Wednesday, February 7, 2018

John 19:37 = Zechariah 12:10. They will look on the one whom they have pierced.

Here is an interesting verse.
John 19:37 (NRSV)
And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
The cited is Zechariah 12:10.
And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
John, interestingly, did not explicitly say that the soldier's piercing Jesus' side fulfilled a scripture; however, as much can be inferred from context. The previous verse says that the incident fulfills Psalm 34:20.
John 19:36
These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”
Thus, we can comfortably conclude that John means to say that the Roman soldier's action fulfilled scripture. When a New Testament writer says some event "fulfilled scripture" we should not assume that the quoted scripture had a New Testament context in view. For a detailed explanation of the meaning of "fulfilled scripture" see this link.

John 19:37 deserves individual attention because it is often highlighted as a specific case example of how an Old Testament prophet predicted some detail of the Lord's Passion.

On the subject of prophetic prediction, the original Zechariah context is sufficiently vague as to permit a careless interpreter to apply it any way he wishes with no regard for it's context.

It is clear in John that the writer intends the passage to be read in his particular context. How should we understand its context in Zechariah?

Zechariah 12 warns of a growing threat of war but also predicts that Yahweh will defend Israel. After the promise of protection there comes a word of comfort in verse 10. The text does not report who was pierced but it implies that it was someone from the house of David. Further, the common translation "when they look on the one whom they have pierced" is a traditional rendering influenced by translation tradition. The phrase is difficult to translate. There are textual variants within the Hebrew tradition that, it turns out, are easy to explain. One of the two most likely meanings is,
...they will look to me, the one they have pierced (NET).
Because this translation introduces a difficulty in meaning, that Yahweh has been mortally wounded, some scribes "corrected" the text to make better theological sense while further confusing the reader. It is for that reason that I believe a translation indicating Yahweh as the one who is pierced is the best translation.

Before we move on, I will tip my hat to a suggested alternative by Pamela J. Scalise.
An alternate translation of the MT is preferable here: “they will look to me concerning the one they have pierced.” Looking to the Lord indicates commitment and awareness of God’s power (see Ps. 34:5; Isa. 22:11), and their mourning demonstrates remorse for the killing. (UBC)
Schalise agrees that someone is pierced (presumably from the house of David). Then the house of David (Zechariah 12:12-13) and all Jerusalem grieve to Yahweh about it.

This understanding is supported by Rodney A. Whitacre (John, IVPNT).
Here God seems to be identified with the leader of his people, a shepherd who is raised up by God (Zechariah 11:16) and yet will be struck by the sword (Zechariah 13:7).
Gerald Sigal believes it is accurate to understand the one pierced to be Yahweh himself through the suffering of Israel.
In the context of Zechariah 12 we are told that God will defend His people and destroy their enemies. On that day, “they [the nation of Israel, i.e., the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, mentioned at the beginning of verse 10] shall look to Me [God] whom they [the nations, spoken of in verse 9, that shall come up against Jerusalem] have pierced; then they [Israel] shall mourn for him [the slain of Israel as personified by the leader of the people, the warrior Messiah who will die in battle at this time].” The only admissible interpretation is... that the Gentile nations shall look to God, whom they have attacked by the persecution, death, and general suffering they inflicted on the nation of Israel (“him“), whose dead will be mourned by the surviving Jewish people. (Does John 19:37 misquote Zechariah 12:10?
It really is unclear who did the piercing but the victim is either a Davidic leader or God himself through the suffering of Israel.

John is thus making a fairly apt correlation between Jesus' suffering and this verse in Zechariah. In that first century event, the one pierced was both the Son of David and The Father himself.

Permit me to float a trial balloon. Haggai and Zechariah hot-dog Zerubbabel the governor (and descendant of David) as a potential messianic figure. Zerubbabel abruptly drops off the radar with Zechariah 4:10. He is no longer mentioned and the prophets of the time start looking elsewhere for hope. It seems that nobody knows what happened to Zerubbabel but the likelihood is high that the Persian government or some other smaller national neighbor heard about Haggai's and Zechariah's messianic expectations and they had Zerubbabel put to death. In that case, the one pierced may be understood to be Zerubbabel and that, after Yahweh does what he is going to do as described in chapter 12, the house of David and the rest of Jerusalem will finally be able to complete their mourning for Zerubbabel. I think that understanding is consistent.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Mathew 26:54. What, exactly, needed to be fulfilled?

I recently stumbled upon an interesting passage from the Second Temple period. This passage strikes me as helpful in understanding how Jewish people in the first century read scripture.

1 Maccabees 3:48
And they opened the book of the law to inquire into those matters about which the Gentiles consulted the likenesses of their gods. (NRSV)
The Common English Bible reads this way:
In addition, they opened up the Law scroll to find answers to the kinds of questions Gentiles would ask of their idols.
In other words, these soldiers, before going into battle, read from the Law to see if there was something in there they could apply to themselves. Can they find something that might be fulfilled in the coming battle?

The Gospels are sprinkled with many "fulfillment" passages. Consider this one.

Matthew 26:54
But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?”
Claims like this sometimes defy modern exegetical sensibilities. Here is the verse with some relevant context.

Matthew 26:51-56
51 Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
What does Matthew mean by quoting Jesus this way? Based upon our modern notions of "prophecy" we expect to find some very specific Old Testament prophecies describing soon-to-happen events in Matthew's Gospel; but if we look very closely, we fail to discover any such prophecies, especially any that detail events that include the arrest, trial, suffering, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

What scriptures did Matthew's Jesus have in mind that describe things that "must happen?"

Whatever events or scriptures Jesus had in mind by this statement, the actions of the people in this scene will affect whether or not current events will play out to fulfill (in the Matthean sense) the scriptures he had in mind.

Consider the way Second Temple Jews applied Scripture in light of 1 Maccabees 3:48. They were comfortable to contemporize the readings as if they were about themselves rather than about (or, in addition to) their original contexts. They were comfortable finding in the classical (Old Testament) literature similarities to current or recent events and name those events fulfillments of scripture.