“At, or In, God’s Right Hand”: A Further Suggestion
I’ve got another possible factor for the curious preference of NT authors in the way they refer to the exalted Jesus as “at God’s right hand.” I’ve noted this matter in previous postings (e.g., here), and in a forthcoming essay I return to the question. In a recent seminar in Oxford where I presented the paper, this topic generated some encouraging discussion.
To recoup: When NT authors cite Psalm 110:1, they preserve the Greek phrasing of the LXX here: εκ δεξιων. But in a number of other instances, across various NT writings, when the authors simply make a statement about Jesus’ exalted status (e.g., Romans 8:34), they seem to prefer the construction εν δεξιᾳ. English translations of the NT typically don’t distinguish between the two expressions, but they are different. (Apologies to readers without Greek, but the question is about the use of two different Greek phrases.)
So, why this pattern? And the basis for the question is that there is this pattern. It’s not willy-nilly, and it’s not confined to one author. Note, for example, that the author of Hebrews prefers the latter expression when making his own statements about Jesus’ exalted status (1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2), but gives the correct wording of Psalm 110:1 (LXX 109:1) when he cites the text in Heb 1:13. He knows the wording of the Psalm, but seems to prefer the phrasing εν δεξιᾳ when he has the freedom to do so.
In an earlier discussion, I wondered if this phrasing connoted a more intimate relation, and so was preferred. In the LXX, for example, the phrase typically refers to something or someone “in the right hand” of someone, whereas εκ δεξιων refers to something/someone positioned “on the right” of someone. (The pre-publication version of that essay, in which I give details of references is on this blog site here).
Continuing to ponder the matter, I now wonder if there is another factor that could lend further support, another OT text that may have contributed to the preference for referring to Jesus as εν δεξιᾳ in relation to God. Specifically, I point to Psalm 16 (LXX Psalm 15). We know that it was read early on in light of Jesus’ resurrection (as, e.g., Acts 2:23-36). Is it relevant that the final statement of this Psalm refers to the manifold benefits “in your [God’s] right hand for ever” (εν τη δεξιᾳ σου εις τελος), these words taken as predictive and reflective of Jesus’ exaltation?
Specifically, did this statement in the Psalm help to generate the use of εν δεξιᾳ in early Christian confessional statements? Note the contrast in this Psalm between the phrasing used to describe God as “at the right hand” of the human speaker (v. 8), εκ δεξιων μου, and the phrase in v. 11, εν δεξιᾳ σου. So, did the phrasing of Psalm 16:11 help to express better the early Christian conviction that the exalted Jesus was very intimately connected with God, “in God’s right hand”?
The evidence of contemporary Greek writers shows that both expressions were in use in Koine Greek. So, it’s not a case of one becoming obsolete. So, I repeat, why the apparent pattern of preference across various NT authors?
The other typical explanation is that these two Greek expressions were simply the remnants of early and varying translations of Psalm 110:1. Maybe. But why, then, is the phrasing εκ δεξιων consistently found in any citation of that text, whereas NT authors seem to prefer the other expression in making confessional statements?
Also worth noting, the LXX translators didn’t render the various Hebrew prepositional phrases willy-nilly. They preferred εκ δεξιων for certain Hebrew prepositional constructions, and εν δεξιᾳ for others. (For details, see my earlier posting here.)
(For a somewhat similar/supporting view on the possible influence of LXX Psalm 15:11, see now Michael Cover, Lifting the Veil: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 in Light of Jewish Homiletic and Commentary Traditions (BZAW 210; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015), 170-74, whose discussion of ἐν δεξιᾷ is confined to its use in Peter’s speech in Acts 2. On early Christian reading of the Psalms as the voice of Jesus, see Richard B. Hays, “Christ Prays the Psalms: Paul’s Use of an Early Christian Exegetical Convention,” in The Future of Christology: Essays in Honor of Leander E. Keck, ed. A. J. Malherbe and W. A. Meeks (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 122-36, re-published as “Christ Prays the Psalms: Israel’s Psalter as Matrix of Early Christology,” in R. B. Hays, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 101-18.)