Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? - By Michael Rydelnik

How defensible are Old Testament prophecies of Christ?  If someone came up to you and declares that, in the Hebrew manuscripts of the OT, Psalm 22:16 does not read, "they pierced my hands and my feet," rather, when it is accurately translated it reads, "like a lion are my hands and feet." What would your answer be?  And what if they say that Isaiah 53 was not speaking of a Messiah, but rather of Israel as a suffering servant?  Nowadays, too many Christians believe that many, if not all, of the prophecies of the Messiah are only indirect prophecies, not direct prophecies.  And many Christians might say that these prophecies are allegorically fulfilled, or that it is perfectly alright for the Holy Spirit , in His inspiration of the Apostles, to change His own prophecies.  Others say that many prophecies have a 'double fulfillment', that these prophecies were fulfilled historically, in the prophets' life-time, and that they were fulfilled spiritually by Christ.   

Michael Rydelnik offers the best defense I have read on the topic, arguing for the literal/direct fulfillment of Messianic/end time prophecies.  I was fascinated by his information on Rashi and his followers,  how they influenced, and to some degree instigated, the change from the literal interpretation of the Messianic prophecies, to interpreting these prophecies as having historical fulfillments in the time they were prophesied. In doing this, they countered the Christians' proof texts that Jesus is the Christ.  These Jews' claimed to be using a literal hermeneutic, and that the literal interpretation of these prophecies was to view them as historically fulfilled.  For instance, Isaiah 7:14 is speaking of a woman in Isaiah's day, most likely Isaiah's wife, who will have a baby, it is not speaking about a virgin birth.  This method of interpretation was eventually picked up by the church, and now, "As a result, much of contemporary, Christian interpretation uses anti-Christian Jewish polemic to interpret messianic passages of the Hebrew Scriptures."  And Christians try to apply them to the Messiah by saying that these prophecies had double fulfillments, that their primary fulfillment was their literal fulfillment in the days they were spoken, but that they have a secondary spiritual fulfillment in Christ.   

 Rydelnik is also very good in his explanation of the Masoretic Text(the Hebrew text our modern Old Testaments are based upon) and his defense of ancient versions of the Old Testament:  "…the Masoretic Text is a post-Christian, Jewish version of the Old Testament.  As such, it reflects the theological perspective of post-Christian, rabbinic Judaism.  Thus, there are several significant examples of the Masoretic Text interpreting Old Testament messianic texts in a distinctly nonmmessianic (or historical) fashion, whereas other ancient versions interpret the same texts as referring to the Messiah." He goes on to show some examples of where the Masorites changed the text, talking about how the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible(and other translations) reads the same passages Messianically rather than historically.  For instance, the Greek OT translation of Psalm 22:16 reads, "they pierced my hands and feet" rather than, "like/as a lion are my hands and feet".  He explains how obscure the Hebrew is vs. the Greek which makes more grammatical sense.  He counters the view that we should go with the Hebrew since it is the "harder reading" by the statement, "…defining the harder reading depends on the audience reading it.  For a Masorete, 'they pierced my hands and my feet,' a seeming prediction of the Messiah's crucifixion, would certainly have been the harder reading."  And he also notes that in 1997 a Hebrew fragment of the book of Psalms was found, dated "between AD 50-68" containing this Psalm and it reads "they pierced".  Rydelnik ends up stating that, "The careful interpreter of messianic prophecy should be aware of text critical issues because these predictions may be buried in the Hebrew Bible's critical apparatus rather than in the Masoretic Text itself."   

My only real problem with this book is that Rydelnik doesn't believe that certain texts were actual prophecies.  For example, he believes that Matthew 2:15, where Matthew states events that "fulfill" Hosea 11:1,"Out of Egypt I have called my Son", is a typological fulfillment, because he believes this passages was actually speaking of Israel.  I disagree here, and think that John Gill has a better answer, that the passage actually is speaking of Christ, and that it(Hosea 11:1) can be interpreted/read something like this, "Because of God's love for Israel, He has called His Son out of Egypt."  Israel and her King were rebellious, and the King of Israel was 'disowned', 'cut off' or 'cast out'(chpt.10:15) but God loves Israel so He will call His own  Son out of Egypt to be their King.  I don't believe, as the author does, that Numbers 23-24 establishes 'Israel' as a valid 'type' of the Messiah, I don't believe that it makes Israel a type of the Messiah at all.  You see Him coming out of/from the people of Israel(Num. 24:17,19), but I do not see that He is called 'Israel'.  I believe that Rydelnik's excellent comments on Psalm 110 apply here:  "If one presupposes that there are no direct messianic predictions or any concept of a Messiah in the Hebrew Bible, then certainly it would be necessary to look for alternative interpretations of Psalm 110.  However, if there is a good reason to presuppose that the Psalms are indeed messianic, then this will yield a messianic explanation of the psalm."   I believe that we have good reason to believe that Hosea 11:1 is Messianic, and so we ought to look for an 'alternative interpretation that yields a direct Messianic meaning, rather than just settling for the view that the verse is not essentially Messianic.  If an Apostle appears to view a passage as being literally fulfilled, I believe that we should presuppose that the passage is directly Messianic. Knowing that the Apostles had much older copies of the Old Testament than we do should also bias us towards them, and make us less biased towards our own limited modern textual assortment of manuscripts and supposed superiority of our own modern manuscripts and interpretations.   

Despite my disagreements, I consider this  a GREAT book on the topic of Messianic prophecy and an excellent source of information on textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible and on modern interpretations of the Old Testament.  Even the conclusion is great.  He ends with an example of the Scriptures Accomplishing God's purposes at a time when he failed in his presentation/defense of them.   I am very pleased that Rydelnik has a bias towards the authority, inspiration and literal-grammatical-historical interpretation God's Word;  that type of bias is sadly declining/has declined in 'Christian' circles.  I highly recommend this book. If you are studying prophecies of Christ, or just want more information on their interpretation, get this book!


Many thanks to B&H publishing group for sending me a free review copy of this book. (My review did not have to be favorable)
this book may be purchased on

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