Jesus didn’t read his Bible like we do–(from The Bible Tells Me So)

Jesus didn’t read his Bible like we do–(from The Bible Tells Me So) September 5, 2014


We see here Jesus handling Psalm 110* in a very ancient, creative way. We might think he is “misreading” the first line of Psalm 110—and from the point of view of the writer of the psalm he is, since Psalm 110 doesn’t say what Jesus says it says. But in Jesus’s day, such creative handling of the psalm to draw out a deeper meaning is perfectly fine.

What would have turned heads is Jesus’s claim that this psalm has something to say about him: he is David’s descendent and David’s Lord.

On it’s own, and on the surface, the psalm doesn’t say this. But when Jesus gets a hold of it, it does. 

Getting on board with Jesus’ interpretations of the Bible can feel like waking up from suspended animation in the year 2525 and onto a whole new landscape—especially if we start out assuming that Jesus reads his Bible like we do. But that’s a bad assumption, and the bottom line for us is twofold.

(1) The way Jesus used the Bible, as unusual as it is for us, was understood and accepted back then. The large crowd that heard Jesus talk about Psalm 110 listened “with delight” as Mark tells us. Jesus’s creative handling of this psalm is at home in first century Judaism.

(2) Jesus tended to focus his interpretation of the Bible on himself personally or what he was teaching. Drawing attention to himself as David’s “lord” was not at home in first century Judaism.

Christian readers today, who expect Jesus to read the Bible the way they do, have a lot of trouble getting on board with #1. But #2 is what got him into trouble with some influential Jewish authorities of his day.

That’s Jesus for you. Making people across time upset with him.

[*Psalm 110 begins The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” In its ancient Israelite context, the psalmist is speaking the first part and simply announcing what God is saying to his (the psalmist’s) king, either David or a king in David’s line, hence: The Lord (God) says to my lord (David/descendent) followed by what God says to this king (the quoted portion). But Jesus reads the psalm differently. He takes the beginning of the psalm as coming from David himself (not the psalmist writing about David). So now you have David referring to one of his descendants as “my lord,” and so Psalm 110 in Jesus’s hands becomes a prooftext “prediction” about Jesus.]

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, pp. 176-77


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  • Anthony Le Donne

    Pete, I think you are quite right that Jesus read his Bible differently than I do. Indeed Paul, Matthew, John, etc. all use the Hebrew Bible in ways that wouldn’t be acceptable in my classroom. So to your primary point, I agree. But I have a more exegetical question related to Mark 12:35-37. It isn’t clear to me that Jesus is referring to himself in this saying. Could he have been referring to a popular misnomer concerning “the messiah”? I.e. could he have been speaking generally about “the messiah” for the sole purpose of making the scribes look bad? I’m asking because this passage is among the most vexing in the NT, not because I have the right answer.

    • peteenns

      Thanks, Anthony. And yes, to be sure. I know you appreciate, though, how at each biblical reference, if I tried to unpack all the possibilities, it would cease being an popular book and the larger point would have been lost. (And, FYI, the Jesus chapter was the hardest to write for this very reason!! I don’t envy your job description.)

      • Anthony Le Donne

        Agreed. Of course, blogs are a good place to hash these things out when the point of dispute is a popular book. On that note, I will happily grant that the most standard reading of Mark 12:35-37 is that Jesus was indeed attempting to say something about his own job description.

        • peteenns

          I am hoping that my book may help people see the benefit of these deeper conversations, too, Anthony. Thanks for the comment, bra.

        • MattB

          Hello Dr. Le Donne,

          I have a question regarding Mark 12:35-37. Why is Jesus objecting to the belief that the Messiah will be the son of David?

          • justme

            Simply wanted to stress that while the Messiah would come from the line of David He would be fully God born of God not man. Simply stressing the eternal divine nature of the Messiah that he was not a true descendant the way men think of it as He had always existed as God and been worshiped by David not a new creature from David directly.

          • MattB

            He would come from God, but Jews didn’t expect the Messiah to be God. However, Jesus is God and so he came in a way that Jews weren’t expecting

          • Nash


            That’s kind of nonsensical. The fact is that there is nothing in the Psalm or its interpretation in the New Testament that would lead to the idea that it was referring to a divine messiah, let alone a Trinity.

            Either use of this passage, whether the first Lord is YHWH or David, Jesus is identified with the second lord in the passage, who is human, a descendant of David. That’s the bible. But the frequent use of this passage in the NT has to be twisted to harmonize with doctrines created hundreds of years later.

  • Billy North


    I am looking forward to reading your book.

    I am very interested in Jewish midrash. Is it possible Jesus was applying this hermeneutic interpreting OT texts as well as the Gospel writers?


    • peteenns

      Sure, I mean, as hard as it is to separate those two and look at them in isolation. But if we take Jesus’s Jewishness seriously, we should expect it.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “Jesus’s creative handling of this psalm is at home in first century Judaism.”

    What? So the “Jews” weren’t just a bunch of no-fun legalists who didn’t want neighbors to love each other and would throw you out of town if you drank the milk from your cereal straight out of the bowl? Sheeezzz, there goes my theology!

    • peteenns

      It’s what I do.

  • Mark K

    Didn’t think you were old enough to know >In the Year 2525.< Still one of my favorites. 🙂

    • peteenns

      Glad people are catching these things 🙂

  • Steve03

    “Not to ask ‘What do they mean now?’ is to refuse to deal with the fundamental intention of the texts, which were certainly written to inform, inspire, challenge, and convict. Not to ask ‘What did they mean then?’ is to run the risk that the answer to the former question will be fantasy.” (U. Of the South School of Theology Course Catalog 1995-96, quoted by Ralph Martin Novak, Christians and the Roman Empire: Background Texts, 2001)

  • Why is it assumed here that the “psalmist” is NOT David?

  • James

    In the context of surrounding psalms, Psalm 110 stands out as unique, it seems to me. I’m sure there were debates in Second Temple Judaism as to its precise meaning. As you point out, the creative spin of Jesus came to receptive members of his audience as a breath of fresh air. So, seeing Jesus in scriptures is how we should read the Bible too. Still, we find it hard to focus our hermeneutical lens on all the levels of story we find in the Grand Story. Thanks helping us.

  • Hi Peter, I saw your piece at the Huffington Post today. Here is my response:

    Perhaps you’d like to answer my questions?