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".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Nor did the Nazarene speak in Hashem’s name as the prophet of our text" Couldn't Christians use John 14:10 and John 12:49-50 to agree otherwise?