Dr. Ray Lubeck on Christ in the Hebrew Scriptures

by Glenn on March 9, 2015

I’ve been having experiences at a rate quicker than my ability to process them. It’s exciting to feel like your life is full, but I feel frantic when I’m not able to take some time and think about what I have learned.

On 7 February I attended a talk sponsored by the men’s ministries of Wood Village Baptist Church, where my father-in-law attends. Dr. Ray Lubeck of Multnomah University was the speaker and his subject was “Christ in the Old Testament.” It was an excellent presentation. I miss school, so this was great fun. Dr. Lubeck has a deep understanding of scripture and a firm commitment to the church. If he is an exemplar of the teaching quality at Multnomah, I should feel very happy learning there.

The subject of Jesus in the Old Testament fascinates me and, going forward, I will take a cue from Dr. Lubeck and refer to the books of the Old Testament as the Hebrew Bible. So where is Jesus in the Hebrew Bible?

There is a bit of a paradox, here. Dr. Lubeck says we need the New Testament to help us with the Hebrew Bible, but I don’t think the New Testament is as helpful as it could be on this topic.

For example, Jesus in Matthew 11:15 says,

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.” [NIV]

But he doesn’t say how.

And in John 5:39, Jesus says,

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me …” [NIV]

Jesus says that the Scriptures testify of him but, again, he doesn’t say how.

In the Road to Emmaus story of Luke 24:13–35, two of Jesus’ disciples are talking to a resurrected Jesus who “they were kept from recognizing.” Discouraged, they were explaining to this “stranger” their struggle to understand who Jesus was and to make sense of the stories about his resurrection.

Jesus reacts strongly to them.

“He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” [Luke 24:25–27, NIV]

If ever there was a passage of scripture that should have been elaborated, this is it. As they walk, Jesus takes these two guys through the Hebrew Scriptures, explaining where he could be found in them, and for reasons I don’t understand, no one thought to write any of this down!?!? So all we have from what arguably would have been one of the more important talks that Jesus ever had with any of his disciples is the rather disappointing acknowledgment that they talked about Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures, sans specifics.

The apostle Paul is an equally good non-elaborator. 1 Corinthians 15:3–5 contains one of the earliest declarations of the Christian message. Paul writes,

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.” [NIV, emphasis added]

In the final chapter of the book of Acts, Paul spoke to Jewish leaders and we learn that he

“[Paul] witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus.” [Acts 28:23b, NIV]

The book of Acts records Paul recounting his conversion story over and over, why would Luke not add some details here?

And then just the other day, the New Testament reading took me to the book of Romans, which begins with another mention of the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus,

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” [Romans 1:1–4, NIV]

So, we know that both Jesus and Paul say that the Hebrew Bible is about Jesus. What we don’t know is how they say the Hebrew Bible speaks of Jesus. What we as believers in Christ must do is to go back to the Hebrew Scriptures and make our own explanation of the way they speak of Jesus.

This is what Dr. Lubeck in a very short few hours attempted to do. (Well, at least started to do. I suspect this could be an entire course.) I thought about trying to type up my notes to restate his argument, but: 1. I know I won’t give it justice; and 2. if this isn’t already a book, it could be (perhaps should be) and he should be rewarded for his excellent work.

I do want to remember some things from that morning, so here are five things I learned.

Lesson 1

The books of the Hebrew Bible are neither presented in the same order nor grouped as they are in the “Old Testament” of the Christian Bible. The Hebrew Bible has 24 books and is organized in three sections: Torah, Prophets (Nebi’im), and Writings (Kethubim).

Torah is just like our Pentateuch:
Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy

Prophets include:
Joshua
Judges
Samuel
Kings
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
The Book of the Twelve (Hosea–Malachi)

Writings:
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Esther
Daniel
Ezra-Nehemiah
Chronicles

Dr. Lubeck made the comment that we’ve been taught to read these books individually. One of the subthemes of the morning was to show the way the books are all interconnected. For example, many of these books begin with the word “And” to show that the narrative continues. He noted how Obadiah and Jonah should probably be hyphenated (Obadiah-Jonah) and read together because of the way the material in the books is related.

One of the most extraordinary examples of this connectedness of the Hebrew Bible was the one between Malachi and Psalms. So at the end of his prophecy, Malachi says,

“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.” [Malachi 4:4 NIV]

So how does the book of Psalms begin?

“Blessed is the one …
whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.” [Psalm 1:1a, 2 NIV]

I thought that this connection was extraordinary.

Lesson 2

Time is a tricky thing in the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, in the book of Psalms you have one attributed to Moses (No. 90) and another from the captivity (No. 137). As you read through the prophets, it isn’t always easy to know when the prophecy was given. I guess I already thought this so it wasn’t something I learned, but somehow it’s a relief to hear a Bible teacher acknowledge it.

Lesson 3

Three interesting questions to ask about the early chapters of Genesis.

Aside: When you get a group of Christians together and you want to talk about Genesis, you could do this: “Hey, everybody. All of you who believe in a literal seven-day creation stand on that side of the room. Those of you who don’t, go stand on the other side.” Then we could be appalled seeing who was on “the other side” and enjoy some fireworks. And we’d be nowhere. As for me, I’ve been on both sides of that room. Today I would say my faith is not in any particular theory of how God created the world, but I am more certain than ever that God created the world. “I believe in God, the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”

Dr. Lubeck through the course of his talk asked three questions about Genesis that focused us on things I’d never thought about before.

Question 1: Which came first, Genesis 1 or Sinai?

Well, duh, the creation happened before the Israelites came to Mt. Sinai. But Dr. Lubeck wanted to make the point that these “books of Moses” would have been written by Moses probably after Mt. Sinai. Mt. Sinai is where YHWH gave Moses and the Israelites the Ten Commandments, or as they are sometimes referred to, the ten words or utterances.

Dr. Lubeck made this observation: isn’t it interesting that when God speaks in Genesis 1, he does so ten times?

#1 (verse 3) And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

#2 (verse 6) And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”

#3 (verse 9)And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.”

#4 (verse 11) Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”

#5 (verse 14) And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night …”

#6 (verse 20) And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”

#7 (verse 24) And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.”

#8 (verse 26) Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

#9 (verse 28) God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

#10 (verses 29–30) Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.”

Pretty interesting. Never noticed this before. For the significance of this, see Lesson #4.

Question 2: Are the early chapters of Genesis narrative or poetry?

Again, duh, these early chapters tell the story of the origin of the world. Poetry is often “untrue,” ergo this must be narrative.

I think Dr. Lubeck would disagree both with the idea that poetry means not true and that the early chapters of Genesis are narrative. He made a comment in passing about how the editors of the various translations of the Bible in these early chapters of Genesis sometimes make decisions to avoid making a statement and creating controversy (and, left unsaid, hurting sales—making Bibles is a business). He suggested we look at these opening chapters as narrative with a lot of poetic feeling about them (I got the sense he could see these opening verses all set to look like poetry) and made the observation that there were verses that were definitely poetry and are reflected in the way (I imagine most) Bibles are laid out.

So, for example, Genesis 1:27 is poetry.

“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.” [NIV]

Dr. Lubeck provided a fascinating chart that shows “Patterns in the Torah.” Here are the first few lines so you can see the pattern.

Narrative Poetry Epilogue
Gen. 1:1–26 1:27 1:28–2:3
Gen. 2:4–22 2:23 2:24–25
Gen. 1:1–3:13 3:14–19 3:20–24

The chart continues. Dr. Lubeck showed how this pattern (narrative passages with poetic interruptions that ask us to pay attention) works on larger passages, up to the book level, and, ultimately, for the whole Pentateuch. He referred to the poetic punctuations as HDT—Heavy Duty Theology.

Question 3: Is Genesis a book about the past or the future?

Seriously? Again, duh, creation is in the past but no, Genesis, the book of beginnings is about the future. For example, notice the curse on the serpent in Genesis 3:15,

“And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.” [NIV]

This really is a statement about what will happen. And, Dr. Lubeck contends that the offspring referred to here is Jesus.

Lesson 4

The mind-blowing theme in Dr. Lubeck’s presentation was the heavens and earth as “witnesses.”

Genesis 1:1 says,

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” [NIV]

Yes, God created the world, but “the heavens and the earth” have a deeper significance. For example, when you go to Deuteronomy 30:19, you read,

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live …” [NIV]

And then in Isaiah 1:2 we find this:

“Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!
For the Lord has spoken:
‘I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.’” [NIV]

Dr. Lubeck noted that we’ve never had a good theology of the land. The land, as discussed in the Hebrew Bible, is not just where we live, but it serves a function. This was the most intense part of the discussion.

We also learned that the words “In the beginning” may also mean “at the head.” Dr. Lubeck made the connection to Paul (I think he must have been referring to Colossians) who names Jesus as “the head” through whom “all things have been created.” (Colossians 1:16) And then he made this observation: “God created covenant witnesses and then spoke ten times. When God freed his people, he gave them ten statements.”

He also noted that while creation was spoken into existence, Adam was formed from the dust. I don’t pretend to understand this relationship we have with the earth in Biblical terms, but there is no mistaking its existence. An example Dr. Lubeck used was Genesis 4, where Cain kills Abel and then the land cries out. What’s going on there? Sadly, there wasn’t enough time.

Lesson 5

An historical note. Dr. Lubeck says that until 1100, the Hebrews understood the Messiah to be a person, but then around that time a famous Rabbi named Rashi made the declaration that Messianic passages were really about the Jews. The reason Dr. Lubeck offered comes out of the ill treatment of Jews by Christians. Therefore, passages like Isaiah 53, which speak of a suffering servant, Rabbi Rashi (according to Dr. Lubeck) said were actually about the Jewish people. They were the Suffering Servant. And so we still live a little bit with this difficulty in interpretation. Dr. Lubeck offered that because of Rabbi Rashi and, later, the enlightenment, we now say only passages quoted in the New Tetament are about Jesus. This is wrong. All of the Hebrew Scriptures speak of Jesus.

The journey to figure out how continues.

This was an exciting morning.