The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic?

9780805446548_cvr_webIn reading Michael Rydelnik’s The Messianic Hope, one can’t quite help but see the effect of Enlightenment ideals upon modern critical scholarship. Interestingly, the primary concern isn’t liberal scholarship, but the growing tendency within conservative Evangelical scholarship to deny a strictly Messianic interpretation of many key Old Testament texts. While this does not indicate all of these scholars are denying a Messianic understanding of the text, Rydelnik’s concern is the detraction from a clear Messianic understanding to the original audience: the prophet delivering oracular (and later, written) revelation to God’s covenant people.

The Content:

Chapter 1 introduces the reader to the purpose of why Messianic prophecy is important. What is unique to this chapter is not simply the admonition of Rydelnik from Luke 24:44, but the perspective he brings to this study as a Messianic Jew. For Rydelnik, understanding the role of direct Messianic fulfillment is deeply personal. Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish home, he witnessed his father divorce his mother over her conversion to the Christian faith. Rydelnik, seeking to disprove his mother’s newfound faith, went to the Hebrew Scriptures, only to find they indeed spoke of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Chapter 2 addresses how modern interpreters approach the Old Testament’s Messianic prophecy. In this section, he deals respectively with Historical Fulfillment, Dual Fulfillment, Typical Fulfillment, Progressive Fulfillment, Relecture Fulfillment, “Midrash” or “Peshur” Fulfillment. While he acknowledges there are various other interpretive methods, these are the most common found in Evangelical scholarship.

Chapters 3-7 yield evidence to defending his thesis that direct prophetic fulfillment of the Messiah is the most frequent form of interpretation that should be seen. Chapter 3 deals with text-critical evidence, espousing that variant texts supporting the Messianic reading are to be preferred over the MT. Chapter 4 builds the case by examining innerbiblical evidence, namely, to display that later biblical authors read the former as Messianic.

Chapter 5 present canonical evidence to display the united theme of the closed Hebrew canon to reveal a Messianic understanding in the specific shaping of the canon, as well as the books included. Chapter 6 brings New Testament evidence to display that the NT writers and Christ believed the OT writers knew they were writing about the coming Messiah, rather than the NT authors adding a more full, inspired Messianic meaning to OT prophecy. Chapter 7 explores the hermeneutical principles of the NT in regard to understanding messianic prophecy; not all examples are direct fulfillment – thus, it is important for us to take note of these principles in order to see Christ in the OT.

Chapter 8 is devoted to trace the influence of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (otherwise known as Rashi) from his own time, the Reformers, and our current day. Most notably, Rydelnik builds the case that Rashi intentionally interpreted direct messianic passages in an anti-messianic fashion in order to dissuade Jews from believing in Yeshua.

Chapters 9-11 focus on key messianic texts, including Gen. 3:15, Isa. 7:14, 52:13-53:12, and the book of Psalms (namely Psalm 110). Genesis 3:15 he regards as Protoevangelium, that is, the “first gospel” account between the promised seed of the woman who will crush the head of the snake. From the prophets (Isa.) he critically defends reading the Hebrew almah as “virgin”, rather than “young maiden” and for the messianic interpretation of the passage rather than historical fulfillment. In using Psalm 110, Rydelnik again views this to be a messianic passage referring to the future King who will reign forever upon the throne of David.

Finally, in chapter 12 Rydelnik issues a plea to return to a messianic understanding of the Hebrew Bible, as this is the intended, historic meaning of the text.

Why Does This All Matter?

In anything we are studying, we ought to ask the simple question: what impact does this have upon the church? What are the natural consequences of rejecting a Messianic interpretation outright (Historical Fulfillment), holding to a Sensus Plenior interpretation (Dual Fulfillment), a Progressive Fulfillment, and so forth? Are there weaknesses for the argument of a Direct Fulfillment interpretation of these passages?

While I have generally viewed the discussed passages as inherently Messianic, it is troublesome for more than a few reasons to see many leaving these interpretations behind. One of the most problematic inferences to this would seem to pose an unintended detriment to scripture’s perspicuity. If the scriptures are clear in matters of Messianic expectation to us, it would seem self-evident that they should be so for those whom first heard the promises of God regarding Christ. The potential drawback to refraining from understanding the direct fulfillment of Isaiah 7 can easily lead to a slippery slope, failing to uphold the virgin birth of Christ. Many may claim this to be an overstatement – yet hermeneutically, we have seen this departure take place in more than one account of scholars who have espoused this view.

Beyond this, to assume the NT authors utilized creative exegesis to arrive at their conclusions emphasizes the inability for one to understand the text as it should be understood. I understand there are difficulties in arriving at the same conclusions regarding some of the NT usage of OT texts as messianic fulfillment, yet it would seem that this is not a hermeneutical problem of the NT authors. The problem of understanding is within us.

Final Thoughts on the Book:

While there were some things I could not fully get behind in Rydelnik’s treatment (such as Isa. 7:13-15 and v. 16 depicting another child other than the Messiah), the book was absolutely phenomenal. Within the footnotes is a treasure trove of information that the reader would be foolish to bypass; they are there for a reason. The format of the chapters and overall layout of the book is excellent and easy to follow, thus, it made for pleasurable reading.

There are difficult parts to follow if one doesn’t have a thorough background in the original languages (especially in dealing with text critical issues in why the MT should not be followed in certain passages) – yet it is not detrimental to understanding the breadth of his argument. I feel this work is pertinent to our time, as some Evangelical scholars are embracing more liberal treatments of the text and supplanting their own definition to particular doctrines (take for example, Blomberg’s current stance on inerrancy). It is an incredibly important topic, especially with regard to how we understand the revelation of Christ in the focus of redemptive history.

I would fully recommend this book.

Disclosure: I received this book free from B & H Academic through the media reviewer program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

The content of this review was also posted on another site I contribute to: http://www.chorusinthechaos.com/

Banner of Truth Book Giveaway (Last Day)

I’m a sucker for books, especially free books. If you are too, here is a link to a promotional giveaway from Banner of Truth, including the Puritan Paperbacks set, Romans commentary series from MLJ, and Lectures to my Students from Spurgeon.

http://throughtheeyesofspurgeon.com/giveaways/huge-banner-of-truth-giveaway/?lucky=12080

Romans 12:2 Visual Theology

Romans12v2

Finished product is comprised of two layers of 1/2″ compressed maple, inset with 1/8″ clear plexi glass; all layers with direct print to the material.

Verse: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, NASB).

All artwork, concepts, and finished productions are property of Grayson Gilbert. If you are interested in this piece, or any other artwork that I have produced/designed, please feel free to contact me for a quote. You can see all of my designs by clicking on the “Art For Christ” tab above, or visit my Etsy shop for some pieces that I have made available for production.

Hearken, O’ Earth

Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
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.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face.
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.

How to Refute Any Christian in 10 Easy Steps

1.) Ignore scripture until you want to quote it out of context to support your point, which goes contrary to what you are citing.

2.) Appeal to the “red-letters” of Jesus; they hold magic power and when taken on their own, in one or two consecutive verses (at most), allow you to ignore the rest of the bible.

3.) Definitely ignore the part where Jesus talks about sinners and what that term means (including any qualities or actions that might make one a sinner). Who is anyone to judge?

4.) If anyone gives you pushback about what is actually recorded in scripture: call them unloving, hypocritical, judgmental, and bigoted (quote Jesus about judgment, but ignore the part where He speaks of “right judgment”).

5.) Remember: RED LETTERS (1 or 2 verses at most)!

6.) If they appeal in some fashion so as to say: “I am just as much in need of grace as any man,” repeat step 3. Grace isn’t grace without punishment for sin.

7.) Use ad hominem arguments, quote back what they are saying to you (wrongly, of course), and bring up shellfish, tattoos, and casuistic laws.

8.) Appeal to the history of those who have done atrocious things in the name of religion. Also, give some examples of religious leaders who have been publicly caught doing something they spoke against. Use both of these to generalize and dismiss any serious claims to genuine faith.

9.) Remember – imperfect people invalidate the “truth revealed” by a perfect God. Point that out! (This goes hand in hand with point 8, if you find that they too think such things are detestable).

10.) If all else fails, say that the bible is the product of man and they can hold their own beliefs so long as it isn’t vocalized publicly. If they ignore this, grab a couple of like-minded friends who can jump in, rinse, and repeat.

*After all, you want to be tolerant*

I hope this was abundantly clear satire…

Stop Moralizing Biblical Narrative

One of the most common treatments of narrative passages in scripture is in providing a moral treatment. David is a man of great moral fortitude and was a man after God’s own heart; the book of Esther is commonly debated on the basis of her status as a role model for young women; Job is a righteous man because he did not sin or charge God with blame in his trials. Surely, moral precepts should be drawn from the text if they are there and it is fine to ask questions on whether or not we should emulate them, but do they serve the purpose of the text?

For our example, let’s take the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50.

Throughout this entire chunk of narrative, we can point to several moral principles: the blatant sins of the entire family, Joseph fleeing from Potiphar’s wife (thus, remaining sexually pure), his continual rise as an authority figure in Egypt, the value of preparation, the brothers realizing their sins, Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers, and much else.

However, what Moses presents through this discourse seems to illustrate an altogether different purpose: the Lord’s active hand in everything.

He caused Joseph to prosper in Potiphar’s household, and also gave blessing to Potiphar (Gen. 39:2-6); He granted favor to him while in prison so that he was responsible for all that was done there (39:21-23); He gave Joseph the interpretations (40:8, 41:16, 39); He caused both the prosperity and subsequent famine in Egypt (41:28); He gave Joseph authority over all of Egypt (41:39-41); uncovered the guilt of the brothers (44:16); yet most importantly, it is revealed why all of this took place in chapter 45 and 46:

“But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (45:7-8).

And again with God speaking to Israel (Jacob): “’I am God, the God of your father,’ He said. ‘Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes’” (46:3-4).

And again in the closing remarks of Joseph on his deathbed: “’I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’” (50:24).

The larger purpose of this story is not found within how Joseph honored the Lord. That is incredibly pertinent – yet the main focus is always upon what the Lord is doing in lieu of His redemptive plan. In particular here, we see God shaping the very reality of time and space by directly interfering with people’s lives in order to fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant.

We see this evident in every instance of Israel’s exile. God judges His unfaithful covenant nation for the sake of His glory, yet God brings salvation in order to make evident His supreme glory through the fulfillment of His covenant promises.

Hebrews 11 records something similar by introducing readers to the forerunners of God’s promises. The nature of this passage is not to tout their ability to live morally; righteousness and faith are not described in this measure. Instead, their righteousness is accredited through faith, being confidence in the hope and assurance of the promises of God, which we do not currently see. Thus, these men and women were no moral giants; they held dearly to the future promises of the Lord by living in obedience to His commands.

Over all of this is the united theme presenting God as the ultimate victor, ordaining all things to accomplish His purposes and fulfill that which He has promised. Because of this, His people endure in doing good works, which God prepared beforehand, for the purpose of His glory. If they fail in doing those good works, yet turn to Him in repentance – God is faithful to fulfill His promises and manifest His glory in the salvation of sinners.

Thus, we can echo Paul in 1 Tim. 1:15-16 by saying, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”

You can always draw out moral applications from narrative – but do not do so to the detriment of the passage’s intended purpose. If the passage gives a moral treatment, by all means, embrace it. Learn from the examples in scripture which were written as a warning to us. Yet when all we do is moralize narrative passages that do not present this as the main literary theme, we fail to see the magnificence of the sovereign King as He effectively works His will and focus instead on men, who time and again, fail to live up to the moral standards of scripture.

My Takeaway From the Past 7 Weeks of Seminary

I recently just finished a course at Moody Seminary called “Theology and Practice of Intercultural Ministry” which is a mouthful to describe a class on Missiology, or the study of Missions. I walked away with a lot from the class – but not the content itself. Rather, I found myself disagreeing with much of the content of the assigned reading (the world view of the anthropologist from Oxford, the presuppositions of the Christian with a doctorate in Missiology).

The text from the Oxford grad was quite illuminating in some respects (the text itself dealt with child prostitution in Thailand) by dispelling some of the common myths to the sex trade industry. However, even from the point of observational anthropology – you will undoubtedly catch propositions that reflect the author’s bias. In this, much of the heinous nature of what takes place is relativized in lieu of familial obligation, abject poverty, lack of education, etc.

In the end, this was no sin of the parents who willingly placed their children into prostitution, or of the children who all willingly went into the trade, nor even of the “suitor” who abused the children. In more plain speech, the necessity of the situation removed culpability – and though we would like to blame the “suitor” for having sex with innocent children, the conventional sense of innocence is precluded based on the cultural definition from the particular slum village in discussion. Thus, they did that which was right in their own eyes – and though the anthropologist was no fan of it, they could not pass judgment based on the complexities that arose from their destitute position.

The other book by the Missiologist spoke in great length of the merits to any missionary (or student of missions) to study sociological, psychological, and anthropological sources in conjunction with the scriptures. I believe one of the arguments in particular said this was needed just as much as an understanding of biblical and systematic theologies in order to speak gospel into a culture.

There were some excellent points in regard to utilizing language which would be understood, being a “cultural exegete” so as to understand the particularities of said culture, and the plea for a wealth of biblical knowledge. I wanted to like the book because points like these continually came up in the book – yet again; there was a heavy emphasis on the latter academic principles of sociology, psychology, and anthropology. It is not so much the understanding of these fields that bothered me – but the implementation of secular methodology that has no foundation or interest in the Lord and the scriptures.

Surely, the missiologist loved (and often properly quoted) scripture – yet many of his principles on reaching the unreached were founded upon secular methodology and he reflected nothing that I noted of studying such things with an extremely critical mind. The foundations of each of these fields are respectively built on Darwinian principles, and subsequently, are often antithetically opposed to what is revealed in scripture. This does not shock me in the least. In fact, I expect a mindset that is opposed to the scriptures from one who is not in Christ (just read Romans 1).

The class I was involved with was neatly split down the middle on these issues. Thus, meeting the physical needs of these families in Thailand were tantamount, if not paramount to their need for salvation. Alleviating poverty, educating them, providing jobs, food, and shelter, etc., would allow the church to be able to proclaim the gospel – and would subsequently make it valid.

Surely, James and Paul do not separate one’s faith and works – but do they make affluence and education man’s primary needs before a God whom they are alienated from? How much better is our “Christian Nation” for having an abundance of ease for most everything we have (including welfare, unemployment benefits, social programs, education, etc.)? I am not saying all of these things are bad – I am saying that they do not change the heart and will never possess that ability. The “betterment” of society in erecting these Babel-esk programs provides a means by which we often say, “Nothing is impossible for man!”

So what did I walk away with all of this? Sadly, that the broader church is in desperate need to be reacquainted with the scriptures – and a love for the things which the world declares to be foolish that the word calls the wisdom of God. Many have a sweeping, biblical illiteracy – and do not even seem remotely bothered by it. Many others read the bible year after year only to walk away with a complete misunderstanding of the text. Both of these camps either actively embrace or relativize heresies that the early church condemned, sweeping away doctrinal and theological differences under the rug of “love” because they don’t like division.

If we go to a biblically sound church – that is excellent! However, we often live in the bubble of our local church and relegate the unbelief of scripture to those who are outside of Christ. Far more damaging to the reputation of the Lord are those who claim to be in Christ, having nothing but disdain for what the scriptures teach. They are whitewashed tombs; having no love for Christ, they not only commit deeds deserving of death, but also approve of those who practice them.

The slide into this position is much faster than we all would like to believe – and it starts with a disposition to place the authority of God’s word under the authority of the teaching of men.