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.