"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, ye shall not see me henceforth till ye shall say. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." — St. Matthew, 33:37-39.

The Jews as a Typical (Typological) People

In “The Dispersion and Restoration of the Jews,” a sermon Henry Melvill preached on behalf of the London Society for the Conversion of the Jews, he discusses several ways in which they relate to Christians and Christianity. Melville, always an ingenious explicator of the Bible, particularly in terms of the relation of the Old to the New Testament, emphasizes that the Jews function doubly as types — that is, as divinely intended prefigurations of Christ and his dispensation — when he tells his audience, “you must be quite prepared for our regarding the Jews as a typical nation, so that, in God's dealings with them, we may read, as in a glass [mirror], his dealings with his church, whether collectively or individually” (555). In other words, what the scriptures say about the Israelites applies both to the individual Christian believer and to the church of Christ. Therefore, “the history of the Israelites is full of symbolic occurrence; and that, without drawing any forced parallel, the narrative may be transferred, in various of its parts, to our own day and generation, and be used as descriptive of what occurs amongst christians” (555-56). Therefore, “Christ's remonstrance with Jerusalem” in Matthew (which Melville uses as his sermon text and which is quoted above), is in “every way applicable to the impenitent of later times” and thus affirms “nothing in regard of the Jews which may not be affirmed, with equal truth, of many amongst ourselves” (556). Melvill admits that, true, “We cannot indeed be said to have killed the prophets, and stoned them that were sent unto us,” but by turning “a deaf ear to the prophet” we are “virtually in the same position as Jerusalem” (591) and the Jews.

The Jews as a Separate People

Having claimed that the Jews as a people thus function as divine symbols and therefore any scriptural criticisms of them also apply to him and his fellow Christians, Melvill next discusses two remaining main points — what he terms the “separation of the Jews” from non-Jews and their supposed “infidelity.” First, he emphasizes that

the chief characteristic of the Jews, their complete separation, through all their dispersions, from every other people. We derive this intimation from the terms in which their misery is foretold, “Behold, your house is left unto yea desolate." It seems as though it had been said that they were still to have a house, but that house would be desolate; Judea would be theirs, but themselves exiles from its provinces. And if the house were to remain appropriated to the Jews, the Jews roust remain distinguished from other people; so that what predicts their punishment, predicts also, though in more obscure terms, their being kept apart from the rest of humankind, that they may at length be reinstated in the possession of their fathers. []

Melville marvels at the fact that the Jews have, he says, never assimilated in any of the countries in which they have lived, that, as he puts it, “the Jews have not ceased to be Jews.”

that though scattered over the world, domesticated in every land, at one time hunted by persecution and ground down by oppression, at another, allowed every privilege and placed on a footing with the natives of the soil, there has been a proved impossibility of wearing away their distinguishing characteristics, and confounding them with any other tribe — is not this marvellous? That, moreover, throughout their long exile from their own land, they have held fast the Scriptures which prove their hopes vain, and appealed to prophets, who, if any thing better than deceivers, accuse them of the worst crime, and convict them of the worst madness — we affirm of this, that it is a prodigy without equal in all the registered wonders which have been known on our earth.

Much of this is of course nonsense. Jews did in fact become assimilated in societies that permitted them to dress and work like everyone else in those societies. Be that as it may, Melvill’s main point is that Jews did not convert to Christianity. Taking the Old Testament text as meaning that Jews had to accept Jesus as the Christ, Melvill claims that it actually refers to “the prediction of their state, as affected by their rejection of Christ. They were to be desolate, but distinct from other people; and an obstinate unbelief was to characterize them through the whole period of "the times of the Gentiles." Melvill therefore wonders that “they should submit themselves to all forms of government, and adopt all varieties of customs, and yet be unable, after any lapse of time, to extirpate their national marks; we may pronounce this unparalleled in the history of mankind, and inexplicable, but as the fulfillment of prophecy” (557-58).

Before broaching his main and final point, Melvill expresses “more than sympathy with the Jews as a people chastened for the sin of their ancestors,” and he also tells his audience that he has what he calls an “indistinct feeling of reverence and awe, as knowing them reserved for the most glorious allotments.” Sounding not in fact all that sympathetic, he tells us that it's not

their sordidness, their degradation, nor their impiety — and much less is it their suffering — which can make me forget either the vast debt we owe them, or the splendid station which they have yet to assume That my Redeemer was a Jew, that his apostles were Jews, that Jews preserved for us the sacred oracles, that Jews first published the tidings of salvation, that the diminishing of the Jews was the riches of the Gentiles — I were wanting in common gratitude, if, in spite of all this, I were conscious of no yearnings of heart towards the exiles and wanderers.

The Supposed Infidelity of the Jews

Given his audience, the London Society for the Conversion of the Jews, Melville’s main point appears in his claim that the “continued infidelity of the Jews is every bit as surprising as their continued separation. We are quite at a loss, on any natural principles, to account for their infidelity.” Melville reasons that “It is easy to explain the little way which the Gospel makes amongst the heathen . . . for I go to them with a religious system which demands the unqualified rejection of their own; we have scarcely an inch of ground in common; and if I would prevail on them to receive as true what I bring, I must prevail on them to renounce as false what they believe.” The situation differes radically, he claims, when Christians try to get Jews to accept Jesus as their Saviour:

“We have a vast deal of common ground. We believe in the Same God; we receive the same Scriptures; we look for the same Messiah. There is but one point of debate between us; and that is, whether Jesus of Nazareth were the Christ. . . . . we can go at once to the single truth at issue between us, and discuss, from writings which we equally receive as inspired, the claims of Jesus to the being Messiah. Surely it might haye been expected, that the infidelity of the Jew would have been far more easily overcome than that of the heathen; and that, in setting ourselves to win converts to Christianity, there would have been a better prospect of gaining credence for the New Testament where the Old was acknowledged, than of making way for the whole Bible, where there was nothing but idolatry. [558-59]

Melvill is a little incoherent here, since the heathen, who by definition never accepted either Judaism or Christianity, cannot therefore ever have been guilty of “infidelity” unless the preacher extends the word to mean not just “betraying an accepted belief” but “not having faith or not believing.”

More important, Melvill’s assertion that “there is but one point of debate” — namely does the Old Testament prove Jesus to have been the Jews’s looked-for Messiah? — actually raises two different questions involving Christian interpretation of the Old Testament. First, do the passages that Christians believe prophecy Christ actually do so; that is, have Christians translated and interpreted the passages accurately? Second, have Christians ignored prophecies of the Messiah that would disprove Christ’s candidacy as the Christ?

Thousands of Victorian and modern sermons — and today more than a dozen websites — affirm with great confidence that Jesus of Nazareth fulfills various Old Testament prophecies and therefore proves himself to be the Christ. Arguments by Jews and unbelievers in Christianity argue otherwise. For example, Jim Lippard’s discussion of the matter on Infidels.org, points out that “probably the most famous of these prophecies is the prophecy that Jesus would be born of a virgin. The gospels of Matthew (1:18-25) and Luke (1:26-35) both claim that Jesus was born of a virgin, but only Matthew (1:23) appeals to the Hebrew scriptures as an explanation for why this should be the case. The verse appealed to is Isaiah 7:14, which reads: "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." Lippard argues convincingly that using Isaiah as proof that Jesus is the longed-for messiah has several major problems, the first of which is that “as many have noted, the Hebrew word translated as "virgin" in this verse is "almah," which is more accurately translated simply as "young woman." The Hebrew word "bethulah" means "virgin." Lippard adds that since the Book of Isaiah uses “‘bethulah’ four times (23:12, 37:22, 47:1, 62:5), its author was aware of the word. In the New American Standard translation of the Bible, all other appearances of "almah" are translated simply as "girl," "maid," or "maiden."

Another problem Lippard notes appears in the assertions that Jesus was a direct patrilineal descendant of King David. If the Holy Spirit impregnated the Virgin Mary, then Jesus cannot possibly be a descendant of David: either Jesus was born of a virgin, or he is (or might be) a direct descendant of David, but he cannot be both.

Lippard’s third objection to the Christian interpretation of Isaiah “is that it has been taken out of context.” According to him, the seventh chapter of Isaiah prophecies the “child in question is to be born as a sign to Ahaz, King of Judah, that he will not be defeated in battle. . . . In Isaiah 8:3-4, a prophetess gives birth to a son--Maher-shalal-hash-baz--who is clearly described as the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.” Now there are counterarguments to each of these assertions, some far more convincing, at least to Christians, than others. For example, readers like Melvill who accept the validity of typological interpretations could certainly argue that individual passages, such as Isaiah 7:14, have multiple fulfillments, in this case both an Old Testament and a later one. Nonetheless, one can easily comprehend why a religious Jew reading the Old Testament in the original language would reject Christian interpretations because they were simply unfaithful to the text.

The second major class of objections to declaring that Old Testament prophecies authenticate Jesus as the Christ is simply that he certainly did not bring the universal peace promised in Isaiah and Micah. Again, one can understand how convinced Christians can argue for reinterpretations that see Jesus as a kind of intermediate or first-stage Saviour who will later fulfill the old prophecies. Still, Melvill’s claim that Jews “rejected . . . their own Scriptures,” serves as a wonderful example of this Christian believer's myopia, which allows this otherwise brilliant exegete to examine all the Christian implications of the text he has chosen without ever bothering to consider, much less look at, the many specific details of the millenium the hoped-for saviour was expected to bring.

From the vantage point of the Old Testament, and that, after all, is what Jews would read, none of the most important fulfillments occurred. Where was the glorification of Israel? Where universal peace? To a reader of the Old Testament prophecies, Christianity looks very much like a case of bait-and-switch. The implications of this are obvious: what Melvill terms infidelity is to the reader of the Old Testament alone pure fidelity. But from the point of view of the Christian believer texts from the Judaic Bible demonstrate convincingly that Jesus of Nazareth is the Saviour for whom the Jews were looking. It comes down to different ways of reading. Ever since St. Augustine, Christian readers of the Old Testament (or what Jews call the Bible) read it in terms of a second text, what Christians term the New Testament. Since Jews and Christians encounter the Old Testament prophecies in different contexts composed of texts, traditions, and reading practices, they experience them as what are essentially different Bibles.


Henry Melvill. "The Dispersion and Restoration of the Jews." Sermons. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1854. 547-67. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the Harvard University Library. Web. 26 March 2018.

“Jesus Did Not Fulfill the Messianic Prophecies Found in the Old Testament.” Jewish Voice. Web. 9 April 2018.

Lippard, Jim. “JThe Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah.” The Secular Web. Web. 9 April 2018.

“Top 40 Most Helpful Messianic Prophecies.” Jews for Jesus. Web. 9 April 2018.

Last modified 10 April 2018