03 Oct 2010

Was the Messiah Supposed to Have Been Divine?

Religious 20 Comments

In my Bible study class when I was a professor living in Hillsdale, MI, the (assistant) pastor matter-of-factly told us that it was understandable that the Pharisees were outraged at Jesus’ statements. Even if Jesus were the Messiah, he explained, he still shouldn’t have claimed he was one with the Father. In other words, my pastor explained, the religious Jews waiting for the prophesied Messiah not only were expecting a military/political ruler, but they were expecting a man.

I am currently reading Jared Wilson’s Your Jesus Is Too Safe, which I’m enjoying a lot and for which I’ll write up a proper review when I’m finished. But for right now, I just want to comment on this same issue. Jared writes (and I know him, hence the first name usage):

It wasn’t so much that [Jesus] was teaching so many people about love and peace and grace, but that he was teaching so many people that he was the long awaited ruler while simultaneously making himself out to be God. That second part was not expected. The Messiah was anticipated as God’s messenger and deliverer of the people, but an incarnate YHWH was beyond the realm of Jewish messianic belief. [Wilson, p. 199]

Now I absolutely love this kind of stuff, where people were misreading the prophesies and hence didn’t recognize Jesus. (Even if you think this is all a myth, I’m saying that it is very “neat” in purely literary terms.) For example, some devout Jews didn’t understand how Jesus could be the guy, because he came from Nazareth, and the prophesies clearly said the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. (So the trick there is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but grew up in Nazareth.)

But for today’s misunderstanding, I don’t see what the problem was. At least according to my translation (which perhaps benefits from being written by Christians!), here is the prophesy in Isaiah 9:

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

Look at the parts I’ve put in bold. Am I missing something? Doesn’t that clearly say the Messiah and God the Father are the same?

20 Responses to “Was the Messiah Supposed to Have Been Divine?”

  1. fundamentalist says:

    Excellent point! And as CS Lewis like to say, either he was God or he was a lunatic.

  2. IA_ says:

    Note also how in your verse the good book says “the government will be upon his shoulders.” This a prophecy of the cross as the Romans laid the cross of man’s sins upon the Lord Christ’s shoulders.

    On a similar not to your post I was reading Malachi last night and noticed:
    ‘ “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. ‘ (Malachi 3:1)

    How amazing it was they did not realize in what form the Lord would arrive at the temple. As a young boy among the elders and teachers. (Luke 2:49) ” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” ”

    Later he would arrive with wrath knowing full well what lash would fall upon his back for the sins of these people.

    ‘ Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” ‘ (John 2:13-16)

    He was teaching the people in the temple, as one with authority.

    ‘ And every day he was teaching in the temple area. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people, meanwhile, were seeking to put him to death, but they could find no way to accomplish their purpose because all the people were hanging on his words.’ (Luke 19:47-48)

    It was in temple that the priests, those who would offer the sacrifice of lambs confronted God, Jesus, in the flesh. (Luke 20) And where they encountered Judas the betrayer (Matthew 27) whom they used to prepared the sacrifice of Christ. As they had offered the paschal lamb, Jesus Christ, God himself, they knew not what they did.

    Yes when the Lord announced “The Lord you are seeking will arrive at the temple” they had no clue what He was saying.

  3. knoxharrington says:

    “For example, some devout Jews didn’t understand how Jesus could be the guy, because he came from Nazareth, and the prophesies clearly said the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. (So the trick there is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but grew up in Nazareth.)”

    I beat this horse fairly regularly but can anyone give any proof that the Roman authorities ever sanctioned or ordered a census which required everyone to return to the town of their birth? Does it make sense for the census to require so many people to move by stone age transport all over the empire – presumably Palestine was not singled out right? – when the authorities could take a census as they do now – by government make work programs that help decrease the unemployment numbers.

    My own take is that this is backfill to “cook the prophetical books.” I fully realize that fundamentalist will burst into flames at reading this – that’s its own reward. But seriously, is there a sufficient answer to the census question?

    • Daniel Hewitt says:

      Just my idea….the Judea province was unique because of its tax revolts/uprisings. But no, there is not sufficient evidence to answer the question of why (of if) people had to travel to their home towns. This is a valid criticism of Luke’s account of Jesus birth narrative.

  4. blah says:

    How do we know that Jesus is the messiah/God? The bible says so.

    And the bible was written by God, so you know it’s true.

  5. Thomas L. Knapp says:

    “because he came from Nazareth …. he trick there is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but grew up in Nazareth”

    Jesus is reputed to have pulled some pretty neat tricks, but growing up in, simultaneously, Egypt and a town that didn’t exist during his lifetime probably wasn’t one of them.

    The more reasonable explanation is that that the New Testament references are not geographical references to the town of Nazareth (earliest known existence 3rd century CE) but affiliation references to the Nazorean/Nazaroit movement, a messianic sect which was “zealous for the law.”

    • RG says:

      I couldn’t find any references online concerning the Nazorean/Nazaroit movement. It’s very intriguing. Please direct me to some articles.

  6. fundamentalist says:

    knox, this link has your answers: http://formerthings.com/augustus.htm

    Thomas, The Bible does not say Jesus grew up in Egypt. Joseph took him and Mary there when Jesus was about two. Then when Herod died he returned to Nazareth. The earliest Gospel manuscripts predate your 3rd century AD date for Nazareth by about a century. Did the authors make up the name of a non-existing place and later someone built it in order to help people believe?

    • knoxharrington says:


      I checked the link and did not see any answer to my question – which was not with regard to a census having been taken but rather whether or not people were ordered to return to the town of their birth for census-taking purposes – the link you referenced confirms the former but not the latter. I don’t dispute that Roman authorities took censi? but I still do not see proof that they ordered, in this example Joseph, to return from Nazareth to Bethlehem for census purposes. If one wanted to show that Jesus was the messiah fulfilling the prophecy of being from Bethlehem then it would be convenenient to have a census ordered which directed his parents there. My point is, the “miraculous” nature of the census order is probably a myth – as the link you sent notes a census was ordered to take place street by street throughout the empire – not to “direct everyone to return to their village of origin by whatever means necessary” – even though it was an agricultural society and that would require abandoning of crops and resulting in, perhaps, widespread famine.

      The question of when Nazareth was brought in to existence is an interesting one but an answer to that question is not necessary for my purposes given the scant evidence (outside the Bible) for the census story.

      • fundamentalist says:

        According to Alfred Edersheim in “Life and Times of Jesus Messiah”: “Herod directed a general registration to be made after the Jewish, rather than the Roman, manner. Practically the two would, indeed, in this instance, be very similar. According to the Roman law, all country-people were to be registered in their ‘own city’ – meaning thereby the town to which the village or place, where they were born, was attached. In so doing, the ‘house and lineage’ (the nomen and cognomen) of each were marked.7 According to the Jewish mode of registration, the people would have been enrolled according to tribes (ty+m), families or clans (twxp#m), and the house of their fathers (twb) tyk). But as the ten tribes had not returned to Palestine, this could only take place to a very limited extent,8 while it would be easy for each to be registered in ‘his own city.’ In the case of Joseph and Mary, whose descent from David was not only known, but where, for the sake of the unborn Messiah, it was most important that this should be distinctly noted, it was natural that, in accordance with Jewish law, they should have gone to Bethlehem.”

        7. Comp. Huschke. Ueber d. z. Zeit d. Geb. J. C. gehalt. Census pp. 119, 120. Most critics have written very confusedly on this point.

      • fundamentalist says:

        from http://www.orlutheran.com/html/census.html “Some scholars have scoffed at the notion that people in faraway Palestine (such as Joseph and Mary) would have had to travel to their ancestral birth place for a census. But we have evidence to show that such traveling was indeed done with a Roman census, in Egypt at least. A Roman census document, dated 104 A.D., has been discovered in Egypt, in which citizens were specifically commanded to return to their original homes for the census.6 Another census document from 119 A.D. has been found in which an Egyptian man identifies himself by giving (1) his name and the names of his father, mother, and grandfather; (2) his original village; (3) his age and profession; (4) a scar above his left eyebrow; (5) his wife’s name and age, his wife’s father’s name; (6) his son’s name and age; (6) the names of other relatives living with him. The document is signed by the village registrar and three official witnesses.7 This latter document is of special interest, because it gives us an idea of the kind of information that Joseph and Mary would have had to provide for the census.”

        1. Paul L. Maier, In the Fullness of Time (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991), 6.

      • fundamentalist says:

        “Actually, the discovery of ancient census forms has shed quite a bit of light on this practice,” he said as he leafed through the pages. Finding the reference he was searching for, he quoted from an official governmental order dated AD 104.

        ” Gaius Vibius Maximus, Prefect of Egypt [says]: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those who for any cause whatsoever are residing out of their provinces to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments.

        “As you can see,” he said as he closed the book, “that practice is confirmed by this document, even though this particular manner of counting people might seem odd to you. And another papyrus, this one from AD 48, indicates that the entire family was involved in the census.”

        from http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/Christmas/The-Case-For-Christmas.aspx quoting John McRay, a former professor at Wheaton College and the author of
        Archaeology and the New Testament.

        • knoxharrington says:

          Thanks, fundamentalist. I will exercise generosity and assume your sources are accurate and not axe-grinding.

          This does raise an interesting question. Why would God choose as the Chosen (shout out to Potok) people who were so manifestly stupid and hard-headed? Examples: 1) Herod orders the people to drop their subsistence farming in order to travel for a census? (I would be pissed and probably revolt at that if I had to travel from Dallas to Seattle to record myself). And, 2) the Israelites are just delivered from Egypt and before Moses even comes down from the Mount the Israelites (thank you, Edward G. Robinson) are building a golden calf. Really? You are so dim-witted that you completely disregard the miracle of the Red Sea (not to mention Passover, etc.)? Why didn’t God (assuming he knew they were going to act this way) just close the Red Sea on them and save the world from currently being plagued by a 2,000 year dispute over a divine deed of trust? As Bart Simpson would say, “chosen, my ass.”

          Sorry for all the pop culture references – I got on a roll.

          • fundamentalist says:

            That’s a good point. The Jews have been a very rebellious group, but they are no more so than any other group of people. Also, the Bible says God chose them because of his promise to Abraham. Other than that, I don’t know.

          • knoxharrington says:

            I agree with your assessment fundamentalist vis a vis Jews as rebellious. I know that the explanation for the Jews rebellion is symbolic of human rebellion generally and that the history of the Jews is the history of humanity in relation to “being in and out of fellowship with God.”

            Again, thanks for the references. I will check them out.

  7. Thomas L. Knapp says:


    No, I’m not saying that someone founded the town of Nazareth 200-odd years after Jesus so that it could be said that’s where he was from (although that’s not as far-fetched as it may seem, given the medieval penchant for believing that this or that place was the Holy Sepulchre or that this or that piece of wood was a bit of the True Cross, just because someone of alleged authority said so).

    What I am saying is that the scriptural references probably aren’t to a geographic location at all but to an extant concept and/or school of thought/action.

    Here’s some material on the language/etymology involved, and here’s a somewhat more pointed/partisan take on the subject.

  8. fundamentalist says:

    Thomas, that’s an interesting take on the meaning of Nazareth, but I think the number of times in the NT that Jesus is said to have come from Nazareth indicates that people thought it was a town. Here’s Edersheim on it:

    “St. Matthew, indeed, summarises the whole outward history of the life in Nazareth in one sentence. Henceforth Jesus would stand out before the Jews of His time – and, as we know, of all times,24 by the distinctive designation: ‘of Nazareth,’ yrcn (Notsri), NazwraioV, the Nazarene.’ In the mind of a Palestinian a peculiar significance would attach to the by-Name of the Messiah, especially in its connection with the general teaching of prophetic Scripture. And here we must remember, that St. Matthew primarily addressed his Gospel to Palestinian readers, and that it is the Jewish presentation of the Messiah as meeting Jewish expectancy. In this there is nothing derogatory to the character of the Gospel, no accommodation in the sense of adaptation, since Jesus was not only the Saviour of the world, but especially also the King of the Jews, and we are now considering how He would stand out before the Jewish mind. On one point all were agreed: His Name was Notsri (of Nazareth). St. Matthew proceeds to point out, how entirely this accorded with prophetic Scripture – not, indeed, with any single prediction, but with the whole language of the prophets. From this25 the Jews derived not fewer than eight designations or Names by which the Messiah was to be called. The most prominent among them was that of Tsemach, or ‘Branch.’26 We call it the most prominent, not only because it is based upon the clearest Scripture-testimony, but because it evidently occupied the foremost rank in Jewish thinking, being embodied in this earliest portion of their daily liturgy: ‘The Branch of David, Thy Servant, speedily make to shoot forth, and His Horn exalt Thou by Thy Salvation….Blessed art Thou Jehovah, Who causeth to spring forth (literally: to branch forth) the Horn of Salvation’ (15th Eulogy). Now, what is expressed by the word Tsemach is also conveyed by the term Netser, ‘Branch,’ in such passages as Isaiah xi,1, which was likewise applied to the Messiah.27 Thus, starting from Isaiah xi. 1, Netser being equivalent to Tsemach, Jesus would, as Notsri or Ben Netser,28 29 bear in popular parlance, and that on the ground of prophetic Scriptures, the exact equivalent of the best-known designation of the Messiah.30 The more significant this, that it was not a self-chosen nor man-given name, but arose, in the providence of God, from what otherwise might have been called the accident of His residence. We admit that this is a Jewish view; but then this Gospel is the Jewish view of the Jewish Messiah.

    24. This is still the common, almost universal, designation of Christ among the Jews.

    25. Comp. ch. iv. of this book.

    26. In accordance with Jer. xxiii. 5; xxxiii. 15; and especially Zech. iii 18.

    27. See Appendix IX. 28. So in Be R. 76. 29. Comp. Buxtorf, Lexicon Talm. p. 1383.

    30. All this becomes more evident by Delitzsch’s ingenious suggestion (Zeitschr. fur luther. Theol. 1876, part iii. p. 402), that the real meaning, though not the literal rendering, of the words of St. Matthew, would be wm# rcn yk – ‘for Nezer [‘branch’] is His Name.’

    from http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/book209.htm

  9. Lord Keynes says:

    You really have to look at the Hebrew to see what is the correct translation.
    The Hebrew is “el gibbor.” That expression is used in Ezekiel 32.21 in the plural with the meaning “mighty chiefs” and “mighty leaders.” This it would mean “might warrior/leader” or god-like warraior/hero in Isaiah:

    Paul L. Redditt, Introduction to the Prophets, p. 78

    Divine Truth Or Human Tradition?, p. 456.

    In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Bible by Jewish scholars in Egypt), the Hebrew is translated into Greek angelos or “messenger/angel of great council.” Thus this suggests that the Jewish scholars of the Hellenistic period did not think “el gibbor” meant god or implied divinity. It confirms that modern Christian translators read too much into the passage.

    • fundamentalist says:

      You are correct that Isaiah 9:6 doesn’t require that “el gibbor” be translated as “might God.” The term was used for men sometimes. So why do so many translators make that leap? Are they stupid or evil? No. Translation often requires interpretation. El gibbor is often used as a name for God in the OT. Determining whether el gibbor refers to God or to a man requires looking at the context. Since Isaiah 9 is a messianic passage, most translators will translate el gibbor as referring to God. Besides, Isaiah 9 isn’t the only passage that refers to the messiah as being God. Jesus used the Psalm, “the Lord said to my Lord…” to argue for the divinity of the messiah.

      Most of the names for God in the OT were also used for men. The words for lord and savior, for example. Because they are sometimes used to refer to men doesn’t mean that in every single instance they must refer only to men. They are often used to refer to God and only the context can determine which one the author meant.

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