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Psalm 2: Its Meaning in the New Testament

psalm 2 in new testament

The main thesis of this article is to consider whether the inclusion of Psalm 2 within the New Testament automatically draws with it resurrection overtones and significance.

Psalm 2 and proleptic speech

I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.”

—Psalm 2:7 (RSV)

Many scholars consider the original context of Psalm 2:7 to have been a coronation phrase for when a person would ascend to the throne.1 As we begin to note the connections made between Psalm 2:7 and Jesus by the biblical authors, we might consider how this “enthronement” concept is used in relation to Jesus within the New Testament. Certainly, within the Synoptic Gospels, we can find a variety of examples of Psalm 2:7 being drawn upon in relation to Jesus. First, the phrase σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα (“you are my beloved son, in you I am pleased”) in Mark 1:11 seems to be a drawing upon of both Isaiaih 42:1 (LXX) and Psalm 2:7 (LXX) at the baptism of Jesus.2 We might also note the use of Psalm 2:7 in the transfiguration episode of Mark 9:2–13.3 The question we might pose, however, is whether Mark considers the baptism or transfiguration of Jesus to be the ultimate “enthronement” moment depicted in Psalm 2:7, or whether the two events function in a proleptic manner: pointing forward to an ultimate “enthronement” moment. If so, we might then question what the NT authors consider Jesus’s Psalm 2 enthronement moment to be. 

For example, if the broader transfiguration episode of Mark 9 does function as a key turning point within the Gospel, as Gregg Morrison suggests, then the transfiguration narrative as a whole within Mark functions in a proleptic manner pointing to the passion and resurrection events.4 Significantly, Jesus is associated with Psalm 2:7 during the baptism in Mark 1, then within the transfiguration account Psalm 2:7 is drawn upon again, but now imbued with death and resurrection language.5 Certainly, the mention of “raising from the dead” in Mark 9:9 and the discussion about death and resurrection in Mark 8:31—9:1 give a sense of the transfiguration narrative within Mark functioning as a change of focus to the future passion of Jesus. If, in that sense, the transfiguration narrative itself was imbued with an expectation of resurrection, or in some way pointing forward to the resurrection, then it is possible that both the transfiguration and the associated drawing upon of Psalm 2:7 function to point the reader forward to a greater and ultimate fulfillment of the events in Mark 9.

Psalm 2 in the Gospel of Mark

Consequently, we find in both Mark 1:11 and 9:7 allusions to Psalm 2:7 that appear at key points within Mark’s Gospel. Additionally, Prof. Rikk Watts notes the significance of the two locations to the rendering of Psalm 2:7 within Mark, with the first allusion of Psalm 2:7 in Mark 1:11, at the beginning of the Gospel, being located near water and wilderness, and the second allusion in Mark 9:7, in the middle of the Gospel, being located on a mountain. Both of which are key Exodus motifs.6 Certainly, this Exodus motif is highlighted in the transfiguration episode by the presence of Moses and the discussion of tents, and in Luke 9:31 this metaphor is extended even further with the discussion of “exodus” language. Watts asserts that within this the use, Psalm 2 carries a sense of the mission of Jesus, and that the new exodus would come ultimately through the death and resurrection of Psalm 2’s son.7 Within Mark 1:11 and 9:7 that Exodus typology is present, but not yet fulfilled in the truest sense. This places the fulfillment of that Exodus narrative, within Mark, firmly in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In that sense, we might consider the tying together of Exodus motifs and the transfiguration narrative to be important in each Synoptic Gospel, again functioning to locate the fulfillment of Psalm 2:7 at the same point of fulfillment as the baptism and transfiguration of Jesus.

Moreover, Dr. R. T. France notes, within the baptism and transfiguration events, the discussion of Psalm 2:7’s “today” language does not appear.8 That may be significant if the baptism and transfiguration narratives have a sense in which they look forward to a future “day” and ultimate fulfillment of Psalm 2:7. In other words, the baptism and transfiguration narratives may not mention the σήμερον (“day”) of Psalm 2:7 simply because those events are not the ultimate “day” envisioned in this interpretation of Psalm 2. This will be important later when we consider other NT uses of Psalm 2:7 that include σήμερον and how the New Testament authors locate that enthronement moment as Jesus’s resurrection. Moreover, as Prof. Timothy Geddert notes, both Psalm 2 and Mark’s Gospel share a similar narratival arc.9 In both, God’s מָשִׁיחַ (“messiah”) is attacked and mocked, but God has a plan for this מָשִׁיחַ to be installed as בֵּן, or υἱός (“son”) in the LXX.10 Additionally, if we were to follow a simple reading of Psalm 2, then the key enthronement of Psalm 2:7 comes after the assaults of the nations upon the מָשִׁיחַ. In a narratival sense, the use of Psalm 2:7 in the baptism episode of Mark may note the inauguration of Psalm 2’s narrative, and the transfiguration episode of Mark may hint towards the means of accomplishing Psalm 2’s narrative. However, the use of Psalm 2 in Mark is always proleptic and perhaps appears to be ultimately fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Similarly, too, the transfiguration narrative holds within it a proleptic tension in which the transfiguration event would only make sense after the resurrection. As a result, we might consider that the transfiguration narrative may itself be associated with the resurrection as its ultimate fulfillment.  

Furthermore, when considering the use of Psalm 2 in relation to Jesus within Mark, it is salient to consider Mark 12:7. Here we might also find Jesus directly drawing upon the language of Psalm 2:8–9 and the “son” language in the so-called parable of the tenants.11 Interestingly, Jesus seems to subvert the expectation of the psalm and, within the parable, the υἱός is killed and the tenants seek to take his inheritance for their own.12 Significantly, Psalm 2 seems to be used in Mark 12 in relation to the passion narrative. As Prof. Morna Hooker notes, not only does this parable of Mark 12 potentially evoke Psalm 2, but also the prior use of υἱός language in Mark 1:11 and 9:7.13 In that sense, Mark 12 might show us that Mark is not “finished” with Psalm 2 within the baptism and transfiguration accounts. Certainly, we see Jesus subverting the psalm, but we also might note again in the Gospel of Mark this sense of using Psalm 2 in relation to the passion and resurrection events. It seems reasonable to suggest the possibility that within Mark, Psalm 2 carries with it a sense of connection to the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Furthermore, within Luke 22:69–70, we find a potential combination of Psalm 110, Daniel 7:13, and Psalm 2:6–7 when the council asks Jesus σὺ οὖν εἶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ (“are you the son of God”), and in so doing claiming Psalm 2:7 in relation to himself.14 Not only do we see now Psalm 2 used about Jesus in the baptism and transfiguration narratives, but also Psalm 2 language used in relation to Jesus during the passion narrative.15 In a sense, one could almost render the trial scene of Jesus within Luke 22 as an ironic retelling of Psalm 2 itself. Specifically, the Sanhedrin want to determine whether Jesus is using Psalm 2 to define himself and his ministry, but in so doing, Luke seems to be framing them as the ones who need to heed the warnings of Psalm 2 afresh for themselves.16 If that is the case, then certainly Jesus’s phrase “from this moment on” (ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν) in Luke 22:69 may be significant in how Jesus relates the moment of fulfillment of these OT texts to the events that are about to unfold.17

Other New Testament sources

Next, we consider the use of Psalm 2:7 in Hebrews 1:5, 5:5, and Acts 13:33. First, beginning with Hebrews 1:5, a striking similarity exists with the transfiguration tradition in that God is “speaking” Psalm 2:7, this time with Hebrews highlighting that God has never “said” the words of Psalm 2:7 to an angel.18 The implication being that he has “said” them to the Son. Of course, within Psalm 2 we find God as the speaker of verse 7,19 but why Hebrews finds such resonance with Psalm 2:7 is salient, especially given its place as the first direct citation of the OT in Hebrews. Dr. Maddison Pierce notes how Hebrews particularly draws attention to Jesus’s role as υἱός within Psalm 2.20 Helpfully, Pierce also notes that the use of Psalm 2:7 in Hebrews 1:5 sets up the identity of Jesus as υἱός while also functioning within Hebrews 5:5 as the means of “qualification” for a high priestly ministry.21 Indeed, Hebrews seeks to distance Psalm 2:7 certainly from angels, and likely from any human being. Instead, Hebrews identifies Psalm 2:7’s υἱός as the very υἱός described in Hebrews 1:1–4 in transcendent terms.22

When considering this alongside the use of Psalm 2:7 in Acts 13:33, it seems reasonable that the σήμερον of Psalm 2:7 in Acts 13 is viewed as the day of Jesus’s resurrection. In fact, we might suggest that Acts 13:33 is the clearest connection between Psalm 2:7 and the resurrection of Jesus within the New Testament. Some suggest that the use of the phrase ἀνίστημι (“rise/get up,” often used to describe the resurrection as per Mark 9:31, Luke 24:7, John 20:9) in Acts 13:33–34 could simply mean this concept of “raised up” in a more general sense, in that Psalm 2:7 is not specifically fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus, but rather in the climactic fulfillment of Jesus’s entire life and ministry.23 However, the next phrase in Acts 13:34 says ὅτι δὲ ἀνέστησεν αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν μηκέτι μέλλοντα ὑποστρέφειν εἰς διαφθοράν (“but regarding this he has raised Jesus from the dead, never to return to corruption again”), which seems to leave little room for ambiguity in the use of Psalm 2:7 in Acts being linked to the resurrection of Jesus. In that sense, we seem to find in Acts 13:33 a clear association between the resurrection and Psalm 2:7. While this may appear to create a degree of tension between the use of Psalm 2:7 in Acts and Hebrews, there are a few things to consider. First, Prof. David Moffitt offers a compelling argument towards finding the two sections of Hebrews 1–2 and Hebrews 5–7 as centrally concerned with the reasoning and means for why Jesus is both exalted higher than angels and functioning within a high priestly ministry.24 Thus in that reading, it is the resurrection of Jesus that functions as the grounds for those claims in both sections.25 Similarly, Prof. Gregory Beale notes that Hebrews 5:5’s use of Psalm 2:7 may show how Jesus’s resurrection is demonstrative of his high priestly credentials.26 We might also note that the drawing of Psalm 2:7 in Hebrews 5:5 is used to refer to a coronation or installment moment in a royal sense, not a familial sense.27 Significantly, we also find in Hebrews 5:5–6 a drawing together of Psalm 110 and Psalm 2, similarly to Luke 22:70, in discussion of how the ὁ Χριστὸς οὐχ ἑαυτὸν ἐδόξασεν γενηθῆναι ἀρχιερέα (“the Christ did not glorify himself to be made high priest”), a phrase seemingly evocative of Psalm 2. In each of these aspects, we find Psalm 2 seemingly used to convey concepts of the resurrection of Jesus.

Specifically, if Moffitt’s overall thesis regarding the importance of the resurrection within Hebrews is accurate,28 then the connection of the psalm to the resurrection within Acts may not be as striking a difference as it first appears. Certainly, we do well to note that Hebrews may also be incorporating language relating to Jesus’s ascension and enthronement within Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5, but these are evidently post-resurrection events. Certainly, Moffit’s argument that within Hebrews’ thinking, Jesus’s high priestly ministry is predicated upon his perfection, which itself required resurrection, seems important to note.29 Specifically, if Hebrews 1:5ff and 5:5ff are central to the development of the importance of Jesus’s resurrection, particularly within Moffitt’s reading of Hebrews 1 as Jesus entering the οἰκουμένη (“economy”) with a human body,30 we at least find some potential for Psalm 2:7 to be used in relation to the resurrection in Hebrews. It may actually be that the uses of Psalm 2:7 within Hebrews 1:5, 5:5, and Acts 13:33 each contain resurrection themes, allusions, and overtones. 

Conclusion

Ultimately, within this article we have been able to overview a variety of uses of Psalm 2 within the New Testament with a particular focus upon the use of Psalm 2 in relation to the resurrection of Jesus. First, the Psalm 2:7 pronouncement itself may function proleptically within the transfiguration and baptism narratives to the fulfillment of Psalm 2 in the resurrection. In other words, the use of Psalm 2:7 within the baptism and transfiguration both function within the Synoptics to ultimately look forward to the climactic fulfillment of Psalm 2 in Jesus’s resurrection. In that sense, we can note that the use of Psalm 2:7 in Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5, 5:5, seem to carry with them potential resurrection connections and overtones, as well as serving other exegetical purposes. What is more, we seem to find a sense in the Synoptics and elsewhere that Psalm 2 carried with it a link to Jesus’s death and resurrection. Second, we can note Jesus’s use of Psalm 2 within the parable of Mark 12:7. Within this, Jesus reverses the expectations of the psalm, but also frames the psalm ultimately around the death of the proverbial “son.” Third, we see a combination of Psalm 2 and other texts drawn upon within Luke 22:69–70 which Jesus claims are being fulfilled in that very moment. Again in a reversal of expectations, drawing upon Psalm 2, 110, and Daniel 7, we see the climactic fulfillment of those is located within the death and resurrection of Jesus within Luke. Fourth, we find three uses of Psalm 2:7 in Hebrews 1:5, 5:5, and Acts 13:33. Within that, we might find that Acts 13:33 seems to be a fairly direct connection between Psalm 2 and the resurrection. Then, within Hebrews we note the use of the psalm in Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5. Particularly drawing upon Moffitt’s work on Hebrews, we note how the resurrection of Jesus may be central to understanding these two texts, given that both verses draw upon Psalm 2:7 as a present criteria focussing upon Jesus’s post-resurrection state. Furthermore, the book of Hebrews develops the basis of Jesus’s high priestly ministry out of that, being predicated on both the present reality of the resurrection (in that Jesus is someone approachable now) but also on his total perfection (a perfection sealed and shown in the resurrection). In each of these aspects, we can note the strong connections between Psalm 2 and the death and resurrection of Jesus both within Jesus’s teaching, but also within the teaching of the New Testament.

***

Further resources

The Resurrection

The Resurrection

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The Psalms in the New Testament

The Psalms in the New Testament

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Teaching Psalms, Volume 1: From Text to Message

Teaching Psalms, Volume 1: From Text to Message

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Psalms: Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary (2 vols.) (EBTC)

Psalms: Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary (2 vols.) (EBTC)

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The Gospel of Mark (The New International Greek Testament Commentary | NIGTC)

The Gospel of Mark (The New International Greek Testament Commentary | NIGTC)

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The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

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Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

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The New Testament and the People of God

The New Testament and the People of God

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Bibliography

  1. Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 75. Cf. Aquila H. I. Lee, From Messiah to Preexistent Son: Jesus’ Self-Consciousness and Early Christian Exegesis of Messianic Psalms, WUNT 2/192 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 241–43.
  2. Rikki E. Watts, “Mark,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. by D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 122–29.
  3. Watts, “Mark,” 186.
  4. Gregg S. Morrison, The Turning Point in the Gospel of Mark: A Study in Markan Christology (Eugene: Pickwick, 2014), 80–97. Also, N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (London: SPCK, 1992), 395; Stephen N. Williams, “The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ Part 2 Approaching Sonship,” Themelios 28 (2003) 16–27. Burckett notes that the transfiguration in Mark may be “apocalyptic” and prefigurative, but not necessary solely to Jesus’s resurrection. Delbert Burkett, “The Transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2–8): Epiphany or Apotheosis?,” JBL 138 (2019) 413–32, esp. 424.
  5. Watts, “Mark,” 237.
  6. Rikki E. Watts, “The Lord’s House and David’s Lord: The Psalms and Mark’s Perspective on Jesus and the Temple,” BIS 15 (2007) 307–22: 312. See also, Rikki E. Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997).
  7. Watts, “Lord’s House,” 312–13.
  8. R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 82–83. It is also worth noting that the figure of Peter has historically been linked to Mark’s Gospel. Cf. Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 155–82.
  9. T. J. Geddert, “The Use of Psalms in Mark,” BapThe 1, no. 2 (2009) 109–124: 112.
  10. Geddert, “Use of Psalms in Mark,” 112–13.
  11. Steve Moyise, Jesus and Scripture (London: SPCK, 2010), 29–30.
  12. Moyise, Jesus and Scripture, 30. While not evidently clear within Mark 12 that a direct drawing upon of Ps 2 is occurring, Garland points to the potential messianic resonances and mnemonic potential of the concept of υἱός evidenced by the use of Ps 2:7 in 1QSa 2:11-12. David E. Garland, Mark: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 453.
  13. Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel according to Saint Mark (London: Continuum, 1991), 276.
  14. D. W. Pao and E. J. Schnabel, “Luke,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. by D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 392.
  15. As Beers notes, the Synoptic Gospels make use of the “Isaianic servant” in the baptism, transfiguration, and then also in the last supper (Holly Beers, The Followers of Jesus as the “Servant”: Luke’s Model from Isaiah for the Disciples in Luke–Acts, ed. by Chris Keith, Library of New Testament Studies 535 (London: T&T Clark, 2015), 81–82).
  16. Pao and Schnabel, “Luke,” 392. It is also helpful to note the use of Ps 2 outside of Ps 2:7 in the NT. For example, the use of Ps 2:1–2 LXX in Acts 4:25–26. I. Howard Marshall, “Acts,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. by D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 552–53.
  17. D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 1037.
  18. William L. Lane, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 47a: Hebrews 1–8 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 24–25; Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 110–111.
  19. A. L. B. Peeler, You Are My Son: The Family of God in the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: T&T Clark, 2014), 32.
  20. Madison N. Pierce, Divine Discourse in the Epistle to the Hebrews: The Recontextualization of Spoken Quotations of Scripture, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 45–46.
  21. Pierce, Divine Discourse, 90.
  22. Pierce, Divine Discourse, 44–45. We might also note the connection between Ps 2 and Ps 110 both in Heb 1 and Heb 5. D. M. Moffitt, “‘If Another Priest Arises’: Jesus Resurrection and the High Priestly Christology of Hebrews,” in A Cloud of Witnesses: The Theology of Hebrews in Its Ancient Contexts, ed. by R. Bauckham et al. (London: T&T Clark, 2008), 77; J. Compton, Psalm 110 and the Logic of Hebrews (London: T&T Clark, 2015), 20–21.
  23. Marshall, “Acts,” 585.
  24. D. M. Moffitt, Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 45.
  25. Cf. Moffitt, Atonement, passim.
  26. G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 318.
  27. David L. Allen, Hebrews: The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H, 2010), 319.
  28. Moffitt, Atonement, passim.
  29. Moffitt, Atonement, 194–214.
  30. Moffitt, Atonement, 45.
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Written by
Thomas Parker

Thomas Parker received his PhD in New Testament at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He focussed on the use of the Old Testament in Hebrews, James, and 1 and 2 Peter. Tom is also the pastor of Chesterfield Community Church based in the UK.

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Written by Thomas Parker