Fulfilled prophecies


Passages cited as fulfilled prophecies

Examples cited by Christians as fulfilled Messianic prophecies are Psalm 22 and Isaiah 52:13-53:12, referred to as the "suffering servant" passage. Christians view these two passages as prophecies describing the crucifixion of Jesus. (McDowell, 1999, Chapter 8; Brown, 2003; Ankerberg, 1997, Chapter 11, pp. 222-223)

The Gospel of Matthew identifies numerous passages of the Hebrew Bible as Messianic prophecies and then asserts that they were fulfilled by Jesus.

Skeptics' response

Skeptics point out that neither Psalm 22 nor the suffering servant passage says that it is referring to the Messiah. According to the Bible commentator Rashi, the suffering servant described in Isaiah chapter 53 is actually the Jewish people; sometimes Isaiah mentions groups of people as if they were one person.

According to Brown (DVD, 2003) and Juster (2005), among others, the rabbinic response, e.g., Rashi and Maimonides, is that although the suffering servant passage cleary is prophetic and even if Psalm 22 is prophetic, the Messiah has not come yet, therefore, the passages could not possibly be talking about Jesus.

Brown points out that the rabbinic interpretation of the suffering servant passage is that the servant is Israel, not either Jesus or the future Messiah. Messianic scholar Russell Resnick (2004) presented the interesting view that the passage refers to both Jesus and Israel and that, therefore, neither interpretation is completely right and neither interpretation is completely wrong.


Debate about whether certain passages are prophecies


Opinion is not unanimous as to which passages are messianic prophecies and which are not. However, there is a particular subset of passages that engender another type of debate—whether certain passages described either by modern Christians or by New Testament authors as prophecies are in fact prophecies at all because, e.g., they describe events that had already occurred before the New Testament was written. For example, Matthew 2:14 states, "So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'" This is referring to Hosea 11:1. However, that passage reads, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son."

Skeptics' view

As noted by Juster (2005) and Resnick (2004), skeptics say that the Hosea passage clearly is talking about a historical event and therefore the passage clearly is not a prophecy.

Response

Different explanations are offered for why these types of passages should be considered prophecies, depending on the particular passage.

The Pesher interpretation method

Resnick (2004), Juster (2005) and Waldman (2005) have pointed out that around the time of Christ there was a Jewish method of biblical interpretation know as pesher in Hebrew. It was a widely-known and widely-accepted interpretive technique that the Jewish writers of the New Testament would have been familiar with. In modern Christian theological terminology, this approach involves "typology". When a New Testament author describes something as a prophecy that clearly is not a prophecy, he is saying essentially, "This event is an example of the type of thing that this Old Testament passage is referring to."

The Remez interpretation method

Also, per Resnick (2004), Juster (2005), Waldman (2005), Brown (DVD, 2003) and others, Jews and Christians tend to ask different questions about the Bible. One example cited is that a common question of Jewish biblical scholars is, "Why is this passage next to this passage?" Christian biblical scholars virtually never examine the text from that perspective.

Jewish interpretive techniques often look for a "hint" at a deeper meaning; per Resnick (2004), Juster (2005) and Waldman (2005), this "hint" is known as remez in Hebrew. Because the New Testament writers were fluent in biblical Hebrew, sometimes they are using a play on Hebrew words in the original Tanach that is not obvious to Greek scholars and translators or to English-speaking readers. Messianic rabbi and Christian seminary graduate Juster (2005) gives the example of Matthew saying at Matthew 2:23 "and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: 'He will be called a Nazarene.'" The words "Nazareth" and "Nazarene" do not occur in the Old Testament. Juster opines that Matthew is hinting at two Hebrew words: the root n-z-r, meaning "branch", and "Nazarite". Another possible explanation offered is that such a prophecy once existed in the biblical texts but was lost. This theory is supported by the fact that such a verse exists in a copy of Samuel found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.