No Messianic Prophecies??

On April 17, 2009, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, H W Bateman, GH Johnston (OT prof at DTS) and D L Bock (NT prof at DTS) presented a forum to advance their views on Messianic prophecies in the OT. The symposium was titled “Jesus the Messiah: Promises, Expectations and Coming of Israel’s King” and deals with the progressive revelation of God’s promise of the Messiah. The audio is available on SWBTS’ website here, and the MP3 can be downloaded from there as well.

In the days that followed, people who attended the event raised a number of questions to Dr. Ishwaran Mudliar, assoc prof of OT at SWBTS. Some time after the BJ&B forum, he gave a lecture addressing the issue entitled “Faith in Christ in the OT”.

Personal observations & opinions:

I think Bock, Johnston and Bateman are (likely) correct in their assessment of inter-testamental confusion regarding the OT prophets. Surely that would help explain the same confusion we see in the responses of the Jews, Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, even the disciples, when we read the Gospels. This is good and useful information. BJ&B read the text as they imagine the OT audience and intertestamental recipients would have heard and understood the prophets.

But during the Q&A session at the end, BJ&B start going a bit out of line, implying that the prophets themselves didn’t know what they were prophesying. Phrases like “they were looking through a mirror – a broken mirror” and “it’s probably not until Isaiah finished his writings that he stepped back, looked at it all and said ‘wow, this can’t apply to Hezekiah!'” These statements bring into question the very meaning and purpose of inspiration. I find this opinion appalling, and unsupported in Scripture! Where does this come from? Why breathe this opinion to life? What will we say next? That Jesus suffered from some sort of ‘divine amnesia’ and didn’t know He was the Messiah till after the resurrection? This is nonsense!

BJ&B lean on 1 Cor 13:9 for support saying “they saw in part and they prophesy in part”. However, that’s a misquote of verse 9. It says “WE know in part and WE prophesy in part”. Paul isn’t saying that the OT prophets knew less than we do – he’s saying WE don’t see the big picture!

Furthermore, the intertestemental confusion cannot be used to comment on the vision or knowledge of the OT prophets themselves. If the NT statements were the first occasion for men to re-assess and properly understand the OT prophets, then why is there now, even in the 21st century, with our enlightened perspectives, so much confusion and ignorance about the OT prophets? Any human confusion – whether intertestamental, 1st century or 21st century – should NOT have any bearing on the knowledge and vision of the OT prophets themselves. If we are to make any credible statements about the inspired mind of the OT prophets, it CANNOT come from uninspired extra-Biblical sources! These uninspired texts, individuals and statements are unqualified to speak on the mindset of the inspired prophets, regardless of the century they live in!! Is this not basic logic? If we need Biblical support for this perspective, we need not look any further than the 3rd most frequently quoted OT passage, Isa 6:9-10: Isaiah was to speak the message of God, knowing full well that his audience would be unable to see, hear or understand his words so that they could not repent. Why build on top of their blindness?

It seems to me that Dr. Mudliar’s use of Scripture is a better guide for showing us the mind of the prophets:

  1. In 1 Cor 15, Paul says that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures“, and that “He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures“. According to Paul, the details of the gospel are neither new nor unique to the OT.
  2. In Rom 1, Paul says that the gospel of God was promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures.
  3. In John 12, John describes Isaiah 6 and says “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about Him.” Why would BJ&B think that Isaiah stood before the holy Trinity (“whom shall I send; who will go for Us“), got a message from God, but turned around and thought he was maybe writing about Hezekiah? This is bizarre in the extreme! All things being equal, shouldn’t we naturally assume that these prophets knew more than they wrote?

This is enough of an indicator without going much further. How exactly does it benefit God to make a promise, but muddle it in confusion and broken statements, boxtops that can have no clarity until the NT comes along? Really? Unless divine judgment is in view (Is 6, etc), we should start with the assumption that revelation is intended to reveal, not confuse! What kind of promise would that be? But wait, there’s more! If the prophets didn’t know what they were writing:

  • Why did Jesus feel it necessary to call people “fools” and “dull and slow of heart” for not knowing the essentials of the Gospels? Note that Jesus didn’t berate them for ‘not listening for the past 3 years’ – He berated them for not knowing what the OT prophets wrote (Luke 24)! Did He ever call the prophets fools for not knowing what they were writing?
  • Why did Jesus chide Nicodemus for not knowing the essentials of the Gospel and what it means to be born again (John 3)?
  • Why did Jesus say they did not know the Scriptures nor the power of God if they asked questions about life in heaven?

Clearly, Jesus believed that the OT writings were sufficient for their day, and sufficient to give them the knowledge of God and heaven that they needed. Paul echoes the same thing when talking to Timothy: “[these OT scriptures in which you were trained by your mother and grandmother] are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly equipped for all good works.” (2 Tim 3:14-17)

If one is confused by the OT prophets, it would seem that study is the solution – not making excuses and implying that the OT prophets themselves were equally confused.

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