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Confusing the Two Lords of Psalm 110:1
A Way to Guarantee a Misunderstanding of the Bible
by Anthony Buzzard
This magazine deliberately urges believers to think deeply about the identities of the Son of God, Jesus, and of God, who is the God and Father of Jesus. We encourage a complete rethinking of traditional Christology in the light of the all-important oracle provided by Psalm 110:1. This verse is precious to New Testament writers. It is a star witness, summoned over and over again in the New Testament. New Testament writers of Scripture quote it or allude to it more than any other text of the Hebrew Scriptures, by far. They wanted the voice of Jesus to be heard, since it was Jesus who silenced all objectors by citing the divine oracle of Psalm 110:1. Jesus loved this Psalm because his Father’s amazing immortality plan was revealed in it.
The importance of Psalm 110:1 lies in its simple description of two exalted Persons. One, Yahweh, addresses the other, giving a prophetic oracle about the career of the Messiah. Yahweh makes a solemn prophetic utterance to David’s lord, adoni (pronounced “adonee”). Adoni is the Lord Messiah (cp. Luke 2:11).
This word adoni needs to be part of every Christian’s vocabulary. The second lord (adoni, “my lord”) designates the one destined to remain at the Father’s right hand until he comes as conquering Messiah to subdue his enemies and inaugurate the Kingdom of God on a renewed earth. Jesus knew that he was the promised Messiah so addressed, and his whole career was summed up in this astonishing oracle.
The scheme thus revealed is the framework of the entire New Testament outlook on the present session of Jesus in heaven and his expected return to establish the Messianic Kingdom of prophecy on earth. Paul reflected the simple beauty of Psalm 110:1 when he declared, “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the human being Messiah Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
Yahweh and David’s “lord” are clearly and obviously two distinct persons, in the modern psychological sense of that term. There is no possible route from the Psalm to the complex, unnatural definition of “person” which created in later Trinitarian, Nicene theology so many intractable problems. The Messianic Christology of Psalm 110:1 places the Messiah in a subordinate, yet highly exalted position relative to Yahweh, who remains a distinct Person in a class of His own. There is no question of compromising the unrestricted monotheism of the Hebrew Bible. The One God of Israel commands the Messiah to wait until the time comes for his final vindication. As Yahweh’s agent the Messiah is David’s adon or “lord.” The form of the word as it appears in the Hebrew of Psalm 110:1 is adoni (= “my lord”). It is a striking fact that the Lord God is nowhere ever addressed as adoni. This title is reserved for kings, prophets, human superiors in general, and occasionally angels. You will find it 195 times in the Hebrew Bible. Each sample is worth investigation.
Under the strain of having to ascribe coequality and coeternity to the Messiah, some commentators have shown a curious tendency to declare, against the facts of the Hebrew text, that in Psalm 110:1 Yahweh speaks to Adonai. The latter title is, of course, some 450 times, an alternative for the divine name and is used exclusively of Yahweh. Now if David’s oracle had indeed stated that Yahweh spoke to Adonai, there would be a basis for the development of belief in a Godhead of more than one person! The text as it stands, however, provides not a hint of support for the Deity of the Messiah in a Trinitarian sense.
Striking examples of an unconscious reading of Trinitarian theology into Psalm 110:1 are found in commentators of the present and the last centuries. A.R. Fausset (known for his part in the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary), writing in 1866, comments on Psalm 110:1: “Jehovah said to Adonai or ‘my Lord’…Jehovah in verse one represents God the Father, and Adonai, God the Son.” But this is to create a potential Trinitarianism which is not in the text at all, since the Messiah is called adoni (my lord), not Adonai (the Lord God).
Reginald Fuller states that “in the Hebrew [of Psalm 110:1] the first ‘Lord’ is the tetragrammaton [the four-letter word YHVH], the second [the king] is Adonai.” Fuller goes on to say that Adonai may be used of an earthly ruler. But examples are not cited. In a subsequent chapter he reads the Hebrew correctly and says that the second “lord” of our text is adoni. The confusion of Adonai with adoni is compounded when Fuller questions whether the New Testament church would have conceded to Jesus a title which was reserved for Deity. But adoni was not a title for Deity! It referred to the king, and supremely to the Messiah, as God’s legal agent.
The writer of the world-famous International Critical Commentary on Luke reports the second lord of Psalm 110:1 as Adonai. This, if true, would inform us that God speaks to God. The error is quite obvious because the Hebrew adoni, my lord, is never in all of its 195 occurrences a title of Deity!
Dr. V.A. Spence Little misreads the Hebrew of Psalm 110:1, explaining the verse: “The Lord [Jehovah] saith unto My Lord (Adonai), Sit thou at My right hand.” He argues for the Deity of the Messiah when he states that Jesus “definitely implied that this divine Name, Adonai, indicated Himself (Matt. 22:43-45).” The argument is based, however, on an inaccurate reporting of the Hebrew text. The precise opposite is given by Psalm 110:1. God speaks not to a second Deity, but to the man Messiah.
John Stott defends Chalcedonian Christology when he maintains that because early Christians addressed Jesus as kurios they meant that he was God, since kurios was the LXX translation of the divine name. However, this is to overlook the fact that kurios was also the translation of Psalm 110:1’s adoni which was never a title for Deity. Kurios (lord), as used of Jesus, could most appropriately designate the lord Messiah as distinct from the Lord God (see Luke 2:11; Rom. 16:18; Col. 3:24).
The celebrated Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible shows how pervasive is this fundamental confusion of the two Lords. The dictionary makes the claim that Peter’s use of the title “Lord” for Jesus in Acts 2:36 establishes his Deity. “After the ascension the Apostles labored to bring the Jews to the knowledge that Jesus was not only the Christ, but was also a Divine person, even the Lord Jehovah.” Psalm 110:1 is then quoted as proof of this amazing assertion: “St. Peter, after the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost by Christ, says, ‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord (kurios, Jehovah) and Christ.’”
It is only in a footnote that a later editor corrects the obvious and amazing flaw in the argument: “In ascribing to St. Peter the remarkable proposition that ‘God hath made Jesus Jehovah,’ the writer of this article appears to have overlooked the fact that kurios (‘Lord’) in Acts 2:36 refers to to kurio mou (‘to my Lord’) in verse 34, quoted from Psalm 110:1, where the Hebrew correspondent is not Jehovah but adon [actually adoni], the common word for ‘lord’ or ‘master.’”
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