Saturday, April 17, 2021

An Exposition of Psalm 2

 by Michael R. Burgos

Before an exposition of Psalm 2, a consideration of how OT messianic prophecy is fulfilled in NT is required. Michael Rydelnik has provided an excellent description of the various interpretive approaches to Messianic prophecy with the modern era.[1] A few of these approaches are incompatible with evangelical conviction (i.e., historical fulfillment and reflecture fulfillment) and require one to discard divine inspiration altogether and even the concept of prophecy. Of the remaining approaches, two find
the greatest traction among evangelicals, namely, dual fulfillment and direct fulfillment. Of these two, the approach of Erwin W. Hengstenberg is, in the opinion of the author, the most successful.

Refreshingly, Hengstenberg viewed critical approaches to Scripture as hazardous to the church and instead sought to view OT messianic prophecy through the lens of the NT.[2] Presupposed in his approach is an affirmation of progressive revelation wherein the clarity and specificity of OT predictions increases from Genesis to Malachi. On this view, the NT is the superior revelation in terms of its ability to authoritatively interpret OT prophecies. Hence, in the Psalter “There is no direct mention of the person of the Messiah…the words, when considered in their full import, point, indirectly, to Him.”[3]

John Sailhamer has articulated a similar approach. While he too affirmed that the OT ought to be read through the lens of the NT, he has argued that the final form of the OT is already intentionally messianic and is fulfilled and confirmed in Jesus of Nazareth.[4] Just as the prophets feature commentary upon Pentateuchal events, the NT is a commentary upon the messianic prophecies of the OT. Further, Sailhamer has argued that the OT also functions in this way as it sheds light upon the NT and thus whereas the OT is read through the NT, the NT is read through the OT.[5]

With both Hengstenberg and Sailhamer, there is no intermediary fulfillment with OT messianic prophecy. Jesus is the intended direct fulfillment of OT messianic hope. An implication of this approach is that the difficulties in placing, for example, Davidic kings as the first fulfillment in the Psalms, evaporate. This approach also seems to be the one taken in the NT (e.g., Acts 4:25-26) as well as the patristics.[6] Messianic prophecies are said to be fulfilled in Christ without mention of intermediate fulfillment (e.g., Matt. 1:23; Heb. 1:5). 

Like the first Psalm, Psalm 2 does not feature a title or an identification of its author.[7] Instead, Psalm 2 begins by posing a two-part question to its readers both original and modern: “Why do the nations rage…?”[8] “Nations” (goyim) is a classic synonym for the Gentile world and the term generally refers to those outside of the covenantal blessings enjoyed by Israel within the Psalter (e.g., 9:5-20; 44:11; 79:6). Moving from the general to the specific, the noun is defined in v. 2 to refer to the officials and rulers of the unbelieving world. The verbs in v. 1, “rage” and “plot,” are in parallel essentially connoting the same thing, namely, muttering discontentment, conspiracy, and defiance of Yahweh and his Christ.

Goldingay noted that “One Jewish tradition treated Pss. 1 and 2 as one Psalm, and this reflects a number of points of connection between the two…Whereas people of insight talk about Yhwh’s teaching (1:2), nations and peoples also talk of something—emptiness (2:1).”[9] This tradition may be reflected in the rendering offered in the Septuagint: “Why were the nations insolent and the people meditated on empty things?” While the blessed man of Psalm 1 ceaselessly meditates upon Yahweh’s instructions, the nations meditate on that which is “fruitless.”[10]

The question posed by the psalmist in v. 1 is “Why” and it is indicative of amazement. The plots of the nations and their rulership are incoherent since none “is possible of realization.”[11] Their plots are vane and their rebellion ineffective as the object of their disloyalty is the Lord who determines the outcome of both the righteous and wicked (Ps. 1:5-6).  Yet, “the kings of the earth” “take their stand”[12] and the “rulers,” instead of consulting the oracles of Yahweh, take counsel with themselves (cf. Ps. 1:1). The content of their rebellion is explicit in v. 3: “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” The cohortative “let us” is frequently used to signal significant acts of rebellion in the OT (Gen. 11:3-4; 19:32, v. 4; Judg. 16:2; Ps. 83:12) and here it is the ordinance of Yahweh that is heralded by his people that are described as strictures to be broken. Whereas the blessed man of Psalm 1 derives his sustenance from the ordinance of Yahweh, the wicked seek to throw off the bonds of his instruction and sovereign rule.

To the consternation of the kings of the earth, “He who sits in the heavens laughs” (v. 4).[13] Here Yahweh is described as the one who is far exalted among the futile plans of men. Far from a legitimate threat, the rebellion of the nations is a humorous trifle to God.  While the nations devote their time to futility, “The Lord holds them in derision.”   While initially met with laughter, Yahweh reacts with mockery and anger: “Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury” (v. 5). Yahweh is so far exalted among the kings of the earth that “The very utterance of his words instills terror.”[14]  The content of Yahweh’s terrorizing speech is the announcement of the installation of his king: “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my Holy hill” (v. 6). His king will be the arbiter of justice and allegiance to him will be indiscernible from allegiance to Yahweh himself (vv. 11-12).

V. 7 marks a change from the third person to the first person wherein Yahweh’s Son says “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’” Interpreters who take a dual-fulfillment approach tend to argue that this language refers to God’s adoption of the Davidic king and thus the verb yalad refers not to the king’s birth but to his coronation, marking the start of a changed relationship between the king and Yahweh.[15] However, the manner in which this verse is quoted and applied in the NT makes it clear that it is intended as a metaphor for exaltation. One need not invoke dual-fulfillment to get there.[16] At Acts 13:33, (“this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’”) Psalm 2:7 is used to describe Jesus’ resurrection. Paul gave a similar sentiment at Romans 1:4: “[Jesus was] declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (cf. Matt. 3:17; 17:5). The prologue of Hebrews (v. 5) invokes Psalm 2:7 as part of a catena of passages marshaled to demonstrate the supremacy and preeminence of the Son. Hebrews 5:5 utilizes Psalm 2:7 as evidence that the Son did not engage in self-exaltation but that the Father exalted him. Subsequently, the NT interprets Psalm 2:7 as metaphorical language intended to identify the exaltation of the referent and not as a literal begetting. The Son is said to have been adopted in a metaphorical sense to emphasize his unique ‘chosenness’ as Yahweh’s regent.

This observation has considerable Christological import as it relates to subordinationist interpreters who find in Psalm 2:7 evidence of an exclusively human Jesus. For example, Anthony Buzzard and Charles Hunting claim that Psalm 2:7 is a reference to Jesus’ conception (Luke 1:35)[17] but fail to recognize that the text is never used to refer to Christ’s actual birth and is instead always used as a proof-text of Christ’s exaltation, even as it relates to his resurrection. Never do they explain how the identification of Christ’s conception would bolster an argument for his supremacy and uniqueness as in Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5.

The same nations who have chosen to rebel will become a heritage for Yahweh’s king: “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (v. 8). So favored is the king that he “does not ask for anything from God; God merely promises that the king may ask and God will grant it.”[18] This is followed by Yahweh’s prophetic declaration of the Son’s agency in subduing the nations: “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (v. 9). The fragility of the rebels is here contrasted with the unyielding strength of Yahweh’s Messiah (cf. Rev. 2:24; 19:15). He will subdue the nations in conquest as the Israelite kings before him, especially David, only all of the nations shall be his possession. Not only with the Son possess the earth, but he will also possess it in perpetuity.

The warning in vv. 10-12, particularly the adverb attah, marks a return to the psalmist’s narration and the concluding imperative. Since God has established his plan, wisdom requires a change of course: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth” (v. 10). The coronation of the Messiah affords God’s enemies an opportunity to change: “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled” (vv. 11-12). Like the threat from a king who has incomparable military supremacy, the nations are warned to pay tribute or perish.[19]

The phrase “kiss the Son” connotes both approval of his rulership (cf. 1 Sam. 10:1) and allegiance (cf. 1 Kgs. 19:18). It also signifies love and a level of intimacy that goes well beyond formal obeisance. Either one embraces the Son and signals their love for him by means of a kiss or one will experience his wrath and die (cf. Ps. 1:6). When it comes to God’s royal Son, there is no neutrality (cf. Matt. 12:30). Moreover, one must make their choice immediate as “his wrath is quickly kindled.”

Psalm 2 concludes with the claim, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (v. 12). Like the blessed man of Psalm 1, the blessed man of Psalm 2 is the one who finds safety in the statutes of God. Those who, instead of attempting a futile rebellion, find sanctuary in the Son are those who live according to Yahweh’s commandments. The blessed of Psalms 1 and 2 are one and the same.

[1] Rydelnik, “Interpretive Approaches to Messianic Prophecy” in Rydelnik, Michael, Blum, Edwin eds., The Moody Handbook of Messianic (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2019), 73-89.

[2] E. W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament and a Commentary on Messianic Predictions, 2nd ed., trans. Theodore Meyer (Edinburgh, UK: T & T Clark, 1856), 32.

[3] Ibid., 243.

[4] John Sailhamer, 2001. “The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible,” JETS, 44.1, 14.

[5] Ibid., 22.

[6] For examples of patristic affirmation of the direct fulfillment of Ps. 2 see Justin Martyr, Dial. 88 (ANF 1:244); Irenaeus, Haer. 4.21 (ANF 1:493); Clement of Alexandria, Protr. 1.7 (ANF 2:224); Tertullian, Apol. 1.12 (ANF 3:168); Origen, Cels. 4.8 (ANF 4:168); Cyril, Cat. 6 (NPNF 2.7:66).

[7] The authoritative apostolic interpretation (Acts 4:25-26) is that David is the human author of Psalm 2.

[8] All biblical citations unless otherwise noted are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).

[9] John Goldingay, Psalms, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 94-5. See also Cole’s extensive and successful argument in favor of viewing Pss. 1-2 as a two part introduction to the Psalter. Robert L. Cole, “Psalms 1-2” in Michael Rydelnik, Edwin Blum eds., The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy (Chicago, IL: Moody Pub., 2018), 477-89. Tantalizingly, there is a variant at Acts 13:33 which calls Ps. 2 “the first Psalm” (tō prōtō psalmō) in two MSS (D; 1175). While not a viable reading, it probably reflects a relatively common second temple viewpoint.

[10]Κενός” in Franco Montanari, ed., The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek (Leiden, NL; Boston: Brill, 2015).

[11] Charles A. Briggs, Emilie Grace Briggs, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh, UK: T & T Clark, 2000), 14

[12] HALOT, 427.

[13] The contrast is between the “kings of the earth” (v. 2) and the Lord who is seated in heaven (v. 4). Thus, a better rendering would bring out the sense of the participle yasab as in the New International Version: “The One enthroned in the heavens laughs.”

[14] Peter C. Craigie, Marvin E. Tate, Psalms 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 66.

[15] Bratcher and Reyburn similarly conclude, “Today is the day the king was enthroned.” Robert G. Bratcher and William David Reyburn, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 29. Older commentators tend to argue that “today I have begotten you” refers to eternal generation as with Spurgeon: “Here is a noble proof of the glorious Divinity of our Immanuel.” The difficulty with this view is that it ignores the manner in which Ps. 2:7 is utilized in the NT. C. H. Spurgeon, 02/1865. “Expositions of the Psalms: Psalm II,” The Sword and the Trowel, 55.

[16] Cf. Stephen J. Wellum, God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 99-100.

[17] Anthony F. Buzzard, Charles F. Hunting, The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self-Inflicted Wound (Lanham, MD: International Scholar’s Pub., 1998), 277.

[18] Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al., The Book of Psalms, The New International Commentary on the Old Tesament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 69.

[19] Craigie and Tate note that the verb “to serve” (ibdu) in v. 11 “has political overtones and implies that the foreign nations should submit as vassals to Israel’s God.” Psalms 1-50, 68.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Jesus Resurrected Himself: A Holy Week Refutation of Subordinationist Claims

 by Michael R. Burgos

Because of its Christological and anthropological implications, subordinationists typically deny that the Son of God resurrected himself. Instead, they appeal to NT passages that assert that the Father was alone in bringing about the resurrection (e.g., Acts 2:24). John 2:18-22 has been a classic locus for the orthodox contention that Jesus resurrected himself. That is, not in isolation from the Father and the Holy Spirit. Rather, like creation itself, the resurrection of Christ was a Triune work.

In John 2:19 Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John noted that Jesus was metaphorically referring to the “temple of his body" (v. 21). The verb translated “raise” is ἐγερῶ, the future active first person of ἐγείρω; a term which is defined as “to wake.”[1] Jesus uses this term metaphorically as a reference for his resurrection in conjunction with λύω, a circumlocution for death. Three days after his interlocutors would kill him, Jesus would raise the temple of his body. Here, Jesus explicitly claims responsibility for his future resurrection.

Despite his clarity, subordinationists insist that Jesus was not claiming responsibility for his resurrection. A case in point is the comments made by Carlos Xavier:  

In John 2.19 Jesus did not say, “I will raise myself up.” The word translated “raise” [egeiro] simply means to get up or to wake up. So when we normally speak of someone waking up from sleep, we have no problem. But because the context here has to do with the resurrection, many in the Jesus-is-God movement have tried to use it as some sort of “proof text.” This view is propagated by the Orthodox teaching of the immortal soul that clearly contradicts the biblical view of the state of the dead as total inactivity in the grave.[2]

    Xavier recognizes the implications, at least in part, of Jesus’ claim. If Jesus raised himself, anthropological monism is necessarily untrue. Given that the historic Christian faith has affirmed the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ as one of its central tenets, Xavier’s quaint characterization (i.e., “the Jesus-is-God movement”) is akin to calling the United States the “freedom movement.” Unfortunately, Xavier has employed a common subordinationist tactic: obscuring Jesus’ statement by relegating it to the opaque veil of a figurative speech:

The fact is that the immediate language in John 2 is figurative since Jesus was comparing his body with the temple and spoke of it in the third person. The point is Jesus [sic] resurrection from the dead as a sign to his unbelieving fellow Israelites, not how it would happen.”[3]

This is a betrayal of an explicit statement and a false dilemma. Jesus’ statement indicates both that his resurrection would occur and that he would bring it to pass. Xavier added:

Note that John did not go on to say “So when Jesus raised himself from the dead” but “when he was raised from the dead,” i.e., by God. This is typical resurrection language for Jesus throughout the rest of the NT.[4]

            Xavier has pitted Jesus’ statement (i.e., “I will raise it”) against v. 22 (“he was raised from the dead”), arguing that the aorist passive ἠγέρθη requires another actor, namely God, to have accomplished the resurrection. However, because ἠγέρθη only takes a prepositional object (i.e., “from the dead”) it is intransitive, especially given its complement in v. 19.[5] The grammatical passivity is owed not to a “divine passive” and the like, but is active in meaning (cf. John 10:17).[6]

            While it is common for subordinationist writers such as Carlos Xavier to obscure the plain statements of Scripture, their arguments, upon closer scrutiny, are bald eisegesis. Perhaps this is why the Jesus-is-not-God movement, in all of its iterations, remains a small fringe minority in comparison with the historic Christian church.

[1] BDAG, 271.

[2] Carlos Xavier, n.d. “Did Jesus Raise Himself From the Dead?,” The Human Messiah Jesus,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville, TN: B & H, 1934), 817.

[6] J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2010), 168. Cf. George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 38.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Ecclesia Militans: A New Christian Studies Journal

 by Michael R. Burgos

Ecclesia Militans is a new peer-reviewed Christian studies journal hosted by Forge Theological Seminary. I am currently serving as the general editor and am looking forward to our first edition in June 2021. 

As far as theological journals goEcclesia Militans is a unique contribution since anyone who holds evangelical convictions is able to submit an article or book review. Additionally, we're accepting submissions on biblical and theological studies, counseling, ministerial studies, and Christian philosophy. We are also accepting formal disputations between two or three parties aimed at a formal thesis. Let me invite you to consider a submission! You may find the submission guidelines here.