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Is the New Testament Jewish in its Interpretation of the Old Testament?

By Dr. Robert Morey

One of the ploys used by modern Jewish apologists is to claim that the authors of the NT inserted the Messiah in many OT passages that the Jews never considered messianic. It is further claimed that these erroneous messianic interpretations prove that Christianity did not develop out of Judaism. Instead, the true origins of Christianity can be found in Greek/Roman paganism.
Jewish apologists usually get away with making such bold claims because the average Christian is completely ignorant of the early Jewish literature that formed the literary and theological context of the NT. But ignorance is not bliss when it comes to apologetics. We are commanded in the NT to be prepared to answer those who attack the Faith (I Pet. 3:15).

The only way to ascertain if early Judaism did or did not in fact give a messianic interpretation of the OT Scriptures that are interpreted as messianic by the NT authors is to examine the Jewish literature that existed before the NT was written. Since most of this literature is available only to scholars, it is very difficult for the average Christian to answer Jewish apologists. 

Since these apologists are growing in popularity and are becoming more vocal in their attacks on the Church, we will now demonstrate that the NT was in line with the way Judaism interpreted their Scriptures. In other words, we will prove that the NT is thoroughlyJewish in its interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures.

We have already demonstrated in The Trinity: Evidence and Issues that the NT’s messianic interpretation of the OT was in line with early Judaism by examining the Midrash and the Talmuds. In an effort to supply more of this evidence, we have decided to expound upon the messianic interpretations found in the Aramaic Targums.


The Origin of the Targums
During the Captivity, many Jews lost the knowledge of Hebrew. To deal with this problem the rabbis translated the Scriptures into languages that were understandable to the people. They produced the Septuagint for those Jews who could read Greek and the Targums for those who could read Aramaic.

Since fragments of some of the Targums have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and definitely date before the birth of Yeshua, they cannot be dismissed as the work of Christian scribes. The Targums are indisputably Jewish.

The Targums are not a literal word-for-word literal translation from the Hebrew text but a loose paraphrase that strives to make plain the meaning of the text. The Targums also include editorial insertions that “fill out” the text by inserting comments from the translators. These interpolations reflect traditions that are obviously older than the Targums.

For example, instead of translating Gen. 2:17, “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die," Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis 2:35-36 paraphrases it as, “on the day which you eat of it you shall incur the death-penalty.” 

The translator solves the problem that since Adam did not in fact die the day he ate of the forbidden tree, the threat of God failed to materialize as promised. But instead of the threat of death, Adam was faced with the threat that he would incur the death penalty on the day he sinned. The dying would take place on another day.  

Another example is found in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis 39:1 where the translator inserts into the text crucial information as to who Potiphar was and why he purchased Joseph.

Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar,
an official of Pharaoh, the chief executioner, an
Egyptian, bought him with a surety from the
Arabs who had taken him down there. For he
saw that he was handsome, and he intended to
practice sodomy with him; and immediately a
divine decree was issued against him, and his
testicles dried up, and he became impotent.

We are obviously given a great deal of information in the Targums about Potiphar that is not part of the original Hebrew text. 

This information is often much more than mere commentary. We are sometimes told the origin of various aspects of intertestamental Judaism. For example, where and when did “synagogues” originate? The Targum of Ezekiel in ch. 11:16, tells us,

Therefore, say, “Thus says the Lord God: Because
I scattered them in the countries, therefore I have
I have given them synagogues, second only to My
Holy Temple, because they are few in number in the
countries to which they have been exiled.


The Memra and The Word of God
Some of these interpolations form the background of the New Testament. When John in Gen. 1:1 referred to “the Word” who created the world, he was not referring to the Platonic Greek philosophic Logos found in Philo. He was linking Jesus to the Memra mentioned hundreds of times in the Aramaic Targums. 

The Memra is introduced as the Creator of the world (Targum Neofiti 1:Genesis 1) and the One who appeared to the Adam, Noah, and Patriarchs. See particularly Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Genesis: pages 22, 26, 31, 41, 53, 64, etc..

What is amazing is the Aramaic text in Targum Neofit 1: Genesis: 1:1, literally reads,

From the beginning with wisdom the Son of Yahweh (bar dYYY) created and perfected the heavens and the earth.

Most liberal scholars assume that this reading could not be in the original text and they correct it to read “the Memra of Yahweh created…” But the Aramaic “Son of God” Scroll found in Cave Four of the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrates that intertestamental Judaism had already developed a doctrine of the Messiah as the divine “Son of God” before Jesus was born. (See my book, Trinity: Evidence and Issues for the details.) 

What the Memra did in the Targums is often attributed to Jesus in the New Testament. He is the Memra of YHWH (“Word of God”).


The Messiah
The Messianic expectations found in the Targums reveal a deep longing for the coming of the Anointed One, the King, the Son of David, who will deliver Israel, raise the dead, and usher in the final eternal kingdom that will encompass the entire world. Echoes of the Targums can be found throughout the New Testament.  


Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis
Gen. 3:15 The serpent will be defeated “in the day of King Messiah.”

Gen. 49:10-13  “Kings shall not cease from among those of the house of Judah and neither shall scribes teaching the Law from his son’ sons until the time of King Messiah shall come, to whom the kingship belongs; to him shall all the kingdoms be subject. How beautiful is King Messiah who is to arise from among those of the house of Judah. He girds his loins and goes forth to battle against those that hate him; and he kills kings with rulers, and makes the mountains red from the blood of their slain and makes the valleys white from the fat of their warriors. His garments are rolled in blood; he is like a presser of grapes. How beautiful are the eyes of King Messiah; more than pure wine, lest he see with them their revealing of nakedness or the shedding of innocent blood. His teeth are purer than milk, lest he eat with them things that are stolen or robbed. The mountains will become red from his vines and the vats from wine; and the hills will become white from the abundance of grain and flocks of sheep. And Zebulun will dwell by the coasts of the Great Sea, and he shall rule over the ports of ships, and his territory shall reach as far as Sidon.”


Targum Pseudo-Jonanthan: Numbers
Numbers 24:17-24  “I see him, but he is not here now; I observe him, but he is not near: When the strong King from those of the house of Jacob shall rule and the Messiah and the strong rod from Israel shall be anointed, he will kill the leaders of the Moabites and make nothing of all the children of Seth, the armies of Gog, who in the future will make war against Israel, and all their dead bodies shall fall before him…The first of the nations who made was against those of the house of Israel was those of the house of Amalek. Their end in the days of the King Messiah, is to make war along with the children of the east against those of the house of Israel…And he took up the parable of this prophecy and said: “Woe to whoever is alive at the time when the Memra (Word) of the Lord is revealed, to give the good reward to the righteous ones, and to take revenge on the evil ones, and to cause nations and kings to form alliances, and to incite one against another…They shall afflict the Assyrians and subjugate all the children of Eber. Yet the end of each of these shall be to fall by the hand of the King Messiah and to be forever destroyed.”


Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Deuteronomy 
Deut. 30:3-4 “his Memra will accept with pleasure your repentance and will be gracious to you and will return and gather you from all the nations where the Lord scattered you. Even though your dispersal will be to the ends of the heavens, from there will the Memra of the Lord gather you through the mediation of the King Messiah.”


The Isaiah Targum
4:2 “In that time the Messiah of the LORD shall be for joy and for glory, and those who perform the law for pride and for praise to the survivors of Israel.”

9:6 “The prophet said to the house of David, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and he will accept the law upon himself to keep it, and his name will be called before the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, existing forever, the Messiah in whose days peace will increase upon us.”

11:1-6 “And a king shall come forth from the sons of Jesse, and the Messiah shall be exalted from the sons of his sons. And a spirit before the LORD shall rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and might, a spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And the LORD shall bring him near to his fear. And he shall not judge by the sight of his eyes, and he shall not reprove by the hearing of his ears. But in truth he will judge the poor, and reprove with faithfulness for the needy of the people; and he shall strike the sinners in the land with the command of his mouth, and with the speaking of his lips the wicked will die. And the righteous shall be all around him, and the faithful shall be brought near him. In the days of the Messiah of Israel shall peace increase in the land, and the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a suckling child shall lead them.”

14:29 “Rejoice not, all you Philistines, because the ruler who was subjugating you is broken, for from the sons of the sons of Jesse the Messiah will come forth, and his deeds will be among you as a wounding serpent.”

28:5-6 “In that time the Messiah of the LORD of Hosts will be a diadem of joy and a crown of praise, to the remnant of his people; and a command of true judgment to those who sit in the house of judgment, to judge true judgment and to give the victory to those who go forth in the battle, to return them in peace to their houses.”

52:13-53:10 “Behold, my servant, the Messiah, shall prosper, he shall be exalted and increase, and shall be very strong…he shall scatter many people and kings shall be silent before him…a man of sorrows and appointed for sicknesses…our iniquities for his sake will be forgiven…they shall see the kingdom of their Messiah…”


The Targum of Jeremiah
23:5-6 “Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I shall raise up for David a Messiah, and he shall reign as king and prosper, and he shall perform true justice and righteousness in the land.”

30:9 “And they shall worship before the Lord their God, and shall obey the Messiah, the son of David, their king whom I will raise up for them.”

30:21 “And their king shall be anointed from them and their Messiah shall be revealed from among them; and I will bring them near, and they shall assemble to my worship. For who is he whose heart delights to draw near to my worship, says the Lord?”

33:13 “In the cities of the mountains, in the cities of the lowland, and the cities of the south, and in the land of the tribe of Benjamin, and in the environs of Jerusalem, in the cities of the house of Judah, the people shall yet eagerly pursue the words of the Messiah, says the Lord…In those days I will raise for David a Messiah of righteousness, and he shall perform true justice and righteousness in the land.”


The Targum of the Minor Prophets
Hosea 3:5 “After that, the people of Israel will return and seek the worship of the Lord their God, and will obey the Messiah, son of David their king.”

Hosea 14:8 “They shall be gathered from among their exiles, they shall dwell in the shade of their Messiah. The dead shall be resurrected and goodness shall increase in the land.”

Micah 4:8 “And you, O Messiah of Israel, who has been hidden away because of the sins of the congregation of Zion, the kingdom shall come to you, and the former dominion shall be restored to the kingdom of the congregation of Jerusalem.”

Micah 5:1 “And you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, you who were too small to be numbered among the thousands of the house of Judah, from you shall come forth before me the Messiah, to exercise dominion over Israel, he whose name was mentioned from of old, from ancient times.”

Zech. 3:8 “Hear now, Joshua the high priest, you and your companions who sit before you, for they are men who are worthy that a sign be performed for them; for behold, I will bring my servant the Messiah, and he shall be revealed.”

Zech. 4:7 “What are you reckoned, O Foolish kingdom? Are you not like a plain before Zerubbabel?  And he shall reveal his Messiah whose name is told from of old, and he shall rule all kingdoms.”

Zech. 6:12-13 “And you shall speak to him, saying, “Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying, ‘Behold the man who name is Messiah will be revealed, and he shall be raised up, and shall build the temple of the Lord. He shall build the temple of the Lord and he shall assume majesty and shall sit and rule upon his throne’…”

Zech. 10:3-5 “the house of Judah…from them will be their king, from them their Messiah…”

Zech. 12:10 “…they shall mourn for him just as they mourn for an only son and lament for him as they lament for a firstborn.” 
Note: The Reuchlinianus marginal reading adds, “And afterwards the Messiah son of Ephraim will go out to do battle with Gog, and Gog will slay him in from of the gate of Jerusalem.”


The Targum of Qohelet
7:24 “Behold, already it eluded man to know everything which was from the days of old and the secret of the day of death and the secret of the day when king Messiah will come.”


The Targum of Canticles
1:8  “they will be provided for in exile, until I send them the King Messiah, who will lead them gently to their tents, that is the temple, which David and Solomon the shepherds of Israel had built for them.”

1:17 “How fair is the Temple of the Lord that has been built from cedar-wood, but fairer still will be the Temple that is going to be built in the days of King Messiah, the beams of which will be of cedars from the Garden of Eden, and its joists will be of cypress, teak, and cedar.”

4:5 “Your two deliverers, who will deliver you, the Messiah son of David and the Messiah son of Ephraim, are like Moses and Aaron, the sons of Jochebed.”

7:14 “When it shall be the good pleasure of the Lord to redeem his people from exile, He will say to the Messiah, ‘…Arise now and receive the kingdom I have stored up for you.’…”

8:2 “I will lead you, O King Messiah, I will bring you up into my Temple, and you will teach me to fear the Lord, and to walk in His ways.”

8:4 “The king Messiah will say, ‘I adjure you, O my people of the House of Israel, not to be stirred up against the nations of the world, in order to escape from exile, nor to rebel against the hosts of Gog and Magog. Wait yet a little till the nations that have come to wage war against Jerusalem are destroyed, and after that the Lord of the World will remember for your sake the love of the righteous, and it shall be the Lord’s good pleasure to redeem you.’…”


The Two Targums of Esther
In chapter one we are told that ten kingdoms have been destined to rule the earth:

  1. The kingdom of Lord of Hosts
  2. The kingdom of Nimrod
  3. The kingdom of Pharaoh
  4. The kingdom of Israel
  5. The kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar
  6. The kingdom of Xerxes
  7. The kingdom of Rome
  8. The kingdom of Greece
  9. The kingdom of “the son of David, the Messiah”
  10. The kingdom of Lord of Hosts


Once you add the testimony of the Targums to that of the Midrash, the Mishnah, the Talmuds, the Pseudapigrapha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is clear that the New Testament’s messianic interpretation of the Old Testament was in line with the Judaism of its day. Christianity is Jewish to its inner core and is the flower of which Judaism is the bud.

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