Review of Messiah in the Old and New Testaments, ed. Stanley E. Porter

Stanley E. Porter, ed., The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007. ix + 268pp. $29.00, paper.

These essays were presented at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 2004. The collection is preceded by an introduction written by Stanley Porter and concluded with a response, in which each paper is briefly considered, written by Craig Evans. The book is presented in two parts: Part 1: Old Testament and Related Perspective, containing essays that deal with the OT, the Qumran documents, and the literature of early Judaism; and Part 2: New Testament Perspective, containing essays that deal with most of the New Testament (Revelation seems to receive no treatment).

The first essay after Porter’s introduction comes from Tremper Longman, who explores the Law and the Writings of the OT. Unlike others, such as John Sailhamer and T. Desmond Alexander, who argue that the Pentateuch creates definite messianic expectations, Longman holds that “it is impossible to establish that any passage in its original literary and historical context must or even should be understood as portending a future messianic figure” (13). Then with respect to the Writings, Longman argues against the likes of Gerald Wilson, who interpret the structure and order of the Psalms as deliberately fostering messianic expectation. Longman seems to suggest that if we restrict our interpretation to the intentions of the human authors, we don’t find much at all about a Messiah in the OT, but, he argues, “there is another Author whose intentions come to perfect fulfillment” (33). In my judgment, Longman’s evaluation of what the human authors did not intend is unconvincing. A rising generation of OT theologians are revisiting texts such as Genesis 3:15, and exciting developments are being presented by proponents of a messianic structuring of the Psalter (see the 2006 Julius Brown Gay Lectures given by Gordon Wenham at Southern Seminary; the audio is available online and the lectures should appear in print from Crossway). It seems that Longman wants to deny messianism with his left hand and affirm it with his right, but there are ways to understand the intentions of the human authors such that they do portend what Longman attributes to the Divine Author.

Mark Boda’s essay takes up the third part of the OT in a consideration of the Messiah in the OT Prophets. Boda introduces his study by discussing definitions of the Messiah offered by Collins, Charlesworth, and Rose. He suggests, “It appears that the intention of the editors who drew the Psalter together was to signal a future messianic hope” (40), and he also asserts, against a fading consensus, that “to study the ‘messiah’ or the ‘messianic’ cannot be reduced to an investigation of these lexemes and their attendant texts” (44). Boda limits his investigation of the Messiah in the OT Prophets to the Messiah in Haggai–Malachi.

Al Wolters’ essay on “The Messiah in the Qumran Documents” surveys and responds to two books on the messianism of the Dead Sea Scrolls: John Collins’s The Scepter and the Star, and Michael O. Wise’s The First Messiah. Loren Stuckenbruck’s essay on “Messianic Ideas in the Apocalyptic and Related Literature of Early Judaism” focuses on the Psalms of Solomon, the Similitudes of 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch.

Part 2 of the volume opens with I. Howard Marshall’s customary care in examining “Jesus as Messiah in Mark and Matthew.” Stanley E. Porter addresses “The Messiah in Luke and Acts: Forgiveness for the Captives,” arguing that Luke’s presentation of Jesus is centered on his depiction of Jesus as the anointed prophet. Tom Thatcher’s contribution is entitled “Remembering Jesus: John’s Negative Christology.” Remarkably, Thatcher thinks that John’s Christology is unhinged from historical reality and set free to imaginative generation of new ideas: “Johannine Christology is not so much a set of beliefs as an ongoing potential to create memories of Jesus that meet the challenges that would threaten to undermine orthodox faith” (188–89). On the contrary, one does not “create memories”—that process is better described as make-believe story-telling, and orthodox faith is not dependent upon make-believe but upon historical reality.

S. A. Cummins’ essay on the Messiah in Paul, and Cynthia Long Westfall’s treatment of the Messiah in Hebrews and the General Epistles complete the course of presentations. Cummins deals with incorporation into Christ, and Westfall discusses the “messianic scenarios” of enthronement, victory, and temple. Both authors take up the question of whether “Christ” is to be understood as a title or a name.

Craig Evans makes several helpful observations in his responses to these essays. Among the salient points were the insightful note that the diversity of messianic expectation springs from a core of material (233). He goes on to point out that Isaiah 11, Daniel 7, Genesis 49:10, and Numbers 24:17 are frequently quoted in later writings and probably form part of this messianic core (239).

This volume is by no means the last word on these issues, but it is a recent survey of a vast amount of material. Those seeking to build a whole Bible understanding of the Messiah will not want to overlook these discussions, and those working on particular pieces of the puzzle will find dialogue partners herein. Researchers interested in other recent coverage of much of the same territory will also be helped by the thorough discussions in Andrew Chester’s Messiah and Exaltation.

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  1. Thanks for the review, somehow this book has slipped my attention. I’ve already put it on my wishlist on CBD and am looking forward to engaging the authors and their discussions on the Messiah.

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