Psalm 110

The Anti-Missionary’s Charge:

Matthew 22:43 says:

How then does David in spirit call him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘The LORD said unto my Lord’…”

Jesus continues in verse 45:

“If David then calls him ‘Lord’, how is He his son? And no man was able to answer him…”(Matthew 22:42-46).

The New Testament then quotes Psalm 110:1 to back up this claim.

The issue here is the phrase, “The LORD said to my Lord…” Notice, the New Testament capitalized both “L’s” in Lord. The correct Hebrew translation is “my master” or “my lord” in small letters, “The Lord God said to my master…” The Hebrew word “adonee” never refers to God by itself anywhere in the Jewish Bible. It is only used to describe a person, or a title of a person, not a deity. The Hebrew dictionary defines “adonee” as “sir or my master.”

Even the Christian Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New English Bible (NEB) correctly render the Hebrew word adonee as “my lord” (small “l”) in Psalm 110:1, thus indicating that it is not speaking of God. The Jewish Bible reads, “The Lord said to my lord…” meaning master.

HaDavar’s Response:

The question in Matthew 22:41-46 is this: if David called the Messiah LORD, how could the Messiah be David’s son? The idea is that David, the progenitor of the Davidic Dynasty, would experience priority over any descendant. Therefore, if the Messiah were merely human (since he is a descendant of David), the Messiah would defer in respect to David.

However, in Psalm 110 we see David deferring to the Messianic person. Why? When reading Psalm 110, it is very important to know exactly who is talking and to whom. It is crystal clear in the Hebrew. In an attempt to avoid confusion in English, we are going to represent God’s personal name, the Tetragrammaton, in this manner Y-H, where Y stands for the Hebrew letter Yod, and H stands for the Hebrew letter Heh.

Psalm 110 begins with David recording a conversation for us. He is an onlooker to a conversation between Y-H and the Messianic person. David now repeats the conversation he heard between Y-H and the Messiah. He says in verse 1, “An Oracle, Y-H to my lord: Sit…” David has just called the Messianic person his lord-his master. The anti-missionary is quite correct regarding the rendering of the verse. Now we need to establish that Psalm 110 is Messianic.

Here is some research into Jewish backgrounds that will verify this position.

  • Yalkut Shimoni on Tehilim 110
  • “Rabbi Yusan said for Rabbi Aha Bar Hananiah: in the future the Holy one blessed be He will sit the King Messiah at his right and Abraham at his left, and Abraham’s face crumpled and he said: the son of my son sits at the right and I sit at the left? but the Holy one blessed is He reconciled him by saying: the son of your son sits at your right and I sit at your right hand…”[1]

  • T’fillat R. Shimon ben Yochai
  • And the Holy one, blessed be he, will fight for Israel and will say to the Messiah: ‘Sit at my right’ [Psalm 110:1]. And the Messiah will say to Israel: ‘Gather together and stand and see the salvation of the Lord’.”

  • Midrash Rabbah, Genesis LXXXV: 9
  • … AND THY STAFF alludes to the royal Messiah. as in the verse The staff of thy strength the Lord will send out of Zion (Ps. CX, 2).

  • Midrash Rabbah, Numbers XVIII, 23
  • …That same staff also is destined to be held in the hand of the King Messiah (may it be speedily in our days!); as it says, The staff of thy strength the Lord will send out of Zion: Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies (Ps. CX, 2).[2]

  • Artscroll Tenach Commentary Tehillim
  • Sforno says that this Psalm is dedicated to the future king Messiah. He is on God’s right hand and the ministering angels are on the left. The armies of Gog and Magog will attack, but HaShem will subdue them until they come crawling to the feet of the Messiah.

In reference to the staff or scepter of verse 2; Midrash Yelamdeinu perceives this as a reference to the wooden staff which participated in many wondrous events throughout the course of Jewish history. This rod was first used by Jacob when he split the Jordan River (Genesis 32:11). Moses and Aaron used the same staff to perform wonders in Egypt before the eyes of Pharaoh (Exodus 4:3, 7:10). David held this staff in his hand when he went forth to battle Goliath (1 Sam. 17:40). It served as a scepter in the hands of each king of David’s dynasty until the Temple was destroyed; then, the staff was hidden. In the future, it will be revealed to the Messiah, who will use it to conquer all the nations of the world.

In reference to Verse 3: The Messiah will inspire the masses to enlist in his cause.

In reference to verse 5: Yalkut Shimoni states, “in the future, God will place the Messiah at His right hand and Abraham at his left.”

In reference to verse 7: According to the Targum, this verse describes the ultimate victory for which all men of faith yearn, because Abraham, David, and the Messiah don’t seek blood but truth.

  • Alfred Edersheim (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Appendix 9)
  • Verse 7 is also applied in Yalkut to Messianic times, when streams of the blood of the wicked should flow out, and birds come to drink that flood.

The obvious conclusion is that David’s master is the Messianic person. Why would he defer to the Messiah? One reason, in the context, is the fact that He sees the Messiah at God’s right hand. The right hand was the place of honor and equality. This implies that the Messiah is more than a mere human. He is a God/man. Whether the anti-missionary accepts that idea or not, he has to admit that David sees the Messiah as his superior, at the very least.

However, the question remains. Are the New Testament translations trying to imply something that simply is not there? Did the Christian translators try to insinuate things that are not in the original text? There are some translations that did miss the point, but as even the anti missionary Rabbis claim, in order to support their objections, there are also Christian translations that accurately translated the text. For that, let us deal with the area of capitalizations (sometimes a confusing convention).

The convention the anti-missionary is concerned about is carefully explained in the Preface or Forward of the specific translation. For example:

  • New American Standard Bible (NASB)
  • The Proper Name of God in the Old Testament: In the Scriptures, the name of God is most significant and understandably so. It is inconceivable to think of spiritual matters without a proper designation for the Supreme Deity. Thus, the most common name for the deity is God, a translation of the original Elohim. One of the titles for God is Lord, a translation of Adonai. There is yet another name which is particularly assigned to God as His special or proper name, that is, the four letters YHWH (Exodus 3:14 and Isaiah 42:8). This name has not been pronounced by the Jews because of reverence for the great sacredness of the divine name. Therefore, it has been consistently translated LORD. The only exception to this translation of YHWH is when it occurs in immediate proximity to the word Lord, that is, Adonai. In that case it is regularly translated GOD in order to avoid confusion.

The NASB very clearly tells the reader that God’s personal name will be rendered capital L, capital O, capital R, capital D. The word Adonai will be rendered capital L, small o, small r, small d. The convention is explained. What is also explained is the reason why they chose to follow that convention-out of respect for the Jewish people. This is an attempt to honor and defer to Jewish religious convictions.

  • New International Version (NIV)
  • In regard to the divine name YHWH, commonly referred to as the Tetragrammaton, the translators adopted the device used in most English versions of rendering that name as “LORD” in capital letters to distinguish it from Adonai, another Hebrew word rendering “Lord,” for which small letters are used.

The NIV also explains the convention to the reader. They are not trying to deceive anyone. The standard translations all follow this convention. The following is a comparison of Psalm 110:1 from several major works:

  • NASB
  • “The LORD says to my Lord”

  • NIV
  • “The LORD says to my Lord”

  • RSV
  • “The LORD says to my lord”

  • American Standard Version
  • “Jehovah saith unto my Lord”

  • King James Version
  • “The LORD said unto my Lord”

  • New King James Version
  • “The LORD said to my Lord”

All the standard Bibles make the distinction between Y-H and adonee. Because the Preface or Forward clearly states what the rendering will be, there is no deception being practiced here. A careful review of whatever standard translation is being used would be in order.

The point therefore is: why do David call the Messiah My Lord if he is merely his son in the flesh? Yeshua quotes verse 1 of Psalm 110 in order to explain that the Messiah is not merely a son, flesh and blood. Their objection focuses on the controversy regarding the translation of the word Adoni in the English language and therefore misses the point and is simply another example of anti-missionary quibbling and has no substance whatsoever.

  1. ^ How to Recognize the Messiah, Good News Society (Johannesburg, 2000), p.21
  2. ^ Aharon Jellniek, “T’fillat R. Shimon ben Yohai,” Bet haMidrash (Jeruslam: Wharmann Books, 1967), part 4, p.125-2