D.A. Carson on Psalm 102 and Hebrews 1

Posted by David Barron September - 11 - 2011 - Sunday

D.A Carson is among those who argue that the Septuagint rendering of Psalm 102 serves as a basis for the application of it to Christ within Hebrews. Here are some of his remarks:

But here I shall focus attention on the final verses of the psalm. Regular Bible readers will recognize that verses 25-27 are quoted in Hebrews 1:10-12, with God addressing the Messiah, in effect giving him divine status. One may well ask how the writer of Hebrews construed the Old Testament in this way.

The answer turns in part on the fact that the original Hebrew of the Old Testament was composed with what today we call consonants. Vowels were not included. They were added much later—indeed, the most common vowel system was added to the Hebrew text about one thousand years into the Christian era. Usually this presents no problems. Once in a while, however, it is possible to read the Old Testament consonantal text with a slightly different vowel choice, yielding a different meaning. In this instance there is no question at all about the consonants. But the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, shows how those translators understood the Hebrew—and in this passage they understood it exactly as the Epistle to the Hebrews takes it. The traditional vowel placement, preserved in our English versions, understands verses 23-24 much as in the NIV. The thought is parallel to verses 11-12. But the LXX and Hebrews read it as follows: “He answered him in the way of his strength, ‘Declare to me the fewness of my days. Do not bring me up [i.e., summon me to action] in the middle of my days; your years are for generations on end. In the beginning you, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth. . . .’” The implication of this rendering is that God is addressing the psalmist, whom God addresses as Lord and Creator. That is how Hebrews takes it. On this view, the entire psalm is messianic, an oracular psalm like Psalm 110 (see vol. 1, meditation on June 17). Try rereading Psalm 102 that way; it makes sense. Compare the use of Psalm 45 in Hebrews 1 (see meditation for September 4): the Davidic king is addressed as God, and this too is cited in Hebrews 1. But even if the traditional Hebrew vowel assignments are correct, the inferences drawn by Hebrews 1 are not far away, though they must be drawn on quite different grounds.

– D.A. Carson, For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word, Volume 2 (Wheaton, IL., Crossway Books, 1999), October 13.

It is of interest that early unitarian Jews could concieve of another whom God would identify as having been involved in creation. This speaks strongly against Trinitarian proof-texting of Isaiah 44:24, especially when not considered in parallel with passages such as Job 9:8 and Psalm 72:18.

3 Responses to “D.A. Carson on Psalm 102 and Hebrews 1”

  1. reality checker says:

    hmmm, I’m don’t see carson’s point, I’ve interpolated what appears to be a logical referential description with brackets, consider:
    “But the LXX and Hebrews read it as follows: “He [who? Jesus] answered him [whom? Jehovah] in the way of his strength,[Whose way of strength? Jesus’ showing his limitations in what follows,it would be uncharacteristic for jehovah to say such things] ‘Declare to me [who? Jesus] the fewness of my days.[fewness of Days? surely not Jehovah] Do not bring me up [i.e., summon me to action] in the middle of my days[more likely jesus, how can jehovah have a middle of days? or for that matter jesus?unless prophetic of Jesus time on earth]; your years are for generations on end [whose years, jehovahs, not jesus whose life was interrupted] In the beginning you, Lord [Jehovah], laid the foundation of the earth. . .[and the heavens are the works of your hands”, who are “the hands?”jesus and gods spirit, see early christian belief that ‘your hands’ referred to Jesus and holy spirit; patristic lexicon and irenaeus] .’” The implication of this rendering is that God is addressing the psalmist,(!?!) whom God addresses as Lord and Creator.(???) That is how Hebrews takes it.[yeah, right. Thanks D.A] ummm. how do you read?

  2. David Barron says:

    RC,

    You raise some good questions.   There are a couple of interpretive options with the Psalm.  Carson, as seen, suggests the response is to the psalmist.   This doesn’t entirely work because of auto (“answered him”), yet it the Messiah is personally in view it would seem the author was instead recording his words and then narrating when introducing the response.   Interestingly, Radu Gheorghita suggests something I’ve submitted to others in discussion as a possibility, namely that the third person references to “the Lord” were understood as Messianic and distinct from the second person address (‘you, the Lord’).  – Radu Gheorghita, The Role of the Septuagint in Hebrews, 61.  Either makes sense.

    I believe your exegetical concerns can be addressed by merely taking a different perspective on the language.   So the question, “Declare to me the fewness of my days,” should be understood rhetorically as a declaration of God’s eternality.  His command to not ‘bring him up’ would be to not bring him to challenge, not to question his judgment as to bring him to trial. 

    I don’t see the eternity references as difficult as the passage would be reference the future, either with the Messiah looking toward his resurrection, or him already in it.

    Dave

  3. reality checker says:

    Interesting take on it . kind of like Jehovah mocking “yeah, tell me how shortly I live” ? I’m leaving the computer at home and going to yosemite this week so I’ll have a chance to ask some more when I get back fri or sat. Take care.

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