Bible Question:

How do the rabbis interpret prophecies about Jesus? Why do the Jewish people not believe in Jesus? What do the rabbis say about the Old Testament passages that point to Jesus being the Son of God? I would be interested in knowing their view on these prophecies.

Bible Answer:

Rabbinic interpretation of Old Testament passages that refer to the Messiah have under gone significant changes over time, especially after Christians demonstrated that they pointed to Jesus Christ. The following table provides the ancient rabbinic understanding of just three Isaiah passages and the current rabbinic interpretation as given in the modern Tanakh translations. The Tanakh is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.

New American Standard BibleThe Tanakh
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isa. 7:14Older rabbinic translations of Isaiah 7:14 affirm that they understood this passage refers to a virgin and not a young woman. Case in point, the Septuagint translators (270 B.C.), who were Jewish scholars, used the Greek word parthenos in Isaiah 7:14 which means virgin and not young woman.[1] However, recent translations of the Tanakh replace the word “virgin” with “young woman” and changes the wording to the present tense thus implying that at the time Isaiah wrote the prophecy the young woman was already pregnant and birth would occur soon.[2]
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isa. 9:6The Babylonian Talmud (A.D. 600) reads like this, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty, Judge, Everlasting, Father, Prince, and Peace.”[3] The word “Everlasting” reveals that this is God because only God can be everlasting. But the Jewish Study Bible version of the Tanakh states that instead of “the government will rest on His shoulders”, it reads “authority has settled on his shoulders.” Instead of “Mighty God” they have changed it to “has been named “Mighty God is planning grace.” An honest translation of the Hebrew cannot support this wording. The titles “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” have been removed and reworded to sound like an ordinary man.[4]
Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up, and greatly exalted . . . For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot . . . nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; . . . Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. Isa. 52:13-53:5The Babylonian Talmud (A.D. 600) reads like this, ” His name is ‘the leper scholar,” as it is written, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.”[5] The translators interpreted the Hebrew word NAGA as a leper. But of the 150 times that the word is used in the Hebrew text it is never translated as leper, except here. Why? But what is most important is to note that the A.D. 600 translation of the Hebrew passage does not translate it to mean Israel.” The Tanakh does not change the wording of the New American Standard Bible (NASB), but the rabbis say that this passage is about the nation of Israel and not Jesus. They believe that Israel is “My servant.”[6]

The older Jewish translations of the Septuagint and the Babylonian Talmud agree more closely with the Christian translations of the Old Testament than do the more recent Jewish translations. The recent Jewish translations started changing after the Christians demonstrated that Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophecies. The oldest existing commentary on Isaiah 53 states that the passage refers to the Messiah[7] and not to Israel.

When the overall sense of the passage cannot be hidden (as with Isa. 52:13-53:5) the Jewish rabbis and translators who have lived after Jesus Christ have changed it because they cannot believe it refers to Jesus. Some Jews even say that Jesus never existed and deny the writings of many non-Christians and even some first century Jewish writing which testify of His life. But the weight of historical evidence is against them, including statements from early Jewish documents that refer to Him. Jewish literature after Jesus’ death and resurrection tried to explain away Jesus’ miracles by claiming He was demon possessed and that He practiced Egyptian magic. Why do they try to explain how He did these things? What they have in fact admitted is that Jesus did do miracles! Why do they try to explain away Jesus’ return to life? By their very attempts, they have in fact admitted that Jesus did miracles and returned to life.

The New Testament explains that Jesus would be rejected by both Jews and Greeks.

For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness. 1 Cor. 1:22-23 (NASB)

God has given them signs that Jesus is the Messiah, but they do not want to believe. They seek a Messiah of their own making and desire. But there is only One who will establish an eternal government and bring everlasting peace and it is the Messiah Jesus Christ.

Conclusion:

Today the Jewish people are spiritually blind. They seek a Messiah who has already come. They were not looking for a Messiah who would rescue them from their sins thus giving them eternal life and also be their king forever. Jesus Christ is both a glorious spiritual savior and future king. We need to pray for them and witness to them. They are God’s chosen people.

References:

1. Sir Lancelot Brenton The Septuagint. Hendrickson Publishers. 1986. p. 842.
2. The Jewish Study Bible. Jewish Publication Society. Oxford University Press. 2001. p. 798.
3. Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin, Folio 94a.
4. The Jewish Study Bible. Jewish Publication Society. Oxford University Press. 2001. p. 802.
5. Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin, Folio 98b.
6. The Jewish Study Bible. Jewish Publication Society. Oxford University Press. 2001. p. 891.
7. Rabbi Hillel HaZakein. Targum on The Prophets.

 

Reference Links:

Peace With God
Why do we accept the Bible?
Is Isaiah 7:14-16 talking about Jesus?
What is the meaning of Isaiah 53:1?