Christ in the Old Testament (Part VI b)

Christ in the Old Testament, Theology, Uncategorized

Christ in the OT 6 Christ the Word of God

Christ: The Word of God (Part II)

In Part I – Christ: The Word of God, we saw that John did not make up his logos theology, but was drawing from the Jewish traditions of Philo, Targums, and others around him that were both monotheistic, and yet had room for a kind of Godhead. Now I want to turn our attention to three fascinating passages where the Word of God becomes embodied in the OT.

two powersThe Targum on Genesis 15:1 reads, “The word (pithgama) of the LORD was with Abram in a prophecy, as follows: ‘Do not fear, Abram, my Memra (memra) shall be your strength” (Onkelos Targum Gen 15:1). Notice that there are two Aramaic words used for “word” here. The Targum is essentially separating “words” from a person, deifying the Memra as a kind of Second (good) Power in heaven. In fact, the Rabbis were using the phrase “Two Powers in Heaven.”[1] This became such a problem for them because so many Jews were converting to Christianity, that the Rabbis made it a heresy sometime after the destruction of their temple in 70 AD. Judaism has been Unitarian in outlook ever since.

Abraham

The Targum seems concerned here about what may be something ever stranger in the Hebrew. A literal reading in English is, “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision” (Gen 15:1). Pause a second to think about this. Words do not ordinarily come to eyes, but to ears. There are some curious things that happen after this. First, Abram responds to the word of the LORD with “Adonai-Yahweh” (“Lord GOD“; 15:2, 8). It is interesting to note that Adonai is the same term David uses to speak of his “Lord,” a Lord who is distinct from his LORD (Yahweh) in Psalm 110:1. To put that more simply, there are three persons in the Psalm verse: Yahweh, Adonai, and David. The NT quotes or alludes to this verse in the Psalm perhaps more than any verse in the OT, and each time it calls this Adonai Jesus, and makes him separate from the Father.[2] So Jesus is Adonai, at least in the Psalm. Going back to Genesis, second, the word of the LORD, “brought him [Abram] outside” (vs. 5). Is this purely figurative speech? One thing that is probably true at this point is relevant here. Abram is not yet asleep, for the text makes a point to tell us that he falls into a sleep only later on in the story (Gen 15:12). Third, the word of the LORD is simply called “Yahweh” (Jehovah, LORD; vs. 13). We actually see two Yahweh’s later on in the same story (one in heaven, one on earth), in Genesis 19:24, a text that nearly every Church Father said refers to the Father and the Son.[3] Fourth, the LORD walks through pieces of dead animals. Some might suggest that it was just a smoking pot and a flaming torch that were sort of dancing through the pieces of the animals like some kind of cartoonish personification. But it seems pretty clear that “The LORD” (vs. 13) is the person holding these two objects as he walks through with them.

Jeremiah

A second story is the calling of Jeremiah. It begins by saying, “Now the word of the LORD came to me” (Jer 1:4). The LXX has logos, as it does for most of prophets who have the “word of the LORD” come to them. Let’s notice three things about the rest of Jeremiah’s call. First, Jeremiah responds to the word by saying, “Lord GOD” (Adonai-Yahweh; vs. 6). This is identical to Abraham, except that this time the association with the “word” or logos is as “Lord GOD” seems explicit. Second, the text next calls “the word of the LORD,” simply “the LORD” (Yahweh; Jer 1:7, 9). “The word of the LORD came to me” (vs. 4) becomes “the LORD said” (vs. 7). Many people miss these subtleties of the text, but the NT authors sure didn’t. Putting that another way, it is very possible to take this as saying that the word of the LORD is the LORD. Third, it says the LORD “put out his hand and touched my mouth” (1:9).

Samuel

The third story is the call of Samuel. It begins, “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision” (1 Sam 3:1). Here we have the word associated with a vision again, and this is common among all the prophets. Then it gives us the strange detail that Eli’s eyes had begun to grow dim (vs. 2). This is not referring to his “spiritual” sight. The man was literally going blind. This little detail about Eli seems clearly related to the word coming to the eyes in visions. But first, the word of the LORD is called Yahweh again (4). As one would expect, he speaks to Samuel (three times). But it tells us that Samuel did not recognize the LORD because “he did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him” (vs. 7). Finally, to get his attention, “The LORD came and stood, calling as at other times” (vs. 10). Apparently, Eli could not help Samuel figure out who this was because he could not see. I wonder, when you read these kinds of things, is your first impulse to think of Christ, or to think that the present author (me, and others) are completely stretching it?

The NT, not only in John, but also in Hebrews connects this all to Jesus. Read this familiar passage now through the eyes of the OT-NT logos theology. “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (Heb 4:11-14). Hebrews directly links the Word of God with Jesus, via the pronouns “him” and “his,” rather than what we would expect if this was not a person: “it.” The “word of God” in this passage is Christ.

In conclusion, we see the word of the LORD being called Yahweh by the texts, Adonai by the men, he stands, he touches with hands, he takes someone outside, and he walks through pieces of dead animals. Is this all just anthropomorphic? In the next installment, we will look at Christ as the Angel of the LORD in order to see see why it is not.

[1] Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism (SJLA 25; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977), Introduction and pp. 33-34.

[2] Matt 22:44; 26:64; Mark 12:36; 14:62; 16:19; Luke 20:42-43; 22:69; Acts 2:34-35; Rom 8:34; 1 Cor 15:25; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12-13; 12:2.

[3]JUSTIN MARTYR, Dialogue 127; PSEUDO-IGNATIUS, Antiochians 2; IRENAEUS, Against Heresies 3.6.1; TERTULLIAN, Against Praxeas 13; CYPRIAN, Against the Jews 3.33; NOVATIAN, On the Trinity 18.15–17; EUSEBIUS, Ecclesiastical History 1.2.9; ATHANASIUS, Discourses Against the Arians 2.15.13; HILARY OF POITIERS, On the Trinity 5.16; GREGORY NAZIANZEN, Oration 29:17; BASIL, On Prov. 7:22; AMBROSE, Exposition of the Christian Faith 1.3.22-23; CHRYSOSTOM, Homily 3: 2 Tim 1:13-18; AUGUSTINE, Tractates on John 51.3; CYRIL, Comments on 1 John 1:2; SOCRATES SCHOLASTICUS, Ecclesiastical History 2.30; CONSTITUTIONS OF THE HOLY APOSTLES 5.20. There were even Jews who were saying this referred to two Yahwehs. See R. Ishmael b. Yosi (170-200 C.E.), Gen 19:24 (b. Sanh. 38b or 4:5, V.11 A-C); Genesis Rabbah 51.2.

(By: Doug Van Dorn)

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