The MOST Theological Collection: Outline of Christology

"II. Jewish Thought on the Preexistence of the Messiah"


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a) Scripture:

Micah 5. 2: "And you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah, you are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from the days of eternity." The Targum Jonathan on this verse reads: "whose name was spoken from days of old, from the days of eternity." Samson Levey, a major Jewish scholar (The Messiah. An Aramaic Interpretation, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, 1974, p. 93) comments that although there does not seem to be a Rabbinic doctrine of a preexistent Messiah, yet the last words of the Hebrew text do tend to suggest such a preexistence.

Malachi 3. 1: "Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before my face, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight." R. H. Fuller (The Foundations of New Testament Christology, Chas. Scribner's Sons, NY, 1965, p. 48: The starting point for this expectation is Mal 4:5 f. (Mt. 3:23f. ). In this passage, an editorial note commenting on Mal 3: 1, Elijah appears as the forerunner not of the Messiah but of Yahweh himself... followed by the coming of Yahweh to his temple for the eschatological judgment." Fuller uses the number Mal 4. 5, following some English versions and the Vulgate. The Hebrew has it at 3:23-24. Jesus in Mt 11. 13 used a modified form of the text (by influence of the familiar and similar sounding Ex 23. 20, and makes clear that he is the one, the Messiah, and by implication, is Yahweh Himself.

b)Intertestamental literature:

First Enoch 48. 1-6 (Charlesworth, Pseudepigrapha I): (p. 35): "... even before the creation of the sun and moon, before the creation of the stars, he was given a name in the presence of the Lord of Spirits... . he was concealed in the presence of (the Lord of Spirits) prior to the creation of the world and for eternity.

(p. 9) Comments by editor of segment, E. Isaac: "The Messiah in 1 Enoch, called the Righteous One, and the Son of Man, is depicted as a preexistent heavenly being who is resplendent and majestic, possesses all dominion, and sits on his throne of glory passing judgment upon all mortals and spiritual beings." And also on p. 9 :"... it is clear that the work originated in Judea and was in use in "Qumran before the beginning of the Christian period."

c)Rabbinic thought:

Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 4. 4. 54a: "Seven things were created before the creation of the world, namely: Torah, repentance, paradise, gehenna, the throne of majesty, the temple, and the name of the Messiah."

Pesikta Rabati, Piska 33. 6 (775-900 AD). From: W. Braude, Yale Judaica Studies, 18. , 1968, p. 641-43): "You find that at the very beginning of the creation of the world, the king Messiah had already come into being, for he existed in God's thought even before the world was created. But where is the proof that the king Messiah existed from the beginning of God's creation of the world? The proof is in the verse, 'And the spirit of God moved, ' words which identify the king Messiah, of whom it is said, 'And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him (Isa 11. 2)."

COMMENTS: 1. As Levey notices, Micah 5 implies preexistence of the Messiah. Mal 3. 1 as used by Jesus implies even divinity. The words of 1 Enoch do state a real preexistence. The Rabbinic texts are at least close. For in Hebrew thought the name at times approaches identification with the person. The naming of things brings them into existence: Is 40. 26. To cut off a person's name means not only death but obliteration of his existence: cf. 1 Sam 24. 22 and Ps 9. 6.

2. We notice that in 1 Enoch the Messiah is called Son of Man.