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Life of Jesus Christ in Its Historical Connexion and Historical Developement.
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§251. Christ’s Interpretation of Psalm cx., 1. (Mark, xii., 35-37.)

We return now to the order of the narrative. We are informed by the Evangelist that in the course of these controversies with his opponents Christ put to them the question, how it could be that Messiah was to be the Son of David, and yet David called him “Lord” (Ps. cx., 1). We are not precisely told with what view he proposed the question; though it might, perhaps, be inferred from Matthew’s statement, that after he had so answered their captious queries as to put them to shame, he sought in turn to embarrass them. But was it consistent with the dignity of his character to put questions merely for such a purpose? Nothing like it, at all events, is to be found in his words or actions. Nor can we well imagine that the shrewd Pharisees could have been much embarrassed by such an interrogatory. Their views would naturally have suggested the reply that Messiah was alluded to in respect to his bodily descent, when called the “Son of David;” and to his Divine authority as Theocratic King when called “Lord.” In this case, then, as in a recent one, we follow in preference the statement of Mark; according to which, Christ put the question while teaching in the Temple, perhaps in answer to something said in hostility to him.674674   The word ἀποκριθείς favours this conclusion.

But for what purpose of instruction did he quote the Psalm? Shutting out every thing but what Mark says, we should have to suppose that he used it to combat the opinion that Messiah much come of the line of David; in order, perhaps, to make good his claim to the Messiahship against those who questioned his own descent from David (John, vii., 42). But Paul could not have presupposed it as a settled fact675675   Cf. p. 17, and Heb. vii., 14. that Christ was of the seed of David, had He ever expressed himself according to the supposition just given. Nor would his argument, in this case, be as striking as we commonly see in his disputes; for, as we have said, he might be David’s Lord, in one sense, and his Son in another. Our view, then, is that Christ quoted the Psalm in order to unfold the higher idea of the Messiah as the Son of God, and to oppose, not the idea that he was to be Son of David, but a one—sided adherence to this, at the expense of the other and higher one. Perhaps offence had been taken at the higher titles which he assumed to himself; and he may have been thereby led to adopt this course of argument. As he had before used Ps. lxxxii., 6,676676   Cf. p. 327. to convince the Jews on their own ground that it was no blasphemy for him to claim the title “Son of God” in the highest sense; so now he used Ps. cx. to convince them that the two elements were blended together in the Messianic idea.677677   We see here a mark of that higher unity in which the lineaments of Christ’s picture as given by the first three Gospels, harmonize with those given by John. Although at a later period the view which conceived Christ, as to his calling, person, and authority, wholly or mainly as “the Son of David,” was opposed by another equally one-sided theory which recognized him only as “Son of God,” and thrust out the “Son of David” entirely it would be a most arbitrary procedure, indeed, to infer [as some have done] that the prevalence of the latter doctrine alone gave rise to the invention of this passage. Still, the passage may only have preserved to us the head or beginning of a fuller exposition.

Even though it be proved that David was not the’ author of the Psalm quoted, —Christ’s argument is not invalidated thereby. Its principal point is precisely that of the Psalm; the idea of the Theocratic King, King and Priest at once, the one founded upon the other, raised up to God, and looking, with calm assurance, for the end of the conflict with his foes, and the triumphant establishment of his kingdom. This idea could never be realized in any man; it was a prophecy of Christ, and in Him it was fulfilled. This idea went forth necessarily from the Spirit of the Old Dispensation, and from the organic connexion of events in the old Theocracy; it was the blossom of a history and a religion that were, in their very essence, prophetical. In this regard it is matter of no moment whether David uttered the Psalm or not. History and interpretation, perhaps, may show that he did not. But whether it was a conscious prediction of the royal poet, or whether some other, in poetic but holy inspiration, seized upon this idea, the natural blossom and off-shoot of Judaism, and assigned it to an earthly monarch, although in its true sense it could never take shape and form in such a one—still it was the idea by which the Spirit, of which the inspired seer, whoever he may have been, was but the organ, pointed to Jesus. The only difference is that between conscious and unconscious prophecy. And if Christ really named David as the author of the Psalm, we are not reduced to the alternative of detracting from his infallibility and unconditional truthfulness, or else of admitting that David really wrote it. The question of the authorship was immaterial to his purpose; it was no part of his Divine calling to enter into such investigations; his teachings and his revelation lay in a very different sphere. Here [as often elsewhere] he doubtless employed the ordinary title of the Psalm—the one to which his hearers were accustomed.

What we have said in another place678678   Cf. p. 200. in regard to the place assigned by Christ to the Old Testament and to the prophecies is enough, we think, to show that he regarded it as a revelation not fully developed, but veiled; not brought out entirely into clear consciousness, but containing also a circle of unconscious prophecies. Let us be careful that we are not again brought into bondage to a Rabbinical theology of the letter, than which nothing can be more at variance with the spirit of Christ.


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