissive obedience! We should note that part of this prophecy has not been fulfilled. While there are many Gentiles who have submitted to the rule of Messiah (Jesus) in their lives, all the nations are not under the universal rule of the Messiah. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that Jesus is not the King right now. He most certainly is but there is more to his future rule than the present.

Thematic Correlation

Numbers 24:17-19:

Let’s now look at Numbers 24:17-19 where we see a similar theme is seen in that a ruler shall arise out of Israel and how a descendant of Jacob will have universal dominion:

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob,  A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab,  And tear down all the sons of Sheth. “Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, While Israel performs valiantly.“One from Jacob shall have dominion, And will destroy the remnant from the city.-NASB

The Messianic Interpretation of this prophecy is the following:

1. The context is about Balaam’s oracle. In vs 7 we see that there shall come forth a man who shall be Lord over many nations and his kingdom shall be exalted in Gog.

2. Balaam references two important points: First, “a star shall come from Jacob” and “a scepter comes forth from Israel.”

3. The figure is visible in the term” scepter” who is an earthly king who will use his earthly power to subdue the earth.

4. “Star” may refer to his heavenly origin. (see John Metzger, Discovering the Mystery of the Unity, 385-386).

What does the Outside/Extra-Biblical Literature Say About This Prophecy?

Targum Onkelos:” When a king shall rise out of Jacob, and out of Israel Messiah shall be anointed.”

Targum Jonathan: “When a valiant King shall rise out of the house of Jacob and out of Israel, Messiah, and a strong Scepter shall be anointed.”

John Sailhamer notes that there is a thematic correlation between Gen 49:8-12 and other passages in the Tanakh. He says:

The plural word “nations” rather than singular suggests that Jacob had a view of Kingship that extended beyond the boundaries of the Israelites to include other nations as well. In any case, later biblical writers were apparently guided by texts in formulating their view of the universal reign of the future of the Davidic king. For example, “Psalm 2:8 “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance”; Daniel 7:13-14, “There was one like a son of man…he was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations, and men of every language worshiped him.” (see John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch As Narrative A Biblical-Theological Commentary (Grand Zondervan, 1995), 235.

It should be noted that “Son of Man” is a messianic title. As we see in Daniel 7: 13-14:

I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him.  “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.

Once again, we see that the nations will come under the universal rule of the Son of Man. Note: To see more on the Son of Man and the issue of messianic prophecy, click here:

Psalm 2

Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!” He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’” Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the LORD with reverence And rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!  (NASB)

After reading this, a few things stand out:

1. The figure in the Psalm is called “The Lord’s Anointed” (v 2), his King (v 6) and his Son (vv. 7, 12).

2. Psalm 2 should be read as a coronation hymn, (similar to 2 Kings 11:12) and today marks the moment of the king’s crowning.

3. Is this passage referring to King David? 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).

How does Jesus fulfill this text?

Let’s look at Romans 1:1-5

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints :Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 We see the following:

Paul says through the resurrection, Jesus is installed (by God) as the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). Paul is not saying Jesus is being appointed as The Son of God is a change in Jesus’ essense. The appointment is not in terms of his nature but in terms of his work as a mediator—the messianic age has dawned. Jesus is the Lord—the anti-type of the previous “sons” in the Old Testament (Adam, David, Israel).

Remember, the New Testament authors unanimously declare Jesus as the one who is from the “seed of David,” sent by God to restore God’s kingship over mankind (Matt. 1:1; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3,4; 2 Tim:2:8; Rev. 22:16). As seen in 2 Samuel 7:12-17, the immediate prophecy is partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon. However, the word “forever” shows there are future descendants to come. God promised David that his “seed” would establish the kingdom. There were two ways for this prophecy to come to pass. Either God could continually raise up a new heir or he could have someone come who would never die. Does this sound like the need for a resurrection?

But once again, in relation to Psalm 2, we can ask if this figure has been given universal rule over the entire world, has this taken place yet? In one sense, yes. Many people have bowed their knee to the Messiah. And even if all the nations don’t acknowledge it, Jesus participates in God’s sole rule over all things:

Phil: 3:20-21: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

Eph. 1:21-22: Paul speaks of Jesus being ”far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet…”

But after reading Genesis 49:8-10, Psalm 2 and Daniel 7:13-14, we need to remember what is called “prophetic telescoping.” These texts are part of several texts in the Hebrew Bible where part of the text is fulfilled in the first appearance of Jesus. But there is another part that will be fulfilled in the future. In this sense, Jesus will return and establish the earthly, national aspect of the kingdom of God (Is. 9:6; Amos 9:11; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; 27; Is. 11:11-12; 24:23; Mic. 4:1-4; Zech.14:1-9; Matt. 26:63-64; Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-26). In other words, one day the Messiah will be King over His people (Matt. 19:28).

Conclusion: 
We should be thankful for God’s actions within human history. If God has brought to pass the first coming of His Son, He will surely bring to pass His glorious return. May we all wait with eager anticipation.

Sources:


[1] Points 1-8 are pointed out in  R. D. Geivett and G.R. Habermas, In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case For God’s Actions in Human History (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1997), 221-223.

[2] Michael Rydelnick, The Messianic Hope: Is The Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010),  47-48.

[3] John Rolling, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology (Peabody Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 9-10.

[4] See Samson L. Levy , The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation,(New York: Hebrew Union College, 1974). Targum Onkelos covers the Pentateuch and probably has many authors. Along with Targum Jonathan, they are both considered as an “official” Targums in the sense that  they both represent rabbinical Judaism after C.E. 70. For more on this topic, see Rolling, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology, 10-11.

 [5] Ibid. Targum Jonathan consists of the Former and Latter Prophets. Targum Jonathan has traditionally been subscribed to Jonathan Ben Uzziel who lived in first century C.E. However, many scholars think that it may have been a product of more than one author and may have continued to modified into the fourth century. For more on this topic, see Rolling, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology, 10-11.

 [6] Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 21-23. Midrash comes form the Hebrew root ‘darash’, meaning to search or investigate. Midrash attempts, through minute examination and interpretation of the Tanach, to bring out the deeper or ethical meaning of the text. There are many different collections of Midrash. The largest collection is called Midrash Rabbah (The Great Midrash), which consists of a number of volumes. Midrash Rabbah contains volumes on the Chumash (Five Books of Moses) and the Hamesh Megillot (Five Scrolls, from Ketuvim). The Hebrew word for “law” is Torah. Torah means “direction, guidance, instruction.” There are 613 of the commandments in the Torah,which were decreed for the Jewish people.

 [7] Douglas Pyle, What The Rabbonim Say About Moshiach (United States: Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data, Third Edition, 2010), 17-18.

 [8] David Baron, Rays of Messiah’s Glory (Barking, Essex, U.K: The Messianic Testimony, Second Edition, 2000), 258.

 [9] Various translations of 4QPBless are found in Millar Burrows, More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Viking, 1958), 401; Geza Vermes, Scripture and Tradition(Leiden: Brill, 1961), 53; cited in Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 660.

 [10] Rydelnick, The Messianic Hope: Is The Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? , 48.

 [11] Ibid, 49-51.

 [12] The appendix of Michael Brown’s Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus Vol 2 (Grand RapidsMI: Baker Books, 2000), defines the Babylonian Talmud as the foundational text for Jewish religious study. It consists of 2,500,000 words of Hebrew and Aramaic commentary and expansion of the Mishnah. The Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud is similar to the Babylonian Talmud but a bit shorter and less authoritative in the Jewish community. It reached its final form about 400 C.E.

 [13] Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology, 21-23.

Uncategorized

Three Reasons Why Jesus is Qualified to be called the “Messiah”

Over the years I have been asked why Jewish people don’t think Jesus is the Messiah. From my own experience, when I have talked to Jewish people about the possibility of Jesus being the Messiah, there is a wide range of thought. For some Jewish people a personal Messiah is irrelevant. For others, it is said that in every generation there is a potential messiah or a time when there will be a Messianic Age. One thing for sure: To assert that the Jewish community has always held to one view of the Messiah is total nonsense.

However, this is a common objection:

“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).

For starters, in handling this objection, let me offer some words of advice: Words and concepts are separate entities. “Word-bound” approaches to what really are concept studies can lead us astray. 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 19:16b) as a sign of their special function in the Jewish community. Hence, they could be viewed as “a messiah.” However, this does not mean they are “the Messiah.”

Also, just as a king could be viewed as “a son of God,” it does not mean the king is “The Son of God.” The term “messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah” which appears thirty-nine times in the Hebrew Bible. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Messiah is translated as “christos” which was one of the official titles for Jesus within the New Testament. The “one who is anointed” was commissioned for a specific task.

Interestingly enough, the Qumran community which predated the time of Jesus thought 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). In the words of Michael Bird:

“The role of the Messiah is multifarious. There was no single and uniform description of the messianic task.” Furthermore, before 70 CE, messianic figures could go by a variety of names such as “Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, the Prophet, Elect One, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, Coming One, and so forth.” (1)

Let me offer some reasons why I think Jesus has started to complete the messianic task:

#1: Gentile Inclusion

In Aryeh Kaplan’s The Real Messiah: A Jewish Response to Missionaries, we see a list of some of the common expectations for the Messiah:

In the Messianic age, the Jewish people will dwell freely in their land. There will be an “ingathering of the exiles” when all the Jews return to Israel. This will eventually bring all the nations to acknowledge the God of Israel and acknowledge the truth of his teachings. The Messiah will be king over Israel, but in a sense, rule rover the nations. The Jewish concept of the Messiah is that which is clearly taught in the prophets of the Bible. He is a leader of the Jews , strong in wisdom and power and spirit. It is he who will bring complete redemption to the Jewish people both spiritually and physically. Along with this, he will bring eternal love, prosperity and moral perfection to the world.

The Jewish Messiah will bring all peoples to God. This is expressed in the Alenu prayer, which concludes all three daily services:

May the world be perfected under the kingdom of the Almighty. Let all the humans call upon Your Name and turn all the world’s evildoers to You. Let everyone on earth know that every knee must bow to you….and let them all accept the yoke of Your Kingdom

Jesus is the only messianic figure that has opened a door for non-Jews to come to know the one true God. Just as Israel is called to be a light to the entire world (Gen 12:3), the Messiah’s mission is also to be a “light to the nations” . In relation to Jesus’ Messiahship, while a remnant believed in Him, what is more significant is that the church is now the home of 1.4 billion adherents which are predominately Gentiles. Sure, large numbers don’t make a faith true. But another traditional view is that the Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9; 40:5; 52:8).

As Richard Baukham says:

“Matthew frames the whole story of Jesus between the identification of him as the descendant of Abraham in the opening verse of the Gospel and, in the closing words of Jesus at the end of the Gospels, the commissions of the disciples of Jesus to the make disciples of all nations. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham (1:1-2) not with Adam, as Luke’s does (3:38) nor with David, which would have been sufficient to portray Jesus the Messiah the son of David, which certainly is an important theme here in Matthew’s Gospel. However, for Matthew, Jesus is the Messiah not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. He is the descendant of Abraham through whom God’s blessing will reach the nations.”(2)

#2 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. While we will deal more with this messianic title in the next chapter, 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:The New Covenant

In Ezekiel and Jeremiah, we see the Promises of the New Covenant:

1. God promises regeneration (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:26).
2. God promises the forgiveness of sin (Jeremiah 31:34; Ezekiel 36:25)
3. God pledged the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:27).
4. God promises the knowledge of God (Jeremiah 31:34).
5. God promises His people would obey Him (Ezekiel 36:27; 37:23-24; Jeremiah 32:39-40).
6. The fulfilling of this covenant was tied to Israel’s future restoration to the land (Jer. 32:36-41; Ezek. 36:24-25; 37:11-14).

Before Jesus rose from the dead, he made a promise that was related to the New Covenant passages:

Just like the giving of the Torah (with Moses), the New Covenant needs someone to inaugurate it. As Jesus says:

“And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, so that He may be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive because it does not see Him nor know Him. But you know Him, for He dwells with you and shall be in you.” John 14:16,17

So we can conclude with following syllogism:

1. If Jesus rose from the dead, He can send the Spirit and inaugurate the New Covenant.
2. Jesus rose from the dead
3. Therefore, Jesus is the inaugurator of the New Covenant.

To see evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, see here:

To see more on the New Covenant, see here:

Conclusion

There are many other reasons why I think Jesus is the only one who has truly begun to fulfill the messsianic task. I also know Rabbinic Judaism has a criteria for what they think the Messiah will do. I have discussed that in greater length here. In our next post, we will list some more reasons why Jesus is the Messiah.

Sources:
1.M.F. Bird, Are You The One To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 35. 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.
2. Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian in a Postmodern World (Carlisle: Paternoster; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 33
3.See The Concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament athttp://www.worldofthebible.com/Bible%20Studies/The%20Concept%20…

Uncategorized

“Who Do you Say I Am?”: Cultural Confusion and the Identity of Jesus

Now 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.” (Matthew 16:13-17).

As of today, people are still trying to answer the same question that Jesus asked Peter 2,000 years ago. In his book The Case For The Real Jesus, Lee Strobel says if you search for Jesus at Amazon.com, you will find 175, 986 books on the most controversial figure in human history.

Here are some of the current views of Jesus in the surrounding culture:

Yes, there is a group called Ask a Muslim who actually spends time and money telling others Jesus was Muslim.

 

To see more about The Black Hebrew Israelite Movement, see here: 

To see one of many responses to the Aslan book, see here:

To see a response to the Smuley book, see Michael Brown’s book here.

As see here, there is plenty of confusion about who Jesus is. For over 100 years, there has been a quest to identify the historical Jesus and differentiate between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. Here are some of the aspects of these quests.

Books That Deal With These Issues

I quickly want to mention two books. I advise reading The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition: By: Paul Rhodes Eddy, Gregory A. Boyd and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony: by Richard Bauckham. Bauckham’s book is very significant in that he lays out some of the differences between ancient and modern historiography. After all, this issue plays a tremendous role in understanding the Gospels/New Testament (see more below). And by the way, The Jesus Legend is critical reponse to legend theorists. For those that want to see how silly it is to propose the theory that Jesus didn’t exist- click here to read Did Jesus Really Exist? By Paul L. Maier, The Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History, Western Michigan University

Let’s Look at the Quests

The First Quest Period-1778-1906:

The First Quest was marked by works such as David Strauss’s, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. Under the influence of David Hume, Strauss dismissed the reliability of historical and supernatural elements in the Gospels as “outrageous” and “myths” Another important work of this period was Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus. (1)

The No Quest Period-1906-1953:

Rudolf Bultmann regarded Schweitzer’s work as methodologically impossible and theologically illegitimate. (2) Schweitzer’s thesis marked the end of the Old Quest and the beginning of the No Quest period. Through the first half of the twentieth century, the pursuit of the historical Jesus seemed to some scholars to be futile and irrelevant. The failure of the Old Quest, as N.T. Wright has said, had left a “deep ditch” separating the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. During the period of the No Quest, critical scholars became more interested in examining the New Testament for what it revealed about the early church and its evolving message. Rudolph Bultmann was a primary leader in what is called form criticism during this period. Form criticism sought to draw distinction between various literary forms within the gospels- parables, pronouncements, proverbs and so on- and to identify the stages of development of the texts and the traditions behind them as they passed from oral to written form. (3)

The New Quest Period- 1953-1970:

Ernst Kasemann, a student of Bultmann began the “new quest” in a 1953 lecture. While he rejected some of Bultmann’s views, he was concerned with the person of Jesus as the preached word of God and his relation to history. The major work of the new quest is Gunther Bornkamm’s Jesus of Nazareth (1960). (4) Among the New Questers were German scholar Joachim Jeremias whose works in the 1950’s and the 1960’s focused heavily on the message of Jesus rather than on reconstructing a full-blooded biography. In the United States, the groundwork for the New Quest was laid by the eminent New Testament scholar James Robinson of the Claremont School of Theology, whose 1959 book called A New Quest of the Historical Jesus defined many of the issues that would come to dominate the scholarly community for decades.(5)

Weaknesses of The First Quest, The No Quest and The New Quest:

Naturalism: The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. In this worldview, miracle accounts and any references to the non-natural realm are generally rejected. This is unjustified. For theists, miracles (which are paramount to the Christian faith) are non-natural but not anti-natural. A miracle, of course, is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. (6) It is beyond the scope of this article to defend the philosophical basis for miracles. For an excellent treament of this topic, feel free to read Norman L. Geisler. Miracles And The Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992).

Therefore, the entire starting point in studying the life of Jesus is about one’s presuppositions. Metaphysics is the study of being or reality. It is used interchangeably with ontology (Gk. ontos, “being,” and logos, “word about”). Without metaphysics, a person would be incapable of constructing a worldview. A worldview must explain all of the pieces of the puzzle we call reality.

These issues demonstrate that in investigating the evidence for the life of Jesus, every historian interprets the past in direct relationship to his own Weltanschauung (the German word for worldview). Hence, a worldview will always impact one’s historical method/philosophy of history. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” If one has a commitment to philosophical or metaphysical naturalism, several aspects of the life of Jesus will be interpreted in a naturalistic way. Remember, naturalism is not a discovery of science. It must always be viewed as a presupposition of science as presently practiced.

To read more about this issue- see the Boyd/Eddy book or The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright. There is also new book by Mike Licona called The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. A false separation: These quests fail to show that there needs to be a dichotomy between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. They assume the Gospels are non-historical. (7) In relation to the resurrection, Ben Witherington III says:

“Any position in which claims about Jesus or the resurrection are removed from the realm of historical reality and placed in a subjective realm of personal belief or some realm that is immune to human scrutiny does Jesus and the resurrection no service and no justice. It is a ploy of desperation to suggest that the Christian faith would be little affected if Jesus was not actually raised from the dead in space and time. A person who gives up on the historical foundations of our faith has in fact given up on the possibility of any real continuity between his or her own faith and that of a Peter, Paul, James, John, Mary Magdalene, or Priscilla. The first Christian community had a strong interest in historical reality, especially the historical reality of Jesus and his resurrection, because they believed their faith, for better or for worse, was grounded in it.” (8)

A non-Jewish Jesus: Many Jewish scholars view the “New Quest” period as just another attempt to “de-Judaize Jesus” or deny his Jewishness.

The Third Quest Period-1970 and on:

As of today, biblical scholars have embarked on what is called “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.” Rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism.(9) In this study, scholars have placed a great deal of emphasis on the social world of first- century Palestine. The scholars of the Third Quest have rejected the idea that the Jesus of the New Testament was influenced by Hellenic Savior Cults. (10) Some of the resources that deal with this issue are the following:

The Players in the Third Quest

1. E.P Sanders

Sanders is noted for asserting in 1985 the historical authenticity of eight activities of The Historical Jesus:

1. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist 2. Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed. 3. Jesus called disciples and spoke of their being twelve 4. Jesus confined his activity to Israel 5. Jesus engaged in controversy about the temple 6. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem by Roman authorities 7. After his death Jesus’ followers continued as an identifiable movement 8. At least some Jews persecuted at least parts of the new movement

In 1993, in a more popular work, Sanders added six more facts to his list:

1. Jesus was born circa 4 B.C., at the approximate time of Herod the Great. 2. Jesus grew up in Nazareth of Galilee 3. Jesus taught in small villages and towns and seemed to avoid cities 4. Jesus ate a final meal with his disciples 5. Jesus was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, apparatnly at the orders of the High Priest 6. Although they abandoned Jesus after his arrest, the disciples later “saw” him after his death. This led the disciples to believe that Jesus would return and found the kingdom.

Both E.P. Sanders and James Charlesworth say “the dominate view today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first- century Judaism.” (11)

2. N.T. Wright

Wright has been another major player in the Third Quest. Wright agrees with Sanders list but still adds some of the following items about what we can know about Jesus:

1. Jesus spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, and probably some Greek 2. Jesus summoned the people to repent 3. Jesus made use of the parables to announce the kingdom of God 4. Jesus effected remarkable cures, including exorcisms, as demonstrated the truth of his proclamation of the kingdom 5. Jesus shared table fellowship with a socially and diverse group, including whom many Torah observant Jews would regard as “sinners.’

In his book Jesus and the Victory of God,Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2, author Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.”

3. Craig Evans

One of the active scholars in the Third Quest is Craig Evans. One of his recent books is Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. I had the privilege of sitting under Dr. Evans this past May. His knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls, early Judaica, and the cognate languages is unsurpassed.

Evans adds a few items to the lists of Sanders and Wright: 1.The public viewed Jesus as a prophet 2. The Romans crucified him as “King of the Jews.” 3.That following Easter his followers regarded him as Israel’s Messiah.

The Core Facts

Gary Habermas makes an important point when he says, “Certainly one of the strongest methodological indications of historicity occurs when a case can be built on accepted data that are recognized as well established by a wide range of otherwise diverse historians.”Historian Christopher Blake refers to this as the “very considerable part of history which is acceptable to the community of professional historians.” (12)

Here are five well-evidenced facts granted by virtually all scholars who study the historical Jesus: (see See Habermas. G.R. and Licona, M. L. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus):

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion 2. Jesus’ followers sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead 3. Early eyewitness testimony to belief in Jesus’ resurrection 4. The conversion of Jesus’ skeptical brother, James 5. Paul, once an enemy of the early faith, became a commited follower of Jesus the Messiah

Who are some of these critical scholars that Habermas mentions? To read more about this see: http://preventingtruthdecay.org/jesusresurrection.shtml

It is important to understand that I don’t want to say that just because I offer a list of core facts that are universally agreed on by historians and Biblical scholars makes it true. If so, that would be what is called a “consensus gentium fallacy” which is the fallacy of arguing that an idea is true because most people believe it. Habermas completed an overview of more than 1,400 critical scholarly works on the resurrection from 1975 to 2003. He studied and catalogued about 650 of the texts in English, German and French. Habermas reports that all the scholars who were from across the ideological spectrum agreed on the five facts that are mentioned. Therefore, the scholars and historians that Habermas researched were not all from a conservative or traditional perspective. So there was some impartiality in the study.

The Jesus Seminar

It is important to mention that another group of scholars who are involved in the Third Quest are the Jesus Seminar. The Jesus Seminar come from various academic, professional, and  religious backgrounds.  Among the seventy scholars and laypersons that comprise the group, the  individuals that are regularly in the public eye include Robert W. Funk  (co-chair), John Dominic Crossan (co-chair), and Marcus Borg (Oregon State   University). For most of those in the Seminar, there is a dichotomy  between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith.” The “Christ of faith”  is seen as a figure of the early church who was elevated to a divine status by  the use of early Christian creeds and through the mythological embellishment  accounts of the Gospels that were written later. (13) In  a debate with John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar, William Lane  Craig exposed Crossan’s naturalistic presuppositions. Craig asked Crossan if  there was anything that would convince Crossan that Jesus rose from the dead as  an historical fact. Crossan responded by saying a person has the right to say,”I by faith believe that God has intervened in the resurrection event.” However,  Crossan then goes on to say, “It’s a theological presupposition of mine that  God does not operate in that way that they.” (14)  To see some critques of Crossan and the Seminar’s views see here:

Conclusion:

The good news is that the quest for The Historical Jesus may be shifting to what is called “The Interdisciplinary Quest.” This means that there are many people from a variety of academic backgrounds such as philosophy, sociology, anthropology, etc., that are all weighing in on this topic. It should be interesting to see what happens in the future. I can only speak for myself in that I see no dichotomy between the Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History. You can decide for yourself.

NOTE: SEE OUR RESOURCE PAGE HERE: 

ALSO SEE OUR SUGGESTED READING LIST

Sources:

1.Geisler N. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, pgs 385-386. 2.Ibid. 3. Sheller, Jeffrey L. Is The Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, New York. Harper Collins Publishers. 1999, 176-182. 4.Ibid. 5.Ibid. 6.Geisler, pgs 385-386. 7.Ibid. 8.B. Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, pg 167. 9.Craig, W L. Christian Reasonable Faith, Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 240-241. 10. Ibid. 11. Ibid. 12. Geisler, N.L., and Paul K. Hoffman, Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe. Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books. 2001, 152.

13. House. W.H.,and Joseph M. Holden, Charts of Apologetics and  Christian Evidences.Grand Rapids,   MI: Zondervan Publishing House,  2006, Chart 51.

14. Copan, P. Will The Real Jesus Stand Up? A Debate between William  Lane Craig and John Dominic CrossanGrand  Rapids, MI: Baker  Books. 1998. 61-62.

 

 

Uncategorized

A Look at Messianic Prophecy: The Messiah as “The Branch”

 

Introduction

The word Messiah”-“Anointed One” (Heb. messiah),(Gk. Christos) 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 19:16b) as a sign of their special function in the Jewish community. Also, when God anointed or authorized for leadership, in many cases he provided the empowering of the Holy Spirit to do 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.” The messianic concept also has a wider dimension than the royal, priestly, and/or prophetic person. Included in this wider view are some of the characteristics, tasks, goals, means, and consequences of the messianic person.

Other names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One. Therefore, to say Jesus is the Messiah is like asking whether he is the Son of Man, Prophet, Branch, etc.

The Branch

Let’s look at a name for the Messiah which is “Branch.” “Branch” or “Sprout” comes from Hebrew word “tzemach” or “netser.”  I offer some comments after each Branch passage.

The Branch in Zechariah

“Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.  And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?”  Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by. And the angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua,  “Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.  Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.  In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.” (Zech 3: 1-10)

  1. Here the branch is given a traditional royal Davidic title “my servant”
  2. There seems to be a distinction between Joshua and the figure who is the branch.
  3. Joshua is cleansed and commissioned.
  4. Zech 3:1-10; Jer. 33:14-26 anticipated a royal branch to arrive shortly after the people would return from the exile and the priesthood was reconsecrated.
  5. Many commentators (both Jewish and Christian) have attempted to see the Branch as Zerubbabel. However, this would conflict with the other “Branch” passages (see below). Also, Zerubbabel only came as  governor, not a king. While we can note that Zerubbabel built the second temple in 516 B.C. the Messiah will build the Temple in the new age (Isa. 2: 2-4; Eze. 40-42; Mic:4:1-5; Hag 2:7-9).

“And say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”’  And the crown shall be in the temple of the Lord as a reminder to Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen the son of Zephaniah. “And those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the Lord. And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. And this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God.”  (Zech. 6: 12-15)

Here we see the following:

  1. Zechariah unites two offices that were forbidden to be held by a priest or a king (2 Chron.26:16-23).
  2. Crowns symbolize a king and priest.
  3. Zechariah reveals that the priestly and kingly functions can be combined in one person.
  4. Who is the referent?  The royal branch did not arrive on the scene (read Zech 9-14). To no priest has ever such an event happened.
  5. The referent here will sit on the throne of David and rule, not Joshua.
  6.  If it is referring to Jesus,  in the first coming he becomes the Temple (John 2: 18-22).  But then he will be part of the Millenial Temple:(Isa. 2: 2-4; Eze. 40-42; Mic:4:1-5; Hag 2:7-9).

Theodore Laetsch states the following:

Joshua was not to pronounced king of Jerusalem. Such a transference of the royal crown from the tribe of Judah and the house of David to the tribe of Levi would  have been not  only obnoxious to the Jews,  but also have voided all the promises of the Lord to the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:0ff) and to the house of David (2 Sam. 7:12ff). The Lord will not contradict Himself, or the prophet the high priest, and the governor would have been guilty of a despicable, blasphemous deception. (1)

Regarding this text, Walter Kaiser also points out the following:

So He shall be called a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both (v.13d, e). This is the greatest Old Testament passage on the fact that the coming Messiah will be both a Davidic King a Priest (cf. Heb 7). So amazing is this prediction that it has troubled many a commentator. Was it likely that a “priest” would “sit upon His throne?” The Greek Septuagint attempts to soften this prediction by substituting “in His right hand” for “on His throne.” But as we know from the royal Psalms (e.g.,Ps. 110:4), the Annointed One would exercise as everlasting priesthood in addition to His royal and prophetic offices. Thus Zechariah daringly combines the priestly and kingly offices into one person, “the Branch.” (2)

Given that Kaiser mentions Psalm 110:1-4, I will mention he following about ts text:  While David did perform priestly functions,  he could not be a priest forever because he died (and remained dead, so far as his physical existence is concerned).  So if the Messiah is to be David’s son, then how can he also be a priest, unless he is of a different line of priests, one that was before and in some capacity greater than the line of Levitical priesthood? And how could he be a priest forever? He would have to not die.

We need a descendant of David that is greater than David, and he must also serve as priest in some way outside of the qualification of being a Levite, and must do so forever. But then the Psalmist answers the his own riddle: The priest would be of the order (not the line) of Melchizedek – a king of Righteousness and of Peace. And the very way that he would be of the order of Melchizedek is by virtue of being a priest forever – without end. Melchizedek was, as you recall, greater than Abraham – having been before Abraham.

Finally, regarding both of the Branch texts in Zechariah, John B. Metzger offers some helpful comments:

God uses words that should not be missed or counted as insignificant. When He calls the BRANCH a servant when speaking to Joshua, He is referring to the basic ministry of the priest. The priest was a servant of the Lord who mediated between the people and their God. These two passages in Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12-13 are extremely important in understanding the full ministry of the BRANCH, as understood from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and now Zechariah. (3)

The Branch in Jeremiah

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’  “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he[ahad driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.” (Jer. 23: 5-7)

The context is that Israel is dwelling safely in the land. Hence, the text could be considered part of what it is called Prophetic Telescoping. Prophetic Telescoping  is prophecy that bridges the First and Second Comings of the Messiah. In this way, prophecy telescopes forward to a time. The prophets saw future events as distant “peaks” (i.e., events) without an awareness of the large time gaps between them. Also, the prophets understood that history had two major periods—the present age and the age to come–although they did not always make a hard distinction between the two. Prophetic Telescoping stresses progressive revelation which means that God does not reveal everything at once. There are  texts that are  fulfilled in the first appearance of Jesus. But there is another part that will be fulfilled in the future. In this sense, the Messiah will build the Temple in the new age (Isa. 2: 2-4; Eze. 40-42; Mic:4:1-5; Hag 2:7-9). In other words, one day the Messiah will be King over His people (Matt. 19:28).

The Branch in Isaiah

“In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.” (Isa.4: 2-6)

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—  the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,  the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,  or decide by what he hears with his ears  but with righteousness he will judge the needy,   with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;  with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt  and faithfulness the sash around his waist.  The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together;  The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den,   and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.  They will neither harm nor destroy  on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord  as the waters cover the sea.-Isa. 11: 1-9

Here we see no mention of the word “Messiah.” However, we do see the impact of the rule of Messiah in that the world is a different place.  It looks as if there is some sort of utopian order.  Christians can try to apply vs 1-5 to the first appearance of Jesus . But now we go to read the rest of the chapter:

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia,from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean. He will raise a banner for the nations  and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah  from the four quarters of the earth.  Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish, and Judah’s enemies will be destroyed; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah,   nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim.  They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west;   together they will plunder the people to the east. They will subdue Edom and Moab,   and the Ammonites will be subject to them.  The Lord will dry up the gulf of the Egyptian sea; with a scorching wind he will sweep his hand  over the Euphrates River. He will break it up into seven streams so that anyone can cross over in sandals.  There will be a highway for the remnant of his people that is left from Assyria, as there was for Israel   when they came up from Egypt.” –Isa. 11: 6-16.

It could not be more evident that vs 10-16 have not come to pass yet.

Isaiah 53:

Isa 53:2:“ For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.”

A canonical reading shows how Isaiah connects between the servant of Isaiah 53 and the coming King of Isaiah 11:1-16. In verse one it says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” This indicates the Servant is a royal figure who is a Davidic King. Also, as Daniel I. Block notes, when the messiah is both characterized as a servant with a specific name, that name is always “David” or a person with a Davidic connection:

And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken. (Ezek. 34: 23-24)

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’ (Jer. 23: 5-6)

Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. (Zech. 3:8) (4)

Note: To see how the Suffering/Atoning Messiah is treated in the Jewish literature, see here:

Conclusion

The Messiah was to be both Priest and King. In other words, the Messiah has a dual role- as a priest he would provide atonement and make intercession for the people. As a King, he would rule and reign! As the Jewish Messiah, Jesus is the ideal sufferer for the nation the representative King, the one greater than David.

Sources:

  1. Theodore Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (St. Louis:Concordia, 1956) 439.
  2. Walter Kaiser, The Commincator’s Commentary: Micah—Malachi. 21 vols. (Waco, TX: Word Books. 1992).
  3. John B. Metzger, Discovering The Mystery of the Unity of God (San Antonio, Ariel Ministries;  2010), 610.
  4. Daniel I. Block, “My Servant David: Ancient Israel’s Visions of the Messiah” in Richard S. Hess and M. Daniel Carroll R, Israel’s Messiah In The Bible and The Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 48
Uncategorized

A Closer Look at the Virgin Birth

 

Introduction

The virgin birth has always been one of the essentials of the Christian faith. Jesus was not born in sin and he had no sin nature (Hebrews 7:26). Given the sin nature is passed down from generation to generation through the father (Romans 5:12, 17, 19), the virgin birth thwarted the transmission of the sin nature and allowed  for the incarnation. So the virgin birth is important to both the deity and humanity of Jesus.

The First Messianic Promise

It is after the fall of man has taken place that God makes the first messianic promise:

“God said ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

The messianic interpretation of Gen 3:15 is recorded in the Palestinian Targum, (first century C.E.)

“And I will put enmity  between thee and the woman, and between the seed of your offspring and the seed of her offspring; and it shall be that when the offspring of the woman keep the commandments of the Law, they will aim right [at you] and they will smite you on the head; but when they abandon the commandments of the Law, you will aim right [at them], and you will wound them in the heel. However, for them there will be remedy but for you there will be none, and in the future they will make peace with the heel of the king, Messiah.” [1]

I should also note that Dr. Alfred Edersheim in his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (appendix 9) mentions that additional rabbinic opinions support the understanding that Genesis 3:15 refers to the Messiah. The point is that we see what is called the “the Proto-evangelium” or the beginning of salvation history.  God was planning on doing something for the entire world.

Let’s look at Isaiah 7: 10-14:

“Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.” (NIV)

Possible Options in Interpreting the Virgin Birth Prophecy

Single Fulfillment

In this case, the virgin birth has one fulfillment which is in the birth of Jesus. In some cases, the interpreter says Isaiah was prophesying of the future birth of Christ and the prophecy has little to do with the immediate context or situation at hand.

So when we look at the single fulfillment view, I do agree that there is a future referent.  However, I do think this has some challenges and I also think the next three options present some more favorable approaches to the issue of the virgin birth.

Double Fulfillment

In this view, this principle states that the prophecy may have more than one fulfillment. In other words, the immediate context shows that the sign is for King Ahaz while the Matthew 1:22-23 is a sign about the birth of Jesus. To read more about this approach, see Craig Blomberg’s article called Interpreting Old Testament Prophetic Literature in Matthew: Double Fulfillment.

Double Reference

In this interpretation, there is one block of Scripture that deals with one person, time, or event that may be followed by another block of Scripture that deals with a different person, time, and place without making any clear distinction between two blocks or indicating that there is a gap of time between the two blocks. While “Double Fulfillment” states that one prophecy can have two fulfillments, “Double Reference” says that one piece of Scripture actually contains two prophecies, each having its own fulfillment. [1]So in the immediate context, while King Ahaz is under attack, the threat it to him and the whole house of David. God assures Ahaz that peace and safety are at hand. The first sign in vs 13, 14, is that there can’t be any attempt to destroy the house of David will fail. The second sign which is seen in verses 15, 16, is given to Ahaz personally. For Ahaz, an event 700 years in the future (about the Messiah) would make no difference to him. So in vs 15-17- the “You” is again singular and specifically for Ahaz. Before Isaiah’s son is old enough to make moral distinctions between right and wrong, the kings of Israel and Syria will be deposed and their threat removed. This was fulfilled within three years. Isaiah again uses the definite article before the term “boy.” This time there is another boy mentioned in the context.: Isaiah’s son. The boy of vs 16 can’t be the son of vs 14, but refers back to Isaiah’s son in vs 3. God promises that the attack upon him by Israel and Syria will not succeed, and before Isaiah’s son Shear-Jashub, reaches an age of moral maturity, the two enemy kings will cease to exist.

Let’s go a little deeper at the Sign to the House of David in Isa. 7:13-14. In Hebrew, there is a clear change between the singular “you” of vs 9, 11, 16, 17, and the plural “you” of verses 13-14. The sign is not just for Ahaz, but for the whole house of David. [2] In vs  14, we see the word  “Behold,” This Hebrew word draws attention to an event which is past, present, or future. However, grammatically, whenever “behold” is used with the Hebrew present participle; it always refers to a future event. That is the case here. Not only is the birth future, but the very conception is future. This is not referring to a pregnant woman about to give birth. The NASB translates it as “a virgin” which is wrong. The NIV and NKJV translate it as “the virgin”- according to the rules of Hebrew grammar, when finding the use of a definite article “the”- the reader should look for a reference in the immediate previous context. Having followed the passage from 7:1, there has been no mention of any woman. Having failed the immediate context, the next rule is called “ the principle of previous reference”- something that which has been dealt with earlier and is common knowledge among the people. [3]

 Typological Interpretation

Duane A. Garrett says the following in his article called, “Type, Typology” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology:

“In typology, the “type” is perhaps the least understood but most important concept in the hermeneutics of biblical prophecy. Typological prophecy occurs throughout the Bible and can be considered the “normal” way that the prophets, including Jesus, spoke of the future. Failure to take this method of speaking into account can lead to gross distortions of the prophetic message.

Typology is often confused with allegorical interpretations and is sometimes wrongly labeled as “double fulfillment.” It also contrasts with what is sometimes called the “literal interpretation.” The idea of a “double-fulfillment” of prophecy is closer to the concept of typology, but as a hermeneutical model it is crude and imprecise. The metaphor of two mountains often accompanies the idea of double-fulfillment. The prophet is said to have seen two separate events in the future juxtaposed like two mountains, one in front of the other. The one event was much closer in time than the other, but he saw the two together through “prophetic foreshortening.” This model does not explain why the two specific events were juxtaposed by the prophet; why two events rather than three, four, or five are juxtaposed; and what the basis for the “foreshortening” is. The typological interpretation of prophecy asserts that the prophets did not so much make singular predictions as proclaim certain theological themes or patterns and that these themes often have several manifestations or fulfillments in the course of human history. These patterns often have their greatest manifestations in the life of Christ or in the eschaton, but there may be one or more other fulfillments elsewhere in human history, especially in the immediate historical context of the prophet.

The value of typology is twofold. First, it provides an intelligible hermeneutic for dealing with biblical prophecy. The problems of interpreting prophecies, especially those concerning Christ, have often left the interpreter with the unhappy choice of either ignoring the historical and literary context of a passage in order to point the text toward Christ or of focusing exclusively on the historical situation of the prophet with the implication being that the passage in fact has nothing to say about Christ. Faced with this dilemma, some interpreters take Isaiah 7:14 exclusively as a prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ and employ fairly desperate exegesis to explain why Isaiah would make such a prediction in the context of the Syro-Ephraimite war. Others relate Isaiah 7:14 exclusively to its historical context and in effect say that Matthew was wrong to take it as a prophecy of Christ’s birth ( Matt 1:23 ). In typological exegesis, however, the dilemma is not only avoided but is meaningless.”[4]

Translating the word “virgin”

Some scholars view Isaiah 7:14 as having reference only to the natural conception and birth of the son of the prophetess. Some argue that “alma” sometimes translated “virgin” (KJV, ASV, NIV), refers to a young woman, whether married or unmarried, and should be translated “young maiden” (RSV).  So if Isaiah had intended someone who was a virgin, he would have used bethulah (cf. Gen. 24:16; Levit. 21:3; Judg. 21:12).[5] But as Fruchtenbaum,  notes, “If the women in Isa. 7:14 were a non-virgin, then God would be promising a sign involving fornication and illegitimacy.” [6]

What we do know is that Matthew is using  the Septuagint (The Greek Old Testament ) which uses the word “parthenos” which means “virgin.” The Septuagint written 200 years working before the birth of Jesus, evidently believed that this was a prediction of the virgin birth of the Messiah. It is also true that “parthenos” doesn’t always mean “virgin.” We see this by the Septuagint’s rendering of Gen 34;3 when Dinah is still called a “parthenos” even after she was raped. Amy Jill Levine, an Orthodox Jew who is a specialist in New Testament studies, says the following:

“When, 200 years later, the author of Matthew’s gospel read Isaiah 7:14 in Greek, he saw a prediction of a virginal conception. That is a legitimate reading. Jews, however, reading their Scriptures in Hebrew, see no virginal conception. By applying Isaiah’s prophecy to his own time, Matthew is reading his Scripture in good first-century Jewish fashion. Contemporaneous Jews also took verses out of context and applied them to their own situations.

For example, the well-known Rabbi Akiva, a Jewish teacher executed by the Romans about 135 C.E., is reputed to have said that Bar Kokhba, the leader of the second revolt against Rome (132–135 C.E.), was the fulfillment of Numbers 24:17, “a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (see the Jerusalem Talmud,Ta’anit 4.8). Similarly, the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls see the Prophetic volumes from the Scriptures of Israel as speaking directly to their own time and situation. This form of interpretation, known as pesher (Hebrew for “interpretation”), quotes a Biblical text and then shows its fulfillment. For example, 1QpHab, the Habakkuk commentary from Qumran (“1” stands for the cave where the scroll was found, “Q” is Qumran; “p” ispesher, and “Hab” is the abbreviation for Habakkuk), states that “God commanded Habakkuk to write the things that were coming on the last generation, but the fulfillment of the era He did not make known to him … Their interpretation (pesher) concerns the Teacher of Righteousness [the leader of the Qumran group], to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servant the prophets.” The early followers of Jesus, Jews immersed in the Scriptures of Israel, searched in those Scriptures for teachings that would help them understand the man they believed to be the Messiah. At the same time, they used those Scriptures to help them tell the story of his life. In both cases, they were being thoroughly Jewish.” Note: Feel free to read the entire article here

But Why Would Matthew Create a Virgin Birth Story?

Despite the challenges of translation, we are still left to the issue as to why in the word Matthew would even create a story about a Messiah who was born of a virgin. After all, at the time of Jesus, there was no messianic expectation of a Messiah who would be virgin born. So if Matthew is trying to convince his readers Jesus is the promised Messiah, a made up virgin birth story seems counterproductive. As Craig Evans says,

“In other words, there was a tradition about the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth that informed Matthew’s exegesis of Isaiah rather than the text of Isaiah inspiring Matthew’s tradition about the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth. There is no need for a divine messiah, and even if someone thought messiah to be divine, there is no evidence that anyone thought this was possible through a virgin birth alone. Of course, the more skeptical readers of Matthew will not find this argument convincing, but I admit that it is an argument like this one that has caused me to pause when I hear people speak of Matthew creating a virgin birth story. Even if Matthew was being apologetic in defense of Mary’s reputation wasn’t an appeal to Joseph as Jesus’ legitimate father an easier answer than a virgin birth?” –See entire article here:

The Virgin Birth and Paganism

Some skeptics still like to assert the virgin birth story is a rip off of pagan or parallel stories. However, in Raymond E. Brown’s highly respected work, The Birth of the Messiah, he evaluates non-Biblical “examples” of virgin births and his conclusions are as follows:

“Among the parallels offered for the virginal conception of Jesus have beneath conceptions of figures in world religions (the Buddha, Krishna, and those of Zoroaster), in Greco-Roman mythology (Presses, Romulus), in Egyptian and Classical History (the Pharaohs, Alexander, Augusts), and among famous philosophers or religious thinkers (Plato, Apologias of Tyana), to name only a few. “Are any of these divinely engendered births really parallel to the non-sexual virginal conception of Jesus described in the NT, where Mary is not impregnated by a male deity or element, but the child is begotten through the creative power of the Holy Spirit? These “parallels” consistently involve a type of hieros gamos (note: “holy seed” or “divine semen”) where a divine male, in human or other form, impregnates a woman, either through normal sexual intercourse or through some substitute form of penetration. In short, there is no clear example of virginal conception in world or pagan religions that plausibly could have given first-century Jewish Christians, the idea of the virginal conception of Jesus.” [7]

Believe it nor not, I have still barely scratched the surface on this topic. For more info, see Michael Brown’s Answering Jewish Objections, Vol 3: Messianic Prophecy Objections, or The Virgin Birth  by Robert Gromacki.


[1] Jaques Doukhan, On The Way To Emmaus: Five Major Messianic Prophecies Explained ( Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, 2012), 30.

[2] A.G Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 33.

[3] Ibid, 36.

[3] A.G Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 36-37.

[4] Duane A. Garrett “Type, Typology” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 785-786.

[5] Norman Geisler, Bakers Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1999), 760.

[6] Fruchtenbaum,34.

[7] Raymond E. BrownThe Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (London: Yale University Press; Updated edition, 1999) 522-523

Uncategorized

Some Possible Options in Explaining Why the Bible is Authoritative, True, and Inspired!

There is no doubt it isn’t getting any easier trying to explain why the Bible is an authoritative, true, and inspired book.  Here is possible discussion between two fictitious people. I call them Chris the Christian and Sam the Skeptic.

 

Now in the picture below here, this is how many Christians will attempt to show the Bible is authoritative inspired, and true. Keep in mind, I haven’t even defined all the terms here.

A couple of possible objections to the approach above: What if someone says “The Quran or The Book of Mormon has changed my life?” So let’s take a different approach.

In my opinion, we should offer a cumulative case approach. While there is wealth of archaeological confirmation for the Bible, at most that shows the Bible has recorded actual people, place, and events that really do exist. But that would not be enough! After all, the Book of Mormon has barely any archaeological confirmation. But even if it did, the Book of Mormon isn’t based on a true revelation. So here is small outline of what we could possible do to provide a case for the Bible being a true revelation.

Which God Shall I Pick?

1.Pantheism: (Hinduism/Buddhism)

  • God is not personal and knowable
  • The  universe is eternal and unchanging, without an end or a beginning (this contradicts the evidence for the beginning of the universe)
  •  If divinity and matter are mystically “one” ( you can’t have god without matter), how is the pantheistic god capable of producing the effect in question such as the origin of space?
  • Says the universe is a necessary being. But this makes no sense because we know the universe is contingent.
  • To bring a universe into existence means the cause would have a volitional will- they made a choice. This is a personal cause (i.e., Agent Causation). Will is one attribute that characterizes personhood.

2. Polytheism

  • Says there are more than one god.
  • Gods either came from nature or where at one time men and women who became gods.
  • Gods are thus finite and contingent.
  •  The Universe has always existed. This contradicts Big Bang cosmology.
  • They don’t account for the creation of the universe. All things come from the  universe, even Gods. Gods don’t exist apart from the universe, and the beings that do exist all have limited power which causes polytheism to not meet all the requirements.
  • Polytheism fails the Ockham’s razor test: “Entities  must not be multiplied beyond necessity.”

3. Other common internet objections: (i.e., Thor, Zeus, Santa Claus,  Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc.)

  • These are created gods/they are part of the universe
  • They are contingent gods
  • The God of the Bible is necessary, not contingent, and he transcends the universe- he is not part of the universe! To compare the God of the Bible with Thor, Zeus, Santa etc. is a category mistake.
  • There is 0.0 evidence for Thor, Zeus,  Santa or FSM. Perhaps someone may find the evidence for the God of the Bible to not be sufficient, but that is not the same as having zero evidence. Those who say there is “no evidence,” or “zero evidence” have a very naïve view of epistemology  and classical theism.

4. Theistic God (i.e., Judaism/Islam/Christianity)

A God/Designer is  more likely to explain:(note: Thanks to Wintery Knight for some of these resources). Note I didn’t say this points to the God of the Bible!

However, note I said even if there is good evidence for a Designer, it doesn’t show  the character of the Designer. Hence, we now must  look at  Historical Revelation:

  • What is revelation? a disclosure of something that has been hidden– an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.”
  • There are three  things are needed for a revelation to take place: God, a medium, and a being able to receive the revelation.
  • Communication: We rely on communication every moment of the day (i.e., emails, phone, texts). God does want to communicate with humans.

Why the need for revelation?

  • Man’s lack of knowledge: Aquinas offered a good case for the need for revelation. He set forth five reasons why we must first believe what we may later be able to provide good evidence for (Maimonides, 1.34):

1. The object of spiritual understanding is deep and subtle, far removed from sense perception.

2. Human understanding is weak as it fights through these issues.

3.  A number of things are needed for conclusive spiritual proof. It takes time to discern them.

4. Some people are disinclined to rigorous philosophical investigation.

5.  It is necessary to engage in other occupations besides philosophy and science to provide the necessities of life (On Truth, 14.10, reply).

  • Aquinas said it is clear that, “if it were necessary to use a strict demonstration as the only way to reach a knowledge of the things which we must know about God, very few could ever construct such a demonstration and even these could do it only after a long time.”Elsewhere, Aquinas lists three basic reasons why divine revelation is needed. 1.  Few possess the knowledge of God, some do not have the disposition for philosophical study, and others do not have the time or are indolent.2.  Time is required to find the truth. This truth is very profound, and there are many things that must be presupposed. During youth the soul is distracted by “the various movements of the passions.”3.  It is difficult to sort out what is false in the intellect. Our judgment is weak in sorting true from false concepts.

We also need to know the following:

  • Character of God: we need a concrete communication to establish the exact  nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like?
  • The Origin of Evil/The Fall: Man needs to be educated concerning the reasons for our situation.
  • Man’s Origin: Without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God.
  • Mankind’s Destiny: In the absence of a revelation, we might think that this life is all there is.

How would we defend the Bible is a true revelation of the true God?

  • We must admit that all the Holy Books contain contradictory revelations: To assert that the God of the Bible would give a clear revelation in the person of Jesus (33 A.D.) and then give another revelation 600-650 years later (Islam), which contradicts the one in 33 A.D is odd. Furthermore, what about the two other so-called revelations in the 1800′s (Mormonism and the Watchtower Society) that both contradict the Christian and Muslim claim. If anything, that would make the God of the Bible a very contradictory Being.
  • Wrong approach: The Bible is the Word of God because it says it is the Word of God (we quote 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 3:15-16).  This is circular.

We would have to establish there is a God who can give a revelation to mankind: 

The Old Testament explains:

The New Testament explains:

The structure of the argument may be formalized as follows: Read a fuller form  from the book In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture here:

(1)  The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence

(2) The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate/the Jewish Messiah.  God authenticated Jesus’ teaching/ claim to divinity by His miracles/His messianic speaking authority, His messianic actions, and His resurrection .

(3)  Hence, Jesus is God incarnate.

(4) Jesus (i.e., God incarnate) taught that the Old Testament is divinely inspired, and he promised the inspiration of the New Testament through his apostles.

(5) Therefore, the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is divinely inspired.

 

Uncategorized

Was Jesus Really a False Prophet?

 

One of the common objections by skeptics is that when it comes to prophecy in the Bible, Jesus gave some guidelines about his return that simply don’t match up with reality. I have been reading a book called Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism by Christopher M. Hays, Christopher B. Ansberry. In this book, they address this issue. They say:

 “At the end of the day, however, the most important function of prophecy for twenty-first-century Christians is in sustaining our own future hope for the return of Jesus and the consummation of the kingdom of God. Is this hope legitimate? Indeed, even apart from the discriminating eye of historical criticism, the Scriptures do seem to give us reason for pause, insofar as they appear to evince a pattern of promising a climactic future vindication of the people of God, and then later admitting quietly that things did not work out precisely as anticipated. How should Christians feel about this phenomenon, this apparently ‘perpetual deferral of the eschaton’? If we cannot rely on Old Testament ‘prognostications’, how can we trust the predictions of the New Testament? In this final portion of our chapter, it is our desire to use historical-critical insight into the nature of prophecy and apocalyptic literature in order to reinforce Christianity’s most fundamental hope. One might conclude, therefore, that prophetic hopes of restoration are little more than pious wishful thinking.

Nonetheless, Christians often remain unaffected by this problem; practically speaking, Christ’s coming and resurrection have overshadowed the gaps in Jewish timelines. Although we look forward to his prophesied return, we tend to think ourselves fortunate to know that Jesus eschewed any particular predictions about the timing of his return (Mark 13.32//Matt. 24.36). Unfortunately, things are not quite that simple. Even though Jesus declined to offer precise calendrical prognostications regarding his return, he nonetheless made broader chronological claims that have proved problematic.” After all, he said:

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. (Matt. 16.27–28 [ESV], emphasis not in original).

Or similarly, consider the text which C. S. Lewis opined was ‘certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible’:

In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven . . . Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Mark 13.24–30 [ESV], emphasis not in original) In short, Jesus promised that his Second Coming in judgement would take place by the end of his contemporaries’ lifetimes. Yet here we are 1,900 years after the last of the apostles died, reciting the creed expectantly and reassuring ourselves, ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.’

Even though Jesus did not make chronological predictions with the same specificity as did Jeremiah, modern Christians are in very much the same position as was the author of Daniel; they need to give an account of why the promised restoration has been deferred beyond the pale of what the prophets seemed to countenance. The potential theological problems of this situation are obvious: if prophecies of future divine vindication, be it the restoration of Israel from exile or the consummation of the kingdom of God, are habitually deferred and recalculated, without ever seeming to be fully realized, then what grounds do we have for hoping that Jesus will indeed come again? At what point do we just wise up, and stop waiting for God? Many critical scholars would point to precisely this phenomenon and say that, whatever we learn from Jesus, we should not sit around waiting for his return.”- Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism by Christopher M. Hays, Christopher B. Ansberry, Kindle Locations, 1967-1976.

 

The Conditional Character of Prophecy

I actually like the alternative to this supposed ‘problem’ with the return of Jesus and the prophecy topic. Hays and  Ansberry say that an explanation of the deferral of the Lord’s return is a failure to recognize the conditional character of prophecy.  They say:

“ In Jeremiah 18, God says that, just as a potter can change the design of his pot even after beginning to shape it, so also God can act in a manner different from what he had foretold, should people’s behavior so incline him. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. (Jer. 18.6–10 [emphasis not in original]) Jeremiah says that when God promises blessing, and people meanwhile fail to act obediently, God can alter his course of action and punish them. Conversely, when God promises judgement and the people repent, God may decide to spare them. Thus, Jeremiah understood prophecy often to be conditional; the outcome of prophecy can depend on people’s actions. Might this help account for the deferral of the restoration of Israel foretold by Jeremiah, or for the delay of Jesus’ Second Coming? What is fascinating is that closer examination of the biblical texts reveals that precisely these dynamics are at play. We have referred already to Jer. 29.11’s famous promise: ‘For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.’ But note that the very next verses link these ‘plans’ to the way the Israelites react to God’s  chastisement: Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jer. 29.12–14) So the question becomes: how well did the Israelites respond to God?”- Kindle Location, 2061

To build on these comments by Hays and Ansberry, it is interesting that there are other passages that discuss the return of Jesus and Israel’s repentance.  Jesus spoke about the relationship between Israel’s repentance and their response to him in the following text:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”-Luke 13: 34-35

A similar text is seen in Matthew 23: 37-39:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  See, your house is left to you desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Notice the emphasis on the article “until.” Here, it could not be clearer that Jesus says the Jewish people will not see him again and cry out to Him until there is genuine belief on their part.

Another text that  is important to the concept of Israel’s restoration is seen in Peter’s sermon in  Acts 3:19-21:

“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.”

Here, the word for restoration is “apokatastasis” which is only seen in this text. There is also a similar theme in Acts 1:6 when Jesus is asked about “restoring” the kingdom to Israel.  The points is that the Messiah is in heaven and his reappearance to rule and reign can be expedited by Israel’s repentance.

Ironically, while the same themes about the condition of Israel and the coming of the Messiah (for the first time) are seen in the Rabbinical literature.

I was recently going back and reading a book called Jewish Christian Debates: God, Kingdom, Messiah which features a dialogue between Bruch Chilton and Jacob Neusner. In it, Neusner says:

What is most interesting in the Talmud of the land of Israel’s picture is that the hope for the Messiah’s coming is further joined to the moral condition of each individual Israelite. Hence, messianic fulfillment was made to depend on the repentance of Israel. The coming of the Messiah depended not on historical action but on moral regeneration.-pg 172.

So to build on this, there are plenty of texts in the Rabbinical Literature that discuss the relationship between the actions of Israel and the Messiah’s first appearance:

Leila Leah Bronner says the following in Journey to Heaven: Exploring Jewish Views of the Afterlife

“All “the ends” have passed and still the Messiah has not come; it depends only upon repentance and good deeds. (BT Sanhedrin 97b).  If [the whole of] Israel [genuinely] repented a single day, the son of David would come immediately. If [the whole of] Israel observed a single Sabbath properly, the son of David would come immediately. (JT Ta’anit 64a). If Israel were to keep two [consecutive] Sabbaths according to the law, they would be redeemed forthwith. (BT Shabbat 118b). Because they describe a uniformity of devotion and behavior that is difficult if not impossible to attain, these passages show the lengths to which Jews as a community must go to attract the Messiah, as does this statement from Rabbi Yohanan: “The son of David will come only in a generation that is either altogether righteous or altogether wicked.” In response to the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik (1922–2001), a modern Orthodox scholar, claimed that redemption could come in two different forms. The first, the ketz nigleh or “revealed end,” is a paradigm of history and natural process. The second, the ketz nistar, or “hidden end,” is miraculous and supernatural. If the Jews did not repent (repentance in this case meaning a return to Orthodox observance), then redemption would take place on a natural level, but slowly. Conversely, if the Jews did repent, the Messiah would come miraculously, as suggested by the image of the Messiah riding in on the clouds in Daniel 7:13.”-Kindle Locations, 3433-3445

Conclusion 

I am well aware there have been several ways to deal with this topic.  Christopher Hays even has a new book out called When the Son of Man Didn’t Come: A Constructive Proposal on the Delay of the Parousia. The bottom line is that there are many cases where we see the conditional element of prophecy in the Bible. Given both Jesus and Peter and the Rabbinical literature  discusses  the contingent element of prophecy and the appearance of the Messiah, this provides a plausible alternative.

Uncategorized

Historiography 101: A Look at the Role of the Testimony and Witness in the New Testament

A few years back on the oval at The Ohio State University, I heard an exchange between a campus evangelist and a large group of students. The campus evangelist tried to explain the evidence for the resurrection was based on eyewitness testimony. One of the objections from the students was that we can’t trust eyewitness testimony. As I walked away I realized there was so much left out of the conversation. It just so happens that I had already written a post on this issue.

New Testament faith is portrayed biblically as knowledge based upon testimony. In other words, it is impossible to forget that a Christians’ faith will be directly related to the testimony of the witnesses in the New Testament. As a Christian, I share the faith of the early witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. How do historians reconstruct the events of the past?

After all, even though the earliest life of Alexander the Great (356-323) was written 200 years later, it is regarded by historians as a reliable source of information. Any historian will quickly admit that they can’t verify that Alexander the Great existed ever by observing him directly. What about the life and deeds of Julius Caesar who was responsible for transforming the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire? The earliest copy we have for the life of Caesar is nearly 1,000 years after when it was first written. Many people assume Caesar existed and did the deeds that are attested about him from the sources we have available to us. But once again, the historian knows he can’t verify Casers’ existence by observing him directly.

Since historians can’t verify the events directly, they rely on things such as written documents (both primary and secondary sources), archaeology, and the testimony of the witnesses to the events. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that investigates the nature and origin of knowledge. We as humans come to know things by a variety of ways such as reason and logic, intuition, inference, personal and religious experience, the scientific method, listening to authorities on a subject matter, etc. Epistemologically speaking, one of the tools that plays another important element of discovering the past is the testimony of witnesses. As I said, New Testament faith is portrayed biblically as knowledge based upon testimony.

As Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes, the biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Old Testament legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. Its validity consists in certifiable, objective facts. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Uncertifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in Scripture as inadmissible testimony. Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15). It can also be observed that the emphasis on eyewitness testimony was carried on through the early church.

As Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy note in their book The Jesus Legend: A Case For the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition, Christianity cannot be understood apart from it’s first century Jewish context. The Sinai teaching that multiple witnesses was retained Mark 14:56,59; John 5:31-32; Heb 10:28) and also used for church discipline (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1;1 Tim 5:19). Also, the principle of giving a true testimony and making a true confession are evident in the early church (Matt 10:18; Mark 6:11;13:9-13;Luke 1:1-2;9:5;21:12-13;22:71;John 1:7-8,15,19,32,34;3:26,28;5:32; Acts 1:8,22;3:15;5:32;10:37-41;13:31;22:15;18;23:11;26:16).

The Gospel of John uses words that are usually translated as witness, testimony, to bear witness, or to testify. The total usage of these words in John’s Gospel is larger than any of the Synoptic Gospels. The book of Acts is the next book with the most references to the terms related to eyewitness testimony. We see in the following New Testament passages where testimony and witness is used as a means to verify events:

• Luke 1:4: “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received”

•Acts 2:32: “This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it”

• Acts 3:14-15:But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.”

• Acts 5:30-32: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

•1 John 1:1: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life”

•Acts 10:39 : “We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and (in) Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.”

•Acts 4:19-20: “Peter and John, however, said to them in reply, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

•1 Peter 5:1: “So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed.

•2 Peter 1:19: ” We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

•John 21:24: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

•1 Corinthians 15: 3-8: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

One book that has recently handled the issue of eyewitness testimony issue within the New Testament is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham.

What is significant about Richard Bauckham’s book is his mentioning of Thomas Reid. Reid was a Scottish philosopher and contemporary of David Hume who played an integral role in the Scottish Enlightenment. It was in Reid’s “common sense” philosophy of the eighteenth century where Reid understood testimony as an integral part of the social character of knowledge. In other words, for Reid, to trust the testimony of others is simply fundamental to the kind of creatures we are.

As Bauckham notes:

“Trusting testimony is indefensible to historiography. This trust need not be blind faith. In the “critical realist” historian’s reception and use of testimony there is a dialectic trust and critical assessment. But the assessment is precisely an assessment of the testimony as trustworthy or not. What is not possible is independents verification or falsification of everything the testimony relates such a reliance on testimony would not longer be needed. Testimony shares the frugality of memory, which is the testimony’s sole access to the past, while also, when it predates living memory, existing only as an archived memory, cut off from the dialogical context of contemporary testimony. But for most purposes, testimony is all we have. There are indeed, other traces of the past in the present (such as archaeological finds), which can to a degree corroborate or discredit testimony, but they cannot, in most cases, suffice for the study and writing of history. They cannot replace testimony. In the end, testimony is all we have.”

As Bauckham also notes, the Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), does not have forensic meaning, and in that sense the English word “eyewitnesses” with its suggestion of a metaphor from the law courts, is a little misleading. The autoptai are simply firsthand observers of those events. Bauckham has followed the work of Samuel Byrskog in arguing that while the Gospels though in some ways are a very distinctive form of historiography, they share broadly in the attitude to eyewitness testimony that was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period. These historians valued above all reports of firsthand experience of the events they recounted. Best of all was for the historian to have been himself a participant in the events (direct autopsy). Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he need to recount, not least because some would be simultaneous), they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy). This, at least, was historiographic best practice, represented and theorized by such generally admired historians as Thucydides and Polybius. The preference for direct and indirect testimony is an obviously reasonable rule for acquiring the testimony likely to be reasonable. (Pg 479)

Loveday Alexander, in his book The Preface to Luke’s Gospel offers the translations: “those with personal/firsthand experience; those who know the facts at hand (Bauckham, pg 117). One of the greatest assets of Bauckham’s book is the reminder that ancient historians thought that history had to be written during a time when eyewitnesses were still available to be cross-examined.

External Corroboration

Something else that helps solidify the truthfulness of eyewitness testimony is the use of archaeology or external evidence. In his book The Reliability of John’s Gospel, Craig Blomberg has identified 59 people, events, or places that have been confirmed by archaeology. Furthermore, Luke’s Gospel shows displays a variety of historical figures that have been confirmed. For example, Luke gives correct titles for the following officials: Cyprus, proconsul (13:7–8); Thessalonica, politarchs (17:6); Ephesus, temple wardens (19:35); Malta, the first man of the island. (3) Each of these has been confirmed by Roman usage. In all, Luke names thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands without an error.

Over all, here is a list of 30 historical persons in the New Testament.

30 Historical Persons in NT
• Agrippa I—-Acts 12
• Agrippa II—Acts 25
• Ananias—–Acts 23, 24
• Annas——-Luke 3; Jn. 18; Acts 4
• Aretas——-2Cor. 11
• Bernice—–Acts 23
• Augustus—Lk. 2
• Caiaphas—Mt. 26; Lk. 3; Jn. 11, 18; Acts 4
• Claudius—-Acts 11, 18
• Drusilla—-Acts 24
• Egyptian (false prophet)–Acts 21
• Erastus—-Acts 19
• Felix——–Acts 23
• Gallio——-Acts 18
• Gamaliel—Acts 5

Of course, one book in the New Testament that plays as indispensible role in evaluating the resurrection is the book of Acts. It is within Acts that we see the resurrection was part of the early apostolic preaching and the evidence given that Christianity is true (Acts 2:25-32; 3: 15; 10:39-41; 17:2-3, 18, 31), It is also within Acts that records Paul’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 9:1-9; 22: 1-11; 26: 9-19). In his monumental work called The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, classics scholar Colin Hemer has shown that Luke has also done his work as an historian. There are at least 84 events, people, locations, etc, which have been confirmed by archeology. Some of them are:

1. A natural crossing between correctly named ports (13:4–5). Mount Casius, south of Seleucia, stands within sight of Cyprus. The name of the proconsul in 13:7 cannot be confirmed, but the family of the Sergii Pauli is attested.
2. The proper river port, Perga, for a ship crossing from Cyprus (13:13).
3. The proper location of Lycaonia (14:6).
4. The unusual but correct declension of the name Lystra and the correct language spoken in Lystra. Correct identification of the two gods associated with the city, Zeus and Hermes (14:12).
5. The proper port, Attalia, for returning travelers (14:25).
6. The correct route from the Cilician Gates (16:1).
7. The proper form of the name Troas (16:8).
8. A conspicuous sailors’ landmark at Samothrace (16:11).
9. The proper identification of Philippi as a Roman colony. The right location for the riverGangites near Philippi (16:13).
10. Association of Thyatira with cloth dyeing (16:14). Correct designations of the titles for the colony magistrates (16:20, 35, 36, 38).
11. The proper locations where travelers would spend successive nights on this journey (17:1).
12. The presence of a synagogue in Thessalonica (17:1), and the proper title of politarch for the magistrates (17:6).
13. The correct explanation that sea travel is the most convenient way to reach Athens in summer with favoring east winds (17:14).
14. The abundance of images in Athens (17:16), and reference to the synagogue there (17:17).

Skeptics may acknowledge that their is external evidence but tend to assert that the Gospels/Acts are just another form of historical fiction which blends real people, events and places and mixes it with fiction. This is failure to understand the genre of the Gospels.

Eyewitness Testimony in Other Religions?

What about the other so-called eyewitness testimony in other religions? This is where context counts. For example, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed an angel appeared to him and directed him to what are called the golden plates. Smith then showed them to eleven others. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed to have received personal revelation from God on the basis of two visions, (the first allegedly given to him in 1820, the second one in 1823). Smith is supposed to be responsible for translating these plates into The Book of Mormon. Like the apostles of Jesus, Smith suffered and died for his beliefs. However, there is a major difference between the eleven witnesses to the gold plates and the apostles of Jesus.

Is there any external evidence to support the Mormon claim? The Book of Mormon tells the story of a Nephite civilization in the New World. There is no archaeological evidence to support the onetime existence of a Nephite civilization in North America or a huge battle in New York.

Also, in the case of the Mormon claim as well as supposed supernatural sightings etc, they fail the test of coherence. In examining an ancient document, a historian asks whether an event or teaching fits well with what is known concerning other surrounding occurrences and teachings. Coherence involves the extraordinary consistency of Jesus’ resurrection with his unique life and teachings, including his predictions of his death and resurrection. The resurrection coheres with Jesus’ entire ministry and His divine claims-His Amen and Abba statements, His “I” and “I AM” statements, His actions, the use of Jewish divine categories such as Wisdom, Shekinah, the Name, Son of Man, etc, and His ministry that is built on the messianic expectations of the Hebrew Bible. Hence, there is a large body of background evidence to the life of Jesus.

Uncategorized

Book Review: Gregory Ganssle: Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations

Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations by [Ganssle, Gregory E.]

Gregory Ganssle, Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations, 140 pp.  978-0830851829

As someone that reads a lot of apologetic literature, I was delighted to read this latest offering by Gregory Ganssle, Greg Ganssle is a philosopher with the Rivendell Institute and a lecturer in the philosophy department at Yale University. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy from Syracuse University and an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Rhode Island.

Ganssle’s book takes a different direction than many apologetic materials. This book isn’t about factual evidence for Christianity. Instead, Ganssle takes more of an existential approach. Ganssle seems to be onto something: some people aren’t asking whether Christianity is true? Now you may say “No way!” Isn’t truth the most important thing?  Why believe something that is false?  But as Ganssle explains:

“It is important for me to make it clear that I shall not argue that Christianity is true. I believe it is true, but for most people, the question of whether it is true is not the most important question. My suspicion is that there are many people who think something like the following: “I am pretty sure that Christianity is not true, and it is a good thing that it is not.” I want to challenge the second part of this thought. I hope to persuade readers that it would be a good thing if Christianity turned out to be true. For this reason, I will explore elements of our experience that we care deeply about, and I will point out how the Christian picture of reality makes sense of these elements. The assumptions by which we navigate our lives include more than what we believe. They include our desires or our loves. It is not only what I think is true that will affect how I pursue the best life. It is also what I most want.”- pgs 11-12.

So what are these  assumptions by which we people navigate their  lives? And what explains these assumptions that people navigate their lives by? Christianity or another worldview? Ganssle discusses issues like goodness, beauty, freedom, and why people matter so much. After all, most people invest in activities that promote the kind of world they want. They want a world of justice, equality, and for humans to be viewed with dignity and respect. But how do we know what the world should look like unless we have some standard as to what is just and unjust? People who fight for justice know how things ought to be, but alas, they are not. They assume a standard of justice and goodness. On a secular worldview, however, things happen either by chance, or by the laws of nature. On this line of thinking, there is no grand plan or purpose behind the evil and injustice we observe. If there is no God, evil is just a social construct, and merely an illusion. What explains these features of reality?  When people stop and actually try to explain the reason they adhere to these desires they have and ask whether they can be attributed to God or something else, cognitive dissonance arises. As Ganssle says:

“Cognitive dissonance is tension that arises when our beliefs come into conflict with each other. I often experience this tension when I try to find my keys. I believe I left them on the counter next to my wallet, but they are not there. I have one belief based on my memory and another based on the fact that I don’t see them where I expect to see them. These beliefs conflict with each other. I want to find my keys, but I also want to find an explanation for the dissonance. Why were the keys not where I thought they would be? I keep looking for a resolution. If I figure out the problem, I feel a sense of relief. Finding my keys is a simple case. Cognitive dissonance in other cases can be deep and persistent. Scholars sifting through complex evidence face a deeper kind of cognitive dissonance. It often takes a great deal of time to work out their ideas and find resolution. When we experience dissonance, we strive for resolution. We want to remove the tension. We cannot remain in a state of conflict for significant periods of time. We achieve resolution by revising either the content of our beliefs and desires or by revising the ordering of our beliefs and desires. We will often change our beliefs to fit our loves. We are less ready to change our loves to fit our beliefs.”- pgs 5-6.

In regards to these comments by Ganssle, I have been told religious people are the ones who have to struggle with cognitive dissonance. This happens when Christians are given objections by atheists or people from other faiths. Well, guess what? All people deal with issues of cognitive dissonance. It is part of life. Yes, atheists as well.

If someone is a skeptic, and says that God must not exist or that miracles are not possible and they are challenged with dissonance, in many cases, they will seek out evidence that confirms their hypothesis and dismiss evidence that might overturn their position.  Likewise, if someone presupposes that God does exist or comes to the conclusion that God does exist by their own investigation, when challenged, they will seek evidence to continually support such a claim as well.  Thus, we tend to fill in the dissonance by looking for evidence that confirms our beliefs. But what about  Ganssle’s comments about we tend to want to cling to what we love more than what is true? Keep in mind, when we say something is true, we mean it matches reality. But yes, in many cases, we do pick what we love and desire over what is true. I have seen this happen quite frequently.  Ganssle also quotes the famous atheist  Bertrand Russell  who said:

“Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast heat death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”-Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell (New York: Modern Library, 1927), 2-3. This essay was originally published in 1903.

Ganssle makes a compelling case for they the Christian faith is the best explanation for people’s deepest desires. And that’s why the Christian faith is not only true, but “good” for the world.

Uncategorized