The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic?

Michael Rydelnik B&H Academic, Nashville November 1, 2010
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In this book the goal of Rydelnik, professor of Jewish studies at Moody Bible Institute, is “to examine the shift in evangelical scholarship away from reading the Bible as a messianic text and to call for restoring the idea that the Messiah is a central feature of Old Testament biblical theology” (p. xvi).

He gives four reasons for seeing the Hebrew Bible as a messianic document. First, “this seems to be the best way to explain the evidence of the Scriptures” (p. 7). Second, seeing the Old Testament as a messianic document “provides the most biblical apologetic for Jesus as the Messiah” (ibid.). For example the apostles spoke of “Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth” (John 1:45). And Jesus Himself said that “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Third, viewing the Old Testament as messianic “enables followers of Jesus to have confidence in the Bible as God’s inspired Word” (ibid.). Fourth, Jesus Himself gave “messianic prophecy as proof of His own identity” (e.g., Matt. 11:3–5).

In chapter 2 Rydelnik discusses seven views on messianic prophecy (pp. 27–33): (a) “historical fulfillment” (“all prophecies refer to events in the time of the prophets,” p. 28); (b) “dual fulfillment,” with one fulfillment pointing to an immediate historical figure and another referring to the Messiah; (c) “typical fulfillment,” in which a historical figure is seen as a type of the Messiah and the Messiah is the antitype; (d) “progressive fulfillment,” in which various historical figures are followed by messianic fulfillment; (e) “relecture fulfillment,” in which historical figures give immediate fulfillment and later these prophecies are seen as having new meanings; (f) “midrash or pesher fulfillment,” with historical figures fulfilling literal prophecies in the prophet’s days and with these prophecies fulfilled later in creative ways; and (g) “direct fulfillment” in which the New Testament “is the final arbiter for the meaning of messianic prophecy and its fulfillment” (p. 33).

In chapter 3 Rydelnik points out that the Masoretic text should not be viewed as the “received text of the Old Testament” (p. 35). He notes that the Septuagint “is derived from a text nearly 1,000 years older than the Masoretic Text” (p. 36). Then he discusses in detail several verses in which the Masoretic text seems to hide the messianic rendering (Judg. 18:30; Num. 24:7; 2 Sam. 23:1; Pss. 22:16; 72:5; and Isa. 9:6).

Chapter 4 discusses three passages from the Pentateuch that some interpreters see as nonmessianic, but which Rydelnik argues in some detail should be viewed as messianic: Genesis 49:8–12; Numbers 24:14–19; and Deuteronomy 18:15–19.

Rydelnik points out that Jesus Himself said, “Moses . . . wrote about Me” (John 5:46), and that Peter and Paul both cited Psalm 16:10 as clearly referring to Christ, the Messiah (Acts 2:24–32; 13:34–37). And Apollos “rigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 18:28, HCSB).

Chapter 7 presents a discussion of three ways the Gospel of Matthew records messianic fulfillment (Mic. 5:2 in Matt. 2:5–6; Hos. 11:1 in Matt. 2:15; and Jer. 31:15 in Matt. 2:16–18). Chapter 8 discusses how the nonmessianic, anti-Christian polemic of Rashi (1040–1105) influenced Christian interpreters of the Old Testament.

Rydelnik’s chapter 9 constitutes a masterful discussion of Genesis 3:15 (pp. 129–45). He concludes that this passage “does promise that Messiah will descend from humanity and that He will destroy the evil force that tempted Eve, humanity’s ancient enemy later revealed as Satan” (p. 145). Another outstanding chapter (chap. 10) discusses the prophecy of the Messiah’s virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14 and the surrounding context. Rydelnik points out that no woman in Isaiah’s day could have been a contemporary fulfillment of this verse because the verse in Hebrew begins with the words “a pregnant virgin,” and only Mary met that qualification. Chapter 11 considers the messianic character of Psalm 110. “Psalm 110 does indeed picture the divine Priest-King, now seated at the right hand of God but who will descend from heaven at the end of days to save Israel and extend His rule over all the earth” (p. 184).

Not all readers will agree that the Messiah is referred to in Job 16:19 and 33:23; that wisdom in Proverbs refers to the Messiah; or that “one Shepherd” in Ecclesiastes 11:1 (and Ezek. 34:23–24; 37:24–25) is the Messiah; or that Song of Solomon 7:11 (Eng., v. 10) refers to the Messiah simply because the word “desire” occurs in this verse and in Genesis 3:16 (pp. 78–80). In spite of these few differences readers should welcome this strong defense of messianic prophecy in the Scriptures.

—Roy B. Zuck

July 1, 2011
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2011 vol. 168 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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