Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Concept of Eschatological Torah in Deuteronomy 18:15-19

In my post entitled “The Importance of the Old Testament Concept of Eschatological Torah for Understanding Paul’s View of the Law” I identified six or seven Old Testament passages that give expression to the concept of eschatological torah, but there is another Old Testament passage of great relevance to this topic. That is Deut 18:15-19, where Moses is recorded as saying:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.’”
This passage is often explained as referring to ordinary prophets, but it is interesting how it is treated in the New Testament.

I would argue that Deut 18:15-19 is a key passage for understanding the significance of Jesus’ transfiguration. The expression listen to him (Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35) alludes to the expression it is to him you shall listen in Deut 18:15. In other words, Jesus is the prophet like Moses who surpasses Moses. Whatever he says (even if it differs from what Moses said) we must obey.

The expression the prophet in John 1:21; 6:14; 7:40 refers back to Deut 18:15, 18. Regarding John 6:14, having just fed at least 5,000 people in the wilderness, what else would you conclude if you were Jewish? This guy must be the prophet like Moses about whom Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy! Hence their conclusion in John 6:14: “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” And it is interesting that, in their mind, this was linked with kingship (John 6:15).

Stephen also quotes Deut 18:15 in Acts 7:37. This is presumably a pre-emptive reference in his sermon to the supreme prophet, who is subsequently identified as the Righteous One whom the people of Israel of Stephen’s day “betrayed and murdered” (see Acts 7:52).

But the key New Testament use of Deut 18:15-19 is found in Acts 3. Preaching after the healing of the lame beggar, Peter warns his Jewish audience to receive Jesus Christ through repentance. He does this by quoting Deut 18:15, 19 (see Acts 3:22-23). Concluding his sermon, Peter says: “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first” (Acts 3:26). The verb ἀναστήσας (having raised up) in v. 26 links in with the verb ἀναστήσει (will raise up) in v. 22, which is derived straight from the LXX of Deut 18:15. In this way Peter confirms that Jesus—note how the wording his servant Jesus in Acts 3:13 is echoed in v. 26—is the prophet about whom Moses prophesied in Deut 18:15-19. In addition, the raising up language of Deut 18:15, 18 is taken by Peter as prophesying resurrection. More than anything else, Jesus’ resurrection is proof that he is the second and greater Moses.

Where then is the concept of eschatological torah found in Deut 18:15-19? The fact that the office of prophet is mentioned implies the communication of authoritative revelation. Indeed, the expression it is to him you shall listen implies that the authority of the second Moses surpasses even that of first Moses. The expression it is to him you shall listen effectively means whatever he says, you shall obey. This implication regarding the authority of the second Moses in relation to the first Moses is clearly brought out in the accounts of Jesus’ transfiguration, with Moses and Elijah (symbolic of the Law and the Prophets) disappearing before the approach of the glory cloud of God, leaving Jesus alone in the spotlight as the Son of God before whom everyone must bow down in obeisance/obedience. The revelatory function of the prophet of Deut 18:15-19 is confirmed in Deut 18:18: “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”

The words that God commanded the second Moses to speak are nothing other than eschatological torah. This is why Jesus said:
“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment, what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (John 12:49-50).


Jeff Miller said...

Yes and Amen!

John Thomson said...


I agree with Jeff. Last few blogs on eschatological torah have been excellent.

Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks, John. Good to hear from you.

I have found understanding the biblical-theological connection between the Old Testament concept of eschatological torah and the New Testament gospel quite helpful, so I hope you do too.