This article argues for the early Christian/Nicene concept of the Trinity (still held among the Eastern Orthodox), that Wisdom in Proverbs should be understood throughout as referring to the Son of God, who is also called the Word, and provides very interesting information about Daniel’s “Son of Man” prophecy based on ancient Ugaritic literature.
I have always been scared to point out that Justin Martyr (died c. 165) accused the Jews of changing the Scriptures to hide prophecies about Christ. His accusations are related to the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that was the Bible of both Christians and Jews, at least outside Judea. The Septuagint was translated a century before Jesus was born or more, so it represents an earlier text than the Masoretic, from which our western Bibles are translated. The earliest text of the Masoretic we have is from the 9th century A.D. (Septuagint.net does say that the Dead Sea Scrolls, from a similar time as the Septuagint translation, agrees more with the Masoretic than the Septuagint.
I have never dared agree with Justin Martyr that the Jews changed Old Testament texts in response to Christianity. I still think the evidence is flimsy at best, but the following discussion reminds me of the accusation. I read an interesting article the other day. The article is from Logos.com, a trustworthy and orthodox Bible software company. It says:
The Jewish audience reading Daniel understood the implications — the prophet Daniel was describing a second power in heaven — a second being at the level of Yahweh to whom Yahweh himself granted authority. Although we naturally think of the idea of a godhead as distinctly Christian, we have evidence here that the seeds of the idea are found in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s no accident that Jewish theological writing during the Intertestamental period is filled with references to the “second power in heaven” and attempts to figure out how to articulate what was going on in heaven in light of monotheism. Jewish writers speculated that the “second god” was the archangel Michael, or perhaps Gabriel. Some Jewish writers even wrote that Abraham or Moses occupied that position! For Christians the answer was obvious.
I’ll make this explanation as short as possible. In the early 1900’s, a farmer accidentally found a building that turned out to be a whole city. The city is Ugarit. It dates from around 1200 BC (if memory serves me right). Archaeologists found not just documents, but many tablets. Ugaritic is not much different than Hebrew, and the tablets explain the whole Canaanite deity system. It turns out that Israel took a lot of Ugaritic literature and applied it to Yahweh, the God of Israel, rather than to these Canaanite deities. Even some of the names of the Canaanite deities were applied to Yahweh, just as Abraham got the name El Elyon, God Most High, from Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-22).
In Ugaritic literature, Baal is the god who rides the clouds. Of course, God had to keep driving out Baal worship among the Israelites throughout their existence. The writers of the Psalms regularly point out that it is Yahweh who rides the clouds, not Baal. Such passages may have been written in direct retaliation to the false deity Baal.
In Daniel 7, though, a different person, the Son of Man, rides the clouds to appear before the Ancient of Days. Only deities ride on clouds, giving rise to the discussion of “the second power in heaven” during the time between the Old Testament and New Testaments. Interestingly, rabbinical scholar Alan Segal says the idea of a second power in heaven was not considered heretical until the second century A.D., the same time that Justin accuses the Jews of changing the Hebrew texts to hide prophecies.
Is that proof they did this? No. It may create a small suspicion it is proof of nothing. I told you all this not to talk about the Jews, but about us. Like the Jews, we have lost much of our understanding of the Word, the second power in heaven, who would come from heaven to be born in Bethlehem and be named Yeshua (Jesus). Daniel 7 does not just announce the Son of Man, a title Jesus applied to himself throughout his time on earth, it announces him as deity. Only deity rides the clouds. Humans do not do so.
We have lost one other amazing description of Christ, not to the Jews, but to an overreaction to the Arians, those who held the teaching of the heretic Arius, after the Council of Nicea. That passage is Proverbs 8:22-31. We do not want to apply this amazing passage to Jesus because Proverbs 8:22 says he was created.
This did not cause any trouble to the Christians from the apostles until Arius became a troublemaker in the early fourth century. For 300 years, Christians thought Proverbs 8:22-31 was a beautiful description of the Son of God, Jesus, participating in the creation of all things. They understood “created me the beginning of his ways” to simply refer to incomprehensible birth from within God the Father. Jesus, was, after all, the only-begotten Son (a term used throughout the Gospel of John). He was also “the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15). The “creation” reference in Proverbs 8:22, in early Christian eyes, was simply a reference to his inexplicable generation from the Father before the ages.
The only reason we do not still use Proverbs 8:22-31 as a description of Jesus creating the world with the Father is because Arius wanted to take “created” litereally. Eusebius, the historian, wrote this about the Arian doctrine:
Although it is once said in Scripture, “The Lord created me the beginning of his ways on account of his works” [Prov. 8:22] yet it would do us well to consider the meaning of the phrase and not … jeopardize the most important doctrine of the church from a single passage! … For although [the Scripture] says that he was created, it is not as if he were saying that he had arrived at exist-ence from what did not exist, nor that he was made of nothing like the rest of the creatures. (Against Marcellus, as cited in The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus, Bk. II, ch. 21)
If we can once again understand Proverbs 8:22-31 as a description of the One who was “begotten, not made” before the beginning, we can realize then that Wisdom can be understood throughout Proverbs as being also the only-begotten Word of the Father as well as simply God giving wise advice.
I explain the early Christian doctrine of the Trinity in a series of pages beginning with The Trinity: Doctrine, Development, and Definition.
Some of the more important prophecies that are in the Septuagint, but not in the Masoretic text, which prompted Justin Martyr’s accusation include (quoted from the Orthodox Study Bible):
- Ps. 110:3: “I have begotten you from the womb before the morning star.”
- Ps. 45:1: “My heart overflowed with a good word.”
And one that Justin specifically addresses is Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call his name Immanuel.” He claims the Jews substituted the word for “maiden,” rather than the word for “virgin,” the word the Greek Septuagint uses. I would argue, though, that the context of Isaiah 7 requires the prophecy to be dual. It is both a maiden in the time of Ahaz having a child named Immanuel and a prophecy of Jesus, God with us, being born of Mary while she was yet a virgin. Again, there is nowhere near enough evidence to support Justin’s claim. What is much more interesting is that the Jews stopped referring to this “second power in heaven” from Daniel 7 after Jesus came and raised up the Christian church. Even the Jews, from Daniel 7, knew that there was a divine Son of Man coming, but they could no longer admit this once Jesus came because it fit the claims of the Christians too well.
It is not that the Jews changed the Scriptures themselves; they changed their understanding of the Scriptures because of the Christians. I want to suggest we do not change our understanding of the Scriptures for Arius the heretic, but go back to knowing that Proverbs 8:22-31 is a wonderful description of our Lord’s participation in creation.
Even worse, because we have mostly forgotten the teaching that the Word of God was begotten of God before the beginning, modern scholars are beginning to argue that “only-begotten” is not the right translation in verses like John 3:16. They want to translate “only-begotten” as “unique” or “only.” This is not a result of good scholarship, but of forgetting the doctrine of the Trinity that was taught until Arius came along and prompted an over-reaction. There is a great article on “only-begotten” that I think a non-Greek reader can understand. It is written by a Baptist theologian: Deep in the Weeds on Monogenes.