The Anti-Missionary’s Charge:
In the King James Version (KJV), Psalm 16:9-10 says:
“Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoiceth; my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou will not leave my soul in hell, neither will you suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”
Why not continue to the next verse? They cannot because David was not talking about Jesus. David was talking about himself. Verse 16:11 says:
“Thou will show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
In the Hebrew translation, Psalm 16:9-10 says:
“Therefore, my heart rejoiced and my soul was glad; even my flesh shall dwell in safety. For You shall not forsake my soul to the grave; You shall not allow Your pious one to see the pit.”
Where is “hell” and “corruption” as the KJV puts it? The Hebrew translation of Psalm 16:10-11 tells of David talking to God, rejoicing that God will not forsake his soul to the grave. While David is alive, he will dwell in safety because God will protect his flesh from injury. Since verse 10 does not relate to Jesus, how can verse 11 relate to Him?
We have some significant areas of agreement here. First, we need to review the earlier comments entitled The Four Ways the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) Uses the Hebrew Scriptures. It was stated there that the New Testament consistently uses the Hebrew Scriptures in four ways. This is an example of Literal Prophecy plus a Philosophical or Typical Fulfillment (Remez). Some comments from the Bible Knowledge Commentary deal with the passage quite well. The Bible Knowledge Commentary is written by conservative, dispensational scholars from Dallas Theological Seminary. Dallas Theological Seminary is an independent seminary, it is unaffiliated with any particular denomination and very solid theologically.
“David was assured that the Lord would preserve his life in the face of death. He rejoiced because God enabled his body to rest securely even when confronted with death. The reason he could rest is that God would not abandon him to the grave, nor let His holy one see decay. This verse refers to David, who describes himself as God’s “holy one,” that is, one of God’s saints (cf. v. 3). He took comfort in the fact that God would not, at that time, allow his body to die and decay in the grave. In fact, God had caused him to know the path of life so he anticipated experiencing further joy in God’s presence (vs. 11).”
“Verses 8-11 were cited by Peter on the day of Pentecost (Ac. 2:25-28) and Psalm 16:10b was quoted by Paul at Antioch (Ac. 13:35-37) in reference to Christ’s resurrection. So the words of David are also typological; they transcended his own experience and became historically true in Christ. Preservation from the decaying grave is the idea behind both David’s and Jesus’ experiences, but with David it came through a deliverance from death, whereas with Jesus it came through a resurrection from death.”
Now we need to read Acts 2:25-32.
“For David says of Him, ‘I was always beholding the Lord in my presence; for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted. Moreover my flesh also will abide in hope; because Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; Thou wilt make me full of gladness with Thy presence.’ Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants upon his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.”
First of all, please note that Peter does quote verse 11 (Ac. 2:28). He considers the verse germane to his argument, so he includes it. His main point is that this psalm could not be totally true of David. Why? Because David’s body did indeed suffer corruption and decay when David eventually died. David cannot be referring only to himself. David’s words transcend David’s personal experience. However, Peter has been part of another literal event that fits David’s words without qualification. Therefore, in Peter’s thinking, David’s words foreshadow what happened in regard to Jesus. David was a prophet and was looking ahead to the Messianic King.
Let us see what Paul has to say in Acts 13:35-37:
“Therefore He also says in another psalm, ‘Thou wilt not allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.’ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers, and underwent decay; but He whom God raised did not undergo decay.”
Note that Paul does not quote verse 11. He did not consider verse 11 necessary to his argument. However, his point is still the same as Peter’s (verse 37). Paul also says that we cannot limit the message in this psalm to David because David does not fit the statement. David eventually experienced corruption. However, Jesus did not experience physical corruption because He was resurrected. Again, it is a Literal Prophecy with a Typical Fulfillment (Remez).
Both are arguing from the lesser to the greater. David was temporarily preserved from the grave during his lifetime and eventually did undergo the grave and corruption. That is the lesser. However, Jesus conquered the grave and corruption through resurrection. That is the greater.
Finally, the Hebrew word for hell (KJV) is Sheol, the place of the dead, the grave, the pit, the underworld. It is agreed that “hell” is not a very good translation since it is really the rendering of a Saxon word rather than the Hebrew. However, while the KJV translators did a poor job in 1611, modern translators do not. “Sheol” is the word of choice in the New American Standard Bible (NASB), American Standard Version (ASV), and the Revised Standard Version (RSV). The New International Version (NIV) uses “grave” which is quite acceptable and the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) uses “nether-world”-also quite acceptable.
The Hebrew word for corruption (KJV) is Shahat which means “pit” (both a literal pit and the pit of Sheol) and “destruction.” The JPS and RSV choose pit-certainly an acceptable choice. Other solid translations focus on this idea of destruction and so use appropriate terms-NASB, NIV (decay), ASV, KJV (corruption). Certainly these are acceptable choices as well.
The first-century Messianic Jews, Peter and Paul, obviously understood the term to refer to decay and corruption. It is up to the reader to hear their message and decide whether they agree or not. However, there does not seem to be a tremendous amount of difference between pit and corruption. Jesus conquered both the pit and corruption through resurrection. David did eventually experience the pit and his body underwent corruption. However, David’s soul was not abandoned to the nether-world (JPS) because of his personal relationship and trust in God. David’s earthly body may be dust today, but he lives on, experiencing the glory of God at this very moment.
In the final analysis, there is no tampering with the text here. The KJV is not the unassailable and unquestionable standard of English translation. The text is available to us and every English translation, Jewish or non-Jewish, has its strength and weaknesses. Nobody is trying to deceive anybody in order to get them to change religions.