Psalms in NT and Wider Jewish Context
Having prepared a paper for a symposium in Salamanca (May this year) focusing on “messianic” Psalms, I’ll pass on a couple of interesting notes for now. Essentially, NT use of Psalms (1) reflects broad developments in the Jewish tradition about how the Psalms were viewed, and (2) also reflects some distinctive particularities in NT usage.
Those broad developments in Jewish tradition were these: (1) collecting Psalms into a “book” (although there appear to have been variant forms of what comprised the collected Psalms till perhaps the late first century CE); (2) the broad ascription of the Psalms to David, making Psalms his “book”; (3) the notion that David was prophetically endowed, which (4) made the Psalms, not simply liturgical texts, but prophetic in properties, predictive and instructive of eschatological events for those Jews who operated in an eschatological framework.
All these developments are reflected in various NT writings, showing, once again, that in its earliest phase(s) what became “Christianity” should be understood as a particular and distinctive variant-form of second-temple Jewish religion.
But there are also distinctive features in NT usage of the Psalms. For example, compare the index of texts cited and alluded to in the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graecae (28th ed.) with the index by Armin Lange and Mattias Weigold, Biblical Quotations and Allusions in Second Temple Jewish Literature Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011). Among other things to note, you’ll see that the Psalms most frequently cited in one list differ from those most frequently cited in the other. There are some overlaps, but also some striking differences. The most striking one is Psalm 110, which is among the most frequently cited/alluded to Psalms in the NT, but has no trace of quotation or allusion elsewhere in second-temple Jewish literature.
Likewise, Psalm 2 is frequently cited and alluded to in the NT, but the Lange/Weigold index shows only three references. In the NT, the Psalm is particularly linked to views of Jesus’ divine sonship.
So, I contend that the specific Psalms cited, and the particular interpretations placed upon them in the NT all derive from the particular convictions characteristic of earliest circles of the Jesus-movement. Jesus’ death and the conviction that God had raised him from death and exalted him to heavenly lordship were obviously crucial factors.