January 1, 2012

Walter Kaiser: The Messiah in the Old Testament

  The Messiah in the Old Testament by Walter Kaiser, Jr. (1995) – 4 out of 5 stars

The question of the relationship between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, and how the authors of the New Testament understood and used the Scriptures, has received a lot of attention over the years. There has been a heightened interest in the past few years with a large volumes of work being done in area Biblical Theology. This is an important question for Christians since we hold that Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel concerning a coming Messiah and the salvation of the world. When Jesus and the apostles claim that everything which had come to pass among them was in fulfillment of that which was promised in the Scriptures, and they cite those Scriptures as authoritative witnesses, then it’s imperative that we also seek to understand for ourselves in order to continue faithfully presenting the good news of Christ to the world as they did.

Walter Kaiser’s objective in this book is much narrower than comprehensively addressing the issue of how the Old and New Testaments relate. He seeks to address specifically the concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament. Contrary to the claims of some recent scholars who have argued that the OT does not actually make any explicit Messianic claims and that any such ideas must be read into the text, Kaiser is defending the traditional Christian understanding that the OT does contain Messianic promises and that the NT authors were not reading into the text. He sets out to demonstrate that the OT, when taken on its own terms and in its own historical context, looks forward to the coming Messiah.

He begins by surveying the methods that have been used to interpret passages which the NT treats as Messianic. He identifies seven approaches which he says have been found lacking:

  1. Dual meaning – The texts had a literal, historical meaning, but also a later fuller meaning which could be Messianic.
  2. Single meaning – There was only one (non-messianic) meaning and the Messianic meaning was dogmatically imposed on the text.
  3. New Testament meaning – Wherever there was a challenging text, the NT was allowed to serve as the final arbiter of meaning.
  4. Developmental meaning – Allowing for only a single meaning within the times and circumstances of the original prophets but to say more when filled out by Christian doctrine.
  5. Goal meaning – Christ was the goal of prophecy in the sense of uniting all the disparate strands and filling them with meaning
  6. Relecture meaning – The NT read earlier prophecies in a new way and filled them with new meaning.
  7. Theological meaning – Christ was the fulfillment of Israel’s history, but only in a theological sense.

Kaiser argues that all of these have a fundamental flaw in that they only focus on either the initial historical word or the ultimate fulfillment, and ignore the working out of the promise in the history of Israel. He proposes approaching these texts as promises revealing a single, unfolding plan and not just as a collection of individual predictions. He states:

“The promises of God were interrelated and usually connected in a series. They were not disconnected and heterogeneous prognostications randomly announced in the OT or arbitrarily chosen for use by the NT. Instead, it is amazing how the depictions concerning the coming Messiah and his work comprised one continuous plan of God. Each aspect was linked into an ongoing stream of announcements beginning in the prepatriarchal period, supplemented by the patriarchal, Mosaic, premonarchial, monarchial, and prophetic periods, down to the postexilic times of Israel’s last leaders and prophets. The promise was a single one; yet it was cumulative in its net results. Indeed, its constituent parts were not a collection of assorted promises about a Messiah who was to come; instead, they formed one continuous pattern and purpose placed in the stream of history.” (29)

He limits the scope of the book’s treatment to those prophecies which he considers direct predictions of a future personal Messiah, foregoing discussion of indirect prophecies concerning a Messianic age. He also avoids delving into the issues of Messianic typology and foreshadowing in the people and institutions of Israel. I think I would take issue with some aspects of Kaiser’s hermeneutic approach, and I have some quibbles about specific interpretations on some of the texts covered in the book, but this is a great contribution to the discussion and a helpful treatment of a large number of Messianic texts. I’d recommend reading this from Kaiser in addition to representatives of several other evangelical approaches to interpreting the OT in relation to the NT, such as Sailhamer (Meaning of the Pentateuch; see also The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? by Michael Rydelnik), Beale (New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New), Clowney (The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament; see also Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures by Dennis Johnson), and Leithart (Deep Exegesis:The Mystery of Reading Scripture).

The book’s discussion of the texts begins in Genesis and then progresses through the OT, era by era, providing an insightful analyses of 65 major Messianic prophecies, showing the unfolding of God’s plan for the redemption of humanity. From the very beginning, the hope of Israel was in the promise of God to deliver them through a coming redeemer. He would be the offspring of Eve who would crush the serpent; God himself who would take up residence in the tents of Shem; the offspring of Abraham who would bless all the nations; the ruler from Judah whom all nations would obey; the Star rising out of Jacob and conquering Israel’s enemies; the Prophet like Moses to whose word the people would be held accountable; Job’s Arbitrator, Witness, Redeemer, and Mediator; the Anointed of the Lord who judges the ends of the earth; the faithful High Priest with an eternal house; the Son of David who reigns over an eternal kingdom; the conquering and enthroned ruler in Zion; the Stone that the builders rejected; the faithful One betrayed by his closest friends; the innocent One who dies unjustly and is raised again; the bridegroom; the triumphant King who distributes gifts to his people; the great Teacher; the new and better David; the house of David; the Branch of the LORD who was born of a virgin, whose name is Wonderful Counselor; the Lord’s faithful servant with a global mission, who is rejected by men, suffers vicariously for their sins, and proclaims the good news to the nations; the one who name is “The LORD our Righteousness;” the Priestly King over all nations; the Good Shepherd; the One who unifies the nations; the Son of Man who will be anointed ruler; the Desire of Nations; God’s signet ring; the One who was pierced and on account of whom all the tribes of the earth will mourn; the Messenger of the Covenant in whom the faithful delight; the Sun of Righteousness.

Typing this up reminded me of these two videos:

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