Paul and the Concept of a Dying and Rising Messiah

Muslim polemicist and blogger Paul Bilal Williams posted a response (https://bloggingtheology2.com/2018/12/06/my-reply-to-paul-and-the-depths-of-jewish-hermeneutics-by-denis/) to Catholic apologist and philosopher Denis Giron’s blogpost (https://bloggingtheology2.com/2018/12/04/paul-and-the-depths-of-jewish-hermeneutics/) where he shows how Paul’s method of interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures is essentially identical with the hermeneutics employed by rabbinic Judaism before, during and after the time of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Williams takes issue with the Apostle’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 that the Hebrew Bible predicts the suffering and dying of the Messiah for the sins of the world, claiming that this idea isn’t simply novel to Judaism, but would also be viewed as utterly blasphemous to the Jews of Paul’s day. He further argues that, “In NO source before the writing of the New Testament is there ANY reference in the Bible or anywhere else to a future messiah who is to suffer and die for the sins of the world as Paul claims in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.”

And here’s what a Muslim commenter wrote in respect to Williams’ assertion:

“Remember: prior to the advent of Christianity there is no evidence of Jews who believed that the messiah to come would suffer and die for the sins of the world and be raised from the dead. This makes Paul’s claims in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 extraordinary, even blasphemous.”

Very important! (Abdullah1234 December 7, 2018, 2:30 pm https://bloggingtheology2.com/2018/12/06/my-reply-to-paul-and-the-depths-of-jewish-hermeneutics-by-denis/comment-page-1/#comment-315)

And here’s my answer:

Let’s see how important that claim is.

First, your statement assumes that no Jew before or during the time of Christ believed or interpreted texts such as Isaiah 53 or Zechariah 12:10 as referring to the Messiah suffering and dying vicariously. We do not have access to everything that the Jews wrote, and therefore cannot know with absolutely certainty that none of the Jews believed this. Therefore, the only way you could even see this as an important argument in support of your position is if you happen to be omniscient and can say with absolute certitude that no Jew held to this view. As the old cliché goes, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

In fact, up until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls a person could have argued that no Jew ever believed in a priestly Messiah from the line of Aaron, since the Jews only believed in a single Davidic Messiah who rules forever. And yet when the scrolls were found in 1947 we now came to realize that the Jews that composed those documents believed there would be at least two Messiahs, a priestly one from the line of Aaron and a Davidic one. This perfectly illustrates my point, namely, unless you know with absolute certainty or have access to everything that the Jews wrote, your claim that a Messiah who dies and suffers for the sins of the world would have been viewed as blasphemous is simply desperately vacuous and carries no weight.

This leads me to my next point, one which you ignored since you claimed that you wanted to hold off from commenting until Giron chimes in. If the concept of a suffering and dying Messiah was really novel and blasphemous, then how do you explain later rabbinic Judaism affirming this very concept? How do you explain that Jewish sources written after Christ’s advent, and the spread of Christianity, affirm the notion of a suffering and dying Messiah, a Messiah who dies for the sins of the world?

In light of this fact, you need to explain why did these later rabbis come up with the suffering and dying Mashiach ben Yosef (Messiah son of Joseph) based on texts such as Zechariah 12:10, if such a concept is so alien and blasphemous to Judaism as you assert? In fact, we wouldn’t expect the rabbis to come up with such a concept once Christianity had spread and had become a thorn in the side of the Jews. And yet they still did not shy away from positing a suffering and dying Messiah, even interpreting Isaiah 53 in respect to the Messiah’s suffering vicariously for the sins of the world. So you need to answer these points in order for your argument to hold any weight.

Finally, and just as importantly, the NT writings themselves testify that the belief in a Messiah who dies for our sins, and is raised for our justification, is not alien to Judaism, but thoroughly anchored in the Hebrew Bible, specifically in the sound exegesis of Isaiah 53, a passage that is cited or alluded to by various NT authors:

“When the evening came, they brought to Him many who were possessed with demons. And He cast out the spirits with His word, and healed all who were sick, to fulfill what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, ‘He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.’” Matthew 8:16-17 citing Isa. 53:4

“For I tell you, what is written must yet be accomplished in Me, ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ Indeed, what is written concerning Me has a fulfillment.” Luke 22:37 citing Isa. 53:12

“Then Philip ran to him, and heard him read the book of Isaiah the prophet, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. The passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: ‘He was led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation justice was denied Him; who will speak of His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.’ The eunuch said to Philip, ‘I ask you, of whom does the prophet speak, of himself or of someone else?’ Then Philip spoke, beginning with the same Scripture, and preached Jesus to him.” Acts 8:30-35 citing Isa. 53:7-8

“For to this you were called, because Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘He committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth.’ When He was reviled, He did not revile back; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but He entrusted Himself to Him who judges righteously. He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness. ‘By His wounds you were healed.’ For you were as sheep going astray, but now have been returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:21-25 referencing Isa. 53:5, 9

The fact that Isaiah 53 is cited as a prophesy of the vicarious suffering, death, rising and exaltation of the Messiah, and the fact that you cannot cite any Jewish sources, composed before or during the time of the writing of the NT writings, which refute or contradict the Christian interpretation and understanding of this OT text, actually ends up rebutting your entire argument. The NT use of Isaiah 53 actually proves that the Jews did view this as a Messianic prophesy, which explains why so many first century Jews ended up embracing Jesus as their Messiah, and further explains why even later rabbinic sources did not shy away from affirming its Messianic significance.

Therefore, all of these factors end up proving that your namesake (irony of ironies!), the Apostle Paul, knew what he was talking about and knew a lot more than you do about the Jewish interpretation of specific OT passages such as Isaiah 53. Therefore, there wasn’t anything novel about Paul’s concept of a Messiah who suffers and dies for our sins.

Now all of what I stated here is what is REALLY, REALLY, REALLY important!

I then went on to issue some challenges of my own:

Here’s my challenge to Williams and all the Muslims here. Since Williams has been appealing to the Messianic belief of the Jews before and during the time of Christ, I want him to cite a single Jewish source that says the following about the Messiah:

  1. The Messiah will be conceived and born of a virgin.
  2. The Messiah will simply go around preaching monotheism and calling people to the worship of the Lord God of Israel (cf. Q. 5:72).
  3. The Messiah will announce the coming of an unlettered prophet and messenger from the line of the Arabs, whose name would be Ahmad (cf. Q. 61:6).
  4. Because of the Jews’ plot to kill him, God would end up terminating the Messiah’s earthly ministry by raising him physically, bodily to himself, to dwell in his own presence (Q. 3:54-55; 4:158).
  5. God would then mislead the Jews into thinking that they killed their own Messiah even though that is not what actually took place (Q. 4:157).
  6. God would then send the Messiah back to the earth to finish the job that he was sent to do, including killing the antichrist and his armies, as well as ushering in the one true religion on a global scale (Q. 43:61 and the mutawatir ahadith attributed to Muhammad).

 

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