Continued from Chapter 40

(Psalms 110:1)

Who’s your daddy?

On the basis of Mark 12:35-37, Christians ask: “If the Jewish Messiah is not the Son of God, how do you answer Jesus’ question?

The Messiah is the Son of David. Yet David calls him “Lord.” How can David call the Messiah “Lord” if he is David’s descendant? Some Christians answer that the Messiah is David’s descendant according to his humanity and David’s Lord according to his divinity ̶ ̶ he is God come down from Heaven and incarnated as a human being. To assert divine sonship is a wild assumption neither explicit or implicit in the text. The assumption that Jesus’ question has any validity is incorrect to begin with. The Christian answer presupposes a dual nature for Jesus that is not justified. If he is God’s literal son, as Christians believe, then he cannot be Joseph’s literal son.

If he is Joseph’s literal son, then he is not God’s literal son. Additionally, adoption would still not give Jesus the required genetic lineage, since, kingship is passed down paternally. It is also interesting to note that the New Testament makes no claims or even mention of Mary being a descendant of King David.

Y-H-V-H and ’adoni

It is a Christian contention that several verses in Psalm 110 show that the Messiah will not only be greater than David but must also be a divine being. Psalms 110:1 states: “A Psalm concerning David. Y-H-V-H says to my master [“lord”]: ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” There is no problem with accepting that one’s descendants can rise to a more exalted position than we possess at present. There is no problem with David accepting that the Messiah will be greater than he is. But, there is nothing in this verse to show that David is referring to the Messiah when he writes ’adoni, “my master,” “my lord.” Moreover, there is nothing in David’s words to indicate that the individual he refers to as “my master” is a divine being. David concerning himself wrote Psalm 110 poetically in the third person. There are several midrashic explanations of this psalm.

They are not meant to be taken literally, but are homiletic presentations concerned with spiritual lessons to be learned from this text. As such, they do not concern our study of the literal meaning of the psalmist’s words. Christians explain this verse based on New Testament exegesis. Mark’s Jesus says: How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself said by the Holy Spirit; “The Lord [ho kyrios] said to my Lord [kyrio mou], ‘Sit at My right hand, until I put your enemies beneath your feet.’ David himself calls him ‘Lord,’ how is he then his son?” (Mark 12:35-37) Mark’s rendering, as in the Septuagint of Psalms 110:1 (LXX: 109:1), uses the Greek word kyrios, “lord,” twice in the sentence, and the Christian translations into English capitalize the initial letter of the word to read “Lord” in both instances. In the Greek text, the initial kyrios is a reference to “the Lord” (Y-H-V-H). The second kyrios, renders ’adoni, “my master,” “my lord,” which according to Mark’s understanding refers to “the Christ”. That is, the Greek, kyrios, is used to render two separate and distinct Hebrew words in the Greek translation. The confusion it creates in Greek does not exist in the Hebrew original. In Mark’s exposition of the text he has Jesus distance the Messiah from a Davidic descent.

Being politically correct

Why does he question how the Messiah could be the son of David yet David calls him “my Lord” thus giving him more honor than conventional courtesy would demand of elders to their descendants? The Gospel of Mark was as much a political apologia as a religious one. Writing in the aftermath of the Roman-Jewish War, Mark found it undesirable to portray Jesus as a Davidic descendant. The Romans were very much aware that for decades the focus of Jewish aspirations centered on the establishment of a religio-political kingdom of God governed by the messianic descendant of David. Therefore, when Mark wrote his Gospel, he felt that claiming Jesus was a descendant of David was not in the best political interests of the Christian community. This denial that the Messiah must be of Davidic descent is highlighted by the fact that Mark gives no Davidic genealogy for Jesus, as we find in Matthew and Luke. Attributing the questions of Mark 12:35 and 12:37 to Jesus, Mark derides the scribes and their teachings concerning the Davidic descent of the Messiah who he calls “the Christ.” This particular discussion, if it ever took place, uses Psalms 110:1 to argue against a Davidic descent for the Messiah. As such, Mark’s Jesus not only distances himself from Jewish beliefs, but also assures the Roman authorities that he does not have a physical connection with the rebel-supported house of David. Mark’s negative attitude toward Judaism was part of an apologetic intended to show the Romans that the Jews who revolted against Rome were also hostile to Jesus. Mark was trying to exclude Christians from Roman anger toward the Jews.

Who did David write about?

In rendering Psalms 110:1 as, “the Lord said to my Lord” Christians argue that it shows Jesus is greater than David and is the Messiah. Some maintain that the verse even implies that he is of divine origin as well (see Matthew 22:42-45, Mark 12:35-37, Luke 20:41-44, Acts 2:34-36, Hebrews 1:13). Yet, a careful examination finds their claims to be totally without merit. Since le-David, in verse 1, does not always mean “written [composed] by David,” but sometimes “concerning David” or “in the style of David,” it cannot be said with certainty that the preposition le, often translated “of,” actually indicates “composed by David.” Additional investigation is necessary in order to understand its meaning as governed by the context of this psalm. Psalm 72 was written by David “for,” or “concerning,” Solomon (cf. verses 1 and 20), yet the Hebrew contains an introductory phrase similar to the one found in Psalm 110. The introductory statement, li-Shlomo, stresses that the psalm is “concerning” Solomon rather than that it is by Solomon. In 2 Samuel 22:51 and Psalms 144:10, David speaks of himself in the third person. Accordingly, there is every indication that David wrote this psalm and that the proper translation of verse 1 is: “A Psalm concerning David. Y-H-V-H says to my master [’adoni]: ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” This psalm is written from the perspective of the individual who is going to recite it. From this perspective, David, as king, is appropriately referred to as “my master,” or “my lord” (cf. “my lord the king,” “our lord David,” “my lord” — 1 Kings 1:1-31). The claim that David is actually (or also) referring to the Messiah by the phrase “my master” is not found in the text. The New Testament’s messianic interpretation of this psalm, of course, connects it to Jesus. This interpretation is faulty in light of other christological claims.

© Gerald Sigal