Rescripturing and Christology: Psalm 2 and Isaiah 49

by caseybedell

How did the NT come to confess a high Christology when they drew on sources that initially seem to evidence a low Christology? Ps. 2 for example is a text with a fairly low Christology (i.e., Davidic figure with no eschatological overtones) but is a heavily cited text in the NT used to bolster a high Christology.  Did the NT just import their confessional theology into the OT? I am tempted to follow Oliver Crisp and say that the classic dilemma of modern Christology is really false dilemma and that we should not assume that if one begins with a Christology “from below” he or she will end up with a correspondingly low Christology.[1]

One way of reframing this issue is by understanding the event of re-scripturing. Alan Mitchell notes that when an author quotes a text, he is not merely proof-texting, but rather appropriating a text for new purposes by virtue of a new setting. In the case of Ps. 2, we may think that it is the NT that is rescripturing Ps. 2 and using it to fund a high Christology. But in actuality, it is the OT itself that re-scriptures Ps. 2 and is what sets the stage for a high Christology that the NT borrows. How so?

Many have noted the thematic and linguistic similarities between Ps. 2 and Isa. 49. For example,

Ps. 2:7: “The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son…’”

Isa. 49:3: “And he said to me, ‘You are my servant…”

The “Son” in Ps. 2 is referring to the Davidic king who is YHWH’s representative to the nations. The servant in Isaiah 49 seems to be referring to Israel, though at the same time is distinct from Israel.  Ps. 2 has a historical king in mind, while Isaiah 49 has an eschatological servant in mind. So what is the link?

What we see in Ps. 2 is that the king’s inheritance of the nations seems certain, while in Isa. 49 Israel’s current exile indicates a reversal of Ps. 2.  Ultimately though, the Servant in Isa. 49 is YHWH’s response to Israel’s failure to be a light to the nations and the remedy to exile.  The Servant is sent to “raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel (v. 6b),” which will lead to Israel’s restoration and renewed calling to be light to the nations. What is significant about the Servant’s role is that this raising up and bringing back has thematic agreements with the gathering and shepherding role that is often associated with the Davidic king (cf. Jer. 23:3-8; Ezekiel 34:23).

So if we understand the Davidic king of Ps. 2 and Servant of Isa. 49 to have similar functions, then what we have in Isa. 49 is an eschatologically refocused vision of Ps. 2 and a low Christology being lifted up, not arbitrarily, but because the context demands it. And therefore by the time of the apostolic church of the NT, we see the living embodiment of Ps. 2’s veracity on full display (i.e., the church confessing that a descendant of David, Jesus of Nazareth, is Lord) and is to be the summoning voice to the nations that calls out, “Kiss the son, lest he be angry with you… Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Ps. 2:12).”

[1] Webster, J B., Kathryn Tanner, and Iain R. Torrance. The Oxford handbook of systematic theology. Oxford; New York: Oxford Univ Pr, 2007, 166.