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Liberty University

Critical Book Review on Walter C. Kaiser's The Messiah in the Old Testament

A paper submitted to Dr. Pettus

In partial fulfillment of the Requirements for

the course OBST 592

Liberty Theological seminary


Christopher W. Myers


Lynchburg, Virginia

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Table of Contents

Introduction- 3

Brief Summary- 3

Critical Interaction- 5

Conclusion- 8

Bibliography- 10



       This reviewer could only find strengths throughout this book.  Walter C. Kaiser does a superb job of introducing to his reader the direct Messianic prophesies in a chronological order, as Israel had heard them.  This allows us to hear the progression of the Messianic promises in the same way ancient Israel did and therefore the reader shares in the feeling of expectation and promise.  This book is one book in a series called Studies in Old Testament Biblical Theology edited by Willem A VanGemeren and Tremper Longman III.  Each book in the series focuses on one specific topic in Old Testament Biblical studies and Walter Kaiser chose to write on the Messianic prophecies.

Brief Summary

       Walter C Kaiser Jr. sets out with purpose in his book The Messiah in the Old Testament to build an Old Testament Messianic theology that shows the systematic and progressive revelation of the Promise-Plan of God.  He puts heavy emphasis on correct interpretation and hermeneutics in the linguistic and grammatical distinctiveness of the text, which pleases the non-conservatives, but yet he unites this critical approach with an evangelical approach of understanding the prophecies according to the New Testament revelation.  This is a beautiful thing because he exposes the common error of evangelicalism in Old Testament interpretation of Messianic texts both past and present and corrects it to show how the New Testament came to its interpretation conclusions through correct understanding of the text. 

        Kaiser only concentrates his study on direct Messianic prophecies and begins with the Pentateuch and works chronologically to the time before and during the Davidic Monarchy where he concentrates his study on the Psalms before moving to the major and minor prophets.  He continues the study of the prophets according to the century of their ministry, starting in the ninth century, and then moving to the eighth, seventh, sixth century, and then finally concluding the study with the post-exilic prophets.

       The introduction is by far most helpful and a must read in order to understand Kaiser's philosophy of interpretation and his denunciation of past and current hermeneutic fallacies pertaining to the Messianic prophecies.  An overview of his point of view is most appropriate here.  Kaiser reveals some of the historic evangelical fallacies of supplanting two meanings on one text.  2 Peter 1:19-21 says, "And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."[1]  Some evangelicals have used this verse to say that the prophets were ignorant to what they wrote.  Kaiser refutes this premise by showing that Peter was merely saying that the writings of the prophets in the Old Testament were moved by the Spirit of God who has "revealed through these prophets what is certain, plain, and intelligible through the Father of lights."[2]  The prophets were not ignorant of what they wrote, but moved by the Spirit of God to write what they did by inspiration.  This cannot mean that there is two interpretations: the prophets and the Spirits, because then it would require an inspired interpreter to show the Spirit meaning of the scripture, otherwise scripture becomes totally subjective and we would have to agree with E.W. Hengstenberg in his Christology of the Old Testament,

"Several interpreters, endeavouring to find a middle course, adopt the notion of a double sense of prophecy: the one, that which the Prophets conceived, the other, that which God designed.  This assumption, which is entirely untenable, arises from neglecting to discriminate between the objective meaning of prophecy and its subjective meaning or meanings.  In every composition, the former can be but one, the latter may be as various as its readers are numerous.  It is only with the former that we are concerned [as interpreters]...."[3]

So the accepted conclusion is that the Spirit moved the heart and mind and soul of the prophet to understand the word of God and write it down so that the prophet's interpretation is the same as the Spirit's since that is the origination of the inspiration for writing in the first place. 

Critical Interaction

       So this discussion leads into how we must take into consideration the odd ways that the New Testament often states how Old Testament scripture is "fulfilled."  Kaiser explains, following the terminology of the nineteenth century scholar August Tholuck, that there can be three different types of prophecies.  There are direct prophecies, typical prophecies and application prophecies.  Direct prophecies are the predictive prophecies that are clear in their future outlook; this is the survey of prophecies contained in this book.  Typical prophecies are when the "immediate referent in their own day was separate from that which their ultimate referent pointed, though they were joined as one single meaning in that they shared at least one thing in common, which was at the heart of the prediction."[4] This category included everything that was divinely inspired and intended to be models or types or pictures of what is to come in the days of the Messiah, examples would be the tabernacle, the sacrifices, and Hosea 11:1, etc.[5] The last and most obscure of prophecies is that termed application prophecies where the Old Testament text is used or appropriated, but no specific prediction was intended by the Old Testament writer or the New Testament writer.  Kaiser cites Matthew's use in Matthew 2:23 of the Hebrew "nezer" in Isaiah 11:1 as an example of this where by assonance "nezer" became Nazarene.

      Kaiser approach is clearly evangelical, however, his wisdom needs to be heeded by many evangelicals, especially when he says, "Conservatives have not been successful in their attempts to cut this Gordian knot by appealing to a dual sense, a NT messianic sense, or to some secondary development behind, under, or around the text in a spiritual or typological meaning that could be validated only from later theology or experience."[6]

    I have become more acute and sensitive in my studies to this modern fallacy of finding a double meaning in prophecy.  In our reading of J. Gordon McConville's Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Prophets, McConville states quite confidently that, "We have seen that both parts of Zechariah (1-8, 9-14) re-interpret older prophecy."[7]  This is just one example of many where McConville shows his opinion that prophets re-interpret older prophecies to mean something totally different from their original prophetic meaning, he also gives the New Testament authors this freedom to re-interpret.  McConville could benefit from Kaiser's instruction.  Now I must make it clear that Kaiser clearly teaches that prophecies can be fulfilled twice in the particular sense that the Word of God can speak both to the immediate future and the distant future.  Actually, this is Kaiser's most important theme of this book, the theme that God was not just predicting the future, but he was working out his promise-plan in the everyday outworking of day-to-day events in the arena of history in accordance with the same announced word given in advance.  Indeed, the intent and message of this book is that God had an eternal promise-plan and it is revealed by the revelation of God as a unity in the Holy Bible; this unity is seen in the observance of the progression of the direct Messianic prophecies.

      I saw another evangelical fallacy of ascribing double meaning to prophecy by Christopher J. H. Wright in his Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament where he struggles with Matthew's statement in Matthew 2:23 and he wrestles with how the Messiah was said to be a Nazarene (an application type of prophecy) probably from Isaiah 11:1.  Wright's conclusion was that Matthew was "working back from actual events which happened in the early life of Jesus to certain Hebrew Scriptures in which he now sees a deeper significance than they could have had before."[8]  The problem is that Matthew clearly states this as a fulfillment and not a re-interpretation that gives a new meaning to scripture.  We have already discussed the problem with this conclusion and Kaiser's work reveals the problem and provides an adequate and yet still evangelical traditional answer for approaching these difficulties.

      Kaiser began his book explaining how the main objective of the book is the observance of the unity of scripture through the study of the progressive revelation of the promise-plan of God through direct Messianic prophecy.  After the reader has completed his journey through the amazing predictions in the OT and the NT fulfillments and eschatological hopes of the future realized Messianic rule, he can only conclude with Kaiser "the evidence is simply overwhelming,"[9] Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophecies in such detail it is undeniable and the Messianic prophecies truly do serve as a light in the darkness of unbelief.  But Kaiser's most important conclusion is the way that he connects the unity of scripture to his overall purpose of surveying the direct Messianic prophecies.  Basically, Kaiser follows the scholar Maier in his book Biblical Hermeneutics to argue that the unity or scripture is based on four foundations.  One, all scripture is based and centered on the one who reveals it, namely, God.  Second, all books of the Bible summon its readers to faith in God.  Third, the Bible unites history through Christ who is the ultimate purpose in all of history.  Lastly, when the unity of scripture is lost, then the church has lost its ability to fight against heresy.  The third and fourth points connect to Kaiser's overall argument in the book.  Kaiser's argument is that because God has given an overall purpose to history everything must be centered on that purpose and that purpose is the promise-plan of God to bring about the Messiah who is the center and focus of all things.  Kaiser concedes that this promise-plan is personal because it is focused on the exaltation of God's Son, the Messiah and the salvation of peoples for the exaltation of his name.  But in Old Testament studies we must also realize it is highly and dynamically historical in nature, "for it involves a larger plan that took its distinctive shape in history and the plethora of provisions that embraced the whole of biblical revelation."[10]              


       Overall, as I revealed in the beginning in my introduction, Kaiser wrote this book with much strength, I really could not attribute a single weakness to it.  He met his goal of conveying the importance of looking at the unity of scripture through the lens of God's promise-plan to Israel and the world.  The embodiment of the promise-plan is the revelation of the Messiah seen through direct and undeniable Messianic prophecies.  The Messiah is the purpose by which all history is formed.  Kaiser is most interesting to me because he stands in the middle of the eschatological debated ensemble today.  He is not a covenant theologian, yet he is not clearly dispensational because he rejects a pre-tribulation rapture.  He is clearly pre-millennial and holds to the historic and traditional view of eschatology, which I find most commendable.[11]  This viewpoint played out nicely as he was able to critique both sides of the argument-he could show how replacement theology was lacking in not anticipating what the prophets clearly explain of the Messiah's earthly reign, yet at the same time he could show how dispensationalist to often veer towards finding new and God inspired meaning to texts that should only be observed from the viewpoint of its original historic and grammatical meaning.  Kaiser explains dispensationalist as falling victim to an escapists-eschatology.

     An added benefit to this book is the fact that it can speak to the layman and the scholar alike, while at the same time serving as a helpful and easily navigated reference source for information on the Old Testament direct Messianic Prophecy.  Kaiser's chronological dealing of the text really made this book easy to follow and easy for future reference on various text, while at the same time allowing for the ability for the reader to remember the big picture for which these prophecies serve. 

oly SpiritHBibliography


Kaiser, Walter C. Jr.  The Messiah in the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

McConville, J. Gordon.  Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Prophets.  Volume 4. 

      Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Wright, Christopher J. H.  Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament.  Downer's Grove:

Intervarsity Press Academic, 1992.


      [1]NIV translation

      [2] Kaiser, Walter C. Jr.  The Messiah in the Old Testament.  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.) Pg. 33

      [3]  E.W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament, 114.  Quoted in Kaiser, Walter C. Jr.  The Messiah in the Old Testament, page 32.

      [4] As explained by Keiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament, pg.34

      [5] Notice in Exodus 25:8-9,40, where God tells Moses that the sanctuary, the temple etc. was going to be a "pattern."  The Hebrew attests clearly that this all was merely a type of something far superior.

      [6] Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament, pg. 23 under "A Proposal" 

      [7] McConville, J. Gordon.  Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Prophets.  Volume 4.  (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2002.) Pg. 252

      [8] Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, (Downer's Grove: Intervarsity Press Academic, 1992.)

Pg. 58

      [9] Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament, pg. 232

      [10] Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament, pg. 233

      [11] I wish his New Testament hermeneutics matched the scholarship of his Old Testament hermeneutics.  I was disappointed to learn that he sympathizes with the evangelical feminist movement.

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