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Encyclopedia of The Bible – Messiah
Messiah

MESSIAH. The verb מָשַׁח, H5417, means to smear, to anoint. When Jacob poured oil upon the stone at Bethel (Gen 28:18) this was explained as a sacral act (cf. 31:13). Such cultic acts were widely practiced in the ancient world (cf. J. G. Frazer, Adonis-Attis-Osiris [1907], 31f.).

1. The practice of anointing outside Israel. Oil played an important part in the ancient world. It was used for lighting, cooking, washing (as a substitute for soap), for cosmetic purposes; also as a medicine and in religious rites. Sacred anointing was practiced on people as well as on objects: “To oil a cult object is one of the commonest acts of worship” (Oxford Classical Dict.). The anointing of the statues of the gods was a common practice in Egypt, Babylon, Rome and elsewhere. Such cultic acts served the purpose of cleansing, consecration and veneration at the same time.

From the Amarna tablets it would appear that Pharaoh’s viceroys received anointing on taking office (cf. tablet 51). Whether this applied to the pharaohs themselves cannot be established with any degree of certainty. That the pharaohs were anointed at certain solemn occasions is suggested by tablet 34: “I have sent...good oil, to pour upon thy (head) whilst thou sittest upon the throne of thy kingdom.” There is some indication that kings received anointing in their capacity as priests. Frazer has shown that priests used to be anointed at an installation ceremony (Taboo II, 14f.).

The ancient Heb. custom of the use of oil for purposes of consecration is a practice which has many analogies outside Israel.

2. The practice of anointing in Israel. Oil served not only the purpose of consecration but was used widely for hygienic purposes and as an expression of joy. Plato describes it as “beneficial to human hair and to the human body generally” as long as it is not used internally (Protagoras, 334 b-c). The OT makes frequent reference to the cosmetic value of oil (cf. Ezek 16:9; Ruth 3:3; Song of Solomon 1:3; 4:10). It also knows of oil as a medicine (cf. Isa 1:6; 2 Chron 28:15). That oil enhances joy and happiness appears to be an accepted view (cf. Ps 45:7; Eccl 9:8; Isa 61:3). To refrain from the use of oil was an indication of mourning (cf. 2 Sam 14:2; Dan 10:3). Oil was used widely in cultic rites for the anointing of objects and persons. Exodus 30:23-25 provides a prescription for the ingredients of the oil of anointing: liquid myrrh, cinnamon, aromatic cane, cassia and olive oil. These substances were blended skillfully with the art of the “perfumer.”

The act of consecration required the anointing of every object appertaining to worship: the tent of meeting, the ark of testimony, the table, the lampstand, the altars, and every utensil connected with these objects. All these items acquired a special sanctity by reason of anointing, so that “whatever touches them will become holy” (Exod 30:26-29).

What applied to objects applied also to persons: Aaron and his sons were to be consecrated to the priesthood by means of anointing (30:30f.). The recipe prescribed for cultic purposes was not to be repeated for any other use and was not to be “poured upon the bodies of ordinary men” (30:32).

3. The anointing of priests. The anointing to the priesthood extended to all descendants of the house of Aaron (30:30). The consecration ceremony was performed by Moses. According to another tradition Moses consecrated Aaron and his sons with the oil of anointing and the blood of sacrifice (Lev 8:30). The question whether the rite of anointing to the priesthood was practiced from generation to generation and whether it applied to all priests cannot be answered with any certainty. According to rabbinic tradition only the high priest or the son of a high priest was anointed with the oil of unction (cf. Maimonides, Sefer Abodah, I, 7). This custom persisted only until the time of Josiah. After that time appointment to the high priesthood was by investiture of the appropriate garments: eight pieces for the high priest and four in the case of the common priests (cf. Yoma 7:5). The Mishnah seems to distinguish between the ordinary priests and the anointed priest (i.e., the high priest; cf. Shebuot 1:7; Megillah 1:9; Horayot 3:4). There may be a reliable tradition behind these views, though this was sometimes contradicted by Christian scholars (cf. David Jennings, Jewish Antiquities [1837], 125f.). Maimonides, on the basis of Jewish tradition, makes the definitive statement: “In the days of the Second Temple, when there was no anointing with oil, the High Priest would be consecrated only by putting on of vestments...” (ibid. 1:8). According to the same source it was the custom to anoint a priest who would lead into battle (cf. Sotah 8:1; Makkot 2:6). It is difficult to ascertain the historic accuracy of the tradition and may have been an exegetical conclusion based on Deuteronomy 20:2ff., which provides for a speech by a priest on the eve of war. Shields used to be anointed in preparation for war (cf. 2 Sam 1:21; Isa 21:5). The practice may be taken either as a cultic act or a warrior’s device to make the metal slippery, or if leather, more resistant. It is evident that the act of anointing was an ancient custom and carried definite cultic and sacral meaning. A person thus anointed was set apart and was consecrated for a special task, usually a sacred task. In the case of the priesthood such anointing carried perpetual validity (Exod 40:15).

4. The anointing of kings. For the rite of anointing of kings there is ample OT evidence. Saul, David, Solomon, Joash, and others were consecrated to the kingship by anointing with oil. For this reason “the anointed of the Lord” (cf. 1 Sam 12:3, 5) was a phrase synonymous with king.

Anointing conveyed sanctity to the person who now stood under the special protection of the God of Israel (cf. 1 Sam 24:5f.). This rite of commissioning to high office was not only symbolic of the gifts requisite for that office but was regarded as a charismatic bestowal of such gifts (cf. 1 Sam 16:13; Isa 61:1).

There appears to have been a rival claim to the prerogative of performing the rite between prophet and priest. In the case of Saul and David it was Samuel the prophet who performed the act of anointing (1 Sam 10:1; 16:13). In the case of Solomon it was Zadok the priest who performed the rite, while Nathan was only one of the witnesses (cf. 1 Kings 1:39). In the case of Jehu it was a young prophet who acted on behalf of Elisha (2 Kings 9:1-10). This was clearly a case of emergency necessitated by the conspiracy against the house of Ahab. The circumstances of the crowning of Joash are equally complex. In this case it is again Jehoiada the priest who performs the rite (2 Kings 11:12). It would seem that with the establishment of the national cult the privilege of anointing became vested in the priesthood.

According to the rabbis only kings descended from the house of David received anointing. Even this was limited to an heir who was not in the direct line. “A king whose father had been a king was not anointed, for the kingdom was always his as an heir” (Maimonides, op. cit. I, 11). According to the same authority, anointing took place when there was a dispute concerning the legitimate heir in order to end the quarrel. It is always difficult to assess the historic value of rabbinic tradition but it frequently transmits data otherwise unknown.

The rabbis have also preserved the tradition concerning the manner of anointing: kings were anointed by pouring oil upon the head in a circle to form a crown. By contrast, the high priest was anointed by pouring oil upon his head and rubbing it upon his forehead crosswise like the Gr. letter X (Maimonides, ibid. I, 9). Originally this sign would have been a cross (Ezek 9:4, 6) where the mark + stands for the last letter in the ancient Heb. alphabet.

5. Charismatic kingship. Some scholars work on the principle of direct correspondence between ancient Israel and the adjacent cultures. Canaanite culture esp. is regarded as the formative principle in the social and religious make-up of the Hebrews. There is no denying that the invading tribes assimilated some pagan features peculiar to the indigenous population. To assume complete similarity is to deny the peculiar genius of the Heb. people. For example, it is more than doubtful whether the position of kings in the ancient E was at any time acceptable among Israelites.

In Egypt kings were regarded as divine incarnations and were worshiped as gods. In Babylon kings were men divinized and thus constituted the link between the gods and ordinary mortals. In Canaan there was a close connection between the kings and the fertility cults. There is no evidence for anything like it in Israel.

Even a radical scholar like S. Mowinckel admits that under the influence of Yahwehworship “the king-ideology” of the ancient E underwent important modifications. It is evident that the desert tradition of the Bedouin chieftain persisted long after settlement in the land of Canaan. There is no trace of direct evidence that Israelite kings ever claimed or were ever accorded divine honors. Even Mowinckel concedes that the Heb. king was “primus inter pares.” The fact that the Israelite king was an ordinary mortal and chosen from among his brethren did not preclude special charismatic gifts requisite to his office. As the anointed of the Lord he was looked upon as endowed with the Spirit of YHWH (cf. 1 Sam 10:1ff.; 11:6; 16:13). David is credited with the charisma of leadership (cf. Ps 89:20ff.); Solomon is regarded as specially equipped with the gift of wisdom (cf. 1 Kings 3:10ff.). This is in accordance with the Biblical view that God equips those whom He calls to His service. In the last resort, all human wisdom and all skill derives from YHWH who is the source of all knowledge. Thus Bezalel, the son of Uri, was filled with the Spirit of God to work in every craft (Exod 31:3-5); by the Spirit of God the judges led and ruled over His people (Judg 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; etc.). Even a foreign king like Cyrus acts by the influence of the Spirit of the Lord (Ezra 1:1). In this sense the king is not an ordinary mortal. As the consecrated and anointed servant of YHWH he acts as divine plenipotentiary and is therefore God’s viceroy. At the same time, he is never without supervision, the prophet’s eye is upon him most of the time (cf. 2 Sam 12:1ff.; 1 Kings 21:15ff.; 22:13; 2 Kings 19:20ff.). Mowinckel exaggerates the importance and the “sacrosanct” position of the Israelite kings. Frankfort’s view is more true to fact: Heb. kingship “lacks sanctity.” He holds that the relation between the Heb. monarch and his people “was as nearly secular as is possible in a society wherein religion is a living force.”

6. The ideal king. Ideally speaking, Israel’s kings were meant to be true shepherds of their people and to act in God’s stead (cf. Jer 23:2, 5, with Isa 40:11). In history ideals never quite materialize. The warning contained in Deuteronomy 17:16ff. served only too often as a reminder of the true state of affairs; kings who multiplied horses and wives, entered into selfish alliances with former enemies, lifted themselves above their brethren and turned aside from God’s commandments.

The Messianic hope was born from the recognition that no human king is able to fulfill the high ideal. The ideal king must be more than an ordinary mortal. Together with the eschatological hope there was the historic association with the covenantal promises made to David (cf. 1 Sam 7:1-17). The covenant relationship and the promises which go with it make the Messianic hope a sheer necessity. If God’s purpose is not to be defeated, the true Messiah (= King) as God’s authentic Servant is the only answer. In Heb. categories the remedy is centered upon a person and not upon an abstract doctrine or an ideal system. There can be no Messianic kingdom without God’s anointed King.

At this point history and eschatology become strangely intertwined; the Messiah’s pedigree goes back to the promises to David. The ideal King has his roots in history, hence the reference to the root (שֹׁ֫רֶשׁ, H9247) of Jesse (Isa 11:10). His name “Branch” (צֶ֫מַח, H7542) carries the same Davidic connotation (cf. Jer 23:5; 33:15; Zech 3:8; 6:12). At the same time He is endowed with “names” (= functions) which place Him beyond ordinary mortals (Isa 9:6). Mowinckel holds that these extraordinary names can be illustrated from Egyp. sources and represent nothing more than the coronation ritual. He believes that at this point the Messiah is not yet a supernatural being. He does not yet come from above, but is an ordinary man endowed with power to restore the Davidic kingdom. His endowment with divine strength is only because the Spirit of YHWH rests upon him. The question why the prophet should use such names in a context which has nothing to do with the coronation ritual is not answered by this interpretation. More conservative scholars will be quick to reject Mowinckel’s arguments.

7. Messianic texts. That the OT contains Messianic passages is accepted by most scholars. They differ, however, according to their age and significance. Mowinckel would allow only two texts as pre-exilic (Isa 7:10-17; 9:1-6). All other texts he puts down as belonging to a later time. Messianism is for him a purely national and political phenomenon, so that all these texts are concerned with the restoration of the Davidic line. The Scandinavian school makes much of the “royal psalms” which are used in support of the theory that kingship and divinity were closely related and that the king occupied a central position in the cult. The annual enthronement of the king as the viceroy of God was allegedly the main cultic festival and was closely connected with the fertility rites of the ancient E. Psalms 45; 72; and 2 Samuel 21:1-14 are singled out as chief evidence for a new year enthronement festival in which the king took the place of YHWH.

Some allowance has already been made for the influence of pagan customs upon the religious life of ancient Israel. The OT provides all the evidence for this fact; Ahaz, king of Judah, burned his son as an offering (2 Kings 16:3); Manasseh, another Judaean king, practiced all the abominations of the pagan cults and built altars to Baal and Asherah (2 Kings 21:3, 6f.). The question one must ask is this: do these practices constitute Israel’s faith or are these aberrations? The answer is obvious; the Pentateuch, the prophets, the historical books, the hagiographa, all unanimously condemn, deplore and execrate these lapses into paganism. This struggle between paganism and YHWH worship dominates the OT and constitutes a recurring theme. One must therefore work on the principle that whatever ancient material was used by the OT writers, their main concern was to put every document to the service of YHWH worship.

At least some of the Messianic texts come from pre-exilic times and point to the fact that the Messianic hope is older than the fall of the Davidic dynasty. This is an important point which must be given full weight.

OT Messianism is the logical result of the claim that YHWH is Lord of heaven and earth. Political and social distress were contributing factors, but the main reason for the Messianic hope derives from faith in YHWH as the covenant-keeping God. The tension between historic experience and faith in the omnipotence of the benevolent God of the patriarchs can find no solution except in Messianic fulfillment. There is certainly an unevenness in the Messianic vision; sometimes the Messiah is seen as the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6), at other times he is described as the slayer of the wicked (11:4), but at all times he is the One who acts in the power and under the guidance of the God of Israel.

There are occasions when the ideal King of the house of David recedes in the background and his place is taken by a supernatural being entering history from another realm (cf. Dan 7:13f.).

The Messianic interpretation of most texts the Church has inherited from Heb. tradition. A case in point is the passage in Genesis 49:10 where according to the Targum and the Talmud, Shiloh (שִׁילֹה, שִׁילֹ֔ו) is identified with the Messiah.

The twelve tribes of Israel are described as gathering around the golden bed of the dying patriarch Jacob who, with his last breath, prophesied the Messianic end. This is how the Targum renders the text: “Kings shall not cease, nor rulers from the house of Judah...till the time that the King, the Meshiḥa, shall come, the youngest of his sons; and on account of him shall the nations flow together. How beautiful is the King, the Meshiḥa, who will arise from the house of Judah!”

The Messianic exegesis of this text and endowment of the Messiah with the name of Shiloh as his nomen proprium (cf. SBK I, 65) must be much older than the Church, for the rabbis were not likely to play into the hands of the Christians.

Genesis 49:10 has been used by the Church as an example of fulfilled prophecy. Luther called it the “golden text” and chides the rabbis for failing to see its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. Some scholars, however, understand the words שִׁילֹה, to be the Akkad. form of the pronoun “his” and to carry no further significance except as a typical proof of a vaticinium ex eventu in reference to King David. Genesis 3:15, traditionally known as the Protevangelium, Luther described as the first comfort, the source of all mercy and the fountainhead of all promises. This passage can be read on two levels; as the natural enmity between man and the serpent, or else typologically as Christ’s ultimate victory over evil; it depends on the perspective of the reader. A similar situation arises in respect to the tr. of the word עַלְמָ֗ה as “virgin” (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23).

Dealing with Messianic passages, one must keep in mind the difference in the historic perspective, the context of the original text and the typological use in the NT. “The identity of prophecy and fulfilment is not direct but an indirect one” (Oehler). NT writers see the OT from the perspective of the Messianic event, they thus see a pattern “converging on a central motif” (Woollcombe). It is in the light of this fact that “the evidence of God’s consistent purpose in history” can be seen (ibid.). Other passages carry indisputable Messianic import: (Isa 4:2) the branch of the Lord; (7:10-17) the promise of Immanuel; (9:1-7) the birth of the son (11:1ff.), the great Messianic vision; (32:1-8) the righteous king; (55:3, 4) the everlasting covenant with David; (Jer 23:5, 6) the Lord our righteousness (cf. Jer 33:14-16; 30:9, 21, 22) the Messianic prince; (Jer 31:31ff.) the new covenant; (Ezek 34:23, 24) the shepherd of Israel; (37:22ff.) the everlasting covenant (Mowinckel includes Ezek 17:22-24 in the Messianic passages as a reference to the house of David); (Hos 3:4, 5) Israel’s return in the latter days; (Amos 9:11) the raising of the fallen booth of David; (Mic 5:1-4) Bethlehem Ephratha; (Mowinckel regards Mic 4:8 as a Messianic reference); (Zech 9:9, 10) the triumphant entry of the Messianic king. There are numerous other passages which are capable of Messianic interpretation and are used in the NT in connection with Messianic fulfillment; (Deut 18:18f.; cf. Acts 3:22f.; 7:37; Ps 2:1ff.; cf. Acts 4:25f.; Matt 3:17; Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5; 2 Pet 1:17, etc.; Ps 110:1ff.; cf. Matt 22:44 and parallels; Acts 2:34; Heb 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11, 15, 21; Ps 118:22f.; cf. Matt 21:42; Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:7). The Psalms are important for an understanding of the Messianic pattern. Psalms 8; 22; 34:21; 41:10; 45; 69; 72; are cited in the NT in connection with the life of the Messiah. (Cf. also Isa 28:16; cited in Rom 9:33; 10:11 and 1 Pet 2:4.) In addition are to be noted the great Servant passages in Isaiah (Isa 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). Isaiah 53 plays an esp. important part both in the NT and in the history of Christian theology. Even these by no means exhaust the Messianic pattern provided by the OT. Many other passages like Joel 2:28f. used by Peter in his first sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21) and the great chs. of the latter part of Isaiah (e.g., Isa 61:1ff.: cf. Luke 4:18f.; 7:22) are part of the OT heritage bequeathed to the NT. Paul uses Isaiah 25:8 in his great ch. on the resurrection (1 Cor 15:54). Malachi 3:1 is applied to the preparatory work of John the Baptist (Matt 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 1:17; 7:27). To these one must add the endless allusions to OT texts which are built into the Messianic story of the NT.

The two testaments are interdependent and the one cannot be understood without the other. At the same time one must not seek a detailed blueprint in the OT which would pre-empt the Messianic event. The relation is rather between expectancy and fulfillment.

8. The extra-canonical literature. The Apoc. and Pseudep. fill the gap of the Intertestamental period. The contribution of this lit. to the Messianic expectation may be variously assessed. Some scholars stress the apocalyptic features in the NT and see a close relationship between it and the Pseudep.; others hold that both depend upon OT material. Frequently the choice lies between the Book of Daniel and the Books of Enoch, esp. with regard to the Son of man concept. The difference, however, is not of great importance as Dan. belongs to the division of the canonical lit. indicated by the Heb. Bible among the Hagiographa and not among the prophets.

The Apoc. do not seem to show the same intense interest in the Messianic hope as do the Pseudep. It is widely held that certain turns of phrase in the NT reveal familiarity with some of the apoc. books (such as Tobit, Ecclus and Wisd of Sol).

The case with the Pseudep. is different. Messianic concepts are highly developed and play a vital part in the message these books try to convey. Especially 1 Enoch is infused with a great Messianic hope. It spells out judgment over Israel’s enemies; it foretells the founding of the New Jerusalem; it envisions the conversion of the Gentiles; it tells of the resurrection of the righteous, climaxing its vision with the advent of the Messiah. R. H. Charles regards this work as the most important in the history of theological development.

First Enoch depicts the Messiah as a Lamb with horns on its head over whom the Lord of the sheep rejoices (90:38). The titles which are given to the Messiah in this book are noteworthy, for these bring one close to NT nomenclature. The Anointed One: 48:10; 52:4. The Righteous One: 38:2; 46:3; 53:6 (cf. Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; 1 John 2:1). The Elect One: 40:5; 45:3f.; 49:2, 4; 51:3, 5 (cf. Luke 23:35; 1 Pet 2:4). The Son of Man: 46:3f.; 48:2; 62:9, 14; 63:11; 69:26f.; 70:1; 71:1.

Functions assigned to the Messiah are even more striking than the titles. The Messiah is described as the Judge of the world, as the Revealer of all things, and as the Champion and Ruler of the righteous. Part of the Messiah’s task is to raise the righteous from the dead (cf. 51:1; 61:5). For the first time in Jewish lit. the Son of man is spoken of with the demonstrative “this” which Charles regards as significant for the Messianic title. Scholars regard the book of a composite nature and J. Klausner has shown how the material and spiritual understanding of the Messianic age are here placed side by side without any effort at reconciliation. The same observation applies to the person of the Messiah; sometimes He is presented as an equal among equals; at other times He is placed in a position of preeminence. Klausner’s assessment of Enoch matches that by Charles: “the messianic book par excellence of Judaism in the period of the Second Temple” (p. 301).

Other books of the Pseudep. are equally important. The Test XII Pat show remarkable universalist tendencies; 2 Baruch points to the Messianic kingdom and stresses the resurrection of the body; 4 Ezra envisions Messiah’s triumph over His enemies. That there is a connection between this lit. and the NT cannot be denied, but the connection seems to be more ideological than literary. The question of whether there was direct borrowing has been widely discussed. In spite of certain philological affinities the connection seems to be mainly of a theological nature peculiar to certain circles in Jewry. From the testimony of Suetonius about Jewish Messianic hopes (The Life of Vespasian, § 4) and Josephus’ veiled reference to the defenders of Jerusalem (War VI. 5. 2) one can gauge the deep-rooted Messianic expectations which inspired the nation. This finds corroboration in the Qumran documents, though the Messianic doctrine of the desert sect is not quite clear. We do not know the relationship of the two Messiahs of Aaron and Israel to each other (cf. IQS IX:11), nor do we know the Messianic significance of the Teacher of Righteousness. There are other Messianic allusions in the texts: it is surmised that the Man in IV:18 is identical with the Prophet in IX:11. Vermès identifies the Man with two passages in the Test XII Pat and Zechariah 12:7 and Lamentations 3:1 (cf G. Vermès, Discovery in the Judean Deser [1956], 221). A similar reference to the Man occurs in the hymns in an unmistakable Messianic context where He is described as “a marvellous Mighty Counsellor” (Hymn III:4 in Vermès tr.). Hymn VI with its reference to the “bud,” the “shoot” and the “everlasting Planting” which “shall cover the whole (earth) with its shadow” is equally suggestive of Messianic hope derived from the OT. Vermès points to the prophetic, sacerdotal and royal qualities of the Messiah which are exhibited in the Qumran scrolls bringing them close to the Jewish and Christian cycle of ideas (ibid. p. 222). This proves the pervasive Messianic hopes in ancient Israel. The NT was written in an atmosphere of widespread Messianic expectation, not only in Jewry but outside Israel as well. Klausner holds that Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue which speaks of the birth of the child who would bring peace to the world was written under the influence of the Jewish Sibyl, and reflects the influence of Heb. Messianism upon non-Jews. The question is not who borrowed from whom, but in what way did the diverse Messianic ideas influence the central Personality of the NT, namely Jesus Christ Himself?

9. Christ in the NT. First Enoch concludes with the promise of God: “For I and my son will unite with them for ever in the paths of righteousness in their lives; and ye shall have peace: rejoice ye children of uprightness. Amen” (105:2).

This sounds remarkably like NT theology, yet it is not. Enoch’s message is salvation for the righteous whereas Jesus addressed Himself to sinners (cf. Matt 9:13). Further, Enoch’s reference to the “Son” is only an echo of Psalm 2 (cf. 4 Ezra 7:28; 13:32, 37, 52; 14:9). Above all Enoch’s Messiah knows no suffering: He occupies God’s throne (51:3), executes judgment in heaven and triumphs upon earth.

One may conclude that the NT owes to the intertestamental lit. some of the Messianic imagery and phraseology, but not the central christological features. These were formed upon reflection on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth in conjunction with His teaching.

a. The Son of man. Scholars tend to regard the frequent references to the Son of man in the gospels as an honorific title which the Early Church gave to the Messiah. For the origin they go to the Pseudep. or to the Book of Daniel (Dan 7:13). This title for the Messiah is peculiar to the gospels where it occurs eighty-one times, and only four times in the rest of the NT (Acts 7:56; Heb 2:6; Rev 1:13; 14:14). It is noted that in the gospels “Son of man” is never used except by Jesus Himself and this always as a self-designation. There is therefore no need to ascribe the title to the Early Church except on the supposition of some radical scholars (Bousset, Bultmann and others) who deny to Jesus a Messianic consciousness. These scholars point to Mark 8:38 and Luke 12:8 as evidence that Jesus did not identify Himself with the Son of man but looked upon Himself as His messenger. His task was to announce the closeness of the coming of the Son of man. They therefore maintain that the identification of Jesus with the Son of man took place at a later stage as a result of the Easter experience. It is difficult to see why the gospels, which on their own premise, are typical church documents, should leave such a glaring discrepancy out of sheer reverence for an unwritten tradition, while at the same time distorting the facts of history.

It is much more natural to accept the Son of man title as the peculiar self-description on the part of Jesus as presented by the gospels (cf. Matt 8:20; Mark 2:10, 28). The question arises, what did Jesus mean by this description?

Some scholars hold that the Son of man passages resulted from a misunderstanding of the Aram. idiom which uses the expression בַּר נָשׁ (נָשָׁא) for “man” pure and simple. Only later when bar nash(a) had to be rendered in Gr. it was tr. lit. ὁ υἱὸ̀ς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου instead of simply: ἄνθρωπος, G476. In this way Son of man became a Messianic title. Another suggestion which amounts to the same conclusion is that Jesus used “Son of Man” as a substitute for “I,” therefore that it carried no special significance. This would exclude any identification with the apocalyptic “Son of man” idea one meets in the Pseudep. and in the Book of Daniel. The corollary would seem to be that Jesus made no claim to Messiahship at all. This is corroborated from Jewish sources which blame Jesus for all sorts of crimes but never for claiming to be the Messiah (W. Kramer). The contention rests upon a misunderstanding; claim to Messiahship was never regarded a crime. That this is the case can be seen from the rabbinic attitude to Simeon surnamed Bar Kochba (“Son of a Star”) but after the failure of his revolt against Rome, he was nicknamed Bar Koziba, “the Son of Lies” (a title which sounded like his own patronymic, Bar Koseba, recently discovered in the Qumran documents). He became a “false Messiah” only after he had failed.

Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees was not because of the Messianic overtones in His message but because of His attitude to the law: a Messiah who treated the law lightly could be only a false Messiah. Tödt’s question concerning the reason for Jesus’ concealment behind a pseudonym raises no real difficulty. Messiahship was too explosive a concept to be bandied about freely. M. de Jonge’s contention that the term “anointed” had yet no fixed meaning and simply denoted divine appointment is contradicted by the documents already cited.

b. Son of God. In the OT Israel is described as God’s first-born (Exod 4:22) and is called His son (Hos 11:1). There is therefore precedent for calling the Messiah “Son of God” (cf. Ps 2), for He is Israel’s representative par excellence. John 10:34ff. argues on the principle of argumentum a minori ad majus; if Israel’s judges and kings were called “gods” and sons of the Most High (cf. Ps 82:6), how much more does not this apply to Him whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world (ἡγίασε may be an intended reference to “anointing”). Only in the fourth gospel does Jesus appear to call Himself by the title “Son of God” (John 10:36; 11:4; cf. 5:25; 8:36; etc.). In the synoptics the phrase is applied to Jesus indirectly. He is called Son of God by the demoniacs (Mark 3:11; 5:7); by the centurion at the cross (15:39); by Peter according to the Matthaen VS (Matt 16:16; cf. Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20).

The question regarding the Messiah’s pedigree was obviously a matter of theological discussion; according to Mark 12:35-37 Jesus raises the question with the Scribes; according to Matthew 22:41-46 and Luke 20:41-44 the discussion is with the Pharisees. The reference to Psalm 110:1 is intended to indicate that the Messiah’s descent exceeds the dynastic claim. Christ is more than the Son of David.

It has been noticed that Paul uses the title Son of God infrequently, but that he does so in crucial contexts. The appellation he more frequently uses is Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus. Werner Kramer observes that the sonship of the Messiah occurs in texts where reference is made to God the Father; the Father sends His Son (Rom 8:3); the Son’s Spirit in our hearts cries, “Abba! Father!” (Gal 4:6; cf. Phil 4:4-6). The Gospel of God is the Gospel concerning His Son who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness (Rom 1:1-4). For Paul, Son of God is essentially a Christological description expressing “the Son’s solidarity with God.” The other passages convey the same conception. The Father spared not His Son but gave Him up for us (Rom 8:32). It is thanks to the Son that one can call God Father (8:15). Only because Jesus as Son is heir are believers made sons by adoption (Gal 4:1-7). The heathen through the preaching of the Gospel have turned from idols to serve the true and living God, and are now waiting for His Son from heaven who is none other than Jesus raised from the dead (1 Thess 1:9f.).

In the Johannine lit. the title Son of God is widely used. In the First Epistle it recurs with frequent regularity and dominates the Christological perspective; to be a Christian means to have fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3). To deny that Jesus is the Christ is tantamount to denying both Father and Son (2:22f.). To confess that Jesus is the Son of God is to abide in God (4:15). The last ch. of the first epistle makes every possible emphasis upon the principle that Sonship is the mark of Messiahship. The same is the case with the fourth gospel where Son of God is synonymous with Messiah and occurs more frequently than any other title. Haenchen maintains that the same equation; Messiah=Son of Man=Son of God applies to Mark’s gospel (cf. E. Haenchen, Der Weg Jesu [1966], 36, 133, 498). The same may be said of the rest of the NT. There is, however, a difference in the distribution of the use of the title determined by Christological emphasis.

It is a mistake to seek the origin of the title Son of God in pagan religions. Dalman suggests an easy transition from the Servant passages in Isaiah via the LXX. This is corroborated by other scholars: the LXX translates ’ebed with παῖς, G4090, a fact which Georg Bertram regards as a praeparatio evangelica (Vet Test VII [1957], 232f.). The Targum trs. ’ebed (Isa 42:1; 43:10; 52:13; Zech 3:8), “My servant Messiah” (עַבְדִי מְשִׁיחָא). From the LXX the NT inherited the tradition of tr. ’ebed with παῖς, G4090; this may mean child or servant (cf. Acts 3:13, 26; 4:25f., 30; cf. also Matt 8:6, 8, 13; 12:18; 14:2; Mark 14:54, 65; John 18:36). In Wisdom of Solomon παῖς, G4090, stands for υἱός, G5626, (cf. 2:13, 16). The ambiguity which arises from this double meaning is not sufficient to explain the phrase “Son of God” as used in the NT.

This is illustrated by the parable of the vineyard where ὁ υἱός ἀγαπητός as heir is not just one among other servants; he is not even primus inter pares but in a unique position (cf. Mark 12:6; cf. Matt 3:17). The uniqueness is not vested in function but status. He is the Son whom the tenants are expected to revere. At the same time the Son of God does not exist in isolation; He is the first-born among many brethren (Rom 8:29). This twofold connection: the πρωτότοκος, G4758, of Mary (Luke 2:7) and the μονογενής, G3666, of God (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9) expresses the Messiah’s position. He is the link between heaven and earth. His pre-eminence in Pauline terms lies in the fact that He is both the πρωτότοκος, G4758, of all creation and the πρωτότοκος, G4758, from the dead (Col 1:15, 18). He is thus the Head of the body, the Church, and the πρωτότοκος, G4758, of those who are enrolled in heaven (Heb 12:23). Closeness to the Father is the basic meaning of Son of God. It is for this reason that the Son is able to reveal the Father (Matt 11:27; cf. Luke 10:32). Our Lord’s characteristic use of the term אַבָּא in relation to God: “your Father,” “our Father,” “my Father,” is behind the title Son of God. This close relationship to His Father in heaven is even more pronounced in the fourth gospel. The phrase, “the Father and I” expresses the intimacy of the relationship (cf. John 5:43; 8:38, 40; 10:32; 12:49; 15:15; etc.). In the Johannine gospel Jesus is both the son of Joseph (1:45) and the Son of God (1:34, 49). There appears to be no discrepancy in these two statements. It is obvious that sonship must not be understood in a crude pagan way. This bears out Dalman’s contention that the Heb. concept of “son” does not “denote an extensive circle of relationships” (ibid. 288; cf. also W. Grundmann, NTS, I, Oct 1965, 42ff.). It is rather the intensive relationship between Jesus and His Father in heaven which marks Him as the Son.

c. Kyrios. The most characteristic title ascribed to the Messiah in the NT is κύριος, G3261. It carries a certain ambiguity for it is both an address to men and to God. For this reason there is a division of opinion as to the original meaning of the term. In the gospels κύριε (Matt 8:25), διδάσκαλε (Mark 4:38), ἐπιστάτα (Luke 8:24), seem to be treated as synonyms in these parallel accounts of the stilling of the waves. It is to be noted that there is considerable fluctuation in the text in respect to these terms (cf. Matt 17:4: κύριε; Luke 9:33: ἐπιστάτα Mark 9:5: ῥαββεί). Some therefore argue that κύριος, G3261, is a tr. either of rabbi (Heb.) or mari (Aram.) and is meant to be taken as an address of respect. Kyrios, however, acquired a different meaning in Gr.-speaking communities acquainted with Hellenistic cults and Caesar worship. These scholars maintain that the deification of Jesus as the supernatural Messiah could have taken place only outside Israel, i.e., in an Hel. environment (W. Bousset, R. Bultmann, more recently W. Kramer). At the same time it is admitted that there are traces of a pre-Pauline use of the term κύριος, G3261, and this in a liturgical context, chiefly in connection with the Lord’s Supper (W. Kramer). This fact would seem to contradict a Hel. origin. O. Cullmann has shown beyond contradiction that mar, not as a courtesy title, but as a Christological confession, derives from the most primitive time of the Church while still upon Jewish soil. The phrase maranatha has come down untranslated from a time when Aram. was still the mother tongue of the Church (1 Cor 16:22). The fact that the phrase belongs to a liturgical setting (cf. Didachē 10:6), shows that maran was used in a Christological sense. The question as to the reading of the phrase מָרַן אֲתָא (“our Lord comes”) or מָרַנָא תָא (“our Lord, come!”) is solved in favor of the latter by the NT itself. Revelation 22:20 provides the Gr. tr. ἔρχου, κύριε ̓Ιησοῦ—come, Lord Jesus!—maranatha is in the form of a prayer.

Some have argued that this liturgical phrase does not necessarily prove Palestinian origin, but this position cannot be taken seriously. There is early proof for a Christological meaning of the title κύριος, G3261. Furthermore, there are good grounds for believing that Philippians 2:6ff. is a Christological hymn going back to an Aram. source (Lohmeyer). If this is the case there is added reason to accept a high pre-Pauline Christology. That the Messiah was given “the name which is above every name” (v. 9) brings Him close to the Tetragrammaton. That this is so can be seen from what follows: “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow...and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 10f.). What Isaiah says of YHWH (Isa 45:23) is said of the Messiah.

There is therefore no need to take seriously the contention that the κύριος, G3261, concept entered the NT from the outside. In fact, the Kyrioscult of Hellenism and Caesar worship was challenged by the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. The Lordship of Jesus the Messiah was the essential kerygma of the Church. The root for this claim stemmed from the authority which Jesus exercised during His ministry. His authority was confirmed by the fact of the Resurrection. That the Messiah is the legitimate king of Israel is an ancient Jewish tradition (cf. SBK III, 146f., 472; Dalman, Jesus-Jeshua [1929], p. 198). Cullmann draws attention to the importance attached to Psalm 110 in the NT. It is quoted some twenty times (Matt 22:44; 26:64; Mark 12:36; 14:62; 16:19; Luke 20:42f.; 22:69; Acts 2:34f.; 5:31; 7:55; Rom 8:34; 1 Cor 15:25; Col 3:11; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12f.; 1 Pet 3:22; Rev 3:21) and is used to prove the absolute authority of the Messiah.

The confession that Jesus is Lord, Cullmann regards as the most ancient Christian statement of faith. That God has made Jesus both “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36) was a challenge not only to the Jewish people but to the whole order of the ancient world. The cryptic number “666” in Revelation 13:18 for the name of the beast is taken to mean Neron Caesar (נרון קסר = 666) or according to a variant text נרו קסר ( = 616). The purpose of Revelation is to challenge all other authority with the proclamation that Jesus Christ as the first-born of the dead is the only ruler of the kings on earth (1:5).

The κυριότης, G3262, of Jesus as Messiah is all-embracing: all authority is given to Him (Matt 28:18). It exceeds Christ’s lordship upon earth and assumes cosmic significance (cf. Col 1:16ff.). This is at the heart of Pauline theology: Christ is not only the Lord of the Church but also the Head of all rule and authority (Col 2:10: ἡ κεφαλὴ̀ πάσης ἀρχῆς καὶ̀ ἐξουσίας). This fact may not be immediately apparent by reason of the interval between His exaltation and His parousia (Rom 8:19, 23; 1 Cor 1:7; Gal 5:5; cf. Heb 2:8; 10:13), but because the Messiah is already at the right hand of God, He will in the end assert His dominion over all creation (Rom 8:34; Col 3:1). Not only will the rulers of the earth ultimately surrender, but even death itself, the last enemy, will be vanquished (1 Cor 15:25). The fact that the Messiah is at the right hand of God is a source of endless comfort to the embattled Church and gives it the courage to acclaim Him Lord (cf. Acts 7:56; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).

The Messiah’s lordship is not a matter of impersonal and autocratic rule to which the believer submits under duress. Jesus did not impose His lordship; He came not to rule but to serve and to give His life for others (Matt 20:28). His obedience to death, even the death on a cross (Phil 2:8) marks Him as the Servant first and foremost. That the Son of God should die for sinners is the startling discovery underlying the Gospel (cf. Rom 5:6-11; Heb 12:1, 2). The profession that Jesus is Lord is the disciples’ response to God’s love in Christ. The Pauline letters are dominated by the phrases: ἐν κυρίῳ, ἐν χριστῷ, ἐν χριστῷ, ̓Ιησοῦ. To be “in” Christ means first the willing and joyful acceptance of His Lordship over the totality of a man’s own life: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me;...who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). The test of discipleship is in the possessive pronoun: Jesus Christ my Lord (Phil 3:8).

d. Jesus—Savior. Compared with the ascription κύριος, G3261, the title σωτήρ, G5400, occurs only infrequently. This comes as a surprise, for Savior has a long-standing OT tradition and best describes the Messianic function. It is to be noted that σωτήρ, G5400, as a Messianic title occurs mainly in the later NT writings. Cullmann concludes that Jesus never called Himself, nor did any one else call Him by this address during His ministry (ibid. p. 241). He admits, however, a pre-Pauline tradition (Phil 3:20). There is a linguistic reason for the lack of evidence in the earliest sources of the NT. Only in Gr. could Jesus be called ̓Ιησοῦς Σωτήρ. The cryptogram ΙΧΘΓΣ (= “fish”): ̓Ιησοῦς Χριστὸ̀ς Θεοῦ Γἱὸ̀ς Σωτήρ in Heb. would create a tautology as ̓Ιησοῦς, G2652, already means σωτήρ, G5400.

The name Jesus derives from the later Heb. form of Joshua: יֵשׁ֣וּעַ Yeshua; from the verb יָשַׁע, H3828—to save. Jesus—Savior in Heb. is therefore יֵשׁ֣וּעַ מﯴשִׁ֖יעַ which would be a linguistic infelicity. This might explain the late occurrence of the term Savior (although the Aram. would use a different root for “save”). The name Jesus is not peculiarly Messianic but it is emphatically Yahwistic. It is an abbreviated form of יְהﯴשׁ֣וּעַ (Joshua) which means “YHWH saves,” a name well-known in the OT (in addition to Joshua ben Nun, cf. Ezra 3:2; Neh 8:17; Hag 1:1; etc.; Zech 3:1; etc.). According to a variant reading Barabbas’ name was also ̓Ιησοῦς, G2652, (cf. Matt 27:16mg.); the same applies to a certain “Jesus who is called Justus” (Col 4:11). Josephus records a number of men with the name Jesus. But, for the Heb.-speaking Church the name Yeshua given to the Messiah carried special significance.

The etymological meaning of the name Jesus is noted in Matthew 1:21: “you shall call his name Jesus (יֵשׁ֣וּעַ) for he will save (יﯴשִֽׁיעַ) his people from their sins.” Other NT writers are equally aware that the name means Savior or Salvation (cf. John 1:29; Acts 7:45 [?]; 13:23; Heb 4:8, where an allusive comparison is made between Jesus and Joshua).

The title σωτήρ, G5400, most frequently occurs in conjunction with the saving acts of God through the Messiah, as Cullmann observes (cf. Acts 5:31; 13:23; 1 Tim 1:1; 2:3f.; 4:10; Titus 1:3f.; 3:4f.; 1 John 4:14; Jude 25). The OT regards saviorhood as God’s divine prerogative (cf. Isa 43:3, 11; 45:15, 21; etc.; Jer 14:8; Hos 13:4). But God performs His saving acts by sending saviors to act as His plenipotentiaries (cf. 2 Kings 13:5; Neh 9:27; Isa 19:20; Obad 21). In this sense Cyrus, though a pagan king, is understood to be God’s shepherd (Isa 44:28) and His anointed (Isa 45:1). The Messiah as σωτήρ, G5400, therefore stands in line of a long tradition, but with a difference; in the NT the distinction between God and Messiah disappears (cf. Titus 1:3, God our Savior, v. 4, Christ Jesus our Savior). The identification is so close that in some passages it is a matter of guessing whether God or Jesus Christ is meant (cf. Titus 3:4, 6; 2 Pet 1:1). Where κύριος, G3261, and σωτήρ, G5400, occur together as in 2 Peter 3:18, there is the possibility that the writer has in mind the LXX tr. for Adonai.

A. T. Hanson allows that both Stephen and Hebrews appear to identify Jesus with the theophanies of the OT (cf. Jesus Christ in the OT [1965], p. 164). The same would apply to John and Paul who see the eternal Logos operative in OT history. There can be no doubt that the pre-existence of the Messiah is an established NT doctrine (cf. John’s Prologue; Col 1:15ff.; Heb 1:3).

Some of the ἐγώ εἰμι passages, particularly John 8:58, appear to be a deliberate allusion to the name of YHWH. This conclusion is corroborated by the rabbinic practice of circumlocution for the Tetragrammaton. The Mishnah paraphrases ’anna YHWH: ani va-hu (אֲנִי וְהוּא), lit. “I and He” or “I like Him” (Sukk 4:5; cf. also Montefiore and Loewe, Rabb. Anthol. 13, 279). John’s gospel seems to be aware of the tradition and it uses the phrase in order to indicate the Messiah’s intimacy with YHWH (cf. C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel [1953], pp. 93-96).

One is led to conclude that a high Christology is deeply embedded in the NT tradition and that titles like Son of man, Son of God, κύριος σωτήρ, etc. are intended to emphasize Messiah’s unique and representative position both with regard to mankind and to God. In the last resort, this is the Messianic secret; that Jesus is the Christ (Mark 8:27-30), but for the earliest believers this was tantamount to a position extraordinary in relation to God (cf. Matt 16:16).

It must be admitted that in the popular sense Jesus is not the Messiah as conceived by Jewish tradition. The unique position accorded to Him in the NT is contrary to all Jewish views. Son of God, says Dalman, “was not a common Messianic title” (ibid., 272). Though Christ was the Son of David (Rom 1:3), the Fulfiller of prophecy (John 1:45), the Redeemer of Israel (Luke 1:68f.), yet He did not easily fit into Jewish pre-conceived Messianic expectations. In this one respect Stauffer is right: Jesus is a different Messiah than expected by Jewry (cf. Nov Test I [1956], 102). To start with, He had no official standing; He was never anointed, except by the Holy Spirit (cf. Mark 1:9-11; Luke 4:16-21; Isa 61:1f.). It is part of the revolutionary effect of the Gospel that Messiahship was transformed under the impact of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This transformation took place in two directions: in respect to the Gentiles and in respect to God. Jesus is not only the Messiah of Israel, but also the Savior of the world (John 4:42; 1 John 4:14); He is not only the Son of David; He is also the Son of God (Mark 12:35-37).

Bibliography G. Dalman, The Words of Jesus (1902); R. H. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha I-II (1913); H. Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods (1948), 337ff.; S. Mowinckel, He That Cometh (1956), ch. III; J. Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel (1956), 283ff.; O. Cullmann, The Christology of the NT (1959), pt. III, 193ff.; W. L. Dulière, Le Nom Jesus dan l’histoire Juive écrite en Grec, Nov Test III (1959), 180ff.; K. H. Rengstorf, “Old Testament and New Testament traces of a formula of Judaean Royal Ritual,” Nov Test, V (1962), 229ff.; A. T. Hanson, Jesus Christ in the OT (1965); E. G. Jay, Son of Man—Son of God (1965); W. Kramer, Christ, Lord, Son of God (1966).