Beyond Tradition

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men." Colossians 2:8

The Messianic Matrix

Part III of IV (click here for Part I):

John the Baptist?

Old Testament:


Malachi 3:1: "'Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me and the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, he is coming,' says the LORD of hosts" (click here to read the whole passage).

New Testament:

Mark 1:1-8: "John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins… And he was preaching, and saying, 'After me one [Jesus] is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.'"

 

Luke 2:26-32: "And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 'Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.'" 


Surprisingly, there isn't much controversy between Jews and Christians about this passage. Most scholars firmly agree that John the Baptist was a historical prophet, as his existence is also confirmed by external sources. John the Baptist was the one in the gospels who proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, who baptized Jesus before the start of his ministry, and some even considered him the prophet Elijah (Mark 6:14-15, 9:11-13), or at least a spiritual or symbolic representative of the one who would precede the "day of the Lord" (Malachi 4:5).

Malachi’s quote above contains some interesting choice of words, because he is speaking in the first person voice of God. He indicates that this messenger is the messenger of the "covenant" who will clear the way for God ("Me") and precede the sudden appearance of the "Lord" to his Temple. But since God himself is the "Me" in this case, who is the "Lord" whom they seek and who will suddenly come to his Temple? Malachi uses the Hebrew word adoni here for the first Lord, which means a Master figure (like a lord in a monarchy, and sometimes with possible divine connotations), distinguishing him from the second LORD Yehhova (Yahweh/Jehovah) at the end of the passage which is always in caps. Thus there are three distinct and mysterious personages in the Malachi passage above:

 

  • A messenger, sent from God, who will herald the way for an anticipated covenant.
  • The Lord (adoni) whom the people seek and whom Malachi also seems to equate as "the covenant"(remember in Part I, Isaiah declared that the Lord would appoint his servant as the covenant to the people), who will suddenly arrive at his Temple.
  • The LORD (Yehhova), who is working in conjunction with both figures.

 

Christians identify the three as John the Baptist (messenger), Jesus (adoni), and God the Father (Yehhova). Nonetheless, even if this is just dismissed as a coincidence, Jewish scholars, who still presently wait and hope for the appearance of moshiach (the Messiah), must deal with the stark reality that this had to have occurred before 70 CE when the second and last Jewish Temple would be destroyed or this entire prophecy has lingered for 2,000 years unfulfilled (as a result, the hope of a third Temple indeed is sponsored and hoped for to make up for this dangling unfulfillment).

Compare with…

Old Testament:

Psalm 110:1-4: "The LORD says to my Lord [adoni]: 'Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, 'Rule in the midst of Your enemies.' Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew. The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (click here to read the whole passage).

New Testament:

Matthew 22:41-46: "While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 'What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?' 'The son of David,' they replied. He said to them, 'How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him Lord? For he says, the Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet. If then David calls him Lord, how can he be his son?' No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions."

Romans 8:34: "... Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

 

1 Corinthians 15:25: "For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet."

 

This Psalm is probably one the most controversial Jewish passages between Christians and Jews, other than Isaiah 53, with some of the same accusations of "scripture tampering" thrown in by both sides at the other. But as we can plainly see in the passage from Matthew, it was an issue of perplexity even in Jesus' day. Again, the first LORD in the Psalm passage is Yehhova (Yahweh/Jehovah), and the second is adoni. Jewish scholars completely disavow the divinity of Jesus or his "oneness" with Yahweh as utter blasphemy. However, one thing that is firmly agreeable between both Jewish and Christian theologians is that the Messiah will come from the descendancy of David (i.e. 'son of David' or 'root of Jesse,' David's father), but if the Messiah is a mortal ancestor of David, who is this Lord (adoni) figure here, and why does David (the assumed author) address his own descendant as adoni (Lord/master)? The descendant in Jewish culture was always the inferior to his ancestor (his father). If you note the NT passage of Matthew (above), this was obviously a question that seemed to stump the religious leaders even in Jesus' day

While the English Tanach Chabad deals with it by translating "sit" as "wait": "Wait for My right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool at your feet" (Psalm 110), which solves the problem of his highly unusual position of authority, Jewish thought was not agreeable on this approach. Some of the other theories consisted of the following:

 

  • The writer was referring to an angel (in order to explain the divine connotations, particularly the peculiarity of Abraham also addressing the three angels that visited him as adoni -- Genesis 8:2-3).
  • Some Talmudic sources believed that David was humbly referring to his ancestor Abraham.[1]
  • Some suggested that David is not the author here at all but someone perhaps under David who was appraising David his king as adoni.
  • There were indeed rabbis who did allude to the Messiah here in various Midrashim sources.[2]

 

The first theory is unlikely, since this is rather uncommon of angels and their status in scripture, nor is this attested to by any ancient source I know of. The next two are also unlikely, as this figure is not only allowed to sit at God's right hand, nothing that David, Abraham, nor any human for that matter has ever done, but is also designated to be a very special priest, a position that neither David or Abraham had ever been appointed as, particularly in the order of Melchizedek, and especially a priest who has lived forever. Melchizedek was a very mysterious figure in the Old Testament, briefly mentioned as human priest and king of whom Abraham himself actually paid tithes to (Genesis 14:18-21), indicating Abraham was his subordinate (Hebrews 7:4-10). Also, though the Qumran Melchizedek Scroll recognized Melchizedek as a eschatological being with unusual divine connotations (interestingly, who would also proclaim the Day of Atonement and atone for the people who were predestined to him), it seems that the majority of rabbinic commentary also recognized Melchizedek as a unique priestly king with unusual sovereignty.[3]

Since it's likely not an angel, and even less likely Abraham or David, this can only be referring to the Messiah with not only an exceptional seat of authority, but who is unusually greater than David even though he is David’s descendant. Though Jesus' question seemed to stump the Pharisees who could not figure out why David called his own descendant adoni, the fact that they indeed recognized this passage as referring to no other type of figure other than the "Son of David" is certainly worth noting.

This particular Psalm passage was referenced by the New Testament writers to herald superiority of Christ more than any other passage they referenced from the Old Testament (places they referenced it include: Matthew 22:44, 26:64; Mark 12:36, 14:62, 16:19; Luke 20:42-43, 22:69; Acts 2:33-35, 5:31, 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20, 2:6; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 1:13, 5:6, 10:12-13, 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22; Revelations 3:21), thus the belief this was the Messiah was obviously widespread and common among Jews during that time, which suggests that early Judeo-Christians adopted a concept that was already ingrained in Judaic thought beforehand.

The pierced one

Old Testament:

Zechariah 12:10: "I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn"
(click here to read the entire passage).

New Testament:

John 19:34-37: "But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his [Jesus] side, and forthwith came there out blood and water… For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, 'A bone of him shall not be broken.' And again another scripture saith, 'They shall look on him whom they pierced.'"

 

Revelation 1:7: "Behold, He [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen."

 

Zachariah is speaking in the first person voice of God himself, and what's notable about this passage is that the one who has been pierced is the catalyst of God pouring out his grace and supplication (favor). Christians and even some Jewish scholars (at some point) generally agreed that Zechariah's prophecy was a messianic reference, most likely about the death Messiah ben Joseph would suffer,[4] probably because there is little doubt that the entire chapter, as well as the two proceeding chapters that are attached, has an eschatological theme (click here to read the three chapters). Another notable nuance with this passage is that it seems to imply a resurrection and second coming -- the one who was looked on had already been killed (pierced) prior -- and is undoubtedly what inspired the ancient Jewish belief that Messiah ben Joseph would die and be resurrected (discussed in Part I). However, the hotly disputed issue is based on the translation.

Christians not only argue that this is a prophecy of Jesus' resurrection and second coming, but an Old Testament attestation to the Trinity (or at least a Father and Son dyad). What makes the passage unusual is it seems that the one who has been pierced is none other than God himself (“Me”), but strangely shifts directly to the third person "Him" in the same sentence. Could this be God acknowledging himself as pierced, yet at the same time as a separate individual? The idea that God, who is speaking, would equate himself as the one pierced, yet use a different pronoun in the same sentence makes no sense some would argue, which is an argument specifically against the theology itself. The idea that God is one, yet three different personalities at the same time is humanly illogical. However, to exploit the lack of logic within a theological context in order to refute the interpretation is not a valid argument with the passage. In other words, they’re arguing specifically against the theology of the Trinity, which is fine, but since it’s an opinion, it is not adequate to use to refute the interpretation or translation of Zechariah’s passage itself.

Most Jewish scholars, however, use a better opposing argument and insist that this is a mistranslation, and the fact that John himself above directly quoted it as "him" who was pierced seals the verdict. Christians argue that John was paraphrasing not only for purposes of clarity, but since the prophecy is actually a paralleled past and future event (the one who was looked upon was already pierced), John was immediately equating it to the present event of the spear that pierced Jesus at the time he was being crucified.

Enter the the battle of translations to solve this seeming discrepancy. While many sources translate the first person voice "Me" as the subject of the pierced: "They shall look on Me, the one they have pierced," most Jewish texts, such as the Tanach Chabad (12:10) and the Masoretic text (12:10) translate it so that the "Me" stays the subject, but not the one who was pierced: "They shall look on Me because they have pierced him through." This shows two distinct arguments branching off from a common root, which most likely substantiates "Me" as the correct pronoun, but inconclusive and highly subjective as to who was actually pierced.

Unfortunately, there were no Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) manuscripts of Zechariah 12:10 that have been recovered and that we can compare, yet William Welty actually argues a pretty solid and detailed case in support of the former translation by pointing out where the particular Hebrew verb is not consistent with the translation in comparison to other places in the Hebrew text the verb is used.[5] Moreover, the Septuagint (12:10), centuries older than the Masoretic text, just may be the bridge between the two variant translations because it actually translates it as: "they shall look upon Me, because they have mocked me" (so much for Christian bias). The Septuagint confirms that the action is in fact done to the person speaking (Me), but actually alters the particular action.

These commonalities yet unique diversions show a possible subjective bias in theology. It seems apparent that the one speaking really was speaking about himself, yet ancient scribes undoubtedly couldn’t help but alter it simply because they could not accept the particular action (piercing) that was done to Yahweh.

The agony of whose Passion?

Another hotly disputed chapter is Psalm 22, because if the Christian translation is correct, it appears as one of the most frighteningly on-the-mark individualized prophecies there is, and in some cases, the actions could not have been Christian contrived in order to make it fit. For sake of convenience, we'll break down the entire chapter, verse by verse, and only include the essential Old Testament verses and the New Testament comparisons.

Old Testament:

Psalm 22:1: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning."

New Testament:

Mark 15:34: "At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?' which is translated, 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me.'"

Old Testament:

Psalm 22:6-8: "But I am a worm and not a man, a reproach of men and despised by the people. All who see me sneer at me; they separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, 'Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.'"

New Testament:

Matthew 27:39-43: "And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him [Jesus], wagging their heads and saying, 'You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross. In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, I am the Son of God.'"

Old Testament:

Psalm 22:12-15: "Many bulls have surrounded me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me. They open wide their mouth at me, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and You lay me in the dust of death."

New Testament:

John 19:28-34: "After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, 'I am thirsty'... But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out."

 

Christians usually interpret this particular passage as being some of the physical sufferings of a crucifixion -- i.e. disjointed, cramps, fatigue, compressed and congestive heart due to exhaustion, blood loss, dehydration, heart failure, etc. The latter passage of John has been speculated as being a heart rupture Jesus experienced due to shock and trauma, resulting in the flow of blood and water subsequent to the spear thrust. However, this is really a matter of interpretative supposition; whether the Psalm verse is interpreted literally or figuratively (David never physically experienced these afflictions).

Old Testament:

Psalm 22:17-18: "I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots."

New Testament:

John 19:23-24: "Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. So they said to one another, 'Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be…"

Old Testament:

Psalm 22:16: "For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet."

 

This is by far the hotly disputed verse in the whole chapter, because as you can see, if the translation in bold is correct, it eerily describes a crucifixion (something David, the author, never experienced himself), which is why we saved it for last. Indeed the key word here is "translation." The question whether the original word was "pierced" or not is a technicality that is a moot point, and this seems to be where apologists and critics often draw swords. There is simply no extant textual support for this, nor are there any attestations from ancient sources, including the New Testament writers themselves, until about the middle of the second century when the word "pierced" was directly used in relation to the passage by Justin Martyr in his debate with Trypho (of course, it's worth noting the significance that Justin would even dare use "pierced" in his debate with a Jewish practitioner, because had the word been totally foreign to his opponent, it would have obviously been detrimental to Justin's argument).[6] The real question, however, is what exactly happened to David's hands and feet, and whether "pierced" can be used as a justifiable interpretation of it. It should come as no surprise that just about every Christian Old Testament bible translates it as "they pierced my hands and my feet," while every Jewish translation has it "like a lion they are at my hands and feet," and if we are to assume the latter is the correct translation, then "pierced" certainly cannot be used as an interpretation. So who is right? Believe it or not, it comes down to two simple Hebrew letters used in the two variant translations:

k'aru כארו "bore or dig into."     
k'ari  כארי  "like a lion."

 
Jewish argument:

Modern Jewish scholars argue that David is clearly speaking in the first person, describing his own pain, anguish, and suffering during those times when he was a fugitive before his enemies, particularly king Saul, thus not Messianic, but a personal and historical account. It's odd that David passed up the Hebrew word nakab or daqar which denote "pierced" much more accurately than k'aru, "dug into," the latter being a word that was often used specifically when denoting excavation (i.e., digging into the ground). The fact that this translation reads "like a lion" in the Masoretic text (26:17), and since Jewish scribes were not known to make conscious alterations, proves that k'ari has to be the original word. That this particular "pierced" verse (16) is sandwiched between other prior and subsequent verses (13 and 21) (14 and 22 in the Masoretic text) where a lion is clearly used as a metaphor victimizing David, bolsters this translation even more. And that the phrase "they pierced my hands and my feet" makes it so undeniably a crucifixion, the fact that no New Testament writer directly points this verse out makes it extremely likely that first century Judeo-Christians also did not recognize the word as "pierced."
 
Christian argument:

Christian scholars argue that not only did David not experience most of these afflictions (assuming they were actual and not just allegorical), but events described by the prophets, even when speaking in the first person voice, often paralleled future messianic events, particularly king David, whom Christians consider an actual ancestral archetype of the Messiah and whose experiences, pain and suffering often echoed experiences of the Messiah (for an example see Psalm 2:7-12; written by David, and believed by many, including rabbis, as undeniably a messianic passage).[7] Though Jewish scribes certainly were not notorious for grossly altering tradition and texts, as we mentioned in Part I, the Dead Sea Scrolls proved that the scribes often deviated slightly in style, arrangement and spelling. Thus a spelling change as minute as this is not out of the question since there were many small and suspect spelling variations such as this in the Masoretic text. Problem with the translation k'ari is that it should literally read "like a lion my hands and feet," because the paraphrase "they are at" is a necessary added verb that should be in parenthesis because it has no link to the noun k'ari, thus making the actual phrase awkward without it. The Septuagint bible, along with a Dead Sea Scroll fragment (5/6HevPs) that contains the passage, both predating the actual composition of the Masoretic text by many decades, also uses the word "dig into."[8] Oddly enough, the Latin Vulgate (21:17), a Christian source that dates to the fifth century, uses "they have dug my hands and feet" as well (significant since it does not specifically use "pierced"). Thus, against antedated sources, there is lack of corroborating evidence for "like a lion" as the original translation.

Had the Psalm passage actually started with the phrase: "For lions have surrounded me," instead of the word "dogs" this would have been more consistent with the context, and though a lion would obviously serve strictly as metaphor here, lions typically go for a fatal strike to the victim's vitals, not their hands and feet, so the fact that these elements are the lion's target, in addition to the necessity of adding the verb "they are at," makes the translation appear forced and unnatural. Indeed, the ancients recognized the true ferocious nature of lions and used this metaphor in other areas of scripture appropriately, including the Psalmist himself (examples: Psalm 7:2, 17:2; Numbers 23:24; Isaiah 5:29; Jeremiah 2:30; Hosea 5:14, etc.).    

Even granting "like a lion" as the translation, the lion obviously is not licking or playing with David's hands and feet. David's hands and feet are being crushed by the lion's jaws and its teeth indeed "piercing" or "digging into" his flesh, suggesting that the original writer had the idea of "puncturing" or "tearing flesh" in mind regardless (assuming "like a lion" was not just a conscious attempt later on to veer from a "Christian" theme, which seems to be the clear case here). Moreover, the fact that both David's hands and feet are the focal point -- not his head, not his arms, not his legs, not his body, not his bones, not his entrails -- and when including this with the other verses, the distinct metaphorical relevance of the action being done specifically to his hands and feet doesn't in any way negate the correlation of events even if we were to settle for the translation, and technically could still support the word pierced, as this is the resultant effect to his hands and feet.
 
Though some try and downplay the whole chapter by quibbling over minute details, the astounding overall similarities oto a distressed person undergoing a crucifixion, in addition to the specific reference of hands and feet, even despite the arguable translation variables with the word "pierced", forces us to conclude the only possible option other than an uncanny and accurate messianic representation -- it was just a fluke coincidence.

 
Click here for Part IV, or go home 

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Source References

1. Rachmiel Frydland, Messiah After the Order of Melchizedek [citing Nedarim 32b, Sanhedrin 108] (www.menorah.org).

2. B. R. Burton, The Lord Said to My Master Sit at My Right Hand: Who's At the Right Hand of God? (www.messianicart.com).

3. Talmud, Baba Batra 14b-15a, v. 19 (www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin).

     Scroll 11QMelchizedek (11Q13) (www.abu.nb.ca/).

     Also see Melchizedek: The Midrash and Classical Rabbinical Interpretation.

4. Talmud, Sanhedrin 98b, v. 33-38 (www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin).

5. William P. Welty, On the Jewish Community’s Rendering of (Et-Asher) Formulae in the Tanakh (JPS 1917, et al.)  (http://williamwelty.com/).

6. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, chap. 97 (www.newadvent.org).

7. Jewish Messianic Interpretations of Psalm 2 -- basically this is a mixture of various rabbinic commentary concerning Psalm 2, but in Yalkut (13th c.), they specifically conflate it with Jeremiah 31:31-34, which we discussed in Part I of this article (www.iclnet.org).

8. James C. VanderKam, Peter W. Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, p.125; 2002.

    Rick. G. Jones, Appendix: Dead Sea Scrolls-Septuagint Alignments Against the Masoretic Text, Ps. 22.16, 5/6HevPs (www.geocities.com/Heartland/Pines/7224/Rick/).