07 December 2010

Book review — The Messianic Hope, by Michael Rydelnik

by Dan Phillips

The Messianic Hope, by Michael Rydelnik
(Nashville: B & H Publishing, 2010; 206 pages)

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?

Enter Michael Rydelnik. The son of Orthodox Jewish parents (more on that shortly), Rydelnik earned a diploma in Jewish Studies from Moody Bible Institute,  a B.A. degree from Azusa Pacific University, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, a D. Miss. from Trinity International University. He has taught at Moody, Dallas, Criswell, and Talbot. Rydelnik is the author of a number of journal articles and chapters in books, as well as working in the translation of the HCSB and notes in the HCSB Study Bible.

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)

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)
How does Rydelnik pursue his goal and build his argument?

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.

Dan Phillips's signature

45 comments:

lee n. field said...

So many books, so little lifespan.

DJP said...

I heard that!

Fred Butler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fred Butler said...

Does he deal with millennial views? I am thinking primarily of passages like Daniel 9:24-27 and other similar passages.

Marla said...

lee n. field said it! I'm going to put this one on my list.

DJP said...

No, Fred. Stays pretty tightly on-topic.

stranger.strange.land said...

Thank you Dan.

I have been posting daily scripture readings on my blog for the Advent season, and this week's are all from Isaiah. I will include a link to your book review in today's post.

Craig Boyd

EBenz said...

I have this book, but haven't yet had a chance to read it. Thank you for the detailed review, Dan! Now I am even more anxious to start turning its pages!

I've heard Dr. Rydelnik speak several times. One of those times he spoke on this same topic and I have to say, it was one of the most enjoyable and fascinating evenings! He truly is passionate about this topic and it shows.

Terry Rayburn said...

Nice review.

Some OT passages were clearly predictive of a Messiah, and recognized as such at the time they were written.

But many were recognized only after the Messiah came.

Does Rydelnik indicate that the Messianic meanings of the latter SHOULD rightly have been understood as Messianic by the original writer/reader -- or that they were truly Messianic but could only be seen as such in light of the appearance of Christ?

In other words, was it a matter of a kind of blindness in OT times, or merely so-called "progressive revelation" that brought the Messianic understanding later?

DJP said...

Rydelnik argues that the authors knew they were writing Messianic prophecy, though they didn't know the exact time of fulfillment.

Fred Butler said...

My thinking is along the lines of how Messianic fulfillment is understood as it relates to Christ's second coming.

So maybe I should've asked: Does he deal with Messianic fulfillment as it relates to Christ's second coming?

donsands said...

"...the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories." -Peter 1:10-11

So, Isaiah knew he was writing about Christ, but "searched and inquired" about who He would be, and when He would be?

I was just studying this pdifficult portion, and it's difficult to get a handle on it.

Thanks for the review. Well written.

Rachael Starke said...

Is it my imagination, or does there seem to be a recent significant uptick in the amount of scholarly and lay-person-ly work on Christ in the Old Testament? I just don't remember hearing/reading nearly as much in my early Christian years. And speaking as a mom of three young girls, the more the better. Entire flannel graph curricula are going to have to be rewritten. :)

joel said...

'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).'

This kind of went over my head. Can you explain a little for me. Thanks.

trogdor said...

Joel,

Numbers 24 is part of the Balaam/Balak story, where Balak hires Balaam to curse Israel for him, but at every turn he winds up blessing them instead. In 24:7 the wicked, reluctant prophet says this about Israel's future king, according to most modern renderings:

Water shall flow from his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters;
his king shall be higher than Gog,
and his kingdom shall be exalted.

Apparently in this book Dr Rydelnik argues that instead of Agag, it should read 'Gog'. The most familiar other reference to Gog is in Ezekiel 38, where Ezekiel foresees a great future war where many nations, led by Gog (and Satan), attempt the final destruction of Israel, and are utterly defeated by the Messiah.

Thus the Messiah, Israel's future king, shows himself to be greater than Gog, who if I'm not mistaken is pretty universally taken to be the Antichrist.

This rendering makes 38:17 much more explicit. When Ezekiel asks "Are you he of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who in those days prophesied for years that I would bring you against them?", it refers to Gog in Numbers 24:7. Rendering it as Agag hides the connection.

At least that's how I understand the argument. Haven't yet read the book, so I could be way off.

DJP said...

No, thanks, Trog, that's exactly right.

And the Greek translation (LXX), and others, have Gog, throwing fulfillment forward to end times; whereas MT has "Agag," rendering fulfillment past and non-Messianic.

Bob Hayton said...

Great review. Someone pointed it out in the midst of another dispensationalism - Covenant Theology debate over at Sharper Iron.

------------

If you like that book, you'll love The Meaning of the Pentateuch by John Sailhamer. You can read my review of that here. It's a lot longer and gets deep in places but it seems like in many respects Sailhamer's work is behind the book you recommend.

Here's my take on where these kind of books fit in with this Dispensational - CT debate (which I think is behind Fred's questions and others probably wonder too). They take the debate to a whole different level, an exegetical approach to the OT which actually corroborates much of what CT proponents have been saying all along (in my opinion). I contend that the NT authors saw the OT Messianicly and as pointing to their day for ultimate fulfillment. Sailhamer brings that back a bit and shows how the OT itself exposits in ways very similar to Paul and other Christian apostles. He shows how a "biblical Jesus" is to be found in the way the canon is structured and how the Psalter is structured (with Psalm 2, 72 and 145 as the pivotal psalms).

The NT uses the OT very theologically, and some worry that we can't follow them in their seemingly indiscriminate, off-the-cuff, out-of-nowhere connections they make. I see it as the NT revealing that we should make such connections because that is what the OT really pointed to. So Sailhamer and company show that this same theological use of earlier canonical books was already at play in the OT itself. OT prophets were using the Pentateuch and finding Pauline sentiments there, hundreds of years before Paul.

So ultimately I see the compositional approach as ratifying my approach, if it doesn't also help fine tune and sharpen my understanding of how all the Bible fits together.

I'll be interested in getting this book to read more into how this author takes Sailhamer's and others compositional ideas, though. Thanks again for a great review.

In Christ,

Bob Hayton

Bob Hayton said...

Psalm 22:16 would be a good case of a Jewish tampering with the MT, too. The MT has "like a lion my hands and my feet", whereas two Hebrew mss and the Latin/Syriac/Greek have "they pierced my hands and my feet".

DJP said...

Thanks, Bob, I'll look forward to reading your review. Glad you mentioned about Psalms — Rydelnik goes into that as well. It just wasn't possible to bring everything he does into a book review. I think you'll enjoy it. Let me know.

As to hermeneutics, I would think that any step in the direction of affirming authorial intent and plain-sense hermeneutics is a step away from CT, not towards it.

joel said...

Trogdor and Dan, Thanks for the response. That is starting to make sense now. Do our English bibles make use of the Masoretic or an eclectic group of texts? Bob mentioned Psalm 22 in the MT not using the terminology 'pierced my hands', a clear reference to crucifiction, did the ESV translators and others decide to break with the MT at this point or were they using a different text for their translation?

DJP said...

Primarily the MT, though you'll see some variants noted in the footnotes of newer translations. The MT is really a very good, stable text, fundamentally, as the Dead Sea Scrolls bore out. As I explained in the review, the changes Rydelnik specifically proposes are relatively small, and in a few texts — but they do affect interpretation of those verses.

DJP said...

Bob, James Hamilton's review of Sailhamer actually dealt the book the death of a thousand dings. I wonder what you think of it.

Scooter said...

Would you consider this book to be directed at the layman? I would love to increase me understanding of the OT, but all I have right now is several read throughts and some knowledge of Israel during that period of history.

DJP said...

That's a great question, Scooter. I'd say... probably my answer would be mixed. You don't have to be a specialist or an academic, but it is published by the academic arm of B&H, and parts of it definitely are more advanced reading.

Now, it isn't all that way, so — I don't know how this will sound to you, but it'd be best to ask someone who reads at that level. I'm sorry, I've been reading Hebrew and stuff for over 35 years, and I'm just afraid that I'll say "Yeah! it's really basic!" and someone will try, get lost, and think there's something wrong with him when there's nothing wrong with him. See what I mean?

So I am sure that anyone who can read and profit from Pyromaniacs can also read and profit from a lot of this book, but there will be parts that would be pretty heavy slogging.

Make sense?

DJP said...

You can read some of it at Amazon, Scooter. Maybe that'd help.

Bob Hayton said...

Dan,

Thanks for pointing me to Jim Hamilton's review. I'll read it for sure. Thanks again for highlighting a good book, I'll be checking it out.

Bob Hayton

Bob Hayton said...

Do our English bibles make use of the Masoretic or an eclectic group of texts? Bob mentioned Psalm 22 in the MT not using the terminology 'pierced my hands', a clear reference to crucifiction, did the ESV translators and others decide to break with the MT at this point or were they using a different text for their translation?

In Ps. 22, even the KJV departed from the MT. The thought is that the true reading was corrupted in the MT, and is found in the couple Hebrew copies as well as the early translations.

joel said...

Just throwing this out there, but do you think that if some anti-Christian rabbis were going to alter their own sacred text to eliminate prophetic references to the future Messiah, do you think they would have done a complete job and removed all of the future Messianic references? Or would that be too transparent.

Roy said...

Reading and recommending Pyro for several years. First comment.

Excellent review.

Ironic that author from Moody, Talbot able to (correctly) chastize in field of biblical authority/content author (Longman) from WTS.

Re contribution to cov't theol: issue, as noted, exegetical. CT foundational premises yield insistance on understanding OT as Messianic. Of course the closer one looks at the texts, the better one understands the texts, the more clearly they will (in continuity with the NT) proclaim, "Jesus!"

5ptsalt.com said...

Excellent review, right up to the point of supporting Sailhammer. Yikes! 6 day creation anyone?

DJP said...

Yeah, me, for instance.

Recommending a mere mortal ≠ endorsing everything he thinks or attributing inerrancy

Bob Hayton said...

5ptsalt.com said...

Excellent review, right up to the point of supporting Sailhammer. Yikes! 6 day creation anyone?

DJP said...

Yeah, me, for instance.

Recommending a mere mortal ≠ endorsing everything he thinks or attributing inerrancy


------------

Along those lines, in his massive 600 page + The Meaning of the Pentateuch, Sailhamer doesn't bring up the 6 day / framework hypothesis at all.

Bob Hayton said...

@joel

Sailhamer argues that there were competing canons circulating before Christ even, with some Jews advocating a return from Babylon = fulfillment of God's covenant idea, and others advocating a more Messianic-focused waiting for the fulfillment of the covenant promises in the future. He demonstrates this with the two versions of Jeremiah or Leviticus that one can find in the Greek Septuagint. It gets a bit deep on the scholarly side and I'm with DJP on being tentative on embracing a widespread tampering with the MT. However several good points are raised, and I think they are similar with what the author of this particular book is raising too.

Stefan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan said...

Dan:

Thanks for the review. Now I know what I want for a Christmas present!

As another Jewish Christian voice (though eminently less qualified), let me agree that it should be a no-brainer that all these passages are direct prophecies of the Christ. It boggles the mind that anyone calling himself an Evangelical would believe otherwise.

But a curious aside. Although there's no connection between Azusa Pacific and Azusa Street, it's kind of funny that someone would have degrees from both a place called "Azusa," and DTS.

Sir Aaron said...

I'm sorry, I've been reading Hebrew and stuff for over 35 years

Wow...that's as long as I've been alive.

Jason Engwer said...

Thanks, Dan. I'd seen a positive review somewhere else, but I didn't order the book. I will get it now.

Given how good the evidence is for Jesus' fulfillment of prophecy, the neglect of the subject in modern scholarship and apologetics is deplorable. Sometimes people have gone too far in claiming prophecy fulfillment where it doesn't exist or overestimating the significance of some passages. But many have gone too far in the opposite direction.

DJP said...

Totally agree. Rydelnik is very charitable and kind to professed evangelicals who deny Messianic prophecy; I'm less sanguine.

joel said...

@ Bob
'He demonstrates this with the two versions of Jeremiah or Leviticus that one can find in the Greek Septuagint.'

I am unfamiliar with these different versions. Is there a way I could reference them in english? I am afraid my ability to read much in greek is limited.

Bob Hayton said...

@joel

I'm not really sure myself. I'm like you and limited in Greek, although I can work my way through it. I'm sure technical commentaries on Jeremiah would cover this and give resources you could look up.

The book reviewed in this post, or Sailhamer's book would be a start in summarizing things for you, though.

Benjamin said...

@DJP

Have you posted elsewhere, or could you briefly explain here why you think predictive messianic prophecy should necessarily be affirmed by Christians?

I am somewhat aware of what is at stake, but would appreciate your take on it as well.

Would you say that these "predictive" prophecies entail only one fulfillment, or is the notion of "multiple layers of fulfillment/meaning" still a possibility? Also, would you say this type of predictive prophecy is largely what is in view when the NT writers speak of Scripture being "fulfilled"?

Maybe Rydelnik captures all of these questions in his book. I'll have to pick it up!

Thanks!

Ben T.

DJP said...

Ben, those are great questions and, as I'm sure you know, they don't lend themselves to very simple, short answers. But I'll try.

I think the straight-predictive element must be strong in Messianic prophecy because of how fiercely Jesus held His contemporaries responsible for ignoring it. I don't see making good sense of verses like Matthew 16:1-3 and John 5:45-46, coupled with Luke 24:25-27, on any other reading.

Jesus does not say "I understand it is subtle and not everyone can see it readily." He said, "There's no way you could miss this apart from willful ignorance, and you will be judged for it."

Multiple fulfillment? Ahh, I've always wrestled with that one. It depends on what you mean by "fulfillment." Hold a gun to a loved one's head and demand a short answer, and I'll say "I think prophecies have in view one fulfillment, though there may be anticipatory historical tremors in advance of it."

Jeri Tanner said...

"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."

That is something to appreciate greatly. May the Lord increase his tribe.

psalm137.5 said...

Thanks for the generous review. Quick comments.

1. I love John Sailhamer, a dear friend and former professor. However, I don't always agree with him. In particular, the book differs with his understanding of Matthews use of Hosea 11:1. Also, I don't subscribe to his view of Gen 1 and his interpretation of creation. This is not apparent in the book as it does not even address it. Also, I differ in other areas but value his emphasis on Messiah in the Hebrew Bible.

2. I don't believe that Masoretic Scribes altered the text of Scripture. The various sects of Judaism had their own favorite texts in the NT era. Also, in the Rabbinic period, it was the learned Rabbis that may have adopted historical readings of the Hebrew text rather than messianic. Psa 22:16 is an example of this. Then when consolidating the Hebrew text between A.D. 500-1000, the Jewish sages transmitted their views as the traditional understanding to the scribes, who faithfully transmitted their ideas. Thus, the Masoretes were "traditionalists" and they produced a text according to rabbinic tradition, i.e. Masoretic Text. Happily, there is plenty about the Messiah, even in the Masoretic Text. Moreover, I am not in any way suggesting that we throw out the MT, but that we carefully examine variant readings, which frequently are more messianic.

Hope this clarifies some matters for you. Again, thanks for your many kind words.

Michael Rydelnik

bnice said...

Hi Michael, long time no see!
You don't mention Arthur Kac's book with the same title. Did you reference his work, which was outstanding at the time? Char Katz