The Deity of Messiah in the Tanakh and The New Testament

 

The Deity of Messiah in the Tanakh

What does the word Messiah mean? Messiah means “Anointed One” (Heb. messiah) (Gk. Christos) and  is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.” The Tanakh 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. “Anointed One” almost never refers to the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible. The messianic concept also has a wider dimension than the royal, priestly, and/or prophetic person. Included in this wider view are the characteristics, tasks, goals, means, and consequences of the messianic person.

In this case, 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.” – Bird, M.F. Are You The One To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 35

Given the Messiah is supposed to be the ideal representative of his people, he has a kingly role as well. Let’s look at some of the messianic texts in the Old Testament that speak about the kingly role of the Messiah.

Genesis 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.

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. (1)

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.

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. See more on this here:

The Davidic King

While God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17: 6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15), he also promised David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam.7:12-17; 1 Chr.17:7-15; Ps.89:28-37). In other words, David’s line would eventually culminate in the birth of a person whose eternality will guarantee David’s dynasty, kingdom, and throne forever.

As seen in 2 Sam. 7:1-4, David wanted to build a “house” (or Temple) for the Lord in Jerusalem. God’s response to David was one of rejection. The desire for the restoration of the Davidic dynasty became even more fervent after the united kingdom of the Israelites split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, at the time of King Rehoboam. Michael Brown says the following:

“Turning to the biblical concept of “son,” any student of the Semitic languages knows that the word son (Hebrew, ben; Aramaic, bar; Arabic, ibn) has many different meanings. It can refer to literal offspring (such as one’s physical son or distant descendant) as well as to metaphorical offspring (such as “the sons of the prophets,” meaning the disciples of the prophets). When applied to the Israelite king, it means “son” by divine adoption (e.g., 2 Sam. 7:14: “I will be his father, and he will be my son”), and it can even apply to the people of Israel as a whole, since they were specially chosen by God (see Exod. 4:22–23: “Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me”’”). In this sense, it could also apply to the obedient people of Israel as individuals (Hosea 1:10: “They will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”). Another meaning of “son” has to do with those who belong to the same class of being. Thus the angels are called benei ’elohim, “sons of God,” meaning those who share in the qualities of ’elohim: partaking of heavenly, spirit nature as opposed to the earthly, flesh nature of human.”- Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol 2, pgs, 38-39.

The Davidic King in  Isaiah 9:12-17:

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; dominion will rest on his shoulders, and he will be given the name Pele-Yo’etz El Gibbor Avi-‘Ad Sar-Shalom [Wonder of a Counselor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace], in order to extend the dominion and perpetuate the peace of the throne and kingdom of David, to secure it and sustain it through justice and righteousness henceforth and forever. The zeal of ADONAITzva’ot will accomplish this.” (Isa 9:5-6 CJB)

This passage speaks to the everlasting rule of the Davidic King. The figure is called “Wonderful Counselor” (Pele-Yoeitz) which is used only of God and what God does. This is never used of what God does. “Mighty God”  (El-Gibbor) is never used of a mere man. We read in Isaiah 10:21 that “A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.”  The word ‘el’ always refers to a deity.  “Everlasting Father”- “Father” is here in a pre-Trinitarian sense.  Jesus  is not literally the Father but he can play the role of a Father in that he cares, protects, etc. “Prince of Peace”- is sometimes used of men in the Hebrew text. In Isaiah, the work of peace is of God only. The significance of this passage is the phrase “there will be no end.” In observing the immediate context of this passage, one might assert that this passage is referring to Hezekiah’s reign. Given the names that describe the child here, the passage seems to speak of a figure that is a much loftier King than Hezekiah. Also, Hezekiah’s reign was rather limited in an international sense.

Another text about the Davidic King stands out:

The days are coming,” says ADONAI when I will raise a righteous Branch for David. He will reign as king and succeed, he will do what is just and right in the land. In his days Y’hudah will be saved, Isra’el will live in safety, and the name given to him will be ADONAI Tzidkenu [ADONAI our righteousness]. “Therefore,” says ADONAI, “the day will come when people no longer swear, ‘As ADONAI lives, who brought the people of Isra’el out of the land of Egypt,’ (Jer 23:5-7 CJB)

Here, the Messiah is David’s Branch, implying that he is a human descendant of David, while also being God our righteousness.

The Davidic King in the Royal Psalms

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)

What do we see here?

1. 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.

2. 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).

3. David did have conquest of all the nations (Edom, Moab, Ammon, Philistia, Amalek, etc-1 Chron. 14:17; 18:11).

4. Vs 11-12: One day God will subjugate all the nations to the rule of the Davidic throne.

Psalm 89 is another royal Psalm.

We see the following:

1. The Davidic King will be elevated over the rivers and seas (v.24- 25).

2. Just as God is the most exalted ruler in heaven (vv.6-9), the Davidic King is the most exalted ruler on earth (v. 27).

3. The Davidic King will be the “firstborn” and enjoy the highest rank among all earthly kings.

4. God promises to establish David’s throne and continue his dynasty from one generation to the next for perpetuity (vv.28-29).

The rule of the King as the Son of Man

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. NOTE: SEE OUR POST ON A LOOK AT THE SON OF MAN AS A MESSIANIC PROPHECY

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

When it comes to the study of messianic prophecy, the idea of Corporate Solidarity states that one person can represent a whole group. In other words, Jesus, as the Messiah is the culmination of the characteristics within the positions. Hence, Jesus is the Jew par excellence! Keep in mind, this post is not arguing that Jesus’ identity as the ideal representative of his people  means there is no longer any future significance for Israel as a national entity.

Let’s look at a few examples of this:

Jesus as the Son of God

 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.  Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son,  and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”- Exodus 4-21-23

He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father,  my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’  And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth My steadfast love I will keep for him forever,  and my covenant will stand firm  for him.  I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens.- Psalm 89: 26-29

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.- Colossians 1:  15-18

The Jewish Background of the Deity of Messiah in the New Testament

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Jesus is the Wisdom of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Skarsaune says:

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

Jesus is the Lord (Gk. Kyrios)

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

As Baker”s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes:

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

Jesus is given “The Name”

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

James R. Edwards summarizes the importance of this issue:

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

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

Jesus is the New Temple

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

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

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

Jesus is the Shechinah

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is The Word/The Memra

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Why the Incarnation?

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

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

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

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

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