Back
SHOMER MITZVOT
Torah Observant

A Series of Practical Messianic Living (halakhah)

TaNaKH in the B'rit Chadashah

 
(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)

Atlantic Baptist University Professor Barry D. Smith has done a profound job of explaining the use of TaNaKH texts in the B’rit Chadashah. To be sure, his references to the rabbinic writings are thorough and scholarly. I have included his entire discourse here, unabridged, for your personal study. You are encouraged to visit their web site at this link:

Atlantic Baptist University

1. Introduction

Even a superficial reading of the New Testament reveals how frequently its authors and those about whom they write quote from the Old Testament often. This should come as a surprise to no one familiar with the authoritative role that "the scriptures" played in Jewish religious life. What may come as a surprise, at least to the modern reader, however, is the variety of ways in which scripture is interpreted and used by Jesus and the early church. In their hands, the meaning of the Old Testament is not restricted to its so-called literal and historical meaning, but has other dimensions of meaning. Moreover, with one exception, the interpretive methods adopted by Jesus and the early church are identical with those adopted by other Jewish interpreters of the second-Temple and early rabbinic periods.

One can identify three such interpretive methods used by Jesus and the early church that have parallels from texts from the second-Temple period and in early rabbinic exegesis. First, a text from the Old Testament can be interpreted literally, according to the author's intended meaning. Second, Jesus and the early church find subtle and not-so-obvious interpretations for Old Testament texts, in some cases, using certain rules of exegesis known from early rabbinic texts. This interpretive approach could be called midrashic. Third, one finds what scholars call pesher-type interpretations in the New Testament; these are characterized by finding a second, eschatological (including messianic) meaning for an Old Testament text that is not originally eschatological (or messianic) in meaning. In addition, unique to the New Testament is what is called typological interpretation, in which a person, place, thing or event in the Old Testament is assumed to foreshadow an eschatological reality to which it is analogically or functionally similar.

 

2. Literal Interpretation

Most Jews began with the literal interpretation of the Old Testament, especially the Torah; this was the substratum of all other interpretive approaches. In other words, what the text plainly and literally intended is taken to be its meaning.

2.1. New Testament

2.1.1. Jesus

A. Matt 9:9-13; 12:1-8 (Hosea 6:6)

In the context of responding to the charge that he ate with sinners, Jesus tells the Pharisees "Go and learn the meaning of this: `I desire mercy and not sacrifice' (Hosea 6:6) (Matt 9:13; see also Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32). Jesus' interprets this passage according to its intended sense, to mean that the commandments are to be prioritized, so that mercy takes precedence over sacrifice.

Jesus interprets Hosea 6:6 literally in another context. Once some Pharisees criticize Jesus for allowing his disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath; what they were doing was a form of work and should not be done on the day of rest. Jesus replies by citing the precedent of David's breaking the Torah in time of need, in order to make the point that the intention of the Torah is not to lead to hardship. Jesus' point seems to be that, out of a concern for his hungry disciples, the Pharisees should allow them to pick what grain they need to satisfy their hunger. If Jesus' accusers say that they would like to do this, but cannot, since the Torah forbids it, they will find themselves holding the absurd position that they love human beings more than God does. In Matt 12:7 Jesus tells his critics to read Hosea 6:6 "I desire mercy and not sacrifice," which is intended as a proof that to act to meet human need takes precedence over the fulfillment of the ritual law; that is, the Torah is to be prioritized, so that the ritual law, in this case the Sabbath law, should never preclude an act of mercy (Matt 12:7; see also Mark 2:23-27 = Luke 6:1-5).

B. Mark 7:1-13 = Matt 15:1-9 (Exod 20:12/Deut 5:16; Exod 21:17/Lev 20:9)

Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for allowing their oral tradition to prevent the performance of the commandment to honor one's mother and father (Exod 21:17/Deut 5:16; Exod 21:17/Lev 20:9). The Pharisees allowed someone to dedicate something of value or money to the Temple so that only the owner could benefit from its use, but no one else, including the owner's mother and father. It is evident how this would be open to abuse: people would dedicate something of value to the Temple in order that his or her parents could not benefit from it, thereby violating the command of the written Torah to honor his mother and father. The point is that with the oral law the Pharisees have actually done evil, or at least prevented good from being done. On the basis of a literal reading of the commandment to honor one's parents (Exod 20:12/Deut 5:16) and not to curse them (Exod 21:17/Lev 20:9), Jesus condemns this Pharisaic practice.

2.1.2. 1 Corinthians 6:16 (Gen 2:24)

In 1 Cor 6:12-20, Paul deals with a problem about which he has heard from Chloe’s people. It seems that there were men in the Corinthian church who were claiming that, since "all things are lawful" (1 Cor 6:12a) for them, they could use the services of local prostitutes. In 1 Cor 6:12, Paul appears to be quoting a maxim that the Corinthians are likely bandying about; the source of this maxim, however, is probably Paul himself (see 1 Cor 10:23), since this sounds like something Paul would have taught them (see Gal 5:1a.). (If so, Paul finds himself in a difficult situation, because the Corinthians are using his own words against him.) Paul agrees with the maxim that "all things are lawful," but he qualifies it by saying that not all things are beneficial (6:12b). He then repeats the maxim, and gives another variation of his qualification of it : "But I will not be mastered by anything." This means that Paul will not give up his self-control in the name of freedom. In addition, Paul cites Gen 2:24 "And the two become one flesh, " interpreting this passage literally, to prove to the Corinthians that it is wrong for them to make use of prostitutes: his point is that a man should have sexual relations only with his wife, the one with whom he has become one flesh.

2.2. Second-Temple Jewish Texts

There are innumerable examples of literal interpretation of the Old Testament in second-Temple Jewish texts. For example, in Damascus Document 9.12, Lev 19:18 is quoted as binding on the members of the community: "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against of your people." This text is literally interpreted and applied to those who enter the community. It is stipulated that any member of the community who brings a charge against another member without proof is guilty of violating the prohibition of Lev 19:18: he is taking vengeance and bearing a grudge. Similarly, in Damascus Document 10.16-17, Deut 5:12 "Keep the Sabbath and make it holy" is interpreted literally as binding on the community. There follows in several Sabbath halakot (regulations) designed to specify how to keep the Sabbath.

It goes without saying that the early rabbis interpreted the Torah literally; like the Qumran community and other Jews, the early rabbis, probably spiritual descendants of the Pharisees, sought to specify exactly what the Torah required. This resulted in their halakot, oral tradition clarifying the meaning of the Torah, which was eventually collected together to become the Mishah.

 

3. Midrashic Interpretation

Jews of the second-Temple period also interpreted the Old Testament midrashically. Midrashic interpretation is not really one type of interpretation, but describes a general approach to Old Testament interpretation. What all midrashic interpretation has in common is the characteristic of being a subtle and not-so-obvious interpretation of the Old Testament. In some cases, certain interpretive rules are used to bring out an implicit meaning of an Old Testament text. (Sometimes the interpretive rule is cited explicitly, whereas, in other cases, its used is implicit.) The two most common of these interpretive rules, to use the rabbinic terms, are qal vahomer ("light and heavy") and gezerah shavah ("An equal category"). A qal vahomer argument is an argument from minor to major: "if that is true, how much more is this true." A gezerah shavah argument assumes that an Old Testament passage that has a verbal or some other similarity with another Old Testament passage can interpreted in light of that passage, so that meaning can be imported into the interpreted passage from the one to which it is similar. In short, midrashic interpretation begins with the assumption that an Old Testament text may contain a deeper meaning that can be brought to the surface by careful observation and sometimes the application of an interpretive rule.

3.1. Jesus

3.1.1. Mark 12:18-27 = Matt 22:23-33 = Luke 20:27-40 (Exod 3:6, 15)

Against the Sadducees, Jesus teaches that there will be a resurrection of the dead; at this time there will be no sexual relations among men and women, since they will be like the angels. To prove that there will be a final resurrection, Jesus points out that God said to Moses, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Jacob and the God of Isaac," and draws this not-so-obvious conclusion from these Old Testament passages: "God is not the God of the dead but the living; you are greatly deceived." In other words, Jesus argues that God could to Moses not say that He was the God of the patriarchs unless they were still alive; if Abraham, Jacob and Isaac were no longer, then He would have said to Moses, "I was the God of Abraham, the God of Jacob and the God of Isaac."

3.1.2. John 7:16-24

Jesus defends his healing on the Sabbath by an argument from minor to major, an interpretive rule known in early rabbinic exegesis as qal vahomer ("light and heavy" or minor to major). The Torah requires that a male child be circumcised on the eighth day after birth; since no exceptions to this rule are provided in the Torah, Jews of the second-Temple period assumed that, when the eighth day fell on a Sabbath, one was justified in violating the Sabbath, in order to fulfill the commandment to circumcise on the eighth day (Circumcision was classified as an act of work.) In such a case, both laws cannot be fulfilled, so priority is given to the law of circumcision (There were other exceptions made to the Sabbath law.) Assuming this valid exception to Sabbath law, Jesus argues from minor to major for the rightness of healing on the Sabbath. He argues that, since one can circumcise a child, and thereby "heal" a part of the body, on the Sabbath and not be guilty of sin, one should also be allowed to heal the whole body on the Sabbath. Jesus likely is using a Jewish tradition that identifies circumcision as an act of healing.

3.1.3. Mark 12:35-37a = Matt 22:41-46 = Luke 20:41-44 ( Ps 110:1)

Jesus gives an important interpretation of the messianic idea of "son of David." He suggests that the son of David (Messiah) actually pre-exists David and is superior to him. He does so by quoting Ps 110:1 (a psalm that Jesus assumes to be messianic, but is not interpreted messianically in the extant literature of the second-Temple period) where David (by the Holy Spirit) says that the LORD (Yahweh) said to his lord, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." Jesus points out the peculiarity of David's calling the Messiah, his "lord." From this, he infers both the pre-existence of the Messiah, since Yahweh speaks to him, and his superiority to David, since he calls him "lord."

3.2. Paul (1 Cor 9:8-9) (Deut 25:4)

In good rabbinic fashion, the apostle Paul presents a argument from minor to major for the financial support of apostles, which allows him to say that the Torah itself supports his position. Quoting Deut 25:4, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain," he asks, "Does God care about oxen?" What he means is that God does not care about oxen as much as He cares about human beings. By arguing from minor to major, Paul draws the conclusion, if God requires that the oxen, who labor by treading on the grain helping to separate the husk from the edible kernel, be allowed to benefit from their labor by eating some of the grain, all the more should apostles be allowed to benefit from their labor by being supported materially by those who benefit from them spiritually.

3.3. Letter to the Hebrews: Two Gezerah Shavah Interpretations

3.3.1. Hebrews 5:5-6

In 5:5-6, the author argues that what is true of the Levitical High Priest is also true of the greater High Priest, Christ. He begins with Christ's right to the appointment as High Priest: as with Aaron (Heb 5:4) (and all other legitimate High Priests) Christ did not glorify himself in becoming High Priest, but received it from God (5:5-6). To prove this the author again quotes Ps 2:7, a psalm interpreted messianically in the second-Temple period: the son is appointed "son" by God and does not presume to take it himself (For the messianic interpretation of Ps 2, see Ps. Sol. 17:23 = Ps 2:9; 1QSa 2:11-12 = Ps 2:7; 4Q174 = Ps 2:1; Acts 4:25-26 = Ps 2:1-2; Acts 13:33 = Ps 2:7; see also 4 Ezra 7:28-29; 13:37, 52; 14:9) (The author has already interpreted Ps 2:7 as messianic in Heb 1:5.) (The author conceives Jesus' status as son as an acquired status: Jesus is proclaimed to be the son, i.e., Messiah = Christ [as Ps 2:7 says of the Messiah] after his appearance in history.) But what does Ps 2:7 have to do with the High Priesthood? In Heb 5:6, the author connects Ps 2 with Ps 110:4, another psalm quoted earlier as messianic (Heb 1:14 = Ps 110:1) (see Mark 12:36-37). Insofar as it is established that the Messiah is being referred to in Ps 110 what is said in Ps 110:4 must also be addressed to the Messiah. Since the Messiah in Ps 110:4 is declared to be a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek and since the Messiah is also being referred to in Ps 2 as being appointed to this role by God and did not presume to take it for himself (although no common words for the Messiah are found in both texts), what is said of the Messiah in Ps 110 can be imported into Ps 2:7, so that the appointment to the role of Messiah (Ps 2:7; see Ps 110:1) is his appointment to the role of High Priest (Ps 110:4), in the same way that Aaron was appointed High Priest. This is an instance of the application of the interpretive rule later called gezerah shavah ("An equal category"): an Old Testament passage that has verbal or conceptual similarities with another Old Testament passage can interpreted in light of that passage, so that meaning can be imported into the interpreted passage from the one to which is it verbally similar. In the case of Ps 2:7 and Ps 110:4, what is similar is that both texts are interpreted as messianic. The author's citation of Ps 2:7 again (see 1:5) and his bringing this messianic passage in relation to Ps 110:4, as described above, allows him the possibility of connecting his teaching about Jesus as the son with his teaching about Jesus the greater High Priest. Not surprisingly, the author subsequently names Jesus as son in relation to his role as High Priest (5:8-10; 7:28). It should be pointed out that the author implicitly criticizes the idea that the Levitical priesthood is eternal (see Exod 29:9; 1 Chron 15:2) in the sense of being incapable of being superceded salvation-historically.

3.3.2. Hebrews 6:13-17

In 6:13-14, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews explains that, in his promising to Abraham, God swore by himself, because there was none greater by whom to swear. In fact, God made a three-fold promise to Abraham after his successful testing, when he showed himself willing to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. The author cites only one of these three promises: "I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you" (Gen 22:17) (6:14). He explains in 6:16 that only God swears by himself, unlike human beings, who swear by something or someone greater than themselves. (Other examples of God's swearing by himself include Exod 32:13; Amos 6:8; see also the expression "As I live" in Num 14:28; Deut 32:40; Jer 46[LXX 26]:18. Philo has a reflection on the fact that God swore an oath by himself, and he draws the same conclusion as the author: "For God swears...not by another, since there is none stronger than he, but by himself." Philo, unlike the author, then provides an explanation for the fact that God swore at all [Leg. All. 3.203-207].) The author's interest in the fact of God's oath to Abraham stems from his interest in Ps 110[LXX 109]:4, which he interprets messianically, of Christ, in 5:5-10, in tandem with Ps 2:7: "Yahweh has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'." Implicitly, the author is again appealing to the exegetical principle known to the early rabbis as gezerah shavah ("an equal category"): What he can learn about God's oath from Gen 22:17 may be used to interpret Yahweh's oath to the son that he is a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek in Ps 110:4. In particular, the author assumes that in Ps 110:4, even though this passage does not say so explicitly, Yahweh must have sworn by himself, as he did when he swore to Abraham, because there is no one greater by whom God could swear. Since God swore by himself it follows that the oath made to Christ in Ps 110:4 is certain. Thus, in 6:16-17, the author's point is that the character of God's promise to the readers is certain insofar as Yahweh swore by himself when he swore that Christ would be a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. This oath is the objective ground of his readers' hope, the basis for the certainty of the promise of salvation to them, because, if Christ were not a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, then the readers would not have a "High Priest" (5:5) who would be "to all those who obey him the source of eternal salvation" (5:9). The reason that God swore an oath (by himself) to Christ, is to demonstrate "to the heirs of salvation" (tois klêronomois tês eppaggelias), by which he means, not only Abraham, but all destined for salvation (see 6:12), the certainty of this promise of salvation: it is God's unchangeable soteriological purpose to provide salvation to human beings through Christ. The author expresses such an idea somewhat awkwardly by saying that God himself "interposed" between himself and those to whom he had made the promise, insofar as he swore by himself; in this way he becomes the guarantor of his own promise. (The relative phrase introducing 6:17, en ho, belongs to the main verb "he interposed" [emesiteusen] with the meaning of "because" or "for this reason.") (The closest parallels from the Old Testament to "the unchangeableness of his purpose" [to ametatheton tês boulês autou] are Ps 33[LXX 32]:11 and Prov 19:21: "the purpose of the Lord remains forever" [hê...boulê tou kuriou eis ton aiôna menei].)

3.3. Second-Temple Jewish Texts

3.3.1. Rabbinic Use of Qal Vahomer

In the Mekilta, R. Ishmael argues from minor to major (qal vahomer) that suffering obtains pardon from heaven. He reasons that, since a slave can obtain his freedom if physically injured by his master (Exod 21:26-27), the one who suffers at the hand of God as chastisement for sin should all the more obtain pardon (Mek. Nezikin 9.65-67). Ps 118:18 "The LORD has chastised me severely, but has not given me over to death" is cited as further proof that chastisement for sin will lead to forgiveness and eternal life.

Likewise, R. Jose argues from minor to major that, if so many deaths resulted from Adam's one violation of a negative commandment, how great will the reward be that is coming to the righteous in the coming time. The premise for his argument is that God's attribute of goodness is greater than His attribute of punishment (Sipra Dehobah parashah 12.10). Thus it only stands to reason that God's reward for the righteous must indeed be great, since death is a such a formidable and universal evil.

The use of the argument from minor to major is used often in clarifying the Torah. For example, on the question of when one should begin the Sabbath, it is argued from minor to major: "If in the case of the sabbatical year, for the disregard of which one does not incur the penalty of extinction or of death at the hands of the human court, one must begin already on the sixth year to rest from work for the seventh, it is but logical that in the case of the Sabbath, for the disregard of which, one incurs the penalty of extinction or of death at the hands of the human court, one should already on Friday rest from work done for the Sabbath." The conclusion reached is that preparations for the Sabbath should begin on the sixth day, Friday.

3.3.2. Example of Rabbinic Use of Gezerah Shavah (Mek. Nezikin 1.31-43)

In Exod 21:2, it is stipulated that a Hebrew slave must be released after six years of service to his or her master. The question is raised concerning the meaning of "Hebrew." Based on the use of "Hebrew" in Deut 15:12 "If your brother, a Hebrew...be sold to you," it is concluded that "Hebrew" means "Israelite." In other words, the fact that "Hebrew" is in apposition to "brother" in Deut 15:12, and therefore means fellow countryman or Israelite, allows one to import this meaning into other passages where "Hebrew" occurs, such as Exod 21:2. The conclusion reached is that a Hebrew slave is an Israelite slave.

3.3.3. Damascus Document 4-5

The author of Damascus Document 4-5 uses a version of the interpretive rule gezerah shavah to prove that the prohibition against a king's multiplication of wives means that he should only have one wife. In Deut 17:17, the Torah prohibits a king from having many wives, but does not indicate how many is too many. Gen 1:17 "Male and female he created them" is brought to bear upon this question. The author interprets Gen 1:17 to mean that a man should have one wife and a wife should have one husband. The conclusion reached is that Deut 17:17 actually means that a king should have only one wife. Although the two passages do not have any words in common, what is common to Gen 1:27 and Deut 17:17 is that both concern marriage, which justifies allowing the former to influence the interpretation of the latter. In addition, the author also brings Gen 7:9 "Two by two they entered into the ark" to bear on Deut 17:17: God's original design, reflected in nature, is that one man be united to one woman. Incidentally, the fact that David, who is depicted as a generally righteous king in scripture, had many wives is explained by saying that David did not know this law of monogamy: "David did not read the sealed book of the Torah which was in the Ark, because it was not opened in Israel since the days of Eleazar and Joshua and the elders" (CD 5.2-3).

3.3.4. The "World to Come" in Early Rabbinic Exegesis

The concept of the world to come is not explicitly expounded in the Torah, nor in the rest of the Old Testament. Thus the early rabbis resorted to ingenious, less-than-obvious exegesis to justify their belief in such a reality. One technique was to interpret any apparently unnecessary multiplicity of expression as implying the existence of the world to come. Duplication of expression when describing the benefits of the righteous in Ps 128:2 suggests that there were too venues, as it were, in which the righteous are rewarded for their obedience: "Happy are you and it will go well for you." The clause "Happy are you" is seen as descriptive of the righteous person's blessedness in this world, whereas "And it will go well for you" describes the quality of life in the world to come (m. Abot 4.1; 6.4). Similarly, Prov 6.22 advises that a son hold fast to his father's commandments and his mother's teaching, so that "when you walk they will guide him, when you lie down, they will watch over him, when you awake, they will speak to him. In early rabbinic exegesis, "when you walk" refers to this world, "when you lie down" to the time of death, and "when you awaken" to the world to come (m. Abot 6.9; Sipre Deut 34; Sipra Lev Ahare pereq 13.10). The same technique is used in the interpretation of Deut 11:21 in Sipre Deut 47: "`That your days may be multiplied'--in this world--and the days of your children...'--in the days of the Messiah--`as the days of the heavens above the earth'--in the world to come." In the same vein, R. Abiba takes the two occurrences of verb "to cut off" to mean the cutting off of the transgressor in this world and in the world to come (Sipre Num 112) (R. Ishmael disagrees, noting that this is an idiom.) Finally, Prov 4:9 is interpreted as follows: "`She [Wisdom] will give to your head a garland of grace'--in this world--`a crown of glory will She present you'--in the world to come"; similarly the clause in Prov 3:16, `Length of days is in her right hand' is said to refer to the world to come, whereas `In her left hand are riches and honor' refers to this world (Sipre Deut 48). (See also example in Sipre Deut 357; Sipre Num 42 [I.8]; Mek Shirata 6.64-68; Mek Vayassa 1.167-75.)

That the world to come is a reality can also be inferred logically from scripture. When Moses blessed the tribes, he says, "Let Reuben live, and not die" (Deut 33:6). The early rabbis conclude that Moses must have meant that Reuben would live in the world to come--in spite of his sin--since he had already died; otherwise Moses' statement is nonsensical. Likewise, it is reasoned that the promise in Lev 18:5 that the person who obeys God's decrees and laws will live by them assumes the existence of the world to come. The promise, "You shall live " is taken to be incompatible with the view that death is the end of human life (Sipra Lev Ahare Parashah 8.10). Similarly, it follows that, if scripture says of one who is utterly cut off that his iniquity remains upon him, this can only be true if the dead must stand before God in judgment, since iniquity cannot remain upon one who no longer exists (Sipre Num 112). The one upon whom his iniquity remains will be excluded from the world to come. Finally, the scroll eaten by Ezekiel, upon both sides of which were written words of lament and mourning is interpreted symbolically as referring to the two worlds: the front of the scroll signifies this world, whereas its reverse signifies the world to come (Sipre Num 103). Apparently, this is the only explanation for the fact that both sides of the scroll were written upon. (See also Mek Shirata 1.8-10.) It is clear, therefore, that such rabbinic exegesis is circular, insofar as the exegetes are seeking scriptural evidence for already existing theological views.

 

4. Pesher Interpretation

Pesher interpretation seeks to uncover an eschatological (including messianic) meaning for an Old Testament text that is not originally eschatological (or messianic) in meaning. The interpreter begins with two assumptions: that his time is that of eschatological fulfillment and that some Old Testament texts have an eschatological reference that remains hidden until the eschaton. (The name pesher derives from the common practice of interpreters at Qumran to introduce their interpretations of the Old Testament with the Hebrew term pesher, which means "interpretation.") There is usually some connection between the text and its new, eschatological meaning, usually a key word or idea. Pesher interpretation strikes the modern reader as arbitrary and even dishonest, but it must be remembered that this was a common method of interpretation in second-Temple Judaism. Perhaps one could say that pesher interpretation is as much theological assertion as it is interpretation, so that one's acceptance of the validity of a pesher interpretation depends on one's assessment of the spiritual credibility and authority of the interpreter.

4.1. Jesus

4.1.1. Mark 12:10-11 = Matt 21:42-44 = Luke 20:17-18 (Ps 118:22-23)

Jesus interprets his rejection in light of Ps 118:22-23. In the same way that the stone that the builders rejected turned out to be the cornerstone, so Jesus will turn out to be the Israel's most important figure in salvation history, who is ironically rejected. Ps 118:22-23 is not clearly interpreted messianically in any of the earliest extant sources (See Strack-Billerbeck 1. 875-76 for some evidence of a messianic interpretation of Ps 118:22). Ps 118:25-26, however, is messianically interpreted in Midr. Ps. 118. 22, an interpretation that Jesus seems to have known (see Matt 23:29; Luke 13:35b; see also Mark 11:1-11 = Matt 21:1-11 = Luke 19:28-40 = 12:12-19), and therefore one that probably extended back to the first century, if not earlier (Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, 256-62). Thus, Jesus interpreted other parts of Ps 118 as messianic, including Ps 118:22-23. Jesus, therefore, was adopting the well-known Jewish practice of pesher interpretation.

4.1.2. Luke 4:16-30 (Isaiah 61:1-2)

Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue at Capernaum, sits down, and then proclaims, "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. In the original context, the one speaking in Isa 61:1-2 is the prophet, but, apparently, the fact that Isa 61:1 says that, "The Lord has anointed me" allows Jesus to conclude it is the Messiah who is speaking. Jesus interprets this text messianically and then claims implicitly to be the Messiah because he has been doing what is described in Isa 61:1-2 (see also Matt 11:2-6; Luke 7:18-23). It is clear that this is an example of a pesher-type of interpretation of the Old Testament. It should be noted that Isa 61:1-2 was interpreted eschatologically and perhaps messianically (in 4Q521), in a pesher-fashion, in the second-Temple period (4Q521 [Messianic Apocalypse]; 11QMelchizedek 18), so that Jesus was not the first to do so.

4.2. Matthew 1:22-23 (Isa 7:14)

In Isa 7:14 Isaiah says to Ahaz that God would give him a sign: the virgin (LXX: ho parthenos; MT: ha-almah) will give birth to a son, and will call his name Emmanuel; before that child knows the difference between right and wrong the two kings that Ahaz fears–king Rezin of Aram and king Pekah, son of Remaliah, of Israel–will no longer be a threat to him (see 2 Kgs 16:1-10). The author of Matthew finds a further meaning for this passage: It is predictive of the virgin birth of Jesus, who is born of a "virgin" (parthenos) and is named appropriately Emmanuel, "God with us." In other words, he interprets Isa 7:14 in pesher fashion, finding a second, eschatological meaning for this text. (If he were citing the Hebrew text, the author's interpretation would not be as possible, since the Hebrew almah means "young woman" but not necessarily "virgin," as the Greek term parthenos does.)

4.3. Hebrews 12:26-27

In Hebrews 12:26-27, the author interprets Haggai 2:7 as applying to the establishment of the first covenant and the new covenant. He begins by saying that that the Lord shook the earth during the giving of the law (Hebrews 12:26a) (see Exod 19:18; Judges 5:4; Ps 68:7-8; 77:18; 114:7; see also 4 Ezra 3.18). But in Hebrews 12:26b, he says that the Lord promised that he would shake not only the earth but also the heavens, and then he quotes Haggai 2:7 to prove his point. It must be noted, however, that he gives to this Old Testament passage a "pesher" type of interpretation. The prophet Haggai comforts Zerubbabel, the High Priest Joshua and the generation of those who returned to the land by prophesying that the Lord is with them and that once more he will soon shake the earth and heavens, the sea and the dry land, and all nations and cause all the "desired" of all nations to come. That Haggai refers to the giving of the law by the first shaking of the earth is probable, but not explicitly stated. What the "desired of all nations" is exactly is not specified, but in the context seems to be the valuables of all nations, which will be sent or brought to the Temple. This is suggested by the next two clause: "`And I will fill this house with glory,' says the Lord Almighty" and "`The silver and gold is mine,' declares the Lord Almighty." Thus, God's second shaking of the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land would bring this wealth from the nations to Jerusalem, which is why the prophet promises that "the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house" (Haggai 2:9), for it seems that the returnees were disappointed with the rebuilt Temple. (It should be pointed out that in rabbinic sources Haggai 2:5 was interpreted messianically [Sanh. 97b].) Using the LXX version of it, the author finds a fuller, eschatological meaning for Haggai 2:5, in particular for the phrase: "Once again, I will shake the earth and the heaven." He passes over in silence the coming of "the desired of all nations"; instead, he interprets the promise of another "shaking" as to be accomplished as part of the establishment of the new covenant, the fulfillment of which has already begun. In the same way that the Lord shook the earth in the establishment of the first covenant, so God will shake the heavens and the earth as part of the new covenant. This second shaking will result in the removal of all created things, so that only that which is uncreated, that which cannot be shaken, will remain. In second-Temple sources, an earthquake is often seen as accompanying the eschaton (1 Enoch 60.1; Sib. Or. 3.675; 2 Bar. 32.1; 59.3). In Hebrews 12:28a, the author identifies that which is not shaken as the kingdom that they are receiving (present participle), which implies an on-going process. He contrasts the earthly/created with the heavenly/uncreated; only the latter is truly real, whereas the former is destined to be removed by shaking (see parallel in 4 Ezra 7.31). The completion of the fulfillment of the new covenant will see the destruction of all temporal things, that which can be destroyed. He spoke earlier in Hebrews 11-12 of the heavenly Jerusalem as God's ultimate promise to all who have faith, which is symbolic of eternal salvation; presumably this is what will not be removable in the second shaking, which means that it is synonymous with "the unshakable kingdom" that the readers are in the process of receiving. This passage is as close to an eschatology that one will find in the Letter to the Hebrews, being the only reference to the eschatological kingdom. As such, it clearly refers to a non-earthly reality; it is in fact reminiscent of Isaiah 65:17; 66:22, the promise of the creation of a new heaven and a new earth (see also 2 Peter 3:7).

4.4. Second-Temple Jewish Texts

1QpHab (Habakkuk Pesher)

The Qumran community interpreted certain prophetic books in pesher fashion; individual passages were cited and then an eschatological interpretation was offered, in which the claim is made that the text had been fulfilled in some recent event or would be fulfilled in the near future. The fact that Qumran community viewed themselves as the objects of God's eschatological mercy meant that a prophetic text was to be interpreted as predicting events relating to the history of the community, especially in relation to the Teacher of Righteousness. The Book of Habakkuk was one such prophetic book given a pesher interpretation. One example from the Qumran commentary on Habakkuk (1QpHab) will suffice.

In 1QpHab, Hab 1.5 "Behold the nations and watch marvel and be completely astonished. I do a deed in your days and no one will believe it when" is interpreted as referring to apostates from the community who do not believe the prognostications of the Teacher of Righteousness. As is clear from Hab 1:6, the marvelous and astonishing event of which Habakkuk speaks is the coming of the Babylonians. 1QpHab, however, provides another interpretation for this text: it concerns apostates from the community, whose departure is unbelievable and bewildering. These apostates are divided into three groups (1QpHab 2.1-10). The first group is those who apostatized with the Man of Lies, who are said not to have listened to the words of the teacher of righteousness from the mouth of God (see 5.11). The second group is those who have apostatized from the new covenant, because they did not believe the covenant of God and [blasphemed] His holy name. The third group is those apostates who will arise in the last days. Although it is never explicitly said, past, present and future apostates from the covenant of God forfeit any spiritual benefit that they might have derived if they had not rebelled. (See another pesher-type interpretation of Hab 1:5 by Paul in Acts 13:41).

 

5. Typological Interpretation

In typological interpretation a person, place, thing or event in the Old Testament functions to foreshadow to an eschatological reality to which it is analogically or functionally similar. The assumption is that salvation-historically the type, that which points forward to an eschatological reality, is necessary in order that the anti-type, the eschatological reality signified, be fully understood.

5.1. Matt 12:38-40 = Luke 11:29-30

Jesus says that his generation is evil (and adulterous), and will not be given a sign, except the sign of Jonah. In Matthew the sign of Jonah is explained as follows: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Jesus is referring to his death and resurrection. Thus Jonah is a type of Jesus, the Messiah: analogous to Jonah, who spent three days and nights in the belly of a fish, so Jesus must spent three days and three night in "the heart of the earth." Jesus actually spent only three days and two nights in the tomb, but such a small discrepancy does not affect the typological correspondence between Jonah and Jesus. (It may also be that the phrase "three and and three nights" is idiomatic for a few days [see 1 Sam 3:12].)

5.2. 1 Cor 10:2-4a

Paul interprets the Old Testament typologically, meaning that he sees in Old Testament narratives a prefiguration of some aspect of God's eschatological saving act in Christ. In 1 Cor 10:2-4a, he claims that what happened to the Israelites in the desert is exactly the same as what has happened to the Corinthians. First, both were baptized: the Israelites were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea; the Corinthians were baptized into Christ (see Gal 3:7; Rom 6:3). (In Exod 13:20 the cloud is said to have gone before the Israelites, but in Jewish tradition the cloud had enveloped the Israelites.) Second, both ate spiritual food and drink: the Israelites ate the manna and drank the water from the rock; the Corinthians ate the bread and drank the wine at the Lord's supper. What Paul has established is that the Israelites were typological of the church, in spite of the accidental differences. This typological identification allows Paul in 1 Cor 10:5-7 to warn the Corinthians that they will also suffer the same fate as the generation of the exodus, if they, like the Israelites, do not forsake their idolatry.

Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy

Back