Jesus the Messiah (Review)

Published: RTR 72, no. 1, 2013

Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King

Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darrell L. Bock, Gordon H. Johnston, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2012. Hardcover, US$36.99, 528 pages.

This readable and scholarly work traces in its three parts the OT origins of Messianism, intertestamentary developments, and the NT harnessing of the OT and intertestamental views for its proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah. The authors affirm that Messianism is rooted in the ‘original wording’ of the relevant OT texts (an imprecise affirmation), with progressive clarity and detail divinely revealed across the course of the OT period. In the intertestamental period, the Messianic texts (the pieces of the jigsaw, using Bock’s analogy) were pieced together in variously different ways, and the New Testament writers are said to have affirmed some of these readings and denied others.

Bateman differentiates his view from Kaiser (p. 24ff). Whilst Kaiser believes that the OT authors’ Messianism equals that which is said in the NT, Bateman says that the OT is not so directly, unambiguously, exclusively and solely prophetically focussed on Jesus. It is thought that Kaiser does not sufficiently account for historical context, revelational development and prophetic patterning (typology). Bateman wants to undertake, first, a ‘contextual-canonical’ reading of the OT, followed by a messianic reading which looks at how the pieces were fitted together in the intertestamental period, before finally giving a Christological reading, looking at the way Jesus and the early Church focussed the OT texts upon Christ.

The above is not entirely clear. The real distinction between Kaiser and the current work is with regard to whether Messianism is seen to be rooted in the authorial intent of the OT writers. The idea of a ‘canonical’ approach to Messianism has gained some currency, and signifies that there is a Messianic meaning at a divine level that transcends the meaning of the individual authors. NT writers are thus said to use both peshat and midrash, that is, contextual exegesis and Christological eisegesis (p. 29). I prefer the position that earlier, less detailed Messianic texts form the foundation of later, clearer and more detailed revelation, such that what some identify as the broader canonical meaning is resident within the OT texts themselves. The meaning is always available by peshat, not midrash (midrash in the way the word is often used in the current debate, anyway).

Once the underlying hermeneutical commitments are laid bare, the book follows the expected line. There is much detailed exegetical discussion, starting in Genesis (though 3:15 is dealt with in an appendix), along with references to unfulfilled Messianic potential, divinely instilled into texts, and later human cognizance of this more expansive meaning. In listing the four possible historical contexts to Psalm 110, why is it not countenanced that David (taking the superscription seriously) wrote about the Messiah (p. 93)? Current scholarly opinion is against it, but if it is this that drives the canonical argument, it should be disclosed openly. The overall impression is that the earlier saints had little by way of Messianic understanding, creating a division between Old and New Testaments that will fit Dispensational but not Reformed theology.