Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 235 + Appendices and Indices. 

In preparation for my ‘Messiah in the Old Testament’ class this summer I read Kaiser’s take on the subject. Having read Fitzmyer’s work, I found this one to be an entirely different take. Kaiser is only concerned with the biblical texts themselves, paying little attention to how they have interpreted historically (though he does touch on this at points).

Kaiser organizes his book diachronically based on a very conservative dating of texts. Thus, after an introduction, he looks at 1) messianic passages in the Pentateuch, 2) before an during the monarchy, 3) in the psalms, 4) in the ninth and eighth century prophets, 5) in Isaiah, 6) in seventh and sixth century prophets, and 7) in the post-exilic prophets.

Kaiser begins by citing what he believes is the usual definition of the term ‘messianic,’ namely, “everything in the OT that refers to the hope of a glorious future” (15). He is aware that this is problematic since many passages that speak of a glorious future speak of the Lord’s actions rather than the Messiah’s but he also claims that there are significant overlap between the actions of the Lord and the actions of His Messiah. 

From the start, as Kaiser surveys the various texts, he sees Messiah in almost every passage traditionally thought of as messianic. He argues that the ‘edenic promise’ is a messianic promise, even though he is aware it is only the beginning of a progressive revelation of the messianic message. Throughout his book he tends to make arguments (some very good, some less so) for Messiah in all the traditional passages. 

One major weakness of Kaiser’s book is that it reads like an insiders discussion amongst evangelicals. He interacts most often with James Smith, What the Bible teaches about the Promised Messiah; Charles Briggs, Messianic Prophecy; the commentaries of Keil and Delitzsch, and Kaiser’s own previous works. Almost no mention is made of classic texts such as Mowinckel’s. 

Despite that drawback, Kaiser’s work, though written at a semi-popular level is also capable of making fairly detailed arguments. For example, he argues that Jeremiah 23:5-6 should be understood as “the LORD our righteousness” (as opposed to “the LORD is righteousness”) based on the accent marks of the Masoretic Text (and not just the atnac or zaqef…)

It took me a while to get into this book but in the end I enjoyed it. If you are looking for a good defense of a conservative reading of messianic prophecies than this a good choice. If Fitzmyer is overly minimalistic in his views, Kaiser may be overly maximalistic. Hopefully, somewhere between them is a good view of the messianic passages of Scripture. It would be a great exercise to compare the arguments of Kaiser and Fitzmyer of some specific passages but that is fodder for another post, or series of posts.

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