Thursday, February 28, 2013

Who is Chemdath?

A few days back a user going by the name of Ali posted a series of leading questions over at Mi Yodeya one of which seemed to be an attempt at arguing Muhammad was predicted in the book of Haggai.  This line of argument is stated more explicitly (if not more cogently) over at www.answering-christianity[dot]com/adeel_khan/Prophet_Muhammad.htm:

Haggai 2:7
I will shake all nations, and the Muhammad of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty.
 This prophecy in Haggai not just says [sic] that Prophet Muhammad (s) is to come but also confirms that Prophet Muhammad (s) has been prophesied in various scriptures as he will be the desire of all nations.
 Translators have used incorrect words to translate the word Muhammad.
 Ben Yehuda's Hebrew-English Dictionary defines Muhammad as praised one.
This is the correct word to use but it better that the translations use the original word “Muhammad”.

We have already discussed this passage in our post How was the Glory of the Second Temple Greater than that of the First? but this argument takes a wildly divergent (though to some degree parallel) direction from the arguments we discussed there.

First we must ask what is the word that is claimed to be, in the "original word", Muhammad?  The word there is חמדת--chemdath. Although I do not have a great library on Arabic, to my ear (and somewhat supported by Wikipedia) the root in our verse is cognate with the root of the name Muhammad. Nevertheless our verse does not say Muhammad any more than any Arabic text mentioning the word "praise" mentions Muhammad. Here too our method to analyzing such claims is relevant.  We must look at the context and determine its normal implication based on an informed reading. To illustrate the difficulty of the above interpretation, surely even though the shoresh (root) חמד is used no one would accept "I am Muhammad and I took them, and behold they (the stolen goods) are hidden in the ground within my tent" as a legitimate interpretation of Joshua 7:21!! Such an interpretation would be false and offensive. Yet the only way to avoid such abuses is to make certain that our interpretations are grounded in solid exegesis of Scripture or to understand that a statement's connection to the verse is only illustrative while its veracity is subject to a different authority, and of course a true predictive prophecy can practically only be of the former.

It is clear that chemdath is not equivalent to Muhammad simply by enunciating the words. Furthermore it is patently false that the words used to translate it are "incorrect".  Whether or not there is justification for transliterating the word chemdath, the major translations I have encountered use appropriate translations that accurately reflect the words meaning. As we will see this is more than can be said for its citation in the quote above.

To identify our subject it is best to look next door to its predicate, specifically the verb. Adapted from above we see that "chemdath of all nations will come". Yet  if we look in the original we see that while the translation "will come" may be acceptable but it is an imprecise rendition of the Hebrew ובאו which means "and they will come". We are dealing with a plural subject here, there is more than one חמד that will come! Indeed that chemdath is plural is seen from the Hebrew word itself which is the plural construct form.

This of course leads us to consider the construct itself "chemdath kol hagoyim" Although associating Muhammad with "the nations" would be appropriate insofar as he was a gentile, to call him "Muhammad of all the nations" makes little sense whatsoever.

And we mustn't forget to ask where chemdath "comes" to? As we discussed in our previous article this passage, as most of Haggai, is expressly about the Second Temple.  The verse explains that the chemdas of all the nations will come "and I [G-d] will fill this House with glory!" The house is the Temple, as is clear from the usage of the word through Haggai as well as other places in Bible. And this passage makes it clear at the outset that we are discussing the Second Temple. The chemdath would come and the Temple would be filled with glory, yet Muhammad came many centuries after the Temple was destroyed.  He clearly was not the chemdath of our verse.

So what was the chemdath of our verse?  Chemdath can be translated by a number of different words but it essentially means valuables.  The valuables of all the nations would be brought to the Temple of Jerusalem and fill it with splendor. Those who had seen the Temple of Solomon were disappointed by the more modest  replacement (Haggai 2:3) but G-d reassured them that this was only temporary and it would eventually be more grandiose.  This was fulfilled by the famous renovations of the Herod.   The valuables of all the nations would be brought to glorify G-d's house because "Mine is the sliver and mine is the gold" (Haggai 2:8).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Circular Fulfillment

There was once a novel infamous among Evangelical Christians for portraying the Nazarene and his disciples as orchestrating events to fulfill his messianic ambitions. I have not bothered reading it because its plot seems implausible and seemed to presume more historical accuracy to the Christian Bible than I am willing to concede. Needless to say Christians were not at all impressed with the suggestion that the Nazarene fulfillment of Messianic prophecies where contrived.

Nevertheless there is at least one instance where the Nazarene did just that, as recorded in the account of the Nazarene's "Triumphal Entry" which he did so specifically to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. This is despite there being no significance to the event other than symbolic. The sole purpose was to make the Nazarene appear to be fulfilling the role of Mashiach.

There is another way this concept is significant. Take a moment to reflect on a typical chart of "Messianic Prophecies Fulfilled by the Nazarene". On the left side is usually a column with verses from the T'nakh of "prophecies". What is on the right side to indicate how the Nazarene fulfilled them? Quotes cited from the Christian Bible! Absent are independent sources to provide evidence of fulfillment. And even a very liberal acceptance of the extra Christian sources which "prove" the Nazarene existence could only provide the most general support for less than a handful of the "hundreds" of Messianic prophecies cited by Christians.

The “New Testament” is not independent document; it is the document which defines Christianity. What we have is missionaries and apologists telling us that we should believe in Christianity because Christianity says the Nazarene fulfilled the Messianic prophecies, not because he is objectively shown to have fulfilled them. So supposedly Messiah was predicted to be born in Bethlehem, the Nazarene was born in Bethlehem! How do we know? Christianity tells us!

And it is not that we aren't without reason to be suspicious that the accounts of the Nazarene fulfillment are fabricated.  Take the example of Zechariah 9:9 mentioned earlier.  As we will look at when we examine this verse Luke has the Nazarene riding in on a donkey in accordance with this verse. However Matthew has him riding two donkeys!! Apparently Matthew misunderstood the verse and adjusted the story accordingly. Or consider the case of Jeremiah 31:14(15) which Matthew uses as a proof text for Herod’s murder of all the infants in the area around the birth of the Nazarene. Yet despite this claim of widespread massacre, the account is totally missing from non-Christian accounts of Herod written around the time (or before) the Christian Bible that are not otherwise lacking in their description of Herod's atrocities.

The Nazarene is therefore Messiah because Christianity claims he is, or so goes the Missionaries approach when you break it down to its essential logic. He can only be said to have fulfilled Messianic prophecies by accepting the accounts of his followers whose own accounts seem to be based on making the Nazarene fit their idea of the Messianic role rather than to relating historical fact. We then only have general information from non-Christian sources, lacking any evidence to support Christianity’s theological claims, and partisan accounts which have not so subtle traces of doctoring the record to assure the desired outcome. Since it is these "fulfilled" Messianic prophecies that are the main evidence for the Nazarene being Messiah, there is no reason to accept Christianity based on "facts" which are only known from the very document which defines Christianity.


Exod. 12:9 commands the Israelites: "Do not eat any of it [the Passover lamb sacrifice] raw, or boiled/cooked [bsl] in any way with water, but rather roasted over fire, its head with its legs and entrails". Deut 16:7, however, requires that "you shall boil/cook [bsl] it and eat it in the place where the Lord your God shall choose". One attempts to reconcile the two evidently incompatible verses is to translate bsl in the second verse as 'roast'. Nonetheless, this ignores the fact that however the verb is translated, one verse prohibits performing the action (of bissul) while the other requires it. (From the Article "Clearing Peshat and Derash by Stephan Garfinkel published in Hebrew Bible Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation,I/2: The Middle Ages page 130.)

No, I'm afraid that you are ignoring the fact that Exodus 12:9 does not make an unqualified prohibition against bishul, only bishul in water. The two verses are simply not mutually exclusive. Indeed the verses need to clarify that bishul is prohibited if it is done "with water" implies that there is such a thing as bishul without water.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Would God truly dwell on earth? Behold, the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain You

Would God truly dwell on earth? Behold, the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain You, and surely not this Temple that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27)
On the surface the proclamation just cited by King Solomon as he dedicated the first Beith HaMikdash is obvious, intuitive. On the other hand, it can be seen as a little difficult insofar as it seems to limit God’s ability by saying He is unable to dwell in the Temple. In truth, it must be understood (I believe here and in other similar paradoxes) that the limitation isn’t on God, per se, but on the Universe. The Universe, the physical, was created by God, according to His will, unable to contain Him.

In a very significant passage in the Christian Bible Paul asserts the following: "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him." And "For in Christ1 all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." (Colossian 1:19, 2:9). While the T’nakh declares flat out that even the whole Universe is unable to contain God, Christianity teaches that all God’s fullness dwells in the bodily form of the Nazarene! Christian commentators and thinkers elaborate, "In Him dwelleth all the pleroma--this is a clear-cut statement of the deity of Christ. It could not be stated any stronger that it is here. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead-not just 99.44 percent but 100 percent."2

"In Colossians 2:9 ‘the fullness of deity’ refers to ‘the whole glorious total of what God is, the supreme Nature in its infinite entirety.’"3

Though it may be tempting for a Christian to try to soften the conflict by qualifying the intent of Colossians it would be a mistake to do so. It is argued that:
Like many other theological terms, this term can be misleading. It might suggest that the eternal Logos by the act of incarnation was confined to the body of Jesus of Nazareth. The implication of such a construction of the result of the incarnation is that God the Son, kenotically "emptying" himself, divesting himself of the attribute of being always and everywhere immediately present in the universe. But to hold such a view is tantamount to contending that he who enfleshed himself as Jesus of Nazareth, while doubtless more than man, is not quite God."4
This formulation appears to take a swipe at Kenotic Theology (which we will touch upon later), though its proponents, to my knowledge, affirm the Nazarene’s omnipresence even during the incarnation.5 Nevertheless, while it would be a mistake to interpret Colossians as asserting that God was not present except in the body of the Nazarene, confined to his body as it were, it would be mistaken both from the thrust of this verse and the thrust of Christian doctrine do deny that God’s presence in the Nazarene (His "fullness") is any less than where we to imagine God confined to the Nazarene's body. While Colossians claim that in the Nazarene dwells the fullness of God may represent a "paradox", the doctrine of Trinity itself is a "paradox". In effect Paul indirectly asserts that the Temple can contain God, the "fullness" of God no less (in the incarnated Nazarene), affirming what Solomon denies, even though he presumably and paradoxically did not mean to deny God concurrent omnipresence. Conversely we may rightly see Solomon’s words as implying or alluding to God’s omnipresence, but he does so by denying that which Paul affirms, that the fullness of God can be contained in the physical world.
Michael Brown argues,
In fact, even the concept of God’s "fullness" dwelling in the Messiah in bodily form presents no problem when properly understood. For just as the glory of God filled the Tabernacle and Temple without it in any way emptying, depleting, or lessening God, so also his glory filled his son, without in anyway emptying, depleting, or lessening him. Isaiah 6:3 also teaches that the whole earth is filled with his glory, while in the New Testament, it is written that the church—the worldwide congregation of true believers in Yeshua—is "the fullness of him who fills everything in every way" (Eph. 1:23) Does this diminish God?6
God is not diminished, yet it is a diminished view of God. Many readers will have already noted that his analogy with the Temple fails because while the Temple was "filled" with God’s glory the verses in Colossians asserts a very different idea, that the "fullness" of God lives in the Nazarene’s bodily form. This is not the difference between a cup being half empty or half full, it is the difference between the cup being filled with water and all water being in the cup! In other words the verse does not say, "For in Christ’s bodily form is filled with Deity." Again, Solomon specifically says the Temple could not contain God while Colossians says that the Nazarene’s body does contain the fullness of God. Being filled with God’s glory is not the same as containing the fullness of God.

Proponents of the Trinity are accustomed to accepting beliefs that in other contexts would be considered mutually exclusive. They will not easily be swayed from their beliefs, particularly by theologically based arguments. We must, however, recognize that while Solomon said that the Temple cannot contain God, Paul says that the body of the Nazarene can contain the fullness of God. These are mutually exclusive beliefs. One must also note the irony that at the inauguration of the Temple, which Christians see as prefiguring the incarnation of the Nazarene, Solomon through ruach hakodesh asks "Would God truly dwell on earth?", a clearly rhetorical question whose answer is clearly "no" based on the context. Yet Christianity demands an affirmative answer, undermining the force of this verse, or more correctly out rightly contradicting it.

1 The word "Christ" does not appear here in the Greek, but is inferred from context.
2 Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee vol. 5, page 350.
3Quoted in Christ Before the Manger, page 50.
4Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, pages 555-556.
5While living on earth, He also was omnipresent in His deity." Cited in Christ Before the Manger, page 45.

"Bodily Form" means "Bodily Functions"

I would, straightaway, like to apologize for the following content, but I do think it is necessary for us to touch on this topic in a more serious and dignified way than is typically done:

To many people the notion of God becoming human makes the Creator seem more relatable. Certainly around the time of the holidays traditionally celebrated by Christians in the winter the mental image of their deity as a small infant can be particularly endearing to many. Yet as anyone who has been a parent knows, infants have less endearing practices...along with taking on "bodily form" means the necessity of "bodily functions."

Messianic/Christian apologist Michael Brown takes great exception to this being pointed out:

When attacking the New Testament -- that is exactly what the anti-missionaries do -- they often use a three-pronged approach: hyper-literality, alleged contradictions, and alleged misquotations.

In terms of hyper-literality, they will ask....Or, in abusing the concept of the incarnation (I doubt that many of our opponents actually try to understand the incarnation in any serious way) they will use coarse quips such as, “Does your God wear diapers?”  The overall effect of their hyper-literality is to try and make our faith seem idiotic and absurd. (


Emotions run high over this, and misunderstanding is the rule not the exception. The objections raised here are sometimes crude, such as, "Your god wore diapers. Our God sits enthroned in heaven." (Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol 2, page 15).

First of all we must point out that the idea that the Nazarene had to perform such bodily functions as urination and excretion, that he wore diapers", is neither "hyper-literal" nor is it a "misunderstanding", it is a straightforward implication of the doctrine that the Nazarene was not only 100% divine but 100% human.
Because the divine Christ became a man in the Incarnation, he as our Priest is able to intercede in prayer for us. Since Jesus was truly one of us, experiencing all of the temptations and trials of human existence, he is fully able to understand and empathize with us in our struggles as human beings. (Christ Before the Manger, page 206)
The theology of the Christian Bible is dependent upon the Nazarene having a fully human life experience. There is zero basis in the Christian Bible to exclude natural bodily functions for that experience and to do so would undermine Christian teachings.

And although I can, to a degree, sympathize with Michael Brown's predicament, his complaint about "crude" and "coarse quips" isn't against man...but against what God said through His prophet:

And it was at noontime, Elijah ridiculed them [the "prophets" of Ba'al], and said "Cry out in a loud voice, for he is a god! Perhaps he is conversing or pursuing [enemies], or relieving himself; perhaps he is asleep and he will awaken! (1 Kings 18:27)

The divinely inspired prophet mocked their grossly anthropomorphic view of the divine by exaggeration. Yet for Christianity it is no exaggeration. We are expected to believe that  God put Himself in the very same position that He mocked the false gods about!?

We have already argued that in addition to being unsupported by the Hebrew Bible, and in addition to conflicting with the monotheistic view of the Hebrew Bible, time and again Christian theology under-minds the very arguments and criticism's which the Hebrew Bible makes to present and support it's vision of monotheism. Michael Brown and other's may find it distasteful to make jokes about the Nazarene wearing diapers (and I would tend to believe that such tactics are not effective ways at communicating our position in a way others will be able to hear) but the Bible itself points out the absurdity of deities who need to relieve themselves.

Monday, February 18, 2013


One of the difficulties in ascribing deity to the Nazarene is that throughout the Christian Scriptures (and indeed by simple mental reflection) we encounter a portrait of the Nazarene which appears much more of a limited and finite human than an infinite God. We are informed that the Nazarene "The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him." (Luke 2:40, NRSV).

In order to understand the instances where the Nazarene appears more human than divine, many Christians have begun turning to Philippians 2:6-7: "[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, being born in human likeness" The notion that the Nazarene "emptied himself" or, alternatively translated, "made himself nothing" has given rise to the "Kenotic Theology" (named after the Greek term in question). Ron Rhodes sees three aspects to this process a) the veiling of his preincarnate glory, b) taking on human likeness, and c) the voluntary non-use of the divine attributes. The first doesn’t strike me a particularly an issue, in and of itself. Nature itself is, in a sense, a veil of God’s glory allowing us to have free choice, this application is a little more problematic but because it is tied to the aspects which are being dealt with separately. The second one we will deal with more in depth later. The final one, the "voluntary non-use of the divine attributes is what concerns us here.

Rhodes explains:

A second issue involved in Christ making himself "nothing" in the Incarnation had to do with submission to voluntary nonuse of some of his divine attributes in order for him to accomplish his objectives. Christ could never have actually surrendered any of his attributes, for then he would have ceased to be God. But he could (and did) voluntarily cease using some of them during his time on earth (approximately 4 B.C. to A.D. 29) in order to live among men and their limitations.1


"Made himself of no reputation" means to empty--the Greek word is keno. The kenosis theory derives its name from the word keno. Christ emptied Himself…He emptied Himself of something, but it was not of His deity. He was 100 percent God when He was a baby reclining helplessly on the bosom of Mary….Well, then, of what did the Lord Jesus empty Himself when He came to earth? I believe that He emptied Himself of the prerogatives of deity. He lived on this earth with certain limitations, but they were self-limitations. There was never a moment when He wasn’t God.2

Finally while Jesus Christ voluntarily refrained from exercising certain attributes of deity, he did not divest himself of a single divine attribute (John 1:14; Philippians 2:1-11; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrew 2:14-18). (Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book, page 229)

God has certain attributes, attributes which humans lack. God is everywhere, omnipresent. God is all-knowing, omniscient. God is all-powerful, omnipotent. God is un-changing, immutable. Humans do not possess those capacities so we are told that in order to become human God "toned it down" a little, willingly abstaining from his powers without giving them up. Indeed as the citation from Rhodes notes that to surrender these attributes would have been to cease being God, about which he later elaborates, "As such, it is clear that Christ, as God, cannot change in his essential being, and hence he could never give up any of his divine attributes. Indeed ‘God cannot change His nature by act of His will any more than any other being. Attributes inherent in a persona essence cannot be dismissed.’"(ibid page 196).

So when we see that the Nazarene underwent normal human development, such as growing and learning, or indicated that he was unaware of a particular matter, it was because he had voluntarily given up use of his divine attributes, he was, if you pardon the term, "keeping it real" (indeed this slang term carries a heavy overtone of maintaining artificial self-limitations in order to project a pre-conceived notion of authenticity.)

The difficulty is that while it is conceivable to possess the power to do anything without exercising that power, the parallel is not true with other divine attributes. On may be omnipotent with respect to knowledge, possessing the ability to know anything, but one is not omniscient if there are things that one does not know. One may be omnipotent with respect to place, possessing the ability to be anywhere and/or everywhere but if one has restricted himself to a single location this is not omnipresence. While it is argued "With respect to his omniscience, for example his human nature may have served as a filter limiting his knowledge as a man (e.g., Mark 13:32). Nonetheless, Jesus' divine omniscience was ever accessible at the will of the Father." (Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book, page 229), this is a distinction without a difference. The potential to know anything is not omniscience, and if the Nazarene's "divine nature" was omniscient while his human nature was not there is no meaningful unity between those natures. Such a suggestion would at best be equivalent to saying he was part God, part man, rather than fully God and fully man.

We are not alone in this assessment; we have already encountered Christian objections to it while discussing the concept of incarnation:

Like many other theological terms, this term can be misleading. It might suggest that the eternal Logos by the act of incarnation was confined to the body of Jesus of Nazareth. The implication of such a construction of the result of the incarnation is that God the Son, kenotically "emptying" himself, divesting himself of the attribute of being always and everywhere immediately present in the universe. But to hold such a view is tantamount to contending that he who enfleshed himself as Jesus of Nazareth, while doubtless more than man, is not quite God."3

While proponents of the Kenotic Theology do not seem to understand the incarnation as implying that the Nazarene was not omnipresent, the principle remains the same. Not-knowing something, even voluntarily, is to "surrender" omniscience just as not being everywhere is to "surrender" omnipresence. Christian critics of the Kenotic Theology object, "How can Jesus Christ be God if we would simultaneously affirm that during the incarnate life he was not omniscient?"(Evangelical Dictionary of Theology page 602). Insofar as Kenotic Theologians would not say that the Nazarene was not omniscient, these critics are essentially calling them out on a merely verbal affirmation of omniscience.

It is not easy for Christians to dismiss the Kenosis Theory though:

Did Christ know or not know the time of the end (Mark 13:32)? Orthodoxy said he must know, he is the presence of the omniscient God; however for some reason he has chosen not to reveal this knowledge. Kenotic theorist insist that the text says what it says. He limited himself to his human and real development; he was genuinely dependent on his Father, he did not know. The problem of who is biblical cuts more than one way.4

Similarly, with respect to the conceptual difficulty of how the human and divine consciousness of the Nazarene interact according to the Kenotic Theology the rejoinder could be made:

However, the strain [in the Kenotic Theology] is fundamentally a relocation of the same strain orthodoxy faces when it attempts to affirm very God-very man in terms of the consciousness of the earthly Jesus. The problem cuts both ways.5

We, however, are unstirred by such counter-arguments since we do not consider the belief in the divinity of the Nazarene to be coherent or biblical. The two camps pointing out the problems in either’s solutions highlights that the real problem is the erroneous doctrine. Though it might be appealing for a Kenotic theologian to argue that the distinction between non-use of attributes and not retaining them is a mystery, this is insufficient. Such an argument would be extremely ad hoc as illustrated by their very insistence that the attributes must be retained, since by admitting logical impossibilities we could just as easily argue that, in opposition to Kenotic Theology, the Nazarene entirely divested himself of the divine attributes, yet mysteriously remained wholly divine. There is not theological hurdle which cannot be "overcome" by such reasoning.

Christian thinkers struggle with reconciling the apparent absence of divine attributes in the Nazarene with the necessity of him having them to be divine. Those who argue that while he possessed them, he did not utilize them, but particularly with respect to omniscience this distinction is verbal. Others understand him as actually being omniscient but are forced to understand certain passages in their scripture unnaturally. Either system has serious drawbacks and neither are appealing, particularly when one bears in mind how little reason there is to believe the Nazarene is divine.

1Christ Before The Manger, page 195-196.
2Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Volume 5 page 302.
3Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, pages 555-556.
4Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 601.
5Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 602.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Who is a Prophet Like Moses?

Deuteronomy 18:15 A Prophet like Moses Acts 7:37
Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, 19 A Prophet like Moses Acts 3:22, 23

"A prophet from your midst, from your brethren, like me (Moses), shall Hashem, your God, establish for you to him shall you hearken." Deuteronomy 18:15

"I will establish a prophet for them from among their brethren, like you (Moses), and I will place My words in His mouth; He shall speak to them everything that I will command him. And it shall be that the man who will not hearken to My words that he shall speak in My name, I will exact from him." Deuteronomy 18:19.

In the New Testament we find that Stephen quoted the first verse, however he did not particular comment on how he understood it to have been fulfilled. He simply stated that this was a prophecy of Moshe (Moses). Peter also quoted the verses without elaborating. Although in either instance the quotes seem to be almost chosen randomly (they seem to neither add nor subtract from the subject), from the context one can assume that they intend to apply these verses to the Nazarene. This is in fact a common use of these verses in Christian circles.1

There are several reasons that we can understand that these verses don't provide evidence that the Nazarene is the Messiah. First of all, if we where to assume for the sake of argument that the Nazarene was a prophet, although I find it clear he was not, there is nothing in this text that would apply to him anymore than the dozens of prophets we are told of in the T'nakh. Why should we, how can we, single out the Nazarene as the subject of this prophecy rather than Jeremiah or Malachi, etc.?

Next let us consider the context itself. This verse is part of the section referred to as Shoftim (Judges) by Jews based upon the first word in this section. This portion describes many rules and regulations concerning different areas of Jewish leadership. Within this portion, which begins on 16:18 and continues until 21:9, the laws concerning Judges, Priests, Levites, Kings, witnesses, and more are discussed. Reading Deuteronomy 18:15-22 you see that the "prophecy" wasn't about an individual prophet but to all true prophets of God. The rules concerning kings are discussed in the singular (see 17:14-20) but apply to all kings and not only to one specific king. Likewise our verses use the singular when discussing the prophets but the rules apply to all prophets. The prediction is that prophecy would not cease at the death of Moses and the verses teach the obligation to obey those.

One might have assumed that after Moshe died then prophecy would die with him. This was not the case however, God told Israel that He would continue to raise up prophets and He proceeded to give the requirements. A prophet was to be from there midst, that is traditionally understood to mean that he had to begin his prophecy in Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. He had to be from among there brethren, that is he must be Jewish. Whatever the prophet spoke in the name of God had to come to pass. If these requirements weren’t fulfilled then the prophet was not to be feared. We have in this section the guidelines for determining a true prophet from a false one, not a prophecy about an individual prophet.

So if we assume that the Nazarene was a prophet, you could apply this verse to him as well as the other Nevi'im. Nevertheless the Nazarene was not a prophet. Remember that what a prophet predicts must come true. When the Jewish leadership asked the Nazarene for as sign, the New Testament records the Nazarene as saying, "A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah" (Matthew 16:4).

The Nazarene is predicting his supposed death and resurrection. However since the Nazarene’ stayed in the tomb for one complete day and two nights, this can not compare to the three days and three nights of Jonah in the large fish. Christians like to argue that in "Jewish time" a partial day could be considered a day. While there is a concept in Rabbinic law that is along these lines, nevertheless the book of Jonah is very specific saying three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17). Likewise the Nazarene himself is very specific regarding three days and three nights in a parallel passage earlier in Matthew (12:40). The Nazarene did not spend a third partial night in the tomb. Furthermore if we were counting partial days, Jonah could have possibly had a forth day or night since the text doesn’t tell us what time of day it was when he was swallowed or released from the fish. Because of these, the Nazarene's sign did not come to pass and he is therefore not a prophet of Hashem. Regarding the claim of those who adjust the "passion" narrative in such a way that presents the Nazarene as actually being in the tomb for three days and nights see what we have written in the section on the "typology of Jonah" (to be posted). Note, however, that even according to these Christians the traditional understanding of the Nazarene's death on Friday and resurrection on Sunday would render the above passages false prophecies.

Nor did the Nazarene speak in Hashem’s name as the prophet of our text. In the T'nakh to speak in someone's name means to give them credit for the statement. In Ester 2:22, Ester speaks to the king in Mordechai's name. Since she gave him credit he was latter honored by the king. In a quick search through prophets that have a book of the Bible named after them, I was able to find instances where each of them used phrases such as "the Lord says" or "declares the Lord". These phrases were never used by the Nazarene in regard to prophecy, in the few instances where he made (or so claim the Gospels) what could be considered prophecies. Many Christians will take pride of this in fact, seeing it as an example that the Nazarene "spoke with authority". Some see it as evidence that the Nazarene thought he was God incarnate and not merely God’s messenger. "In this Scripture [Matthew 5:20,22,26,28,etc] we find Jesus teaching and speaking in His own name. By doing so, He elevated the authority of His words directly to heaven. Instead of repeating the prophets by saying, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ Jesus repeated, ‘Verily verily, I say unto you.’" (Evidence that Demands a Verdict, page 95).Even where one to understand it in this way he still doesn’t fulfill the statement in our passage that says he will speak in God’s name. The Nazarene doesn't present himself as God's representative, he speaks on his own authority regardless of whether he thinks it human or divine. In fact, his predictions are phrased in such a way that were they not to come true, he could not be condemned as a false prophet on their account, so conversely even if they came about they are not "prophecies". Without being falsifiable/testable they are just opinions of what will occur, not prophecies.2

There is nothing in this passage which implies it refers to any single Prophet or the Mashiach. There is certainly nothing that indicates it refers to the Nazarene as a "prophet like Moshe". Rather what we see is a discussion on the continuance of prophecy after the time of Moshe and Israel’s obligation to obey them. And we see guidelines to distinguish between a true and false prophet. And using these guidelines we see that the Nazarene is neither the prophet nor a prophet discussed in this passage.

1According to the introduction of The Jewish New Testament (page xxvii) the Messiah must "Be a prophet like Moshe." An interesting example is the "testimony" of Louis S. Lapides who describes his initial study of the "Old Testament" at the challenge of a street minister who cited "Messianic prophecies": " ‘Pretty soon,’ Lapides told me, ‘I was reading the Old Testament every day and seeing one prophecy after another. For instance Deuteronomy talked about a prophet greater than Moses who will come and whom we should listen to. I thought, Who can be greater than Moses?" (The Case for Christ, page 177, italics mine). Of course the glaring problem is that while he is describing a time period where he claims to only be reading the Jewish Scriptures, in both his characterization of the passage in Deuteronomy and his reaction use the adjective "greater." In truth however "greater" is not found in the Deuteronomy passage, only "like", while it is reflected in Hebrews 3:3, "Jesus has been found worth of greater honor than Moses". Indeed the NIV segment heading is "Jesus Greater Than Moses."

2By analogy, a recent news event was about a certain Church "predicting" that the rapture would take place on March 21, 2011 and the world would begin to end and purchasing ad space on billboards across the country to draw attention to impending doom. In truth, while they likely did so through poor reasoning (from an uninspired book) their prediction was really just their interpretation of the book of Revelations and not a proper prophecy. The pastor involved, to my knowledge did not claim to predict the event, but understood that the event had been predicted. Even in the instances where the Nazarene offers "predictions", it would probably be more correct to understand them in a fashion similar to the "prediction" of the pastor in this story. It is Christianity which wishes to confer upon him the status of "prophet".

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Honest Evaluation or Close-mindedness?

When one reads through Christian apologetic materials one finds a reoccurring theme. The image of a court weighing the evidence as to whether or not The Nazarene is the Messiah is encountered repeatedly. The apologetic books Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 1 and 2, are classics. A newer apologetic book is called The Case for Christ. These theme is rooted in the word apologetics itself, "In NT times an apologia was a formal courtroom defense of something (2 Tim. 4:16)." 1

The imagery of a courtroom brings up thoughts of individuals who have cast away their preconceived notions and biases. They weigh the evidence without emotion, just examining the facts. Frequently missionaries will use this image to present themselves as representing a rational belief based on the only reasonable conclusion one can draw from the evidence. Particularly Messianic testimonies will often present their conversions as a result of examining the prophecies of the Messiah found in the T'nakh. They are portrayed as courageous individuals who fought the bias against the Nazarene they were raised with and accepted the facts of Christianity.2

On several occasions I have had correspondence with missionaries who have challenged me on my bias. They have accused me of having made my mind up about Christianity without having ever really considered it. Rather, they claim it was a result of my Jewish upbringing which influenced my decision. If only I where to examine the evidence fully, and to do so with an open mind, I might "see the light".

This stereotype is common. Jew's are painted as ignorant of Christianity, "the Jewish person assumes that all Gentiles are Christians."3 His reaction to the Christian claims is a result of being "taught from the cradle that Judaism and Christianity are mutually exclusive categories" (ibid). I would concede that, in general, people frequently do not make religious choices on purely logical grounds. But in this regard Christians are certainly no less disinclined to accept a faith other than the one they where brought up with.4 And the generalization that Jews are ignorant of Christianity has no factual support and my own experience indicates that the typical Jew is more familiar with the various sects of Christianity, and the nature of the Jewish/Christian polemic, than their Christian counterpart.

All that said, I will not try to paint myself as unbiased. It would be dishonest of me to indicate to you that when I began the research which resulted in this book that I did not have a preconceived notion of what the conclusion would be. I had no intent on examining the validity of my own beliefs, merely the intent to persuade others to accept mine. When I first began researching the so-called Messianic prophecies of the Jewish Bible I did so with the express intent to show that they prove conclusively that the Nazarene was the Jewish Messiah who died for the sins of the world.

Yes, I was biased without a doubt. My bias was that of an evangelical Christian who believed that the Bible was the inspired and inerrant Word of God. I wanted to produce a work which gave a comprehensive and persuasive argument to support my beliefs with the hope that it might persuade others to accept them. I had one thing going for me though; I wanted my case to be rock solid. I wanted an intellectually honest argument. Once familiar with the Messianic approach, in my head I produced an Orthodox Jewish audience, but one that knew everything that I did. If I where to produce an argument that could be understood differently I could not bluff them...they knew it too. If I found an argument less than persuasive, I couldn't expect them to accept it. I would just set such arguments aside as support, but not being proof. After all there was so much "evidence' to work with, why not only use conclusive evidence. But then came a point where I realized that most of the arguments for Christianity could only "support" one's case if one where to already hold a Christian world view. I could no longer honestly say that if I where a Jew living in the first century C.E. that I would be a follower of the Nazarene based on the teaching found in T'nakh.

Nor was this an easy decision to make. Believing in Torah observance I had developed a great admiration for Judaism. But at the same time I was driven to create a "Torah observant" community within the "Messianic" framework. Goals and dreams which gave me a sense of purpose were rendered superfluous. By joining the Jewish community the community was made, my goals where accomplished. I became a participant in a Torah observant community rather than helping build one anew. And while becoming Messianic was socially difficult, causing me to leave my old Church, leaving the Messianic movement by rejecting the Nazarene was rejecting a belief by which I had defined myself by since childhood, my Christian faith. It was not easy, but I knew what I had to do.

So yes, I was biased, and still am. I do not read a new missionary argument expecting it to possible be correct, to indicate that the Nazarene really is the Messiah. But my new bias is one based on intensive study of Christian arguments and proof texts and repeatedly finding them to be incorrect. My new bias is an educated guess based on previous experience with Christian arguments. And a Christian who is reading this is not likely expecting it to provide a sound argument that the Nazarene is not the Messiah. But I believe if they try to be honest and open that this book will do just that. The issue is not who is more or less biased. We all have biases. The issue is who can get beyond them to recognize the truth. I am by no means perfect and may not always present an argument without flaw, but I remain confident that my analysis of this issue is sound and the conclusions correct.

1Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 68.
2”To [Louis S.] Lapides, this was new information. Intriguing information. Astonishing information. So he went back to his apartment, opened the Old Testament to its first book, Genesis, and went hunting for Jesus among words that had been written hundreds of years before the carpenter of Nazareth had ever been born… I reflected on how many times I had encountered similar stories, especially among successful and thoughtful Jewish people who had specifically set out to refute Jesus’ messianic claims. I think of Stan Telchin, the East Coast businessman who had embarked on a quest to expose the “cult” of Christianity after his daughter went away to college and received Y’shua (Jesus) as her Messiah. He was astonished to find that his investigation led him—and his wife and second daughter—to the same Messiah….There was Jack Sternberg, a prominent cancer physician in Little Rock, Arkansas, who was so alarmed at what he found in the Old Testament that he challenged three rabbis to disprove that Jesus was the Messiah. They couldn’t, and he too has claimed to have found wholeness in Christ. And there was Peter Greenspan, an obstetrician-gynecologist who practices in the Kansas City area and is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. Like Lapides, he had been challenged to look for Jesus in Judaism. What he found troubled him, so he went to the Torah and Talmud, seeking to discredit Jesus’ messianic credentials. Instead he concluded that Jesus did miraculously fulfill the prophecies. (The Case for Christ pages 177,185-186, the author Lee Storbel’s own “testimony” is referenced in True for You, But Not For Me, page 157.)
3Share the New Life with a Jew, p. 23.
4Indeed, this is an objection Christians themselves confront, “John Hicks has asserted that in the vast majority of cases, an individual’s religious belief will be the conditioned result of his geographical circumstances. Statistically speaking, Hick is correct. But what follows from that scenario?...Just because a diversity of political options has existed in the history of the world doesn't obstruct us from evaluating one political system as superior to its rivals.”(True for You, But Not for Me, page 82,83).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Subject of the verse is Vague

One of the first things one will notice when encountering Christian proof texts which are said to support a distinctly Christian view of the Messiah is the number of times the subject of the passage is contestable. That is to say, it is common that the individual the verse is talking is not entirely clear. More often than not, the passages cited by Christianity as referring to the "First Coming" of the Nazarene do not use words or terms that indicate clearly that the Messiah is being referred to.

That is obviously not to say that the fact a verse is vague is proof it is not Messianic. Clearly the author had someone in mind when writing the verse and the subject could possibly be the Mashiach. But it should raise a few questions to Christians that the passages which are taken to describe the heart of the Messiah's are lacking the indication that the verse is about Messiah.

Now, by Jewish interpretation there are no verses where "Mashiach" is used to refer to the Mashiach in the T'nakh. In Christian interpretation there are only a couple instances at most.1 Then what terms are lacking that would clear up these ambiguous references? That is, how do passages that are Messianic in there simple meaning according to Jewish interpretation indicate that Mashiach is the subject in such a way that is absent in Christian proof texts?

Now, as mentioned elsewhere, most of the clear Messianic prophecies (which Christians typically ascribe to the "Second Coming") are about the events of that Era rather than the individual. But when the individual Mashiach is described there are two ways he is identified, and often both are utilized. The first is reference to his Davidic lineage. In Ezekiel 37:24 we see him called David. In Isaiah 11:1 he's described as from the "stump of Jesse", David's father. Jeremiah 33:17 promises that a descendant of David will always rule. Closely related to the first and is identifying Mashiach by using a royal title such as king or prince. Clearly the former is less ambiguous because there are many people in T'nakh who are given royal titles but are not the Mashiach. Each of these methods to identify Mashiach can be seen in Ezekiel 37. Essentially all, if not all, the clear prophecies about Mashiach the individual use these methods to identify the subject.

It is noteworthy that many of the verses cited by Christians do have these indicators. The indicator, for example tribal affiliation or ancestors, are often cited as the prophecy which is "fulfilled". Meanwhile the rest of the prophecy, containing the more significant issue of Mashiach’s activities, is left to be fulfilled at some future date.2

Furthermore while it is not at all uncommon for the major concepts in the Jewish expectation of the Messiah to be stated clearly and repeatedly it is not uncommon to see fairly significant doctrines asserted to be ”predicted” in a single (or a couple) of ambiguous passages. It would do Christian apologists well to bear in mind the words of Bernard Ramm, “Essential truth is not tucked away in some incidental remark in Scripture nor in some passage that remains ambiguous in its meaning even after being subjected to very thorough research.”3

So while the prophecies that are used to form the concept of Mashiach in Jewish law and tradition are more specific in designating their subject, verses used by Christians are more likely to be open to argument. While this itself does not prove that they are not referring to the Christian Messiah, the weight of evidence suggest that this is the ambiguity that allowed Christians to fill in a meaning contrary to that meant by the author since the Nazarene did not fit the clear and explicit Messianic prophecies.

1 “It is noteworthy that the word “messiah” does not appear at all in the OT (the AV of Dan. 9:25 is incorrect; it out to read “an anointed one”), and only rarely in the intertestamental literature. (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 710.)
2 In addition to being out of context it is worthwhile to note that it is often difficult to associate the fulfillment of many (or most) of these passages with the eschatological picture of the “Second Coming” described in Revelation.
3Protestant Biblical Interpretation, page 105.

Monday, February 11, 2013


When Christians cite a verse that is actually Messianic they often run into a problem. All though there is a particular part that they want to apply to the Nazarene, there is usually another part that the Nazarene clearly hasn't fulfilled. This is usually likened by them to one who sees the top of two mountains but is unable to see the valley in between.

Beyond the natural difficulty in a unsupported span of two thousand plus years appearing out of nowhere in the middle of a verse one must note another difficulty. Michael Brown (in his appendix to Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3) likens this to prophecies of the ingathering of the exiles which began with the return from Babylon, continues today, and will have ultimate fulfillment in the Messianic era. Though I’m not certain that we could suggest another clear prophecy which lends itself to such a notion of continued fulfillment, nor am I certain that we can locate verses which truly speak of the return from exile in such broad terms to include both the Babylonian Exile and our current exile, there remains still another difficultly with incompletely fulfilled Messianic prophecies. While we supposedly see individual verses which describe the "first" and "second" coming in one verse, we do not see those which describe the "suffering Messiah" and the "victorious Messiah" in a single prediction. When part of a prophecy clearly applies to a Messianic era not yet realized, the “fulfilled” part is consistently of secondary importance such as the Messiah’s tribal affiliation or so forth (see also Vague).

The point is this. Regarding the unfulfilled Messianic prophecies Christians explain that they refer to the second coming when the Nazarene will come as King. But in his first coming Messiah was supposed to suffer, and those concerning the "first coming" are the ones he fulfilled. But although we have "first coming" prophecies supposedly mixed in with King Messiah prophecies we never see predictions of suffering mixed in with the description of the Mashiach gathering the Exiles and rebuilding the Beith HaMikdash (Jerusalem Temple) and so forth. I also suspect that we will find that it is difficult to reconcile the fulfillment of these prophecies with the apocalyptic picture of the future presented in the Book of Revelation and other portions of the Christian Bible, making it doubtful that these will be truly fulfilled according to Christianity. A “Partially Fulfilled” prophecy remains an unfulfilled prophecy.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


When one reads through the list of actual Messianic prophecies we see many significant things that will occur. All the Jews are returned to their homeland in Israel. They will have peace from their enemies. They will be united under one king. The Temple will be rebuilt. It is for these reasons that Jews who are faithful to Torah have anxiously awaited the coming of the Mashiach. Even in regard to the "Second Coming", l'havdil, Christians eagerly await the resurrection and eternal life which await them.

When reading a missionaries list of "fulfilled" prophecies you will also see some "significant" events. The Nazarene's atoning death. His resurrection. His alleged deity. However, unlike the true Messianic prophecies you will see something else. Numerous otherwise insignificant details are "predicted". The Nazarene's garment would be gambled for. He would live in Egypt. He was born in Bethlehem. These events, being "prophecies", help "identify" Messiah however they have no significance in and of them self.

What if God had ordained Messiah be born in Egypt and live in Bethlehem? Provided He assured Scripture was composed accordingly there would be no significant difference? What if He decided instead of gambling for the Nazarene’s garments that someone would purchase them? Would this affect Christian theology or the nature of Messiah at all? No. The change would only be cosmetic.

One must wonder why otherwise insignificant details “identify” the Messiah at his "First coming". One must also wonder why such insignificant details are conspicuously missing from the "Second Coming" prophecies. It is because these insignificant details are in fact not Messianic Prophecies. Rather they are verses which Christians need to construe as Messianic in order to provide some link for the Nazarene to the Hebrew Scriptures.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Out of Context

Clearly the best way of understanding a verse is to read the passages surrounding it.  Likewise other parts of the T'nakh can shed light on the meaning of a verse. But when we read "Messianic Prophecies" the interpretations given by Christians frequently they have no relation to the context of the verse.1 While the passage clearly speaks about a specific topic, Christians attribute Messianic significance to it. Often this divergence from the plain meaning of the text is obvious and not up to debate among reasonable people.

Christians, when forced to concede that the passage was not intended as Messianic by its author, frequently argue that it has a secondary meaning.  Messianic's apologist especially will use traditionally Jewish terms such as "Midrash" to describe their interpretations. But regardless of whether or not one cloaks this approach in Jewish trimming or not, it is clear that such a method is prone to abuse. It leaves one with no way to determine an authentic Messianic prophecy from a false and contrived one. Since the interpretation is un-falsifiable it is likewise unable to be established as intended by the author, God.

And Christians themselves would not accept this methodology from missionaries representing groups they deem deviant. Any knowledgeable evangelical Christian would scoff at a Mormon who came knocking at his door offering verses whose interpretation bears no resemblance to the context.  During my time in the Church the most common generic charge against the Watchtower Society or the LDS was that they take verses out of context.2 Nevertheless when it comes to identifying the Messiah, whom they say you must believe in or face eternal condemnation, they offer up proofs of the same caliber without any way to establish theirs as legitimate and their opponents as spurious:

It is always good to use Scripture verses to prove a teaching or principle, but it is important not to lift a verse out of its context; otherwise, as we have previously seen, instead of it being a proof text, it becomes a pretext. (LaHay, How to Study the Bible for Yourself. page 160
‘For example,’ he said, ‘failing to understand the context of the passage. This is the most common mistake critics make. Taking words out of context, you can even cause the Bible to prove there’s no God. After all, Psalm 14:1 comes right out and says it: “there is no God.’ But, of course, in context it says, The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ Therefore, context is critically important, and most often critics are guilty of wrenching verses out of context to create an alleged discrepancy when there isn’t one.’ (Case for Faith, page 138)
The Qumran sect, however, does not always give us such clarification. It had its own method of Biblical interpretation, which shows the dangers of a predetermined point of view on the meaning of the text. The sect interpreted the Old Testament against the background of its own belief that it was living in the last days, and thus discovered, so it believed, that the prophets had prophesied almost exclusively of those days. Therefore, by allegory and variant reading and words out of context, the sect found guidance in the prophets for the last, difficult times in which they lived.”(Laurin, Hermeneutics, page 74, italics mine.).

Indeed, Christians calling out others whose approach to scriptural interpretation is wanting goes back to some of the earliest Church Fathers:

Irenaeus precisely stressed the atomistic and incoherent use of Scripture by the Gnostics. "They abuse the scriptures by endeavouring to support their own system out of them." In a famous passage he asserts, "They disregard the order and the connection of scriptures...just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed...out of precious jewels, should this take the likeness of the man all to pieces, should re-arrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox...and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king." [Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1:9:1, 1:8:1]. Irenaeus calls, in effect, for a proper attention to context and genre, and attention to other parts of the Bible." (Hermeneutics: An Introduction, page 96).

Furthermore, amongst themselves Evangelical Christians are prone to adopting such an approach. When dealing with other areas of doctrine Christians tend to avoid any form of interpretation than understanding what the author meant given the immediate context of the passage, albeit illuminated by the history and cultural background. However, when it comes to Messianic prophecies they break with their normal approach. There are, in my opinion, two reasons for this. First is that the Christian Bible itself takes verses out of context. Since they cannot concede that their Bible made and error in its interpretation of T'nakh they must attribute a "creative" method of interpretation. The second is that, frankly, without taking verses out of context there would be little to no basis for Christianity in the T'nakh. But finding their doctrines in the T'nakh is what "proves" that their faith is a continuation and "perfection" of that of Jewish peoples. They are forced to use “creative” methods of interpretation to establish their legitimacy.

In contrast, it is precisely due to these difficulties that Judaism no longer originates new "d’rashoth", interpretations of scripture that go beyond the literal meaning. While we have many ancient and authoritative d’rashoth from the Sages, we no longer have the full methodology by which they developed their interpretations.3 Homiletical liberties may still be taken but their acceptance lies in their consistency with the corpus of Jewish teachings and not from the authority of the Biblical derivation. So although we do have quite a few of the rules which the Sages used we do not have a complete set and accordingly we do not have the authority to originate new ideas whose foundation is dubious.

1The propensity for sectarians to interpret Scripture contrary to the context was already noted in Talmudic times, “R. Johanan said: In all the passages which the Minim have taken [as grounds] for their heresy, their refutation is found near at hand.” (Sanhedrin 38b, Soncino Translation).
2”The average non-Christian cult owes its very existence to the fact that it has utilized the terminology of Christianity, has borrowed liberally from the Bible (almost always out of context), and sprinkled its format with evangelical clichés and terms wherever possible or advantageous.” (Kingdom of the Cults, page 30).
3 For an overview and sources on our inability to apply traditional Talmudic methods of exegesis to written Torah see Gateway to the Talmud, page 120 (ArtScroll Mesorah).

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Method of our Counter-Missionary Approach

While we may on occasion stray from the primary focus of our counter-missionary posts, our aim is fairly straight forward, to evaluate the claim that the Nazarene was predicted in the Jewish Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures. We will attempt to avoid rabbit trails such as whether there are minor, or major, inconsistencies in the Christian Bible or other similar, secondary, issues. Most people would concede that if it could be shown that the Nazarene was uniquely predicted in the Hebrew Bible hundreds of years before he was born that it would be reasonable (to say the least) to become his follower. But conversely the truth of Christianity and the propriety of following the Nazarene is absolutely contingent on his being specifically predicted in the Hebrew Bible, principally because not only is he claimed to be the Messiah of the Hebrew Bible but he also claims to be predicted in the Hebrew Bible and criticizes others for not finding him there. Similar claims are also made by the writers of the Christian Bible.

The Nazarene is reported as having said:

 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life…But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5:37-40, 45-47 NIV).

Similarly the apostle Peter is quoted as, "Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.” (Acts 3:17-18). The suffering of the Nazarene was “foretold” or “announced” (see Jay P. Greens, Pocket Interlinear New Testament, page 328), by all the prophets, we are told.

"Literal" Interpretation

While I hope to return to the Christian Bible’s many claims of predictions of the Nazarene I think it is necessary to touch upon the proper way to approach the meaning of Scriptures. Orthodox Judaism and orthodox Christianity both affirm the truth of the plain meaning of scriptures, and the evangelical branch of orthodox Christianity generally eschews any other meaning of Scripture. Typical of the later position is the maxim, “When the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense.”1 In the Jewish tradition, however, we are told, “אֵין מִקְרָא יוֹצֵא מִידֵי פְּשׁוּטוֹ” (Yevamos 24a and elsewhere), a verse does not depart from its simple meaning; leaving room for additional layers of meaning.

The “simple” or “plain” or “literal” interpretation does not mean that we ignore or deny the use of idioms, figures of speech, hyperbole or symbolism. Literal interpretation means we approach the text attempting to understand what the author (with respect to scripture either the human or the divine author) was trying to communicate with the assumption that, unless there are cues to the contrary, what is said is what is meant. Some refer to this as a “normal” reading of the Bible, "A normal reading of Scripture is synonymous with a consistent literal, grammatico-historical hermeneutic. When a literal hermeneutic is applied to the interpretation of Scripture, every word written in Scripture is given the normal meaning it would have in its normal usage. Proponents of a consistent, literal reading of Scripture prefer the phrase a normal reading of Scripture to establish the difference to establish the difference between literalism and letterism. (An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics, page 33).

Exceptions for Christian Bible

Evangelical Christians are strong defenders of plain or “literal” interpretation, and can illustrate how straying from the plain meaning of Scripture caused the Church Fathers and the Roman Catholic Church to produce untenable “interpretations” which read in their beliefs and doctrines into the Bible and how many false doctrines are based off of taking verses out of context. "Allegorical interpretation allows the exegete to manipulate the text to support his or her presuppositions." (Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics, page 38.) 

Nevertheless they are unable to hold the authors of the Christian Bible to the same standard:

It would probably be hazardous to assert that the way in which the New Testament interpreted particular passages of the Old Testament was meant to be the norm of all Biblical exegesis. Yet the example given of the New Testament is a very important clue to a true interpretation of Sacred Scriptures…They did not, therefore, narrowly confine their interpretation and use of the Old Testament in terms of the immediate historic context in which any particular passage was uttered or written. (Roger Nicole, Hermeneutics, page 47)
The New Testament usage of the Old Testament that probably raises the most questions with regard to hermeneutical legitimacy involves the fulfillment passages. To the English reader it may seem that the New Testament writer is giving an interpretation to these verses different from the original intention of the Old Testament author.(Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, page 50).
The ISPA [Inspired Sensus Plenior Application] of Old Testament passages by New Testament writers raises several questions. First, can today’s interpreters imitate what New Testament writers did in assigning additional and different meanings in applying Old Testament passages? No, they cannot, because that would depart from grammatical-historical interpretation and violate the principle of single meaning. (Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New versus the Old, page 252)
To understand the use of an Old Testament passage in a particular New Testament context, it is necessary to take several steps. This is especially true when it is a messianic passage since there is always a question as to whether we are dealing with direct prophecy or indirect typology. (The Hermeneutical Spiral, page 331).
What, then, can be said to our question "Can we reproduce the exegesis of the New Testament?" I suggest that we must answer both "No" and "Yes." Where that exegesis takes on a revelatory character, where it is atomistic or allegorical, or where it is avowedly circumstantial, "No." Where, however, it treats the Old Testament in a more literal fashion, following the course of what we would speak of today as critical-historical-grammatical exegesis, "Yes." (Studies in Hermeneutics, Christology and Discipleship, page 69)
All the approaches have one thing in common: they all recognize that the way to discuss the use of the Old Testament in the New is not on a "pure prophetic" model, in which one takes the Old Testament passage in its context and simply joins it directly to its New Testament fulfillment without any consideration of the historical situation of the Old Testament passage. In fact Kaiser explicitly makes the point that the best term to summarize the prophetic connection between the Old Testament and the New is not "prediction" but "promise." (Zuck, Roy B. Rightly Divided: Readings in Biblical Hermeneutics, page 207)
"It should be obvious by now that the hermeneutical problem of the Old Testament--underlined by the use that the New Testament writers made of it--is the central and foundational interpretive issue that the church has had to wrestle with throughout the centuries." (Silva, Moises, Has the Church Misread the Bible, the History of Interpretation in the Light of Current Issues,page 106, footnote 9)

Christian thinkers see the “New Testament’s” citation of the T’nakh as exceptional, but should we be willing to make such and exception? In other words, if in many instances the Christian Bible’s appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures in a way other than the primary, simple meaning then what is the implication on the notion of “Messianic Prophecy”? Christian scholars are not entirely certain themselves. Some tend to take these citations as the actual meaning of the text and accordingly predict (or perhaps “promise”) what was to happen in the life of the Nazarene.

If the relationship of typology and exegesis were merely a matter of definitions, we would not need to spend much time on it, but the significant hermeneutical issue behind this discussion is whether a type is predictive as prophecy is. Some argue, Yes, types are predictive and therefore typology is exegesis, for typology only brings out of the text what is already in the text…. (Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, page 250.)

Indeed, we will find that apologists will go to great lengths to defend “prophecies” which Christian scholars understand differently in their primary context. Others see these secondary, additional meanings as essential teachings of the Christian Bible,

But someone will say, "Why can't we imitate the principles used in the New Testament writings? Don't we learn our Hermeneutics from them?" The difference in qualifications is the answer. New Testament writers possessed the gift of apostleship and/or the gift of prophecy that enabled them to receive and transmit direct revelation from God." (Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Verses the Old. Page 252)

When the fulfillment passages are typological the New Testament writers present the typology not as the meaning of the Old Testament but as a contemporary event analogous to God's past action."(Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, page 51, bold mine).

The authority for the second meaning of the Old Testament passage is the New Testament, not the Old Testament. The Old Testament produces only the literal meaning. The sensus plenior emerges only after and ISPA [Inspired Sensus Plenior Application] of the Old Testament wording to a new situation. The New Testament writers could assign such new meanings authoritatively because of the inspiration of what they wrote...until the New Testament citation of that passage, the second or sensus plenior meaning did not exist as far as humans were concerned. Since hermeneutics is a human discipline, gleaning that second sense is an impossibility in an examination of the Old Testament source of the citation. (Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus the Old, page 253, bold mine.)
 Others argue,

No, types are not predictive but are discovered only from a later stage of redemptive history; therefore, typology is not exegesis proper, for typology discovers more meaning that is in the text itself. (Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, page 250, bold mine.)

If the later position is taken such “Messianic” verses, being non-Messianic in their original meaning and context are taken as such on the basis and authority of the New Testament. They are the result of belief in Christianity, not its cause. One is then left needing to establish that there are other contextually-prophetic Messianic passages which specifically point to the Nazarene, which we have noted is a foundational claim of the Christian Bible (and then explain why the New Testament authors didn’t cite such passages instead) or propose a hermeneutical approach which can distinguish between “legitimate” secondary interpretations and spurious ones.

Furthermore, even though we might concede a secondary, non-contextual meaning we have reason to be suspicious when the Christian Bible veers from the plain meaning:
In conclusion, the vast majority of the New Testament references to the Old Testament interpret it literally; that is, they interpret it according to the commonly accepted norms for interpreting all types of communications--history as history, poetry as poetry, symbols as symbols. There is no attempt to separate the message into literal and allegorical levels." (Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, page 51)
Despite the general pattern of literal interpretation we find that the exceptions are disproportionally those where the Christian Bible is citing a “Messianic Prophecy”. The uneven distribution of such “secondary” style interpretations raises serious questions about whether the authors of the Christian Bible where using a novel method of exegesis, or just plain eisegesis, reading into the text what they felt had to be there.

"Jewish" Exegesis

When confronted with the atypical usage of the Hebrew Bible by the authors of the Christian Bible we find that it is not at all uncommon for Christian scholars, or Messianic apologists, to appeal to Jewish methods of Biblical interpretation from the period the Christian Bible was written.

At the time of Christ, Jewish exegesis could be classified into four main types: literal, midrashic, pesher, and allegorical. The literal method of interpretation, referred to as peshat, apparently served as the basis for other types of interpretation. Richard Longenecker [Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, pages 29.], citing Adolf Lowy, suggest that the reason for the relative infrequency of literalist interpretations in Talmudic literature is "that this type of commentary was expected to be known by everyone; and since there was not disputations about it, it was not recorded.(Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, page 45.)

It is argued that at least part of the explanation of why the authors of the Christian Bible engaged in non-literal interpretation of Scriptures was due to the contemporary methods being utilized.
It is generally agreed that Jesus was a rabbi in his interpretation of the Old Testament (Bultmann 1934:57-58; Chilton 1984), and the rest of the New Testament writers generally followed suit. The Judaism of the Second Temple period was diverse and exhibited more than one tendency in their approach to the Old Testament, and the New Testament was part of Second Temple Judaism, so it is critical to understand the techniques that guided their interpretation of the Old Testament. (The Hermeneutical Spiral, page 324).
To the contrary, to many educated Jews of his day, Matthew’s use of Scripture was both legitimate and sensible, regardless of whether the evidence was accepted or not, and statements such as Klinghoffer’s actually betray ignorance of either ancient Jewish usage of Scripture or the thoroughly Jewish nature of Matthew’s use of Scripture—or both. (Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus vol. 4, page 8).
While it is evident that the New Testament authors, the majority of whom were first-century Jews, overwhelming utilized peshat in their interactions with the Old Testament, the question remains whether they also employed the other contemporary methods such as midrash and allegorical interpretation. (Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, page 49)

While it is easy to understand the appeal of such an approach for Christians who are confronted with non-contextual citations of Biblical passages, critical readers will have already begun to wonder what relevance such methodologies have if they cannot be hermeneutically justified. Christian scholars reject the authority of rabbinic or other non-rabbinic interpreters not do they accept that such interpretations are based off of regular application of sound exegesical methods (much less supply them).

Such appeals to Jewish/Rabbinic interpretation methods of the first century period fall under three somewhat overlapping fallacies.

Appeal to Common Practice: By defending such non-literal interpretations based not on the legitimacy of the methods themselves but rather upon the popularity of such methods one is appealing to common practice. “An argument appeals to common practice if and only if it tries to justify an action by appealing to the common practice of the community” (Bonevac, Daniel. The Art and Science of Logic, page 71.) What is the normal practice in a given time and place can have relevance, “there is nothing wrong with appealing to common practice to support a conclusion about what a certain community’s standards allow” (ibid). For example it would not be surprising to find that the authors of the Christian Bible cited Scriptures in abbreviated or paraphrased forms, yet “Appeals to common practice are fallacious, however, when the conclusion involves a stronger sense of acceptability or obligation.” Biblical interpretation is not just about what “community standards allow” (even if that community was a Jewish one two thousand years ago) but determining the meaning of the text. As such you cannot support the Christian Bible’s use of the Hebrew Scriptures based on the fact that “everyone did it”, particularly while rejecting the results of such methodology when anyone else did it.

Appeal to Authority: As an Orthodox Jew, I believe that the Bible established an authoritative body of elders which the Talmudic Rabbis where heir to. I accept the authority of the Rabbis, and as a result the authority of Rabbinic interpretations. Christianity and its apologists do not. Even the most pro-rabbinic Messianics will not affirm unqualified authority to the Rabbi’s of the Talmud. No one affirms the authority of the community at Qumran or believes the Philo approach to the interpretation of the Bible is what most closely represents the true meaning. “An appeal to authority is fallacious, however, when the person appealed to is not truly an authority on the subject under consideration.” (Baum, Robert. Logic, fourth edition, page 556). If we could agree that the Rabbis qualified as authorities on Biblical interpretation then our whole discussion would be moot since they rejected the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible as identifying the Nazarene as the Messiah.

Tu Quoque: Unable to establish a methodology which can consistently and credibly identify secondary layers of meaning in the Biblical text, it becomes very easy for apologists to point to Jewish exegesis practices as not any better. “In tu quoque or “you too,” arguments, people do not address themselves to the issue raised against them, but instead attempt to absolve themselves by proving the guilt of their opponents.” (Baum, Robert. Logic, forth edition, page 561). While I believe that the Talmudic Sages possessed authority to interpret scripture, as well as a fuller set of principles to guide them in such interpretation than are currently extant, but it is neither necessary nor relevant to argue in favor of such a position in our context because even if they were lacking it does not absolve the authors of the Christian Bible (or other Christian apologists) for doing likewise. Two wrongs do not make a right.

We really have only so many options. If the Christian Bible’s use of Hebrew Scriptures constitutes real exegesis then we need canons which guide in differentiating between good interpretations (such as those on the Christian Bible are said to be) from bad ones such as the hyper-allegorization of the Church fathers or the out of context proofs of “cults”. Alternatively we can suggest that these usages constitute teachings of the Christian Bible on its own authority using the Hebrew Bible by way of allusion or perhaps revealing an otherwise undisclosed thought behind the verse under discussion but not actually contained in the meaning of the words as originally recorded. Under such an assumption they cannot constitute a prediction which was fulfilled by the Nazarene and we are left to decide whether the other, contextual, “Messianic Prophecies” provide sufficient details to specifically and uniquely anticipate the Nazarene. As it stands the Christian Bible relies heavily on verses which have a variant contextual meaning and verses which are vague or whose fulfillment is incomplete. And while the Christian Bible seems to strongly suggest that its citations of the Hebrew Scriptures constitute predictions which have been fulfilled, Christian scholars have not, and cannot, provide how secondary meanings can be distinguished from eisegesis, but instead note that others at the time used similar questionable methods.

As such our approach, our method, will be to analyze passages cited by the Christian Bible in particular and Christian apologists in general, and determine whether we have reason to believe they applied to the Nazarene in their original context. We will not ignore typological arguments, but only by focusing primarily on the original contextual meaning and distinguishing them from any potential secondary meanings are we able to evaluate the relative strength of individual arguments as well as their collective strength. We agree that “The interpreter should take the literal meaning of a prophetic passage as his limiting or controlling guide.” (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, page 253). Likewise, Missionaries make very bold claims about the strength of the Messianic Prophecies in establishing the Nazarene as Mashiach, “MESSIAH WILL ABSOLUTELY BE KNOWN, BASED UPON HIS CREDENTIALS ‘I declared the former things long ago And they went forth from My mouth, and I proclaimed them.” (Evidence That Demands A Verdict, page 141, citing Isaiah 48:3, Capitalization in original), which as we have seen merely echo the Nazarene who criticized those who “search the Scriptures” yet did not recognize him, who by not believing in him did not believe in the Scriptures (John 5). With such bold claims we should expect unambiguous evidence, compare “The problem with Nostradamus and so many other so-called psychics is that their predictions are often very enigmatic, ambiguous, and inaccurate.”(The Case for Faith, page 133).

It is impossible to approach anything without some pre-existing bias, but we need to attempt to read God’s word with intellectual honesty. "Submit all "preunderstandings" to Scripture. Theological preunderstandings--doctrinal opinions we have previously formed--should not bias our interpretation of Scripture. Any preunderstandings that the interpreter brings to Scripture should be in harmony with scriptural teaching and be subject to correction by it.(Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses: Clear Explanations for the Difficult Passages, page 8) If this advice is followed an intellectually honest Christian can find that many, most “Messianic Prophecies” can only be applied to the Nazarene if you already accept Christianity. Such interpretations are the result of Christian faith, not its support.

1See for example, Ron Rhodes, Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses: Clear Explanations for the Difficult Passages , page 7.