Westminster Theological Journal 32.1 (1969) 1-23.

Copyright © 1969 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.

 

 

 

ASPECTS OF PAUL'S USE OF THE PSALMS

 

                                    ALLAN M. HARMON

 

CONTINUING study is being given to the importance of

Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, and

several significant works have appeared in recent years.1 On

the Pauline use of the Old Testament the fullest study in

recent times is that of E. E. Ellis, who concludes that the

significance of the Old Testament for Paul's theology "can

hardly be overestimated."2 While studies such as Ellis', which

consider the Pauline usage in its totality, must be prosecuted,

yet detailed work requires to be carried out by following a

more selective approach. This can be done by concentrating

attention on a particular section of the Pauline writings or

by an examination of the way in which Paul employed quota-

tions from a particular Old Testament book. For this present

study3 the second method has been adopted, and attention

will be directed to some limited aspects of the use of Psalter

quotations by Paul. Approximately one-third of all the New

Testament quotations of the Old Testament are made by

Paul, and of these about one-fifth are from the Psalter. Only

the prophecy of Isaiah is used more frequently by him.

            The impact of C. H. Dodd's study4 on the use of the Old

Testament in the New is easily discernible on subsequent

 

    1 E. g., E. E. Ellis, Paul's Use of the Old Testament, Edinburgh, 1957;

S. Kistemaker, The Psalm Citations in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Amsterdam,

1961; E. D. Freed, Old Testament Quotations in the Gospel of John, Leiden,

1965; R. H. Gundry, The Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew's Gospel

with Special Reference to the Messianic Hope, Leiden, 1967.

    2 Op. cit., p. 149.

    3 In this article I am utilizing considerable material which is included

in my doctoral dissertation, Paul's Use of the Psalms, submitted to the

Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, 1968. The conclusions

drawn here are based on the detailed examination of the individual quota-

tions in that dissertation.

    4 C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: The Sub-Structure of New

Testament Theology, London, 1952.

 



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studies. When the Pauline Psalter quotations are reviewed,

there is the opportunity to test Dodd's thesis that the New

Testament writers selected whole portions of the Old Testa-

ment and that it is not the detached words, which serve as a

pointer, but the total context that forms the basis of their

argumentation. If Dodd's contention is correct, it is of con-

siderable importance for a correct understanding of many of

the quotations from the Psalms, which are often held to be

taken arbitrarily out of their context by Paul.

            Qumranic studies have also added significance to a study

such as the present one, and in this connection the impetus

created by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is along

several lines. First, the claim is made that the exegetical

method practiced at Qumran, which has come to be called

midrash pesher, is very similar in many cases to New Testa-

ment methods. Stendahl5 has applied this comparison to the

formula quotations in Matthew, while both Ellis and Kiste-

maker do so for the Pauline quotations.6 Secondly, discovery

of the fragmentary manuscripts 4Q Testimonia and 4Q

Florilegium, when considered along with a Greek manuscript

which seems most probably to be a list of testimonies,7 has

influenced the reopening of the testimony-book hypothesis

associated with the name of J. Rendel Harris. Thirdly, the

manner in which the Old Testament is employed in several of

the Dead Sea Scrolls adds weight to other evidence which

suggests that we must question the legitimacy of those defini-

tions of quotation in the New Testament which would restrict

it to passages from the Old Testament formally acknowledged

as quotations by the presence of an introductory formula.

            The accumulated evidence indicates that in the literary

world in New Testament times it was the practice of authors

to interweave with their own words quotations from other

writers without any acknowledgment of the source, the readers

being expected to recognize them as quotations. In defining

what is meant by "quotation" in the New Testament, con-

 

   5 K. Stendahl, The School of St. Matthew and its Use q f the Old Testament,

Uppsala, 1954.

   6 Ellis, op. cit., p. 146; Kistemaker, op. cit., p. 73.

   7 P. Ryl. Gk. 460. See C. H. Roberts, Two Biblical Papyri in the John

Rylands Library Manchester, Manchester, 1936, pp. 47--62.

 



            ASPECTS OF PAUL'S USE OF THE PSALMS     3

 

temporary literary practice must not be allowed so to domi-

nate our thinking that we fail to do justice to the much broader

concept of quotation prevailing in the ancient world. For

the New Testament Swete's definition does not go beyond

the evidence relating to literary practice in that period and

is to be accepted as satisfactory: "By passages formally cited

we understand (1) those which are cited with an introductory

formula ... ; (2) those which, though not announced by a

formula, appear from the context to be intended as quotations

or agree verbatim with some context in the O.T."8 In the

present study the attempt has been made to adhere to Swete's

definition, and thus, where the context or wording of the

passage suggests that it is a quotation from the Psalter, it

has been included in the assessment of Paul's use of the Psalms.

            The Pauline usage of the Psalter has been examined in the

speeches attributed to Paul in the book of Acts and in the thir-

teen epistles traditionally ascribed to him (thus including the

Pastorals but excluding Hebrews). However, the quotations

from the Psalms are distributed unevenly over the Pauline

speeches and epistles, being found only in Romans, I and II

Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians, as well as in the

speech of Paul at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:16-41). Of these

quotations the majority occurs in Romans. This is evidently

not because the Psalter was unknown among other Christians,

but because the quotations from it suited Paul's purpose

admirably when he was writing to the Roman church and

blended harmoniously into the teaching he was seeking to

impart to the Christians there. Moreover, they added the

authority of the Old Testament scriptures to that teaching.

 

A. THE PSALTER QUOTATIONS AND SCRIPTURE

 

                        1. The Text of the Psalter

 

Paul's quotations from the book of Psalms cannot be

traced back to a sole textual source, though the predominant

influence was clearly the LXX Psalter.9 Out of twenty-seven

 

    8 H. B. Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, 2nd ed.;

Cambridge, 1914, p. 382.

   9 A list of the quotations, together with a textual classification, is given

in the appendix to this article.

 



4          WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

quotations, ten are in agreement with the LXX and the He-

brew, and three in agreement with the LXX against the

Hebrew. To these must be added six quotations where

the variation from the LXX is slight, being; due mainly to the

necessity to adapt a quotation in order to fit a new context.

When these facts are observed, together with the absence of

any quotations agreeing with the Hebrew against the LXX,

then it is obvious how strong the influence of the LXX Psalter

has been upon him.

            In seeking to ascertain the source of particular quotations,

we must bear in mind Paul's trilingual background. His

familiarity with the LXX, which is patent, would doubtless

go back to childhood days. This would probably be true

whether he was brought up in Tarsus, or, as van Unnik claims,10

in Jerusalem itself, for the evidence for the circulation of the

LXX among the Jews in Palestine has been strengthened by

the recent finds of portions of the LXX at Muraba'at.11 But

when we speak of the LXX as the source of so many of Paul's

quotations we should bear in mind that in pre-Christian times

the Pentateuch was the only part of the LXX which possessed

a more or less stereotyped text, for the Greek text of other

sections of the Old Testament was very fluid.

            Because of its place in the worship of the Greek Diaspora

and in the Christian church, the text of the LXX, it appears,

has been subjected to a number of recensions, and "the possi-

bility of variant readings is more obvious here than anywhere

else owing to the need of copying and recopying the Psalter

for use in the synagogue and church liturgy."12 However, on

 

   10 See his Tarsus or Jerusalem: The City of Paul's Youth, London, 1962.

   11 A. C. Sundberg, "The Old Testament of the Early Church," Harvard

Theological Review, LI (1958), 213. On the trilingual milieu in first century

Palestine, cf. R. H. Gundry, "The Language Milieu of First Century

Palestine: Its Bearing on the Authenticity of the Gospel Tradition,"

Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXXIII (1964), 404—408; and for a full

discussion on the dissemination of a knowledge of Greek among all strata

of Palestinian Jews in New Testament times, J. N. Sevenster, Do You

Know Greek? How Much Greek Could the First Jewish Christians Have

Known?, Leiden, 1968.

   13 B. J. Roberts, The Old Testament Text and Versions: The Hebrew

Text in Transmission and the History of the Ancient Versions, Cardiff,

1951, pp. 184 f.

 



            ASPECTS OF PAUL'S USE OF THE PSALMS     5

 

the occasions when Paul deviates from the LXX in quoting

from the Psalter, it does not seem that this is due to the use

of variant LXX renderings, for none of his variations agrees

with any known LXX manuscript. Even though manuscript

evidence is lacking at present, the fact that recensional varia-

tions had commenced prior to New Testament times makes

this a possible solution.

            The employment by Paul of targums is another possible

explanation for variations both from the LXX and the MT.

Wilcox has rightly warned against treating any "aberrant"

Old Testament quotation as a casual use of Scripture "without

first attempting to determine whether its form can be traced

in other textual traditions of the Old Testament, such as the

Palestinian Targumim."13 The Targum on the Psalms (along

with that of Job) contains many more variants from the MT

than other Targums,14 while its style suggests that it is really

"an eclectic combination of a number of Targumim."15 There

is only one case among Paul's quotations from the Psalter

where there may possibly be targumic influence, this being in

Ephesians 4:8. Because of the widespread support for the

contention that Paul is here citing the Targum, a fuller dis-

cussion of this point is apposite.

            In quoting from Psalm 68:18 Paul deviates from the MT

in that he substitutes the verb "gave" for "received": "When

he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave

gifts to men." Repeatedly the statement is made that Paul

is here simply adopting the rendering of the Aramaic Targum.

For example, F. F. Bruce says: "The change . . . is intentional;

Paul adopts this reading because it alone fits his context;

but where did he get it from? The answer is — from a Targum,

or traditional paraphrase of the Hebrew Old Testament in

the Aramaic vernacular.''16

 

   13 M. Wilcox, The Semitisms of Acts, Oxford, 1965, p. 205.

   14 W. Bacher, "Targum," The Jewish Encyclopedia, XII, New York,

1906, 62.

   15 B. J. Roberts, op. cit., p. 209.

   16 F. F. Bruce, in comments on a. paper by B. F. C. Atkinson, "The

Textual Background of the Use of the Old Testament by the New,"

Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute, LXXIX (1947), 60.

More recently Bruce has said that "if this secondary reading [i. e., the

 



6          WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

            A very fanciful interpretation is given to Psalm 68:18 in

the Targum, which refers it to Moses in his ascent to Mount

Sinai to receive the Law. S. R. Driver's translation of the

Targum rendering is as follows: "Thou didst ascend to the

firmament, 0 Moses the prophet; thou didst take captivity

captive; thou didst teach the words of the Law; thou didst

give gifts to the children of men: but the rebellious ones who

become proselytes, and repent, upon them resteth the Shekinah

of the glory of the LORD God."17 A similar rendering of the

verse, though more literal, is found in the Syriac Peshitta

Old Testament. Driver was inclined to accept the view that

the Peshitta had come under Jewish influence at this point,18

but it is more likely that the Peshitta reading arose under the

influence of the New Testament version of the Psalm, or else

independently. Recently Lindars has asserted that it is pre-

carious to cite the Peshitta as supporting the Targum, and

has pointed out how easily in Syriac, especially in the Estran-

gela script, the alteration could have occurred.19

            When a comparison is made between the Targum rendering

and Ephesians 4:8, it is apparent that a completely different

interpretation of the passage is given in the two places. The

only thing that is identical is the use of the verb "gave."

It seems doubtful, therefore, that the claim that Paul was

citing from the Targum version can be substantiated. The

admission must be made that Paul may have been acquainted

with the Jewish interpretation of the verse, but it would

seem to be coincidental that the word "gave" occurs in both,

in view of the essential difference in meaning and lack of

other close verbal affinity. It is best to regard this as an

instance of deliberate alteration by Paul in order to bring

out the full meaning of the passage.

            Despite widespread support for the contention that Paul

 

Targum] had not been available to him the first [the rendering of Ps.

68:18] would not have been unsuitable . . .": The Epistle to the Ephesians:

A Verse-by- Verse Exposition, London, 1961, p. 82.

   17 S. R. Driver, "Notes on Three Passages in St. Paul's Epistles,"

Expositor, IX, Third Series (1889), 22.

   18 Ibid.

   19 B. Lindars, New Testament Apologetic: The Doctrinal Significance of

the Old Testament Quotations, London, 1961, p. 53, note.

 



            ASPECTS OF PAUL'S USE OF THE PSALMS     7

 

has been influenced by the Targum in Ephesians 4:8, it cannot

be substantiated that he was citing from it, and as this is

the only case where there is any resemblance between the

variations from the MT in his Psalter quotations and the

Aramaic Targums, the conclusion must be drawn that the in-

fluence of these upon the text of Paul's quotations was neg-

ligible. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that Greek

Targums were employed by Paul, though the possibility of

the existence of such Targums must not be overlooked.20

            Quotation from memory is an explanation which is often

advanced to explain variations from the MT and the LXX in

quotations. It must have been difficult to find readily a

reference in a papyrus roll,21 and though the use of codices

doubtless facilitated the finding of particular passages, yet

it seems likely that the widespread use of codices by the

Christian church did not come until after the New Testament

period.22 Thus it is most probable that many of the quotations

in the New Testament were made from memory. The fact

that the quotations from the Psalms in the New Testament

have a tendency to be cited most accurately of all is by no

means inconsistent with quotation from memory.23 In that

era memory was practiced and relied upon to a great extent,

especially among the Jews,24 and it would not be surprising

if Paul and the other New Testament writers followed the

common practice. Literary customs of that period should not

be judged by those of the present day.

            The application of this explanation to Paul's Psalter quota-

tions faces certain difficulties. One is that at times accurate

quotations from the LXX stand alongside ones with significant

 

   20 Cf. L. L. Morris, The New Testament and the Jewish Lectionaries,

London, 1964, p. 32; Gundry, op. cit., pp. 166 if.

   21 F. G. Kenyon, Books and Readers in Ancient Greece and Rome, Oxford,

1932, p. 66.

   22 C. C. McCown, "Codex and Roll in the New Testament," Harvard

Theological Review, XXXIV (1941), 235; B. M. Metzger, The Text of the

New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Oxford,

1964, p. 6.

   23 Atkinson, op. cit., p. 41.

   24 Cf. B. Gerhardson, Memory and Manuscript: Oral Tradition and

Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity, Uppsala,

1961, pp. 71ff.

 



8          WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

variations (e. g., Rom. 3:13-14, where the quotations in verse

13 are accurate, but that in verse 14 is a variant text). An-

other is that on at least one occasion Paul quotes two consecu-

tive verses, the first of which contains several alterations from

the LXX, but the subsequent verse is a completely accurate

citation of the LXX (Rom. 11:9-10). While alterations in

word order and other minor variations may be explained by

memory citation, yet it is difficult to believe that many of the

major variations are to be explained in this way.

            Another factor to which due weight must be given is that

Paul often combined the functions of appellant and interpreter

of Scripture. G. T. Purves, in his inaugural lecture at Prince-

ton, expressed himself in this way with reference to Paul:

 

            "He is ever bent on letting the light of the gospel on the

            Scripture, as well as on supporting the gospel by the Scrip-

            ture. He never pretended that he had derived his doctrine

            from the Scripture. He always claimed that he had derived

            it by revelation from Jesus Christ. Then, however, he saw

            the meaning of Scripture, and could both appeal to it and

            explain it. His exegetical method therefore was determined

            by his practical purpose.... When quoting, he is often

            interpreting. Hence some of his striking combinations of

            passages. Hence his change of phraseology when occasion

            required. Hence his attitude now of reverence for its letter,

            and now of apparent disregard of its letter and attention

            solely to its essential meaning."25

 

This factor appears to be the most satisfactory explanation

of the variations in I Corinthians 3:20 and Ephesians 4:8, and

may also explain those in Romans 3:14 and Romans 11:9.

The remaining quotations, apart from those cases where the

text has been altered to fit a new context26 or perhaps to

quotation from memory,27 may have had their origin in an-

other textual tradition, either in a recension of the LXX or

possibly in a Greek Targum. The variations, then, which are

manifested in Paul's quotations as compared with the LXX

Psalter appear to be accounted for by a combination of

factors rather than a single one.

 

   25 G. T. Purves, "St. Paul and Inspiration," Presbyterian and Reformed

Review, XIII (1893), 19.

   26 Cf. Acts 13:35; Rom. 3:11; Rom. 3:18.

   27 Cf. Rom. 3:20; Rom. 15:9; Rom. 15:11; I Cor. 15:25; Gal. 2:16.

 



            ASPECTS OF PAUL'S USE OF THE PSALMS     9

 

                      2. The Testimony-Book Hypothesis

 

            Comment is necessary on the current discussion of the

testimony-book hypothesis when dealing with Paul's Psalter

quotations, for Rendel Harris, who developed this theory

postulated in germ form by Hatch, appealed to several

sections in the Pauline epistles involving quotations from the

Psalter as proof of his theory. Many have criticized the

theory as originally formulated, but at present the whole

question is being reconsidered. This reconsideration rests

largely on the basis of the papyrus fragment P. Ryl. Gk. 460,

which could well be a fourth-century copy of a much earlier

list of Old Testament prophetic passages, and the Qumran

manuscripts 4Q Testimonia and 4Q Florilegium. The former

of these manuscripts consists of Old Testament texts strung

together without comment, while the latter comprises at least

two Old Testament passages with an interpretative comment

after the first one.

            It is often maintained that the Psalter quotations in Romans

3:10 ff. are drawn, not directly from the Psalter itself, but

from a selection already in existence. While it is true that

some of the same texts, though in different order, are found

later in Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho,28 yet it is more

likely that Justin is dependent on Paul, rather than that

both are drawing upon a testimony book. There is no other

evidence to substantiate Paul's alleged dependence on another

document at this point.

            Rendel Harris himself cited29 the evidence from Justin

Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho in his attempt to prove that

in making his quotations in Romans 10-15 ff. Paul was de-

pending upon written testimonies. In that passage Isaiah 53:1

is closely associated with Psalm 19.4. He also linked the use

of Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8 with the citation of the

same passage by Justin Martyr.30 The unconvincing nature

of Harris' observations is shown by the fact that in the latter

case he alleges that the variations in Justin Martyr are too

 

   28 Dialogue, XXVII.

   29 J. R. Harris, Testimonies, II, Cambridge, 1920, 25.

   30 Ibid., p. 39.

 



10        WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

striking to allow that he was quoting from Ephesians. If this

were correct, it should follow that the variations are too great

to allow for the use by both Paul and Justin Martyr of a

single written source, but this is precisely what Harris con-

tends took place.

            A number of the Pauline quotations from the Psalms occur

in other New Testament books. This shows the currency of

the quotations, but the textual variations among them render

it extremely difficult to see them as coming from one testimony-

book source. If we take, for example, Psalm 110:1, which is

quoted frequently in the New Testament, we find that it

appears in five different forms. Admittedly, Paul replaces the

LXX e]k deciw?n on three occasions by e]n deci%?, which also

appears in Hebrews alongside an accurate citation of the

LXX text of the verse. However, the existence of a testimony

book containing the quotation in this form is not the only

solution which could be advanced to explain this form of

the text. It is one thing to assert that Paul is following a

tradition of exegesis; it is another to maintain that this tradi-

tion must of necessity have been written. Substantial evidence

to support the testimony-book hypothesis is still lacking. For

the present it is much more satisfactory to agree with T. W.

Manson's observation that "the earliest form of the 'Testimony

Book' was determined by the form of the primitive preaching

and the book itself was written on the 'fleshy tablets' of the

preacher's heart."31

            That some portions of the Psalter had an important place

in the apostolic preaching is patent, and the fact that Paul

and John can quote different parts of the same verse is by no

means accidental.32 The same applies to the use of Psalm

16:10 by both Peter and Paul.33 These facts are not surprising

considering that Paul claimed that the gospel he preached

was the same as that proclaimed by the other apostles (I Cor.

15:11), and therefore common interdependent exegesis of Old

 

            31 T. W. Manson, "The Argument from Prophecy," Journal of Theological

Studies, XLVI (1945), 132.

            32 Jn. 2:17; Rom. 15:3.

            33 Acts 2:27; 13:35.

 



            ASPECTS OF PAUL'S USE OF THE PSALMS     11

 

Testament passages is only to be expected. In the case of

Psalm 69 it is most probable that Paul and John were giving

expression to such a common exegetical tradition in regard

to this Psalm, especially when it is borne in mind that other

verses from the same Psalm occur in Matthew, Mark, John,

Acts, and Romans;34 but this exegetical tradition appears on

the face of present evidence to have been oral. Moreover, the

fact that so many of Paul's quotations from the Psalms do

not occur in any of the non-Pauline books of the New Testa-

ment is a pertinent reminder that the hypothesis of a written

testimony book or of an unwritten exegetical tradition in

regard to certain Old Testament texts fails to account for

many of the Pauline quotations. If all, or at least most, of

his quotations were drawn from a testimony book, it is sur-

prising that other New Testament writers do not make use

of more of these passages than they do. Therefore Hunter is

correct when, in reference to an anthology of testimonia, he

maintains: "Paul was too fully saturated in the Old Testa-

ment to be wholly dependent upon such a collection. The

words and phrases of the Old Testament had become so much

a part of his mental furniture that he could pick and choose

quotations to suit his purpose."35 Consequently, it is not

difficult to believe that Paul himself first selected the catena

in Romans 3:10 if. when his evident deep knowledge of the

Psalter and width of selection from it is observed.

            It is clear that so far as the Pauline Psalter quotations are

concerned the testimony book hypothesis cannot adequately

account for them. The textual variations in quotations of

the same passage shed doubt on the theory, and by it the

reason for Paul's choice from such a range of Psalms cannot

be explained. As it is often presented, the hypothesis fails to

take sufficiently into consideration the fact that Paul was

deeply versed in the Psalter and was able to apply particular

passages with penetrating understanding to the truths he was

enunciating.

 

    34 Mt. 27:48; Mk. 15:36; Jn. 15:25; Acts 1:20a; Rom. 11:9 f.

    35 A. M. Hunter, Paul and His Predecessors, 2nd ed.; London, 1961;

pp. 63 f.

 



12        WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

                        3. The Introductory Formulae

 

            The Pauline Psalter quotations are introduced by the same

range of formulae as is employed in the New Testament in

general and as Paul uses in regard to passages from other Old

Testament books. While not all the Psalter quotations are

introduced by formulae, yet there are some significant features

in respect to those that are used. It is hardly surprising that

the verb gra<fw is used most frequently, often in the perfect

tense, so that the emphasis falls not just on a past divine

action, but on the continuing results of that action.

            The use of ge<graptai in this connection is highly sig-

nificant, for it is employed in the case of the Psalms, in which

the element of subjective experience enters more fully than

in most other sections of the Old Testament where revelation

is from God to man ab extra. Vos has commented on this

"subjective revelation" in the following way: "By this is

meant the inward activity of the Spirit upon the depths of hu-

man sub-consciousness causing certain God-intended thoughts

to well up therefrom. . . . Although brought up through a

subjective channel, we none the less must claim for it absolute

divine authority; otherwise it could not properly be called

revelation. In this subjective form revelation and inspiration

coalesce."36 Thus revelation which was given by God in this

manner is placed on exactly the same level as objective revela-

tion, and the authority of the Psalmodic passages is in no

way less than that of the remainder of the Old Testament.

It should also be remembered that quotations drawn in the

main from the Psalter can be designated as "law" by Paul in

Romans 3:19. In the catena of quotations in the preceding

verses of that chapter there is none from the "law" in the

strict sense, the Pentateuch.37 This again shows that the in-

trinsic authority of revelation is not affected by the channel

through which it was mediated.

 

   36 G. Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, Grand Rapids,

1959, p. 21.

   37 The Mishnah also employs the word "law" to refer to the Scriptures

as a whole. Cf. B. M. Metzger, "The Formulas Introducing Quotations

of Scripture in the NT and the Mishnah," Journal of Biblical Literature,

LXX (1951), 302.

 



            ASPECTS OF PAUL'S USE OF THE PSALMS     13

 

On four occasions Paul uses le<gw to introduce Psalter

quotations. In the first of these (Acts 13:35) God is the

subject of the verb, yet in Psalm 16, from which the citation

is made, the words are addressed to God. Clearly they can

be considered as God's words because they form part of the

text of the Old Testament.38 In two other cases (Rom. 4:6;

11:9) David is mentioned as the subject of the verb, though

this does not in any way diminish the authority of the quota-

tion. From Romans 15:9ff., where a variety of formulae is

employed, it is apparent that the authority of an Old Testa-

ment passage was in no way lessened when the human author

was specified.

            The other Pauline Psalter quotations are either introduced

by an exceedingly brief formula (e. g., menou?n ge, Rom.

10:18; kai> pa<lin, Rom. 15:11) or cited without any intro-

ductory formula at all. The brevity of formula in the Pauline

usage can be compared with a similar usage in the Mishnah,

though in general the Pauline and New Testament usage have

closer affinity to Qumranic literature in this respect than to

the later Mishnaic.39

 

B. PAULINE HERMENEUTICS AND THE PSALTER

 

                1. Paul and Jewish Exegetical Methods

 

            It is instructive to make a comparison between Paul's

interpretation of the Psalter and that represented in Jewish

teaching, both rabbinic and Qumranic. If attention is directed

first to the rabbinic interpretation, it is noticeable that Paul

deviates from rabbinic method as well as from rabbinic

exegesis. The claim has frequently been made that in certain

instances, such as Acts 13.34 f. and Romans 4:6ff., Paul can

use a quotation from the Psalter only by employing the

second of Hillel's rules, namely, analogy of expressions. In

 

    38 Cf. on this point our Lord's attribution of words to God which in the

Old Testament are not spoken by him (Matt. 19:5).

   39 Cf. Metzger, "The Formulas Introducing Quotations of Scripture in

the NT and the Mishnah," op. cit., p. 305; J. A. Fitzmeyer, "The Use of

Explicit Old Testament Quotations in Qumran Literature and in the

New Testament," New Testament Studies, VII (1960-61), 305.

 



14        WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

the former of the cases just mentioned, Paul, after quoting

from Isaiah 55:3b, "I will give you the holy and sure blessings

of David," proceeds to cite Psalm 15(16):10b, "Thou wilt

not let thy holy one see corruption." There are certainly

verbal connections between the two passages (dw<sw in both

verses, and to>n o!sion with ta> o!sia), but although prima

facie it may appear that Paul was indulging in rabbinic prac-

tice by linking two passages with the same catchword,40 yet

a closer examination of the passage suggests otherwise. The

Isaianic passage is a reflection on the original promise in

II Samuel 7:16, and the adjectival form ta> pista< in the

LXX recalls the verb pisto<w used in the Samuel passage.

In Isaiah 55:3 the promise is stated in general terms only,

and in his speech Paul proceeds to show that this promise

could not have been fulfilled were it not for the fact that

the Messiah rose from the dead. The eternal covenant would

not be an eternal one if the Messiah was subject to corrup-

tion. The citation from Psalm 16 is not only then to show

the general connection of the promise to David with Jesus,

but also probably to demonstrate how the incorruptibility of

Jesus following his resurrection fulfills the promised prolonga-

tion of a reigning heir in II Samuel 7.41 Hence, the linking of

Psalm 16 with the preceding quotation is not merely because

of a formal, verbal connection but because the one of whom

the Psalm speaks was raised from the dead as a signal demon-

stration of the fact that he was the Messiah, the one in whom

the sure promises of the Davidic covenant were fulfilled.

            The other passage involving a quotation from the Psalter

concerning which the allegation is made that Paul is following

rabbinic exegetical practice is Romans 4:6 ff. Having spoken

of Abraham's faith as being reckoned for righteousness Paul

adduces also David's position to show that Abraham's case

was by no means an isolated one. Among other writers

Barrett, while admitting that Paul's argument is "more than

exegetical quibbling and playing with words," claims that

 

   40 Cf. the comments of K. Lake and H. J. Cadbury, The Beginnings of

Christianity, IV, London, 1933, 155, and C. S. C. Williams, A Commentary

on the Acts of the Apostles, London, 1957, pp. 164 f.

  41 Cf. D. Goldsmith, "Acts 13 33—37: A Pesher on II Samuel 7," Journal

of Biblical Literature, LXXXVII (1968), 321—324.

 



            ASPECTS OF PAUL'S USE OF THE PSALMS     15

 

Paul proceeds by the word "reckon" (logi<zesqai) from

Genesis 15:6 to Psalm 32:1 f., and that "too much is made

to hang upon verbal links."42 Such an approach fails to

recognize how deeply Paul has penetrated to the meaning of

this whole Psalm, for it is permeated with expressions of con-

fession, the blessedness of free pardon, and the consequent

joy of the forgiven sinner. F. F. Bruce rightly notes: “. . . the

link is not a merely formal one: the non-imputation of sin,

in which the psalmist rejoices, amounts to the positive imputa-

tion of righteousness or pronouncement of acquittal, for there

can be no verdict of ‘not proven’ in God's law court.”43

            Rabbinic methodology, which connects passages having

only a verbal link, is nowhere in evidence in Paul's use of

the Old Testament. In other ways too, such as his use of

merged quotations as in Romans 3:10 if., Paul's methodology

deviates from rabbinic practice, while the teaching he draws

from various passages stands often in marked contrast to

that found in rabbinic sources. In respect to a few citations

there is some superficial similarity between Paul's interpreta-

tion and that of the Jewish teachers. However, in the majority

of the Pauline quotations from the Psalter there is a marked

dissimilarity. Oesterley, after a careful study of the way in

which the Psalter was expounded by the Jews, came to the

following conclusion: "There is no getting away from the fact

that, in the main, Jewish exegesis of the Psalms is often

artificial, sometimes trivial."44 For the passages for which

we also have the Pauline exposition, this conclusion is un-

doubtedly valid. In contrast to the forced and arbitrary

exegesis which characterizes the work of the Jewish inter-

preters Paul's understanding of the Psalter quotations is

marked by an assessment of each passage within its immediate

context and in the light of progressive revelation.

            The question of Qumranic influence on Paul's interpreta-

 

    42 C. K. Barrett, From First Adam to Last: A Study in Pauline Theology,

London, 1962, pp. 32 f. See also his A Commentary on the Epistle to the

Romans, London, 1962, p. 89.

   43 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and

Commentary, London, 1963, pp. 115 f.

   44 W. O. E. Oesterley, The Psalms in the Jewish Church, London, 1910,

p. 197.

 



16        WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

tion of the Psalter must also be faced. From the eleven

caves of Qumran have come twenty-seven Psalter texts and

fragmentary commentaries on a few Psalms. There are four

of these ancient commentaries presently available for study.

Taking them in their numerical order there is first the com-

mentary on portions of Psalms 1 and 2 in 4Q Florilegium,

published by Allegro.45 Much more extensive is the com-

mentary on Psalm 37 (4Q p Ps 37), parts of which were pub-

lished originally by Allegro, and a reconstructed text of which

Stegemann has issued more recently.46 Two other fragmentary

commentaries were found in Cave 1 at Qumran and published

by Barthelemy and Milik in 1955,47 consisting of some brief

comments on Psalm 57 and a somewhat fuller interpretation

of Psalm 68.

            It is impossible to say whether the Qumran commentaries

discovered so far are portions of exegesis covering the whole

Psalter, or merely commentaries on a few isolated Psalms.

What is clear, however, is that these portions are very similar

in style to the other Qumran commentaries on the prophetical

books and display the same approach to the text. The use of

the same forced interpretative methods as used in rabbinic

literature suggested to Brownlee the designation "midrash,"

with the term "pesher" added in order to distinguish it from

other types of Jewish midrash.48 Since Stendahl took up the

term "midrash pesher" in his discussion of the Old Testament

formula quotations in Matthew,49 it has become common to

 

   45 J. M. Allegro, "Fragments of a Qumran Scroll of Eschatological

MIDRAMM," Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXVII (1958), 350—354.

   46 J. M. Allegro, "A Newly Discovered Fragment of a Commentary on

Psalm XXXVII from Qumran," Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 86

(1954), 69—75; "Further Light on the History of the Qumran Sect,"

Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXV (1956), 89—95; H. Stegemann, "Der

Pegser Psalm 37 aus Hohle 4 von Qumran (4 Q p Ps 37)," Revue de Qumran,

IV (1963), 235—270.

   47 D. Barthelemy and J. T. Milik, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert,

I, Oxford, 1955, 81 f.

   48 W. H. Brownlee, "Biblical Interpretation among the Sectaries of the

Dead Sea Scrolls," Biblical Archeologist, XIV (1951), 62; The Meaning of

the Qumran Scrolls for the Bible with Special Attention to the Book of Isaiah,

New York, 1964, pp. 63 f.

   49 Stendahl, op. cit.

 



            ASPECTS OF PAUL'S USE OF THE PSALMS     17

 

apply this term to the exegetical method of the New Testa-

ment writers in their treatment of the Old Testament.

            Several points emerge from a study of the Pauline Psalter

quotations in the light of Qumranic methodology. The first

thing to be observed is that whereas the Qumranic commen-

taries neglect the sense and context of the original, this is

not a feature of Paul's use of the Psalter. On the contrary,

the context is heeded and often reflected in his writing, and it

is obvious that the apostle is not imposing an arbitrary inter-

pretation on the passage but seeking to expound and apply

the principles that are clearly taught in it. Secondly, whereas

there is considerable manipulation of texts by the Qumranic

commentators, this procedure is absent from Paul's use of

the Psalms. It is true that there are some variations from the

MT and the LXX in his quotations, but most of these are of

minor significance. Even in passages such as I Corinthians

3:20 and Ephesians 4:8 the word introduced into the text in

each case is suggested in the immediate context in the Psalter.

Thirdly, the Qumranic commentaries, including the frag-

mentary ones on the Psalms, re-interpret the text and apply

it to an end-time situation introduced by the ministry of the

Teacher of Righteousness. The Pauline treatment of the

Psalter stands in striking contrast to this, for one cannot but

be impressed by the literal exegesis displayed by Paul, over

against the forced eschatological method of Qumran. Paul

does apply passages to his own day, but the teaching contained

in them was as true for the day in which they were written

as for New Testament days. The apostle quotes them be-

cause of the permanent validity of their content, not because

he was forcing an arbitrary meaning, with relevance exclu-

sively to his own day, upon them. There are quotations from

several Psalms which Paul applies to the Messiah. However,

these are the words not just of a human commentator on the

Scripture, but an inspired interpreter of it, who was applying

prophetic teaching of the Psalms to the divine Messiah.

            The Psalter quotation most often identified as a case of

midrash pesher is undoubtedly Ephesians 4:8. Admittedly

there is a superficial resemblance between Paul's procedure

there and the midrash pesher, though it is apparent that Paul

respects the context in Psalm 68 from which the quotation is

 



18        WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

taken. His application of this verse to the ascension of Christ

must be seen in the light of his exegetical principles as a

whole, and cannot be compared with the forced manner in

which the Qumran commentaries apply passages to the

Teacher of Righteousness. In these circumstances it is much

more satisfactory to avoid referring to Paul's use of the

Psalter as exemplifying the midrash pesher type of exegesis,

when, in spite of some similarities, his method differs so

radically from that practiced at Qumran. Fitzmeyer's con-

clusion, that the similarities between Pauline and Qumranic

exegetical practices affect only the periphery of their the-

ologies,50 is certainly valid for the comparison of the Pauline

and Qumranic interpretation of the Psalter. The differences

are so great between Paul's use of the Psalms and that of

the Qumran covenanters that it can only be concluded that

Paul has certainly not borrowed his exegetical principles from

Qumran. Any superficial similarities between the two methods

are due to the common background and not to direct influence.

 

                                   2. Contextual Quotation

 

            Strong indictments have often been brought against Paul

for his alleged failure to heed the context of the Old Testa-

ment passages which he cites.51 An assessment must be made

whether any claim in this direction insofar as the Pauline

Psalter quotations are concerned can be substantiated. There

is also the further question to which an answer is required,

namely, whether the passages are cited solely for the teaching

contained in them, or whether they are pointers to their whole

context.

            A careful analysis of the Psalter quotations fails to confirm

the charge concerning neglect of context. In contrast to the

manner in which quotations in rabbinic literature and in

the Dead Sea Scrolls are isolated from their context, Paul

constantly shows that heed has been paid to the context

from which his quotations come. This is true even of those

from the Psalter in Romans 3:10 if., which Edgar claims do

 

   50 Fitzmeyer, op. cit., p. 332.

   51 Cf., as representative of more recent writers, S. L. Edgar, "Respect

for Context in Quotations from the Old Testament," New Testament

Studies, IX (1962-63), 56.

 



            ASPECTS OF PAUL'S USE OF THE PSALMS     19

 

not prove the universality of sin as in most cases they refer

only to the enemies of Israel.52 This passage is perhaps the

most significant one to take in order to see whether the claim

made by Edgar and others can be substantiated. The list of

citations commences with words from the opening of Psalm 14,

which depict vividly the sinful condition of the whole world,

and such a statement includes all to whom it is applicable.

Following this general assertion Paul adduces passages which

show that depravity is manifested in concrete ways by various

parts of the body, with special emphasis on the way in which

the sinful character of man reveals itself most pointedly in

his speech. The source of all this diverse disclosure of sin is

traced finally to the heart (Rom. 3:18). Gifford's comment

on this catena is most apt: ". . . the passages cited would

bear all that is laid upon them, even if they were less explicit

as to universality of sin than some of them are."53

            The universal application of these quotations is made

explicit in the words of Romans 3:19: "Now we know that

what things soever the law saith, it speaketh to them that

are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and

all the world may be brought under the judgment of God"

(ARV). The law does not only condemn the Jews who

possessed it, but the Gentiles as well, for clearly Paul regards

the latter as well as the former as being "under the law."

While without the Old Testament law, yet the Gentiles

"were not outside the sphere of the judgment which the

Old Testament pronounced. This is saying that the descrip-

tions given in those passages quoted were characteristic of

the Gentiles as well as of the Jews and the corresponding

judgment rested upon them to the end that they all might

be without excuse and be condemned in the sight of God."54

Hence, a true appreciation of the force of this verse leads

one to a recognition of the invalid nature of many of the

criticisms levelled against the Pauline use of the Old Testa-

ment in this section of his epistles. Moreover, when Paul's

purpose in adducing this list of Old Testament verses is seen,

 

   52 Ibid.

   53 E. H. Gifford, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans: With Notes and

Introduction, London, 1886, p. 87.

   54 J. Murray, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans: The English Text with

Introduction, Exposition and Notes, I, London, 1960, 106 f.

 



20        WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

much criticism of the way in which he is alleged to have taken

these verses out of their contexts in the Psalms is also negated.

Paul has not arbitrarily selected phrases regardless of con-

text, for in every case the context is consonant with his

purpose.

            When each quotation is seen in its original setting, it is

apparent that the passage as a whole contains the teaching

which is often expressed in condensed form in the words

actually chosen by Paul. In many cases other verses from

the same passage could conceivably have been chosen which

would have had the same effect in the argument. No charge

against the apostle Paul of arbitrarily selecting Psalter quota-

tions and abstracting them from their contexts can be sub-

stantiated. Repeatedly a single verse of a Psalm aptly sums

up the significance of the context from which it is drawn,

and many of the quotations can be explained adequately only

when viewed in their original setting.

            The closely related question whether a text is cited to draw

attention to the whole context has been brought to the fore

by C. H. Dodd, though the assertion he makes was known to,

and expressed by, earlier writers.55  Speaking of the New

Testament writers, Dodd says: "We have seen reason to

suppose that they often quoted a single phrase or sentence

not merely for its own sake, but as a pointer to a whole con-

text — a practice by no means uncommon among contem-

porary Jewish teachers, as they are reported in the rabbinic

literature."56 In general Dodd believes that this is evidenced

by the fact that frequently the same Old Testament passage

is cited by more than one New Testament writer, and often

adjacent sentences from the same context are quoted. This

thesis has been challenged by Sundberg,57 who denies that the

citation of contiguous Old Testament passages by more than

one New Testament writer necessarily indicates that a wider

 

   55 Cf. E. C. S. Gibson, "The Sources of St. Paul's Teaching: II, The

Old Testament," Expositor, IV, Second Series (1882), 127; E. G. King,

"St. Paul's Method of Quotation," Expositor, X, Third Series (1889),

234; A. Carr, "The Eclectic Use of the Old Testament in the New Testa-

ment," Expositor, XI, Sixth Series (1905), 346.

   56 C. H. Dodd, The Old Testament in the New, Philadelphia, 1963, p. 20.

Cf. also his According to the Scriptures, p. 126.

   57 A. C. Sundberg, "On Testimonies," Novum Testamentum, III (1959),

270 ff.

 



            ASPECTS OF PAUL'S USE OF THE PSALMS     21

 

context is in view. Up to a point Sundberg's criticism of

Dodd's position is valid, but the fact that repeatedly quota-

tions are drawn from adjacent sentences in the Old Testament

or from detached sentences within the same chapter does

show that the context was well known to the early Christian

writers. This renders Dodd's hypothesis plausible, especially

when we consider that many of the early readers of the New

Testament were extremely well versed in the Old Testament

Scriptures, so that a single key verse could easily recall for

them the context from which it came.

            An evaluation of Dodd's thesis can be made only on the

basis of a detailed examination of the individual quotations.

Some observations can be made with respect to the Pauline

quotations from the Psalter. In quite a few cases, such as

the use of Psalm 36:1 in Romans 3:18 or that of Psalm 32:1

in Romans 4:7-8, the remainder of the Psalm from which the

verse comes is extremely relevant to Paul's argument, and

there are often connections in thought and language between

the context in Paul's writing and the particular Psalm. One

must at least allow for the possibility that in these cases a

single verse may be intended as a pointer to its whole context.

More definite grounds for supporting Dodd's position come

from the citation of verses whose application to the point in

question is inexplicable without an understanding of the

context. It is difficult to conceive that Paul would employ

such a verse unless he intended his readers to recall the com-

plete Psalm and thus appreciate the significance of the cita-

tion. An illustration of this may be given. In Romans 10:18

Paul quotes the words of Psalm 19:4, "Their sound has gone

out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the

world." This quotation is applied to the hearing by Israel

of the message of salvation. To appreciate the significance of

the quotation the parallelism in, the Psalm must be borne in

mind. The first part of the Psalm (verses 1–6) is concerned

with general revelation, while the second part (verses 7–14)

deals with special revelation.58  When Paul takes over verse 4

of the Psalm and applies it to the extent to which the Gospel

has been proclaimed abroad, he is not doing violence to the

context but rather respecting it. He has chosen the verse

 

58 Cf. the discussion on this verse in Murray, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 61.

 



22        WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

from the Psalm which most graphically expresses the universal

character of God's revelation. Paul's use of this verse is

explicable only to a reader aware of the context in Psalm 19

and the parallelism inherent in it. In a case such as this it

seems most probable that Paul intended the one verse to

recall the whole Psalm to the mind of the reader.

            In three other passages in the Pauline epistles involving

Psalter quotations there is more definite evidence to suggest

that Paul had in mind the fuller context. The first verse of

Psalm 117 is quoted in Romans 15:11 in connection with the

thought that Christ came to minister in order that the Gentiles

might glorify God for his mercy. The only other verse in

that Psalm seems to lie behind the use by Paul of the thoughts

of truth and mercy in verses 8–9 of the same chapter. Then in

I Corinthians 3:20 the alteration of tw?n a]nqrw<pwn  to tw?n

sofw?n in the quotation of Psalm 94:11 appears to be Paul's

summing up of the character of the worldly wise, and so

reflects the context in the Psalm, where the emphasis is placed

on the contrast between the ways of God and the ways of

men. Finally, the knowledge of more of the context of Psalm 4

seems to be implied by Paul in Ephesians 4:26 than just the

few words he quotes, for the second part of verse 26 is most

probably a reflection of further words in that Psalm.

            The conclusion to which this evidence points is that in

some instances of Psalter quotations Paul does intend to

draw attention to the whole context and not just to a few

isolated words. It is difficult to be certain that this is so,

hence it is wise to approach the question with more caution

than Dodd has done in stating his position. The Psalter

quotations taken as a whole do not appear to be mere "proof

texts," but when seen in their wider setting add point and

significance to Paul's arguments. To readers, the majority

of whom would be well versed in the LXX Psalter, such

quotations would serve as a pointer to the larger passage.

There is sufficient evidence to regard at least some of his

quotations as being indicative of the fact that the wider con-

text was before the apostle's mind as he wrote and that he

also wished his readers to recall the whole context and apply

it to the question under discussion.

 

            Free Church College, Edinburgh, Scotland

           

 



            ASPECTS OF PAUL'S USE OF THE PSALMS     23

 

                                    APPENDIX

            PAULINE PSALTER QUOTATIONS        

Classification:59

            1 — in agreement with the LXX and the Hebrew

            2 — in agreement with the LXX against the Hebrew

            3 — in agreement with the Hebrew against the LXX

            4 — at variance with the LXX and the Hebrew where they agree

            5 — at variance with the LXX and the Hebrew where they vary

            * — indicates only a slight variation from the LXX

                 NT                             OT                            Classification

            Acts 13:22                 Ps. 89:20                                1

                    13:33                          2:7                                  1

                     13:35                      16:10                                4*

            Rom.   3:4b                      51:4                                  2

                       3:11–12                 14:2–3                             4

                       3:13a                        5:10                               1

                        3:13b                    140:4                                2

                        3:14                        10:7                               5

                       3:18                          36:1                               4*

                       3:20                        143:2                               4

                       4:7–8                        32:1                               2

                        8:36                         44:22                             1

                      10:18                         19:4                               1

                      11:9–10                    69:22–23                      5

                      15:3                           69:9                               1

                      15:9                     Ps. 18:49                             4*

                      15:11                       117:1                               4*

            I Cor.  3:20                        94:11                              4*

                     10:26                           24:1                              1

                     15:25                        110:1                               4

                     15:27                            8:6                               4

            II Cor. 4:13                        116:10                            1

                       9:9                            112:9                             1

               Gal. 2:16                          143:2                             4

              Eph. 1:22                              8:6                              4

                      4:8                             68:18                             4*

                      4:26                              4:4                              1                                 

 

59 This classification is that of Ellis, op. cit., p. 150.

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Westminster Theological Seminary

            Chestnut Hill

            Philadelphia,  PA   19118

            www.wts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu