The Messiah in the Old Testament

By W. C. Kaiser, Jr
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (1995). 256 Pages.

Reviewed by
7.1 (Spring 1996) : 125-127

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., formerly of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is Colman M. Mockler distinguished professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He argues that Messiah is at once a pivotal issue for the true identity and nature of Christianity and a fundamental aspect of promise, the thematic organizational principle or center of Scripture. Within the progress of revelation, the Messiah theme also grows into an argument of its own for "there is an apologetic case to be made for the Messiah in the OT" (232).

Hermeneutical issues play a critical role in articulating the nature and implications of the messiah theme. An interpreter should eschew Pesher and midrashic methods of interpretation and follow "a straight-forward understanding and application of the text [which] leads one to the Messiah and Jesus of Nazareth, who has fulfilled everything these texts [i.e. OT messianic passages] said about his first coming" (ibid.).

Following a brief survey of historical precedents for the debate, the author sets forth definitions for "messianic" and "messiah," and distinguishes futurism from eschatology in order to set the discussion on the right track. Derailments are not uncommon in the controversy due mainly to the lack of a consistent use of such terms. Kaiser then takes the discussion to the fundamental issue of Messiah in Scripture—the essential nature of biblical prophecy. He scrutinizes and rejects dual meaning, single meaning, NT meaning (a technical sense of the phrase), developmental meaning, goal meaning, relecture meaning, and theological-meaning (also a technical sense) formulations of biblical prophecy in favor of a method consistent with the essence of prophesy itself, promise.

The promise was a single one; yet it was cumulative in its net results. Indeed, its constituent parts were not a collection of assorted promises about a Messiah who was to come: instead, they formed one continuous pattern and purpose placed in the stream of history (29).

In other words, prophesy is not a random collection of unrelated passages into which later NT writers injected their content and to which they added, even imposed, an artificial unity. Nor is it a set of disparate predictions. Rather, it is a dynamic process superintended by God and through which He continually unfolded His plan in the progress of revelation. In short, prophesy regarding Messiah is not an afterthought; it is a carefully orchestrated revelatory plan.

The author argues strongly that any departure from the notion of prophesy set forth above for one or a combination of the alterna-tives (they are not all mutually exclusive) sacrifices the apologetical force intended by later OT or NT writers, and ultimately, the integrity of Scripture itself:

All the alleged apologetic advantages of appealing to the OT texts by the apostles and the four Evangelists of the NT become nonexistent in one stroke by these two-track hermeneutical systems of interpreting messianic passages (23-24).

The author's treatment of the alleged messianic passages in the OT stands as it own apologetic. One can dispute his interpretation of individual passages, but the NT posturing of OT passages as messianic as well as the "natural" meaning of select passages themselves is a single gargantuan argument.

Kaiser's most recent contribution to exegetical theology is a most welcome addition to the literature on Messiah. Rather than speculate on the nature of prophesy and its methods in isolation, he makes his point by allowing the passages to speak for themselves. Pastors and Bible instructors will appreciate this helpful book.