Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

5 Jun 2013

Psalm 110 in the NT: An Important Monograph

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David M. Hay. Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity. SBLMS 18. Nashville: Abingdon,  1973. 176 pp.

In this revised version of his 1965 Ph.D. thesis, completed at Yale under the supervision of Paul W. Meyer, Hay explores the use of Psalm 110 in early Christian literature up to Justin Martyr (though see pp. 47–51). Central to his investigation is an attempt to explain why this psalm was so popular in early Christianity (for the question, see p. 16; for the answer, see pp. 158–61). His study nicely divides into two parts. Part 1 (ch. 1–2; pp. 19–51) provides a comprehensive, if still brief, history of the psalm’s interpretation by Jews and Christians up to the second century. In Part 2 (pp. 52–153), Hay returns to the Christian interpretations, categorizing each according to four distinct uses made of the psalm: (1) expressions of exaltation; (2) support for Christological titles; (3) affirmation about the subjection of powers; and (4) affirmations about Jesus’ intercession (see chs. 3–6 respectively; also the summary in Tables 3–4, pp. 45–47). The book is capped with a helpful summary of Hay’s conclusions (155–62) and an appendix displaying the text of all early Christian citations and allusions to the psalm (pp. 163–66; see also the helpful penultimate summaries in ch. 1: pp. 33; ch. 2: pp. 50–51; ch. 3: pp. 89–91, 103; ch. 4: pp. 107–8, 109, 110, 120–21; ch. 5: pp. 128–29; ch. 6: pp. 142–43; 152–53).

Beyond this brief overview, a few of Hay’s particular conclusions are worth noting. In Part 1, ch. 1, Hay suggests that pre-Christian references to the psalm (particularly vv. 1, 4) can be found in T. Job 33:3; 1 Macc 14:41; As. Mos. 6:1; Jub. 32:1; T. Levi 8:3 (cf. vv. 14–15; also cf. Jub. 36.16); T. Levi 18; Dan 7:9–14 (cf. b. Sanh. 38b); 1 En. 45:1, 3; 51:3; 52:1–7; 55:4; 61:8; 69:27, 29; 3 En. 10:1; 48C:5; and 11Q13 (Melchizedek). Hay concludes that in some of these, the psalm was understood messianically (e.g., Dan 7:9–14), an interpretation, he then shows, not infrequently found in rabbinic literature (see, e.g., Genesis Rabbah 85:9 and Midrash Tehillim on Ps 18§29). In ch. 2, Hay suggests that many of the early Christian references to Ps 110 were taken from intermediary sources (e.g., testimonia, confessions, hymns). One result, he avers, was that the authors may not have been aware of the psalm’s original context or, perhaps, of quoting a psalm at all.

In Part 2, ch. 3, Hay argues that Ps 110:1 played the leading role in the NT’s affirmation of Jesus’ exaltation, an action which is in many places seen to comprise Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, and present status (cf. Mk 14:62 par.; Acts 7:55–56; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; Rev 3:21; 1 Clem. 36:5; Apoc. Pet. 6; Sib. Or. 2:243; Heg [Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 2.23.13]) and an action that led to disparate proposals regarding his current function (see, e.g., Table 3 on pp. 45–46 and those texts keyed to function “1”). Moreover, Hay suggests that a few early Christians used Ps 110:1 to legitimize the interim between Jesus’ exaltation and the parousia (e.g., Heb 10:13; 1 Cor 15:25), an observation he repeats in discussing Ps 110:1c in ch. 5. In ch. 4, Hay concludes that Ps 110:1 was not central in the early Christian use of kyrios for Jesus (contra, e.g., Dodd), principally because NT authors do not often ground such use explicitly in Ps 110:1a—Dodd’s assertions about the influence of wider-contexts notwithstanding. In ch. 6, Hay adduces four texts where Jesus’ intercessory work is linked to the exalation language of Ps 110:1 (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25; Acts 7:55–56; and 1 Pet 3:21–22), suggesting by these that a priestly-Christology can indeed be found outside of Hebrews. On this score, he also notes the centrality of Ps 110 to nearly all the major affirmations of Hebrews, save that of the messiah’s death (though one may wonder, e.g., what other way someone might prove he has an indestructible  life except through demonstrably conquering death itself).

To be sure, a few of the above conclusions are debatable, not least his point about intermediate sources. It is, e.g.,  probably Hay and not the author of Hebrews who has failed to integrate Heb 1:5–14 with the rest of the letter. Beyond these, however, Hay suggests one or two other disputed points of exegesis. For instance, he is simply too reticent to link affirmations of Jesus’ exaltation with a corresponding affirmation of Jesus’ present rule. How, e.g., is Jesus’ fulfillment of davidic typology in Heb 1, including the regal imagery of inheritances (v. 3; cf. vv. 13 and 2); scepters (v. 8), thrones (v. 8; implied in vv. 3, 13), and kingdoms (v. 8), anything other than an affirmation that “the exalted Christ . . . rule[s]” (86), or, for that matter, that he is “the son of david” (cf. p. 113: “relative indifference”)? In another place, Hay overstates the realized eschatology of Ephesians. While it is true that the fulfillment of Ps 110:1c began with Christ’s resurrection (Eph 1:20–23), it is not true  that Ephesians makes “no suggestion of a process of subjugation of foes in either the present or the future” (p. 127). What else is one to make of the realities described in 2:12 or 6:12 when set along side the divine intention revealed in 1:10.

These criticisms notwithstanding, Hay’s work demonstrates considerable knowledge of all relevant matters, doing so with a light, yet still, authoritative touch. It is lamentable not to find these qualities joined more often in academic writing.