+ Reply to Rabbi Tovia Singer’s Charges of Christian “Tampering” With the Text
One doesn’t have to believe that Messiah is God or be a Christian to accept this passage as messianic, because many Jewish exegetes throughout history have done so. Alfred Edersheim offers documentation, in an appendix of his Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah:
Ps. cx. is throughout applied to the Messiah. To begin with, it evidently underlies the Targumic rendering of ver. 4. Similarly, it is propounded in the Midr. on Ps. ii. (although there the chief application of it is to Abraham). But in the Midrash on Ps. xviii. 36 (35 in our A. V.), Ps. cx. verse 1, ‘Sit thou st My right hand’ is specifically applied to the Messiah, while Abraham is said to be seated at the left.
Verse 2.’The rod of Thy strength.’ In a very curious mystic interpretation of the pledges which Tamar had by the Holy Ghost, asked of Judah, the seal is interpreted as signifying the kingdom, the bracelet as the Sanhedrin, and the staff as the King Messiah, with special reference to Is. xi. and Ps. cx. 2 (Beresh. R. 85, ed. Warsh. p. 153 a) Similarly in Bemid. R. 18, last line, the staff of Aaron, which is said to have been in the hands of every king till the Temple was destroyed, and since then to have been hid, is to be restored to King Messiah, according to this verse ; and in Yalkut on this Psalm (vol. ii. Par. 869, p. 124 c) this staff is supposed to be the same as that of Jacob with which he crossed Jordan, and of Judah, and of Moses, and of Aaron, and the same which David had in his hand when he slew Goliath, it being also the same which will be restored to the Messiah.
Verse 7 is also applied in Yalkut (u. s. col. d) to Messianic times, when streams of the blood of the wicked should flow out, and birds come to drink of that hood.
Likewise, we find additional similar documentation in The Messiah in the Old Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings, by Risto Santala (Translated from Finnish by William Kinnaird) – at http://www.kolumbus.fi/hjussila/rsla/OT/contot.html [no longer online]
[abridged by Dave Armstrong]
The picture in psalm 110 of the one sitting at the right hand of God
Psalm 110, which as we observed earlier has often been considered a
“twin” to psalm 2, is also given a Messianic interpretation by the Sages, to
the extent that there is no essential disharmony between the Christian and
Rabbinic exegesis of both these psalms.
The psalm in outline is as follows:
“A psalm of David. The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right
hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ The
LORD will extend your mighty sceptre from Zion; rule in the midst
of your enemies… The LORD has sworn and will not change his
mind: ‘You are a priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek:’ ”
The best known expositions which we have been following are
comparatively late expressions of the Rabbinic perspective. To take two
examples; RaSHI, Solomon Yarchi, died in 1105 AD and Ibn Ezra, the
son of Abraham Meir died towards the end of the same century. If in
them, despite all their opposition to Christianity, we still find some mention
of the Messianic character of a certain passage, it will have particular
weight as a witness to our case. Psalm 110, they say, refers primarily to
Abraham. RaSHI says of the psalm that it is right to interpret it as
touching Abraham, “but there is a difficulty in the fact that it speaks
of Zion, which was the city of David”.
The Midrash on the Psalms says of the verse ‘Sit at my right hand’, that
“he says this to the Messiah; and his throne is prepared in grace and
he will sit upon it”. The Talmud refers to psalm 110 when discussing
Zechariah 4:14 — “These are the two who are anointed to serve the
LORD of all the earth” — and states:
“By this meant Aaron and the Messiah, and I do not know which
of them I should prefer. When it is written, ‘The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind: You are a priest for ever’, we know
that the Messiah-King is more agreeable than the Priest of
Righteousness.” [Avôth, Rabbi Nathan, chap. 34]
Right up to the Middle Ages the Rabbis continued this discussion. Rabbi
Shim .on the Preacher (ha-Darshan), who lived towards the end of the
12th century and collected together the Talmud’s old legends and
preaching, summarises the traditional understanding of the status of the
Messiah as follows:
“Rabbi Yodan says in Rabbi A. han Bar Haninan’s name that ‘The
Holy One will set the coming Messiah-King at his right hand and
Abraham at his left’; and so Abraham’s face will become white with
envy, and he will say, ‘The son of my son sits on your right and I
must sit on your left?’ Then the Holy One will appease him by
saying, ‘Your son is on your right and I am on your right.’ ”
[Yalqut Shimoni Ps. 110, Nedarim 32b and Sanhedrin 108b. The subject is also
touched upon in: David M. Hay, Glory at the Right Hand,
Psalm 110 in Early Christianity, New York 1973]
The Rabbis say in their discussions that, according to psalm 72:17, the
Messiah was granted this position before the creation.
It is remarkable that the idea of the Messiah’s special status also
comes to the fore in the Rabbis’ exposition of other psalms. Of these,
three are primarily worthy of mention: a) Psalm 16:11 says:
“You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with
joy on your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
The Midrash for psalm 45 constructs a bridge between the “fairest of the
sons of men” (Ps 45.2) and psalm 16, saying:
“Thus, those who believe in the Messiah will one day worship the
glory of the presence of God and will not be harmed (from having
looked upon him), as it is written: ‘You will fill me with joy in your
presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand’.”
b) Psalm 18:36 promises:
“You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains
The Midrash explains this Davidic hymn, saying that, it refers to the
“coming of the Messiah”, and adds:
“If deliverance were to come in one wave men would be unable to
stand such a great liberation, and so it will be accompanied by
great sufferings, which is why it will draw near gradually… like the
c) The third isolated reference to the status of the Messiah is found in
psalm 80, in the 18th verse of which the Rabbis perceive the Messianic
“Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of
man you have raised up for yourself.”
Verse 15 speaks of the “vine” which the “right hand” of God has planted.
Ibn Ezra explains this as being an analogy in which “that which is
compared concerns Israel and the Messiah, the son of Ephraim”. As
we have already seen, the idea of the suffering Messiah is often in Judaism
connected with this son of Joseph, Ephraim.
The words the “right hand” of God, the “sustaining of the right hand”, and
the “right hand man” are thus connected in some way with the Messiah,
and are to be taken in conjunction with psalm 110.
The last verse of psalm 2, “blessed are all who take refuge in him”, also
appears in psalm 18, another psalm containing the Messianic motif (v.30).
The word “Rock”, mentioned in v. 31 is understood in the Talmud,
when discussing Moses’ hymn in Deuteronomy ch. 32, to mean “the
Messiah, the Son of David” (Deut. 32:15; Sanhedrin 38a). This “refuge” in psalm 2
relates to the “son”, who is honoured by greeting him with a kiss.
Rabbi Tovia Singer, a polemicist against Christianity, applies the passage to King David. Does that not indirectly suggest that the passage is at least quasi-messianic, since Messiah is a figure of David? At any rate, learned Jewish commentators in the past have indeed applied the passage to the Messiah, and it seems to me that they would (for a Jew, or any person interested in this particular matter) carry at least as much authority as Rabbi Singer. It’s also strange to note that David wrote this Psalm, and states, “The LORD says to my lord” (RSV). David is writing about himself? If not, then who would David’s “lord” be — he being King of Israel?
An extensive online article about Psalm 110 (http://www.messianicart.com/chazak/ps110.htm) [no longer online] has dealt with some of Rabbi Singer’s accusations (at the above URL) that Christians have supposedly “tampered” with this text:
Quoting from the New American Standard Bible, he [R. Singer] claims there is a deliberate mistranslation in Psalm 110:1,”The Lord said to my Lord. . .”
He notes that the two “Lords” here look identical in this English translation, although in my online reading of this, it appears as,
“The LORD said to my Lord. . .”
Psalm 110:1, Online NASB
[Dave: my own hard copy reads this way too]
Assuming that Singer is reading from a different edition of the NASB, we’ll take his word at face value. Although, he asserts that the “Christian translator carefully masked what it says in the text of the actual Hebrew,” (emphasis mine), we will not be so quick to charge anyone with deceit here.
Singer is correct in his statement that the “LORD” and “Lord” are two different words in the Hebrew, and that the second “Lord” can, and is applied to humans in the TaNaKh. Here are some powerful words that Singer uses to describe the “Christian” translation of this verse:
1. Stunning and clever mistranslation
2. The Church tampered with it
3. Complete and delieberate mistranslation
6. Rampant Christian tampering
These are very serious charges. In my CD ROM version of the Soncino Talmud,
created by the Davka Corporation, the english translation of Nedarim 32b doesn’t
distinguish between the LORD and Lord of Psalm 110:1,
. . . [the priesthood] was given to Abraham, as it is written, The Lord said
unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy
footstool; which is followed by, The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent,
Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek, meaning,
because of the words of Melchizedek.
Nedarim 32b, Soncino Press Edition
Now, it is possible that the English translation of Nedarim is incorrect from the original language of this Talmudic reference, or even possible that when the text was being digitized, that someone made an error. However, according to Rabbi Singer’s logic, this english CD version of the Talmud, which was made by a Jewish Software company, was “altered, tampered, stunningly mistranslated, Christianized, carefully masked, appalling, deliberate mistranslation, doctored, manipulated, and altered.” It would seem that this conspiracy of the “rampant Christian tampering” has even influenced and infiltrated the Jewish community, or on the other hand, we could accept a much more probable possibility, that a mistake was made. A mistake and a “deliberate mistranslation” are two very different things, and we must be careful not to make incorrect accusations. It is one thing to call to attention a mistranslation, it is another to accuse of “deliberate tampering.”
There was admittedly some “tampering” that has occured, however. In the Massorah, there are one hundred and thirty-four places in the Hebrew text that Masoretic scribes changed YHVH, the Tetragrammaton, to Adonai! Singer sure is adamant about “Christian tampering,” but can he apply the same rules to himself, as he does his opponents? . . . An article from the TheRain.org notes,
“The official list given in the Massorah ( 107-15, Ginsburg’s edition) contains the 134.”
The article gives the locations where the Tetragrammaton is changed [listed at the URL above].
The writer goes on to cite many Jewish messianic interpretations of Psalm 110. He notes that Ibn Ezra regarded this “Lord” as David, and others thought him to be Abraham. But there were also those who thought he was King Messiah:
R. Yudan said in the name of R. Hama: In the time-to-come, when the Holy
One, blessed be He, seats the lord Messiah at His right hand, as is said The
Lord saith unto my lord: “Sit thou at My right hand” (Ps. 110:1), and seats
Abraham at His left, Abraham’s face will pale, and he will say to the Lord:
“My son’s son sits at the right, and I at the left!” Thereupon the Holy One,
blessed be He, will comfort Abraham, saying: “Thy son’s son is at My right,
but I, in a manner of speaking, am at thy right”: The Lord [is] at thy right hand
(Ps. 110:5).[Midrash on Psalms, translated by William G. Braude, Yale University Press Edition]
Genesis Rabbah seems to allude to the Messianic status of this passage,
AND HE SAID: WHAT PLEDGE SHALL I GIVE THEE? AND SHE SAID:
THY SIGNET AND THY CORD, AND THY STAFF THAT IS IN THY HAND
(Genesis XXXVIII, 18). R. Hunia said: A holy spirit was enkindled within her.
THY SIGNET alludes to royalty, as in the verse, Though Coniah the son of
Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet upon My right hand, etc. (Jer.
XXII, 24); AND THY CORD (PETHIL – EKA) alludes to the Sanhedrin, as in
the verse, And that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread (pethil)
of blue, etc. (Num. XV, 38)1 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.
[Genesis Rabbah 85:9, Soncino Press Edition]
Numbers Rabbah says,
[Aaron’s] staff was held in the hand of every king until the Temple was
destroyed, and then it was [divinely] hidden away. 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).
[Numbers Rabbah 28:23, Soncino Press Edition]
Other references cited in The Messiah Texts, an awesome book by Raphael Patai,
[God says:] “Ephraim, My firstborn, you sit on My right untul I subdue the
army of the hosts of God and Magog, your enemies, under your footstool . .
Mid. Alpha Betot, 2:438-425
” . . .the Holy One, blessed be He, will fight for Israel and will say to the
Messiah : “Sit at my right.” And the Messiah will say to Israel:”Gather
together and stand and see the salvation of the Lord.” And instantly the Holy
One, blessed be He, will go forth and fight against them . . .May that time
and that period be near!”
T’fillat R. Shim’on ben Yochai, BhM 4:124-266
It should be noted, however, that the various interpretations in Rabbinic literature,especially in the Midrashim, are allegorical, and do not necessarily mean that Psalm 110 literally refers to the Messiah.
When did David sit at God’s right hand? How can David be a ‘priest forever in the order of Malki-Tzaddik’ if David is dead? Could it refer to a resurrected David? Regardless, even if it were to refer to David, it would then automatically refer to the Messiah, as Messiah will be just like David. David is a prophetic prototype of Mashiach.
Furthermore, in light of Rabbi Singer’s free-and-easy accusation of Christian tampering with Psalm 110, I thought I would check out some of my many Old Testament versions to see if I could find evidence of this. Here are the results:
“The LORD said to my Lord” (or similar: LORD/Lord): RSV, NASB, NAB, NIV, NRSV, KJV, NKJV, CEV, Goodspeed
“The Lord said to my Lord” Douay-Rheims, Confraternity (but these versions seem to never use the form “LORD”)
“To the Master I serve the Lord’s promise was given” Knox’s Revised Vulgate
“This is the LORD’s oracle to my lord” REB
“Jehovah saith unto my Lord” ASV
“The Lord (God) says to my Lord” Amplified
This oracle has the Eternal for my lord” Moffatt
Out of sixteen non-Jewish Bible versions, then, only two have the “Lord” / “Lord” translation which so concerns Rabbi Singer (and those seem – with a cursory examination – to not use “LORD” at all). Those which have something different than “LORD/Lord” make a clear differentiation of the two subjects.
So it appears that Rabbi Singer’s “Christian Bible-Twisting of Psalm 110” conspiracy (is this somewhat akin to the Jewish banker’s conspiracy?) is in rather poor shape these days, having no adherents whatever (that I can find, anyway), among modern translators (or even those way back in 1611). Even R. Singer’s alleged example of the NASB was embarrassingly mistaken, on his part (it’s not in my NASB, nor the online one). And note that neither I nor the writer I cite accuse him of deliberate dishonesty, as he freely does concerning Christian translators or self-described “messianic Jews” with their supposed underhanded methods, etc. He is simply wrong.