Book Review of “Messianic Exegesis: Christological Interpretation of the Old Testament in Early Christianity” by Donald Juel

My review of Donald Juel’s Messianic Exegesis: Christological Interpretation of the Old Testament in Early Christianity can be found on the book’s Amazon page…and also below.  [I’ve made some corrections and additions to the version below which I have not made to the Amazon version.]

Very Enlightening

This book will help you understand how the earliest Christians read the Old Testament. It is not the only book you’ll ever want to read on this subject, because it does not answer all the questions. But it is eye-opening and I am very glad that I read it.

This is an academic book. If you are a general reader like me, this means you have to read it accepting certain limitations. One limitation for a general reader is that you are entering in the middle of a conversation. Because academics write for peer review, any given book is responding to previous books written on the subject. If you haven’t read those others books, your understanding of the current book is going to be limited. That’s not unduly troublesome in reading this book, but it’s best to be mentally prepared for this dynamic when you’re reading.

Another limitation of an academic book for a general reader is that it raises more questions than it answers. Juel’s scholarly colleagues probably appreciate this approach but general readers aren’t as edified because we don’t usually have time to track down those who will write subsequent books and articles which address the unanswered questions and comment on the answered ones. Juel wrote this book in 1988 and he died in 2003, so there’s probably lots of subsequent conversation in the scholarly realm to explore for those who have time.

Turning to the benefits of this book, at the top of the list is the window it gives on first-century Christian interpretation of the Old Testament. To accomplish this, Juel describes how the Jewish sect at Qumram (the Dead Sea Scrolls), which goes back to 150 years before Christ, interpreted Old Testament passages in expectation of the Jewish messiah. He also looks at literature from rabbinic Judaism (including reference to Justin Martyr’s “Dialogue with Trypho”) to determine what broader Judaism thought about the messiah in the time of Christ.

Let me now point out what I found to be the greatest value of the book.  Juel shows how those Jews who looked for a messiah found ways to “link” one messianic passage with another to “fill out” the picture they had of the coming deliverer. For example, 2 Samuel 7:10-14 was widely considered a “messianic promise.” In that passage, there was reference to “David’s seed.” On this basis, the reader of Scripture could look for other biblical passages which referred to “David’s seed” in order to add to the conception of the messiah. Juel particularly shows how Christian readers performed this sort of exegesis, which allowed them to connect, for example, Isaiah’s “suffering servant” passages to previously standard messianic conceptions – leading to a new conception of messiah, greater than any that came before it, which allowed for suffering and glory, crucifixion and resurrection.

You will not find in this book a fully-constructed Christology. You will find, however, a description of how the earliest Christians began constructing their Christology. Limitations notwithstanding, I found this book fascinating and highly rewarding.

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