Matthew 22:41-46 – Is Psalm 110 a prophecy of Jesus?

The NT authors quote Psalm 110 more than any other chapter in the OT.[1] But, are the NT authors mishandling this passage? Lets’ consider a few of the claims of the critics.

CLAIM #1: This was written earlier by Eliezer –the servant of Abraham. By mentioning Melchizedek, this psalm must refer to father Abraham (Gen. 14).
RESPONSE: A number of points can be made.

First, the superscription disagrees with this view. The superscription states that this was a psalm of David –not Abraham.

Second, the psalm mentions Zion (v.2). Zion didn’t come around until David’s day, and it didn’t even exist in the time of Abraham.

Third, Abraham was never called a priest. Psalm 110 mentions that the person would be a “priest forever.” However, Abraham was never called a priest.

Fourth, Abraham was not a royal leader. While Abraham was the father of the Jews, he was never considered a king or royal leader, which this psalm explicitly describes.

CLAIM #2: This was actually written by a court poet, and it was written ABOUT David, rather than BY him.
RESPONSE: This view doesn’t hold for a number of reasons.

First, the superscription states that David was the author. This was not written about David; it was written by him.

Second, David was never called a priest by the Lord. While David was a priestly king, he was never specifically called a priest by God.

Third, David never sat at God’s right hand, and he never had a worldwide reign. The right hand of a king was a position of authority and supreme honor (Ps. 45:9; Mt. 19:28). However, this prophecy is greater than David. David’s enemies were defeated during his lifetime, but this psalm refers to conquest after his death, which was never fulfilled. Therefore, if David didn’t fulfill this, then we should expect one of his descendants to fulfill it, as with most prophecies mentioning David’s reign (2 Sam. 7:11-16).

Fourth, therefore, even if a court poet wrote this, it would still be messianic. While the superscription does not support this view, we can still argue that this is a messianic prophecy, regardless. Since David did not fulfill the specifics of this passage, we should expect one of his descendants to fulfill it. Therefore, the NT rightly applies this passage to Jesus.

CLAIM #3: The original Hebrew in the OT clearly distinguishes “Yahweh” from “Adoni.” This passage doesn’t call the messiah Yahweh God; it calls him Adoni, which just means “Lord.” When Jesus quoted this passage, he called both Lord, which was deceiving.
RESPONSE: Jesus did not misapply this passage for a number of reasons.

First, ‘adoni (pronounced ADD-oh-nie) is used to refer to God in a number of places in the OT. For instance, Joshua bows down and worships the captain of the Lord, who is called ‘adoni (Josh. 5:14). When Gideon speaks with God, the terms ‘adoni and Yahweh are used interchangeably (Judg. 6:13). While the word ‘adoni refers to a lord in general, it can be used to specifically to refer to God in some contexts.

Second, when Jesus spoke, he used the Greek term “kyrios” (pronounced KEER-ee-oss) for both words. However, the Septuagint also renders Psalm 110 in this way: “The kyrios said to my kyrios.”[2] In other words, Jesus was using the standard translation of his day. The Septuagint (LXX) translates both Yahweh and ‘adoni with the Greek word kyrios. Therefore, Matthew was just using the common translation of his day.

Third, the messianic interpretation doesn’t hinge on Davidic authorship. David did not fulfill key aspects of this psalm, and yet, the author calls this Davidic figure “Lord.” This implies that someone greater than David is coming ahead of him. Let’s consider both views of authorship:

If David is the author… If David wrote this psalm (as the superscription states), then David is calling one of his descendants his Lord. In this case, Jesus is saying, “Look, David calls his ancestor his Lord! How is that possible, unless David’s ancestor is greater than him?”

If a court poet is the author… However, even if a court poet wrote this psalm (as the critics assert without any evidence), then this would still be messianic, because the court poet would be describing a person in the psalm that is not David (e.g. sitting at God’s right hand, having worldwide rulership, being a priest). Therefore, either way, the messianic interpretation would hold for this passage.

Fourth, in Matthew 22, the messianic interpretation is assumed. Brown points out that this passage has the ring of truth, because Jesus assumes the messianic interpretation. He compares this to John F. Kennedy’s assassination. He writes,

The question posed to [Jesus] would be like asking, ‘Do you believe that President Kennedy’s assassination was the work of one man or part of a larger conspiracy?’ The fact of his assassination is not in dispute, only the details. In the same way, the fact of the Messianic interpretation of the psalm was not in dispute, only the specific meaning of the verses.[3]
Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that Psalm 110 was interpreted messianically by most of the Jewish community at the time.[4]

[1] Carson notes, “The force of Jesus’ argument depends on his use of Psalm 110, the most frequently quoted OT chapter in the NT.” Carson, D.A. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New Internation Version. Vol. 8. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984. 467.
[2] Brown, Michael L. Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections. Volume Three. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003. 138.
[3] Brown, Michael L. Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections. Volume Three. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003. 142.
[4] Carson writes, “Many but not all Jews in Jesus’ day regarded Psalm 110 as messianic.” Carson, D.A. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New Internation Version. Vol. 8. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984. 467.

“While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions. (Matt 22:41-46)”

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