Messianic... to whom? I always admired the scholarship of F. F. Bruce; so I was hoping his Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free would be the rich culmination of a life of scholarship, full of wisdom and insight. I was very disappointed, on many levels. One that stands out was how Bruce handled the NT use of Messianic OT prophecy. Again and again I read about what the NT church community believed about those passages, what they saw in those passages, what use they made of those passages, and so forth. The implication that came through to me was clear: none of these passages actually, objectively and historically predicted Jesus Christ. The NT church simply adopted, adapted, and employed them to that end.
So what of it? Does the OT actually, specifically, objectively, and in so many words predict the person and work of Jesus Christ? Or do the verses become little Transformers in the hands of the NT writers, ripped out of context and changed into something totally different?
The book's burden. Michael Rydelnik makes the case that the Old Testament not only contains many direct Messianic prophecies, but itself is an eschatological, Messianic book, wholly pointing forward to Jesus the Messiah. In Rydelnik's words,
This book argues that reading the Old Testament according to its compositional strategies and canonical shape will yield a clear messianic intent, with far more direct messianic prediction than is commonly held (33)
...literal prediction and direct fulfillment are common and to be expected in the Old and New Testaments (99)How does Rydelnik pursue his goal and build his argument?
Here is my point...in the whole book: beginning with Jesus, moving to the apostolic period, and continuing until today, the message of Messiah has been proclaimed by using messianic prophecy. It is a foundational element for identifying Jesus as the true Messiah. ...the views of the modern academy have made their way into evangelical scholarship, leading t0 a minimization or even a denial of messianic prediction. Evangelical scholarship must rethink this trend.... (190)
Shape of contents. In the first chapter, Rydelnik makes the case as to why messianic prophecy is important. Jesus Himself asserted that the entire OT pointed forward to Him (Luke 24:440, but too many evangelicals have come either to minimize or even eliminate the presence of directly-predictive Messianic prophecy (as opposed to "promise") in the OT (1ff.). After discussion the use and meaning of "Messiah" and other terms (2-3), Rydelnik begins to document the movement away from messianic interpretation (3ff.). He quotes Longman's (outrageous) assertion that "It is impossible to establish that any passage in its original literary and historical context must or even should be understood as portending a future messianic figure" (4). Passages such as Genesis 3:15, Psalm 110, and Isaiah 9:6-7 are dismissed as not directly predicting Christ by evangelical voices (4-7). Then Rydelnik announces his intent to show that the OT is a messianic document (7-9), and outlines the chapters to come (9-11).
It is not a merely academic issue to Rydelnik. He relates that his parents were Holocaust survivors and Orthodox Jews, until his mother was converted to believe that Jesus was indeed the predicted Messiah (10f.). This led to Rydelnik's father divorcing her, and ultimately to his own study, which led to his conversion. So to Rydelnik, the question of the actual message of the OT is a vital matter, not simply a question of how he'll be treated at academic tea-parties or in academic journals.
In Chapter 2, Rydelnik surveys the history of scholarship's view of OT prophecy, discussing major figures and their varying approaches up to modern times (13-33). Then Rydelnik provides a useful summary of the main positions, using charts for simplification (27-33). The gamut ranges from "Historical Fulfillment" (OT prophecies fulfilled around the time of their issuance) to "Direct Fulfillment," which sees Messianic prophecies as created with Messianic intent and referring directly to Messiah. It is this latter approach that Rydelnik develops and defends.
In Chapter 3, Rydelnik reminds us all that the traditional Masoretic Text (MT) of the Hebrew Bible doesn't have God's initials on it, and argues that anti-Christian Judaism reshaped the text at critical points such as Numbers 24:7, 2 Samuel 23:1, Psalm 72:5, Isaiah 9:6 and others. Often citing the work of professor John Sailhamer and others, Rydelnik contends that the MT has been crafted to point to contemporary fulfillment rather than predictive or end-time meanings. This argument is developed in Chapter 4 by means of detailed studies of texts from Genesis 49, Numbers 24, and Deuteronomy 18, showing that the prophecies of Shiloh, the Star and scepter, and the Prophet all point to Jesus. Then Chapter 5 shows how the shape of the canon in part and whole points to Messiah.
Then in Chapters 6 and 7, Rydelnik turns to Jesus' and the apostles' handling of OT prophecy, and asks the question of what their interpretive approach is, and whether or not we can and should try to imitate it today. He argues convincingly that it is the dominical and apostolic position that the OT itself is Messianic; they are not reading Messianic meanings into the OT text — and we both can and should adopt their method of reading the Old Testament. Their approach is complex, but it is neither hopelessly tangled nor subjective nor mystical, and we should read the OT as they did.
Then in Chapter 8 Rydelnik discusses rabbinic interpretation, particularly that of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzkhaki, better known as Rashi (1040-1105). Rydelnik shows that Rashi was concerned to come up with alternative explanations for OT predictions of Jesus, to the extent that he created new views of verses long held as Messianic by Jewish interpreters. It is Rydelnik's contention that, through Roman Catholic students, Rashi's views came to color some Christian interpreters, and they continue to do so today.
Then in chapters 9-11 (pages 129-184), Rydelnik focuses on the Messianic interpretation of passages from the Law (Genesis 3:15), the Prophets (Isaiah 7:14), and the Writings (Psalm 110). In each, he sets forth major interpretive positions, then goes at the text both as to its wording, its book-context, and its Canon-context, arguing powerfully that each text is a direct prophecy of Jesus.
The final chapter relates the tale of Rydelnik himself as a high school student, finding himself thrust forward against a Hebrew Club guest speaker who was winsomely and persuasively arguing against the Messianic interpretation of the Old Testament. At first over-confident, Rydelnik felt he did a miserably poor job against this well-prepared, persuasive speaker — only to learn 32 years later that the Lord had used His Word to cause the conversion of one of then-unsaved Jewish fellow-students, who was there that day. From this, Rydelnik issues a call to return to the proclamation of the OT as a book about Jesus.
Evaluation. This is a terrific book, and I recommend it enthusiastically. I received my review copy as soon as it was published, and dug in immediately. I only wish it had come out a half-year ago, so that I could have highlighted it early enough to inform and buttress Christmas preaching.
I love the tone Rydelnik strikes, on many levels. He announces his serious intent to "disagree without being disagreeable" (xv), then succeeds throughout, forcefully rejecting a number of scholars' positions while never impugning the scholars themselves. Rydelnik's source-material ranges from academic journals and volumes to Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis (which he solidly refutes) to the anecdotal. He does not strive for the scholarly pretense of detachment which I've denounced once and again and again, but writes with keen awareness of the issues at stake.
Rydelnik's argumentation is very solid; a lot of valuable notes are going into my BibleWorks. More often than not, the case he builds is very persuasive, even convincing. However, I'm not certain that I'm persuaded that both Seed and Serpent are wounded fatally (Genesis 3:15; 141), or that two children are in view in Isaiah 7:14-15 and 7:16-17 (157f.). I'll ponder further. But I find his argument that both are directly about Christ to be solid and convincing, as are his expositions of Numbers 24, Deuteronomy 18:15f., and other passages.
As to Rydelnik's emendations of the MT, I am enough of a novice at textual criticism that it makes me nervous to think of rejecting the MT as Rydelnik does at various points, where no major translation as of yet follows. However, mos of the changes he discusses are very minor: a different vowel-point in 2 Samuel 23:1 (39), a change of accentuation in Isaiah 9:6 (v. 5 in Hebrew; 43f.). More study will be necessary. However, given the changes versions such as the TNIV made to the text for sheerly cultural/political reasons, I can't reject out-of-hand the thought that apostate Jewish scribes "adjusted" the text here and there, in the hopes of denying convincing material to faithful Jews who had not departed from Yahweh when Messiah Jesus came.
Having said that, they all are very intriguing. Particularly I was interested in reading Numbers 24:7 as "higher than Gog" (after the LXX) rather than "higher than Agag," given the sense it makes of Ezekiel 38:17, which had long puzzled me (38-39).
Aside: Two personal connections heightened my interest. As I mentioned, Rydelnik leans on the work of John Sailhamer, under whom I had the pleasure of studying Hebrew for a semester. Also, Rydelnik makes use of the works of David L. Cooper (1886-1965), who did a lot of writing on Messianic (and other) prophecy. The first teaching and preaching I did was in the late Dr. Cooper's Biblical Research Society building, then in Los Angeles.
I hope this book has a wide audience, bears fruit, and helps turn the tide back towards affirming the directly-predictive Messianic nature of the Old Testament.