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Early Christian Use of “Messianic” Psalms

November 9, 2017

The paper that I mentioned in a previous posting (here) and prepared for a conference in Salamanca (held in 2016) is now one of the 32 essays published in my recent volume:  Ancient Jewish Monotheism and Early Christian Jesus-Devotion (Baylor University Press, 2017, the publisher’s online entry here).  The essay title:  “Early Christological Interpretation of the Messianic Psalms” (pp. 559-82).

I had occasion to recall that essay as I have been reading a study that (along with a number of others) echoes the assumption that Psalm 110:1 (LXX 109:1) was a well-known and used “messianic” text in second-temple Jewish tradition.  In fact, it is not ever cited in extant second-temple Jewish texts, and it is difficult even to establish any clear allusion to Psalm 110.  And yet it is one of the most frequently cited and alluded to OT texts in the NT.  I made this observation in my earlier posting about the essay, but it bears repeating, precisely because of the widespread assumption/claim that the NT usage reflects a prior usage of the text in early Jewish tradition.

In short, the interpretative innovations that we see in the NT extend beyond a creative reading of texts already given attention.  In some cases, the NT writings reflect what appears to be also a distinctive identification of certain OT texts as prophetic of Jesus.  This in turn suggests that there were strong internal dynamics/forces in circles of earliest Jesus-believers that led to the interesting selection and interpretation of these texts.

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9 Comments
  1. John Mitrosky permalink

    Larry, do you think Mark added the question mark to the word “eyes?” (Mark 12:11), when he quoted Psalm 118:23? My bible does not have a question mark for the word “eyes” in Psalm 118:23. If so, this may, or may not be significant. ….

    • John: First, in first-century Greek, there was no question mark. The only punctuation that we see in early manuscripts is a “stop” sometimes place mid-high or high in the line. The question mark in our modern Greek editions after “ophthalmois hymon” (“your eyes”) is the product of editors trying to assist modern readers.
      Second, the question mark is for the entire sentence, which begins in v. 10 “Have you not read this scripture…” GThomas etc., please!!

      • John Mitrosky permalink

        All I am trying to say humbly Larry is that I believe the Parable of the Wicked Tenants is the best evidence we have that Jesus created his own self-referencing Messianic parable based on a Messianic Psalm — namely, Psalm 2:2. At the very least, I think it is an example of a Messianic parable created by early Christians based on a Psalm. So this is on topic with the theme of your interesting post.

  2. John Mitrosky permalink

    I’ve been searching for early Christian use of “Messianic” Psalms (and other “OT texts”), with regard to the Messiah having the authority to forgive sins. Can’t find anything. So alternatively, I searched for early Christian use of “Messianic” Psalms (and other “OT texts”), with regard to forgiveness of sins upon a final day of judgment. Still, I came up empty. Lastly, I searched for just forgiveness of sins associated with a final day of judgment. Here the Book of Watchers came into view: “But all the chosen will rejoice and for them will be forgiveness of sins and all mercy and peace and clemency. For them there will be salvation, a good light, and they will inherit the earth” (1 Enoch 5:6).

    I am wondering if you can help me out and add, or subtract anything to this summary. Thank you Larry.

  3. John Mitrosky permalink

    Hmmmm….I’m not so sure. I think Jesus disliked Roman collaboration at the physical Temple so much so, that it got him in trouble. I think he would have been very sympathetic to the view in the Parables of Enoch, “Their faith is in the gods they have made with their hands and they deny the name of the Lord of Spirits. And they persecute the houses of his congregation” (1 Enoch 46:7-8). Or, “he will show this to the others, so that they repent and abandon the works of their hands (1 Enoch 50:2).

  4. John Mitrosky permalink

    Thank you Larry, for reminding me of an intriguing to me thought I have had for the past twenty years or more now! This concerns “what appears to be…a distinctive identification of certain OT texts as prophetic of Jesus”, as you so eloquently put it in this post.

    The example I am thinking of is:”The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing. It is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:22-23; compare Mark 12:10-11; Matt 21:42; Luke 20:17; GThom 66; 1 Peter 2:4, 7; Acts 4:11).

    I think here of an historical Jesus that saw himself as building a new spiritual temple “not made with hands” (Mark 14:58). . . . .I find it compelling that Jesus knew and quoted from what we now know as the 118th Psalm.

    Just wondering how you might agree, disagree, or nuance my interpretation.

    • The “spiritual temple” notion strikes me as a post-Easter development. It’s entirely possible that Jesus read Psalm 118 as predictive of himself, but I don’t think he thought in terms of a “spiritual” temple. He was, after all, a first century Jew, not a 2nd century Christian!

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