Prophecy and History
in Relation to the Messiah

The Warburton Lectures for 1880-1884

Alfred Edersheim



The volume herewith presented to the reader contains the Lectures delivered during the years 1880-84 in the Chapel of Lincoln's Inn on the foundation of Bishop Warburton. Its object, as expressed in the Will of the founder, is 'to prove the truth of revealed religion in general, and of the Christian in particular, from the completion of those prophecies in the Old and New Testaments which relate to the Christian Church, especially to the apostacy of Papal Rome.'

From the wide range of subjects thus opened, it was necessary to select one—and naturally that, which would most directly meet the present phase of theological discussion, and so best fulfil the purpose for which the Lectureship had been instituted. Not, indeed, that the primary object should be negative, either in the defence of Catholic truth from its assailants, or in the refutation of objections brought against it. For all proper defence of truth must aim after this positive result: more clearly to define, and more accurately to set forth, that which is certainly believed among us. And this, in the good guidance of our God, is the higher meaning and issue of theological controversy. As every schism and separation indicate some truth which had been neglected, or temporarily ignored, by the Church, so each controversy marks some point on which the teaching of the Church had been wanting in clearness, accuracy, or fulness. And so every controversy, however bitter or threatening in its course, ultimately contributes to the establishment of truth—not merely, nor even principally, by the answer to objections which it calls forth, but by the fuller consideration of what had been invalidated, and the consequent wider and more accurate understanding of it. Thus, long after the din of controversy has ceased, with all of human infirmity attending it, and the never ending conflict between truth and error has passed to another battle-field, the peaceful fruits of the contest remain as a permanent gain. In the end it may be so, that much that has proved indefensible—and which all along had only been held because it was traditional, and had never before been properly considered—may have to be given up; and that, the old truth may have to be presented in new forms, as the result of more accurate investigation and more scientific criticism. Yet still every contest, whatever its trials or the seeming loss, ultimately issues in what is better than victory—in real advance. But to each of us, who in loving loyalty has sought to contribute, according to his capacity, to the defence and further elucidation of what we cherish as the Revelation of God to man, comes this comfort of no small inward reassurance. We may have only partially succeeded in our effort; we may have even failed of success. But every defence and attempt at clearer elucidation, unless wholly ungrounded in reason or criticism, at least shows that defence and a clearer and higher position are possible, even though we may not have reached to it; and it points out the direction which others, perhaps more successful than we, may follow. Thus here also 'both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.' For, the end is certain—not that full and free criticism may be suppressed, but that it may be utilised, that so on the evening of the battle there may be assured peace, and the golden light shine around the old truth in her new garments of conquest, revealing the full perfection of her beauty.

Some contribution, however humble, towards this end, has been the object of these Lectures. Their form and limits prevented anything like the complete and scientific treatment which I could have wished. Yet the main questions concerning the Old Testament and its Messianic hope have been faced, and, in some respects, viewed under a new aspect. On Prophetism, as essentially distinguished from heathen divination; on Prophecy, as distinct from prophecies; on its wider relation to fulfilment; as well as on other cognate subjects, the views here expressed will, I venture to think, be found different from those hitherto presented. It need scarcely be stated, that at the present time the questions connected with the Old Testament occupy the foreground of theological discussion. Whether, or not, there is in the Old Testament any prophecy in the true and, as we had regarded it, the Scriptural sense; whether there were of old any directly God-sent prophets in Israel, with a message from heaven for the present, as well as for the future; whether there was any Messianic hope from the beginning, and any conception of a spiritual Messiah; nay, whether the state of religious belief in Israel was as we had hitherto imagined, or quite different; whether, indeed, there were any Mosaic institutions at all, or else the greater part of what we call such, if not the whole, dated from much later times—the central and most important portion of them, from after the Exile; whether, in short, our views on all these points have to be completely changed, so that, instead of the Law and the Prophets, we should have to speak of the Prophets and the Law; and, instead of Moses and the Prophets, of the Prophets and the Priests; and the larger part of Old Testament literature should be ascribed to Exilian and post-Exilian times, or bears the impress of their falsifications:—these are some of the questions which now engage theological thinkers, and which on the negative side are advocated by critics of such learning and skill, as to have secured, not only on the Continent, but even among ourselves, a large number of zealous adherents.

In these circumstances it would have seemed nothing short of dereliction of duty on the part of one holding such a lectureship—indeed, inconsistent with its real object—to have simply passed by such discussions. For, in my view at least, they concern not only critical questions, but the very essence of our faith in 'the truth of revealed religion in general, and of the Christian in particular.' To say that Jesus is the Christ, means that He is the Messiah promised and predicted in the Old Testament; while the views above referred to respecting the history, legislation, institutions, and prophecies of the Old Testament, seem incompatible alike with Messianic predictions in the Christian sense, and even with real belief in the Divine authority of the larger portion of our Bible. And, if the Old Testament be thus surrendered, it is difficult to understand how the claims of the New, which is based on it, can be long or seriously sustained. Hence, while attempting to show the prophetic character of the Old Testament and its fulfilment in Jesus Christ, it seemed necessary to secure our position against attack both in front and rear. For the latter purpose I have sought to establish (in Lecture 3) what the primitive belief of the Church really was, by a reference to those portions of the Gospel-narratives which the most extreme negative criticism admits to be an authentic record of the faith of the early Christians, and by making similar examination of the apostolic testimony to the Gospel-facts in such of the apostolic writings of which the genuineness is not called in question. Having thus ascertained what was the earliest tradition of the Church concerning the Christ, say about thirty years after the Crucifixion, I proceeded to inquire what light was thrown upon it by references in Talmudic writings, at the same time describing the earliest recorded intercourse between Jewish Teachers and Christians. By the side of this, there was a second, and, as running parallel to the first, a confirmatory line of evidence from witnesses, not only independent, but hostile. Here it has been sought to ascertain, on the one hand, the full import of the account given by Josephus of John the Baptist, which is generally admitted to be genuine; and, on the other, what light the well-known Epistle of Pliny the Younger about the Christians reflects upon the observances and the underlying belief of the Early Church. While thus the testimony of Josephus was seen to flash light upon the beginning of Christianity, that of Pliny reflected it back to about the year 80 or 90 of our era, the intermediate period—say, from about 60 of our era—being covered by what is admitted to have been the universal tradition of the Primitive Church.

Having thus secured my position in front, I also endeavoured to establish it in the rear, by an examination of the theories of recent criticism in regard to the structure and order of the Old Testament, more especially of the Pentateuch legislation and the historical books, for the purpose of vindicating the Mosaic authorship of that legislation, and its accordance with the notices in the historical books (Lectures 7 and 8). Here an account was first given (in Lecture 7) of the history and progress of recent criticism of the Pentateuch, from its inception to the present time, together with certain general objections to the latest theory of Wellhausen, and an indication of the wide-reaching sequences to which such views would lead. Next (in Lecture 8), the theory of Wellhausen was examined more in detail. The general position on our side of the question having been indicated, it was sought to show, by an analysis of the condition of Israel during the course of its history, that the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch legislation is accordant with the notices in the historical books of the Old Testament. Then the theory of our opponents was further combated, first, by certain fundamental objections to it, alike in principle and in detail; secondly, by some arguments intended to show the primitive and Mosaic character of the legislation and institutions of the Pentateuch; and, lastly, by a consideration of what, from an historical point of view, we should have expected to find—or else not to find—in the Pentateuch, if its date and construction had been as modern negative criticism asserts. The arguments in these respects are supported and supplemented by two longer Notes (at the end of Lecture 8), and by two Appendices, embodying chiefly the results of the critical labours of some German scholars. The second Note to Lecture 8 will be found of great interest and importance to the critical student, giving, as it does, a revised list of the passages by which Dr. Hoffmann has proved that Ezekiel had before him, and had quoted from, those portions of the Pentateuch, the publication of which Wellhausen ascribes to the time of Ezra. Similarly, Appendix 2 furnishes an abstract of the summary of Kleinert, giving a general analysis of the Pentateuch; stating its own witness, and that of the other parts of the Old Testament, to its composition; the various phases through which recent Pentateuch criticism has passed, and the reasons by which it is supported; also an enumeration of the passages which are supposed to form what is regarded as the latest portion of the Pentateuch; and, finally, an account of some of the modifications which the Rabbis found it necessary to introduce in that part of the legislation, in order to adapt it to the practical requirements of later times.

After this detailed statement only a brief account appears necessary of the general argument followed in these Lectures. At the outset, it was felt that no good purpose could be served by endeavouring once more to follow the line of reasoning which previous lecturers had so ably and learnedly traced. Besides, the general position taken as to the relation between Prophecy and prophecies, between fulfilment and prediction, and as to the order in which they should be studied, forbade any such attempt on my part. On the other hand, I wished, first, to study anew, and clearly to define, the points just mentioned, and then to trace the history of the great Messianic hope in the Old Testament, through all its stages, from its inception in the Paradise-promise to the last prophetic announcement by John the Baptist. Thus, 'Prophecy and History in relation to the Messiah' was to form the subject of the course. In pursuance of this, the first Lecture is intended to indicate the general ground taken up tracing the origin of Christianity to the teaching of the Old Testament, and showing that the great Messianic hope, of which Jesus presented the realisation, could not have originated in His time, nor close to it, nor yet in the centuries which had elapsed since the return from the Exile. Lecture 2 carries the argument a step further, by showing that 'the Kingdom of God' had been the leading idea throughout the whole Old Testament. At the same time, the form in which prophecy of old was presented to successive generations, and the relation between prophecy and fulfilment, are discussed, while the character of prophetism is defined, and the development of heathenism by the side of Israel, and the ideal destiny of the latter, are traced. In a Note appended to Lecture 2 the ordinary interpretation of Genesis 12:3 is defended against the criticism of Professor Kuenen. Lecture 3 establishes the position, that the New Testament presents Christ as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, by showing that this is borne out by unquestioned Christian, and by most important Jewish and heathen testimony (the Rabbis, Josephus, Pliny). Lecture 4 defines and lays down some fundamental principles in regard to 'prophecy' and 'fulfilment,' and discusses certain special prophecies. It also explains the Biblical terms applied to the prophets, and the functions of 'the sons of the prophets'; and, lastly, refers to some prophecies in the New Testament. Lecture 5 distinguishes between prophetism and heathen divination; exhibits the moral element in prophecy; and discusses the value of the two canons which the Old Testament furnishes for distinguishing the true from the false prophet. Lecture 6 treats both of the progressive character of prophecy, and of the spiritual element in it, and shows how both prophecy and the Old Testament as a whole point beyond themselves to a spiritual fulfilment in the Kingdom of God—marking also the development during the different stages of the history of Israel, to the fulfilment in Christ. Lectures 7 and 8 are devoted to a defence of the views previously set forth concerning the Old Testament, and contain an examination of recent negative criticism, in regard to the Pentateuch and the historical books. Lecture 9 resumes the history of the Messianic idea. It discusses the general character of the post-exilian literature, and gives an analysis of the Apocrypha and of their teaching, of the new Hellenist direction, and of the bearing of all on the Messianic hope. A doctrinal and critical comparison is also made between the Apocrypha and the Old Testament, and the points of difference are marked and explained. In Lecture 10 the various movements of Jewish national life are traced in their bearing on the Messianic idea—especially the 'Nationalist' movement, of which, in a certain sense, the so-called Pseudepigraphic writings may be regarded as the religious literature. Lecture 11 gives an account and analysis of these Pseudepigraphic writings, marking especially their teaching concerning the Messiah and Messianic times. Lastly, Lecture 12 sets forth the last stage in Messianic prophecy—the mission and preaching of John the Baptist, and the fulfilment of all prophecy in Jesus the Messiah.

To this analysis of the general argument, little of a personal character requires to be added. The literature of the subject has been sufficiently indicated in the foot-notes; it is not so large as to have made a special enumeration necessary at the beginning of this Volume. For obvious reasons I have, so far as possible, avoided all reference to living English writers, whether on one or the other side of the questions treated. Lastly—as regards the manner in which the subject has been treated in this book, every writer must be fully conscious, and, where the highest truth is concerned, painfully sensible, of shortcomings in his attempt to realise the ideal which he had set before himself. In the present instance there were special difficulties—first, as already stated, from the form of these Lectures, and the space to which they were necessarily confined, which prevented that more full discussion which, in some parts, I could have desired. Besides this, I must mention at least one other disadvantage under which I laboured. From the circumstance that this course of Lectures not only extended over four years, but that the Lectures in each year had to be delivered at periods widely apart, occasional repetitions of the argument could not be avoided.

That the statement and defence of views so widely differing from what may be described as the current of modern criticism, may call forth strong, perhaps even violent, contradiction, I must be prepared to find. This only will I say, that, within the conditions prescribed by this course, I have earnestly sought to set forth what I believe to be the truth of Revelation concerning Jesus the Messiah, as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, and the hope of Israel in all ages. To Him I would now commend this volume on its way to its unknown readers. As the motto for it I would fain choose the opening sentence with which the first Gospel introduces the history, and on which it grounds the Messianic claims, of Jesus: Βιβλος γενεσεως 'Ιησου Χριστου, υιου Δαβιδ, υιου 'Αβρααμ. And as my concluding words, I would transcribe these of the Venerable Bede: 'Si autem Moyses et prophetæ de Christo locuti sunt, et eum per passionem in gloriam intraturum prædixerunt, quomodo gloriatur se esse Christianum, qui neque qualiter Scripturæ ad Christum pertineant, investigat; neque ad gloriam, quam cum Christo habere cupit, per passionem attingere desiderat?'

8 Bradmore Road, Oxford:
January 6, 1885

Next Lecture Table of Contents

Copyright 2006 JCR