Dr. Michael Brown is a Jewish believer in Jesus and a well-known apologist and author. For more, visit his web sites at askdrbrown.org thelineoffire.org and realmessiah.com. We interviewed him to draw on his expertise in the area of messianic prophecy.
Havurah: In light of how the New Testament writers used messianic prophecy, how do you think we should be using it today?
MB: We should be following the lead of the New Testament writers. But we need to understand their method and their mindset. Sometimes they just quote verses in keeping with the Jewish interpretive styles of the day in order to illustrate a point, not necessarily to give the primary sense of the passage. But certainly in the messianic passages that are quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament writers are often looking at the larger context. For example, Matthew 1:23 quotes Isaiah 7:14. This can only be properly understood when you realize that Matthew was looking at Isaiah chapters 7-11 and its larger context of promises to David. If we think the New Testament writers are simply using the scriptures in an “atomistic” way, meaning that they just pulled verses out of context, we’re going to misunderstand what they’re doing and our apologetic witness will be weak. But if we understand the care with which they were looking at the text, with the insight they had from the Holy Spirit, then I think we’ll find them to be excellent guides.
Havurah: Are there limitations to using messianic prophecy in our witness?
MB: When God saved me as a 16-year-old drug user, I couldn’t have cared less about messianic prophecy because I couldn’t have cared less about the concept of the Messiah. I was already a committed believer before I knew much about messianic prophecy. But if we are dealing with someone who genuinely wants to know who the Messiah is according to the Scriptures, then messianic prophecy can play a powerful role. Obviously, every person is different.
Sometimes messianic prophecy is used in a superficial “statistical” way: Jesus fulfilled “x” number of prophecies, and the statistical probability of him doing that is such-and-such. That approach is actually fairly weak, and it’s not how the New Testament authors did it. But there is a way to use messianic prophecy whereby we can demonstrate conclusively that the Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures had to be Jesus. If the interest and the willingness are there, then there’s great value in using messianic prophecy.
It’s also powerful once people have come to the Lord. A lot of the apologetics I do is done primarily for people who are already believers, to strengthen them and help them in their walk so they don’t get pulled away.
Havurah: Have you found the approach of someone like Josh McDowell to be helpful?
MB: I appreciate the various apologists and teachers out there, but I’ve actually read very little of the popular type material. What I’ve read over the years is anti-missionary books, traditional Jewish commentaries, rabbinic literature, scholarly treatments of the Old Testament text. And out of that I formed my own view of the major principles for interpreting messianic prophecy. So my approach has ended up very differently. What’s never done in the New Testament is that they just stack up a whole bunch of verses and say, “Look at these verses; we stacked them up, what’s the chance of that happening by accident? See, this proves he is Messiah.”
The New Testament is more like looking at the bigger picture. If you look at a beautiful painting, you’re not saying it’s a beautiful painting because of fifteen qualities that all add up statistically to something. Instead, you’re getting the overall picture.
Havurah: Is there a need for a different kind of apologetic that’s more relevant to people in today’s “postmodern” world?
MB: I’ve been following the Lord now for over thirty-six years and I’ve had intensive discussions with both traditional and secular Jews over most of that time. And through it all, I haven’t really seen a need for a different approach.
First of all, the power is in the gospel. Jews get saved the same way everybody else gets saved. If we are full of faith, if we speak the Word, if we walk in love, if we pray for people, if we share the good news with them, many will come to the Lord. The materials I’ve developed and used in public debates, in print, online, and in one-on-one witness, have been pretty consistent for many years, and they seem to bear the same fruit— if not more, as the years go on.
After one debate I had done, a messianic leader made a comment that people don’t get saved through debates anymore because we’re in the postmodern age, etc., etc. And I couldn’t help but smile, because I actually see more fruit in terms of reports of people being touched and coming to the Lord through my books and materials.
To me the only real issue is using technology, improving what we do on the Internet, things like that. Otherwise, I see the same things working now as before, if we are sensitive to the Lord when putting forth His truth.
Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus
Michael has written some of the best material available on Jewish apologetics. Purchase his book series Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus at a special price, individually or as a set.
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