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DD1-5: “Malachisaiah”?

This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series The John the Baptist Experience: Book 1

The John the Baptist Experience
Book 1: The Exceptional Messenger
Deeper Dive #5: “Malachisaiah”?

Copyright © 20221

by
Jim Kerwin

Image of John the Baptist from a 16th Century painting“He must increase, I must decrease.”2

Two Prophecies,
Two Readings

Please let me share Mark 1:1-3 from two translations, the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; 2As it is written in the prophets,

“Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face,
which shall prepare Thy way before Thee.
3The voice of one crying in the wilderness… etc.
[kjv]

1The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You,
Who will prepare Your way;
3The voice of one crying in the wilderness…’ ” etc.
[nasb]

As we can see, Mark introduces “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” by immediately introducing his readers to John the Baptist by way of two prophecies:

  • “Behold, I send My messenger” from Malachi 3:1; and,
  • “The voice of one crying in the wilderness” from Isaiah 40:3.

Then Mark launches into the story of Jesus by emphasizing the plowshare-preaching of John’s ministry (Mark 1:4-8).

In verse 2 above, Mark appeals to… well, it depends on which English translation you use. Older translations rely on Greek New Testament manuscripts (comprising the Textus Receptus3) that read, “As it is written in the prophets” and then continue on with the quotations. Newer translations, relying on what is known as the Majority Text,4 read, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet.”

The translation variation between the two text-groups bothers some people. Why? Well, in Mark 1:3, we see the prophecy we studied in depth in chapter 2, namely Isaiah 40:3. If we accept the “Isaiah the prophet” reading of verse 2, what happens when we discover that the prophecy cited in the rest of verse 2 comes from Malachi, not Isaiah? Is this one of those alleged “discrepancies in the Bible”? Does this “undermine the inerrancy of the Bible”? Are we reading from some Siamese-twin book called “Malachisaiah”?

Nonsense. Whichever variation is “correct” is irrelevant, because ancient writers, even inspired New Testament writers, given the norms of ancient culture, didn’t feel compelled to operate based on our modern level of citation accuracy. Let’s think of some examples readily available to us elsewhere in the New Testament.

Brother Anonymous Quotes Anonymously

Think of the anonymous human author of the epistle to the Hebrews (whoever he was). Twice he didn’t even bother to give the name of an Old Testament book, even though it was obvious:

  • Hebrews 2:6-8 —
    6But one has testified somewhere, saying,

    “What is man, that You remember him,
    or the son of Man, that You are concerned about him?
    7You have made him for a little while
    lower than the angels;
    You have crowned him with glory and honor,
    and have appointed him over the works of Your hands;
    8You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”

    Now, this is a quotation from the Psalms, specifically Psalm 8:4-6, as we artificially chapter-and-verse divide the Scriptures. If you’re like me, sometimes a Bible passage comes to mind, but you can’t remember exactly where it is. Certainly the majority of my readers would say, “Hmm, that looks like it comes from the Psalms.” But the writer doesn’t feel under compunction to specify even the book providing the citation; he merely says, “One has testified somewhere”! He assumes that his scripture-memorizing Jewish audience will know.

  • Then he does it again in Hebrews 4:4—

    For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works.”

    Actually, this important phrase appears in several key passages, not the least of which are the Creation account in Genesis 2:1-2 and the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:11). Again, the assumption seems to be that his readers are familiar with the quote and its locations. He is more concerned with the fact that God said it, not the where or through whom it was written.

  • Considered from the “30,000 foot view,” the writer to the Hebrews is remarkable for his indifference about his biblical sources. No, that’s not actually true; say, rather, seeming indifference. Instead of being concerned for “verse” or “chapter” or even “book,” he pushes his passages back to the ultimate source — God Himself. This writer (who never names himself) starts this great general epistle with the words “God… spoke.”5 Then follow many of His scriptural (but unattributed) “speakings,” all of them the Father’s words to the Son. (See Hebrews 1:5-13.) He quotes from at least six separate psalms without bothering to note his source, but he treats the “book and chapter and verse” with indifference for the best of reasons — he is more concerned about the authority of the Author than any of the Old Testament books or writers which the Author inspired. There is specific mention: “The Holy Spirit says” (Hebrews 3:7-11, 15) and “the Holy Spirit also testifies to us… saying” (Hebrews 10:15-17), as well as “saying through David (Hebrews 4:7 — note how the word through once again pushes the source beyond human authorship); swearing by Himself (Hebrews 6:14); and Messiah Himself (Hebrews 10:5-9).

A critic might say, “That’s all well and good. But the lack of attribution in the book of Hebrews doesn’t explain the mis-attribution of Mark 1:2. Malachi is quoted in Mark 1:2, not Isaiah. Don’t change the subject.”

I’m not changing the subject. Indeed, our little foray into Hebrews was meant to introduce a principle: Quotations from the Old Testament are meant to share with New Testament readers the inspired revelation of God. However, careful attribution, such as we require in this day of academic plagiarism, and such as we desperately need in our era of fake news and false teaching, was of minor import for Holy-Spirit-inspired New Testament authors. What mattered was Divine Authorship. Let’s consider two more examples.6

Paul’s Quotation in Romans 9:27

First, let’s examine prophet-quoting quirks of that wonderfully Scripture-soaked apostle, Paul, to whom were given such amazing unfoldings from God’s First Testament (what we call the Old Testament). In the latter third of what we designate as “Romans 9,” Paul writes of how the prophets declared the gathering in of the Gentiles and the temporary (though lengthy) remnant-izing of His people Israel. The apostle to the Gentiles has his mind full of prophetic words from Hosea and Isaiah. We’ll ratchet up our attention a bit so as not to miss anything in Romans 9:25-26 —

25As He says also in Hosea,

“I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’
and her who was not beloved, ‘Beloved.’ ”

Let’s compare that with the source of Paul’s quotation, Hosea 2:23 —

23“I will sow her for Myself in the land.
I will also have compassion
on her who had not obtained compassion,
And I will say to those who were not My people,
‘You are My people!’
And they will say, ‘You are my God!’ ”

The words in bold correspond to Paul’s first line above, whereas his second line is not so much a quote, but a summary, of God’s message through Hosea.7 Thinking of Hosea’s book in its entirety, Paul then moves backwards just a bit through Hosea’s words, and writes:

26“And it shall be that in the place
where it was said to them,
‘You are not My people,’
There they shall be called
sons of the living God.”

In writing this, Paul has turned back to Hosea’s words which we find in Hosea 1:10—

10Yet the number of the sons of Israel
Will be like the sand of the sea,
Which cannot be measured or numbered;
And in the place
Where it is said to them,
“You are not My people,”
It will be said to them,
“You are the sons of the living God.”

I have bolded the words Paul quoted in Romans, that is, the last five lines of the stanza. I have also italicized the first line, then italicized and bolded the second line, to help you find them quickly when you have to turn back to this page in just a minute. Meanwhile, let’s continue with Paul’s ongoing Old Testament exposition by moving ahead to the next verses, Romans 9:27-28, where he quotes from Isaiah—

27Isaiah cries out concerning Israel,

“Though the number of the sons of Israel
be like the sand of the sea,
it is the remnant that will be saved.
28For the Lord will execute His word on the earth,
thoroughly and quickly.”

Here’s the Isaiah passage Paul is citing, Isaiah 10:22-23—

22For though your people, O Israel,
may be like the sand of the sea,
Only a remnant within them will return;
A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness.

23For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, the Lord God of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land.

Now here’s the point of this exploration. Paul moves between two prophetic passages with the common theme of this contrast: God’s people as a remnant, and yet as numerous as “the sand of the sea.” And as Paul moves from Hosea to Isaiah, there is a common phrase, a point where the two passages “intersect,” as it were. Did you catch it? Both Hosea 1:10 and Isaiah 10:22 share the phrase like the sand of the sea. It’s as though this mutually shared line acts as a “bridge” from one passage to the other. Such linking was a common technique among the rabbis, indeed, among many schools of “higher learning,” where large portions of written material had to be memorized.

You might think, “So they share a common theme and phrase. So what?” Did you see what Paul brought with him over that “bridge”? He brought Hosea’s preceding line, which he attributes to Isaiah: Though the number of the sons of Israel. Look back at our passages and you’ll see that Paul writes that “Isaiah cries out… Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea….” That bolded phrase doesn’t belong to Isaiah, but to Hosea.

Oh, no! Does Biblical inerrancy crash in flames, the sovereignty of God evaporate (along with the Lord Himself), and all Creation unravel at the subatomic level? Let’s get a grip! Has Paul misquoted scripture or erred away from infallibility? No, not at all; he just employed what for his time was a common teaching and memorization technique. In his mind, the Hosea and Isaiah passages are inextricably linked by common theme and shared phrase. And by Paul’s methodology, the Holy Spirit of inspiration has bridged these two prophetic passages together forever. Like the writer to the Hebrews, Paul’s primary focus is the message of the Divine Author, not quibbling about a slight concatenation of two passages.

Matthew’s Quotation in Matthew 21:5

Now that we know what to look for, we can see Matthew employing this same “shared-theme / common-phrase bridge” in one of his quotations from the prophets. Right after Jesus gives His disciples their instructions concerning the “transportation arrangements” for the “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-3), Matthew explains in the next two verses why this specific arrangement was necessary:

4This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

5“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold your king is coming to you,
gentle, and mounted on a donkey,
even on a colt,
the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”

Matthew doesn’t use the generic term “the prophets” for the source of his quotation, nor does he name the prophet from which he quotes. Mostly. Here is the celebrated prophetic word as it appears in the main source, Zechariah 9:9 —

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Looks pretty good, right? Yes, it does, until you remember another verse which, albeit donkey-less, speaks to the arrival of Messiah. Look what we find when we read Isaiah 62:11—

Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth,
Say to the daughter of Zion, “Lo, your salvation comes;
Behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.”

Do you see how Matthew leads off his quotation? Say to the daughter of Zion. Once again, we find these passages share a common theme — God as Savior / King returning to His people — linked by a shared phrase“daughter of Zion.”8 Based on the Mnemonic Trigger Principle,9 Matthew, by his overlap of these two passages, could point out the literal fulfillment of Zechariah’s royal, triumphal entry prophecy, while evoking the meaning of it all by linking to the Isaiah passage: Your Salvation comes, bringing with Him reward and punishments. By including that phrase from Isaiah, the Holy Spirit could imbue this quotation with even deeper nuance and substance. What was important was the overall integration of the ideas and their Divine Authorship, not some sterile, mechanical parsing of who-said-what.

Evaluating Our Mark 1:2-3 Quotation

So let’s take what we’ve learned back to the tempest-in-a-teapot controversy with which we started: If Malachi’s prophecy is credited by Mark (and Peter) to Isaiah, does the foundation of Biblical inerrancy get swallowed into the earth like the tents of Dathan and Abiram?10

Hardly. Consider what we’ve learned:

  • The writer to the Hebrews quotes scripture with citation-less abandon, so fixed on the Divine Authorship and the Divine message of the passages cited that he is totally indifferent about their respective human authors, or even the books from which these texts are taken. For him, Divine Authorship is what matters: God is the Author of his epistle (Hebrews 1:1) and the Source of all the Old Testament clauses which he brings to bear on his subject.
  • Both Paul and Matthew employ various rabbinical techniques in their quotations. One prophet (in Paul’s case Isaiah, in Matthew’s case the unnamed Zechariah) might be cited as the primary source of overlapping passages if:
    1. They share a common theme;
    2. They share a linking phrase; and,
    3. The bulk of the augmented quotation belongs to the named or implied prophet.
    4. Like the focus of the writer to the Hebrews, the main point is Divine Authorship.

So, does Mark’s (Peter’s) Gospel-launching quotation pass muster on these points? Let’s read Mark 1:2-3 again and see:

2As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You,
Who will prepare Your way;
[Remember, that’s quote #1, from Malachi 3:1.]
3The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
make His paths straight.’ ”
[And there’s quote #2, from Isaiah 40:3.]

  1. Do the quotes in this passage share a common theme? Yes, of course — God’s messenger who prepares the way before Messiah. We can check that box.
  2. Do they share a linking phrase? Again, yes — “prepare Your way” and “make ready the way of the Lord” (“prepare the way of the Lord” in some translations). Another check-mark. We’re on course.
  3. Does the bulk of the augmented quotation belong to the prophet cited? Yes, the majority of words and lines are those of Isaiah; and his prophecy is the more ancient of the two (even “ancient” in the day of Mark’s writing) by around 300 years.11 Plus, Isaiah’s writings generally had their own separate scroll (being a “major” prophet), whereas Malachi’s writings were contained in the scroll shared by the other eleven “minor” prophets.12 That’s a “tick” in the third checkbox.
  4. Is the main point of the augmented or blended quotation the message of the Divine Author? Why do you even ask?

So, there it is. Whether the Greek texts used by your New Testament translation say, “As it is written in the prophets” or “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet” is largely an issue for scholars focused on the jots and tittles of comparing the many texts and textual fragments of the Greek New Testament that have survived.

More power to them and their laborious research, because our understanding of the Scriptures has been enhanced by their diligent labors of love. For us, now that we see how three other New Testament writers processed and quoted such prophetic material, even our more “problematic” reading of this Mark 1:2-3 passage — As it is written in Isaiah the prophet — shows a consistency with the other inspired writers of that era.

Oh, one other note before closing this “Deeper Dive” section: All four Gospel writers quote the Isaiah 40 passage about John the Baptist. When it comes to the Malachi 3:1 passage, Matthew and Luke clearly relate how Jesus quoted it.13 The Apostle John doesn’t quote the verse exactly, but he alludes to it in chapter 1 verse 6 of his Gospel.14 Peter (through Mark)15 didn’t include the story of John’s disciples visiting Jesus, nor the follow-on story of Jesus quoting Malachi 3:1 to explain John’s ministry. But he considered that prophecy so pivotal that he must have said to Mark, “Mark, you really should lead off with that quotation.” And Mark did.


Endnotes:


  1. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book The John the Baptist Experience: Book 1: The Exceptional Messenger; copyright © 2022 by Jim Kerwin. All rights reserved.

    Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are taken from New American Standard Bible (nasb) Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA. All rights reserved. Used by Permission. www.lockman.org

  2. Cover: Detail from Mathias Grünewald's altarpiece Crucifixion-scene painting for a church in Isenheim, France (c. 1515). Courtesy of Wikipedia, but copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. The Latin phrase in the “crook” of John's arm declares, “Illum oportet crescere me autem minui,” the Vulgate reading of John 3:30 — “He must increase, I must decrease.”
  3. The Textus Receptus was the Greek New Testament compiled by the scholar/priest Desiderius Erasmus, originally published in 1516. It used Greek texts no older than the 12th Century a.d.
  4. This post-Textus-Receptus corpus of Greek texts has become known as the Majority Text, a compilation of many older Greek texts and partial manuscripts which were discovered and analyzed during the intervening four centuries since the King James Bible was released in 1611.
  5. Here is something of note, because of its uniqueness. The other epistle writers always state their name first thing, as part of the normal epistolary formula of the day, e.g., “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1); “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1); “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:1); and “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). That it was the custom and writing style of the day can be seen even in more formal government correspondence: “Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings” (Acts 23:22).

    The sole Apostolic exception is John, who doesn’t name himself in 1 John 1:1 (just as he never mentions his own name in his Gospel). And, while not naming himself, he at least identifies himself as “the elder” in his second and third letters. (See 2 John 1 and 3 John 1.) However, it seems he must outright identify himself in Revelation 1:4, in order to put the apostolic seal on the enigmatic Apocalypse.

    Not so the writer to the Hebrews. So important is the message he bears to the Church about God’s rest and entering into holiness that he willingly yields to complete anonymity. In vain we pursue the fruitless academic gymnastics of trying to ferret out its actual author (“Was it Paul? Apollos? Barnabas?”). The author’s overriding point is that the message he has is from God, and he cleverly affirms this by putting the name “God” in the very spot where one would expect the author’s name. This, I believe, affects the human author’s indifference to Bible-quotation attribution, since God Himself spoke everything which is quoted in this most unique epistle.

  6. Speaking of the danger of plagiarism, as well as the academic honesty and humility of attribution, I am indebted to Johann Albrecht Bengel and his notes on Mark 1:1-3 in his Gnomon of the New Testament for the germ of the two points which follow.
  7. No, Paul’s rendition doesn’t follow the reading in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), in case you’re wondering.
  8. The phrase “daughter of Zion” (a phrase representing God’s people) is almost exclusively the domain of the Prophets (including Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations). Of the 26 times it appears in the Old Testament, it appears only once in the Psalms (9:14) and once in 2 Kings 19:21 (which is just a re-telling of Isaiah 37:22). All the other appearances of the phrase are in the Prophets. In the New Testament, in addition to the Matthew passage under consideration, “daughter of Zion” appears in John’s foreshortened quotation (see John 12:15) of Zechariah’s prophecy.

    But only once, in the Isaiah 62:11 passage, do we find a command like “Say to the daughter of Zion.” Thus, this is the only verse from which Matthew could have drawn this unique phrase.

  9. Refer to the Mnemonic Trigger Principle, which we introduced and explained in Deeper Dive #1, Pulling the “Mnemonic Trigger”.
  10. Numbers 16:1-33; 26:9-10; Deuteronomy 11:1-6 (esp. v. 6); Psalm 106:16-17
  11. For a bit of perspective through American eyes, the time difference would be like comparing the founding of the Colony of Virginia (1607) or the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth Rock (1620) to a relatively more obscure event of European history in the 1300s, like the capture and execution of William Wallace (the character portrayed in the movie Braveheart) in 1305.
  12. For those unfamiliar with the designations of “major” and “minor” prophets, the distinction is one of the amount written, not of the importance of the content.
  13. Refer to the section “My Messenger” in Book 1, Chapter 4, Jesus Reveals John in Malachi.
  14. John 1:6-8 — 6There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.
  15. In a footnote in chapter 4 (Jesus Reveals John in Malachi) we saw that the testimony of the early church was that Mark’s Gospel faithfully reported Peter’s teaching, a point we revisited in the previous Deeper Dive (Peter as “Mr. Euthus-iasm”).
Series Navigation<< DD1-4: Peter as “Mr. Euthus-iasm”DD1-6: Verb Voices and Violent Versions >>
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