From:  A Torah Commentary on First  Corinthians 15                    Return to Home

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2012



[Page 64]




Chapter 3:

Explicit Quotations:  Psalms 8:6










Psalms 8:6 as prophetic of

the Messiah’s reign



In vindication of his assertion that “all things” are now subject to the authority of Jesus (except the Father Himself), Paul appeals to the Old Testament statement, “He has put all things under His feet” (Psalms 8:6; 8:7 in the LXX, Paul quoting the LXX with small modifications.[1])  Although the quoted text is referring to “all things” being under His control, the frame of reference of the original text is not as broad as in 1 Corinthians 15.  In its Psalms setting it specifically refers to the non-human component of creation alone,[2]


(3)  When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained, (4) what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?  (5)  For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and you have crowned him with glory and honor.  (6) You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, (7) all sheep and oxen—even the beasts of the field, (8) the birds of the air, and the fish of the seas.  (9)  O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth!    



            The two interpretive approaches to make this text apply to Jesus.  Why would the individual Christ be used as the fulfillment/culmination of a pledge to the human species?  David Peterson argues from Hebrews 2:5-9 that in the “world to come” Jesus sits in that position of superiorship depicted for the human race in Psalms 8.[3]  Hence, in [Page 65]    effect, an argument from analogy:  Jesus plays the role that humanity had in the past.      

Sang-won (Aaron) Son seems to imply a different approach, that the language of Psalms 8 was originally a description of Adam; it is applicable to humankind because they are his descendents.  Since Paul describes Jesus as the second/final Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45), then the language originally meant of the first man is properly applicable to the savior of man, the second Adam.  Indeed, to carry it a step further, just as uniquely as it applied to the first Adam.[4]   Martin C. Albl--who also doesn’t develop this scenario though his language prepares one for it--speaks of “the Adam-Christ interpretation of Psalms 8.”[5]

One can see how either or both of these approaches might be in Paul’s mind.  Since Paul presents Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15 as the “last Adam,” He also would be expected to conceptually enjoy similar authority over creation.  But the authority over creation continued to the following generations; it was part of mankind’s birthright.  Hence one could see the Messiah pictured as the embodiment of what a perfected humanity would be like as well, having everything in subjection that is “lesser.”   Furthermore nothing is said in the Psalm to indicate that the author specifically has in mind the Adam of Genesis rather than the “adam” of the human species.  Written many centuries later, to ask “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit Him,” 8:4 most naturally makes one think that then contemporary mankind is under consideration rather than its ancient ancestor.      


            How the “second/last Adam” concept used by Paul could have been developed out of this passage.  Douglas J. Green makes the intriguing case that the text was originally a royal psalm honoring King David, making a Christocentric or eschatological application eventually near inevitable.[6]  He makes the quite telling point that describing humans in general (verse 4) as divinely placed to rule the animal world sounds logical to us, but to the ancient Israelite it would have been a jarring concept to concede that Gentiles shared in such an honor. 

He notes that the Hebrew adam was used to describe the creations of humans plural (Genesis 1:26, 27) as well as individually (Genesis 2:7).  The “son of man” in Psalms 8:4 is also described with the Hebrew adam.

The ruler on Mount Zion is described as God’s “son” (Psalms 2:6-7).  The reverse is found in Psalms 89:26-27, a person explicitly labeled the “king” addresses God as “My Father.”  Hence the concept of the king as, in some sense, God’s son and ruling over the people could be interlocked with this chapter.  In 8:6 the person(s) addressed are spoken of as having “dominion”—regal language.  In 8:1 the “psalm of David:”  the last two words can mean “of,” “belonging to,” “about.”  Finally, having dominion over the animal world could equate to ruling over hostile powers that acted like wild animals, trying to harm Israel.

Putting all these scattered pieces together Green argues that the psalm is “about” David in his role of God’s “son” ruling the animal world of rebellious subjects (and foes?) and that in that role he, effectively, becomes a second Adam.  Hence he sees here an early form of a second Adam doctrine that becomes a precedent for that of Paul. 

I must admit that this array of data is quite impressive.  The problem is that the chapter never puts the pieces together to form the picture that he presents as the final [Page 66]    result of the pieces.  It is not a pattern that one normally would deduce from the text.  The text sounds in every way like a description of the human species triumphant over the environment. 

In contrast, when Paul wants to develop a second Adam doctrine in 1 Corinthians, he leaves us in no doubt of what he is doing.  Perhaps lengthy meditation upon the very pieces of Psalms 8 that Green mentions led him to do it—though the cynic in me must wonder whether even then it would have occurred without some type of Divine guidance.        


            Jewish use of the text.  There are some references in Jewish apocalyptic literature that may allude to Psalms 8 in a messianic sense but rabbinic literature does not.[7]  Hence, in this use of the chapter, Christianity introduced its own distinctive addition to the traditionally considered messianic texts.  On the other hand, if Jewish apocalyptic was already playing with the concept, was it all that much of an innovation bringing it into other forms of literature?  It simply insisted upon a more literalistic and earth bound application of language that was being applied in speculative discussion. 

Furthermore, its presence here might well argue that our problem is with an unpleasantly limited array of first-early second century rabbinic texts to work from.  It would not be impossible, but it would certainly be improbable, that apocalyptic took the usage and it never significantly entered “mainstream” rabbinic discussion.  

            As is so often the case in scholarly matters, others argue the evidence is actually stronger for a traditionalist Jewish acceptance of the text in messianic terms than the above summary indicates.  M. S. Kinzer, in a 1995 dissertation, “through an analysis of rabbinic, pseudepigraphic, Samaritan, and Gnostic texts, attempts to show that Psalm 8 was already understood in many first-century Jewish circles to speak of an individual (e.g., Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses) and his exaltation above the angels.”[8] 

If his analysis is sound, then a variety of Jewish sources—not a mere isolated case here and there--were already creating the image of a “greater than mere man” figure on the basis of this text.  Furthermore, M. Hengel argues that both Psalms 110 and 8 were sung in Jerusalem as messianic texts and considered references to the same coming individual.[9]  That argues for significant messianic interpretation in rabbinic and other religious leadership classes.


Why Christians would see an obvious application to Jesus in the Psalm.  Whether pioneered by (primarily) Christian sources or not, we can easily understand why the latter would have regarded the use of the passage as quite appealing:  “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him” (8:4). 

To begin with, we have the repeated use of that expression by Jesus as a self-description--Matthew 16:13:  “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”  The linguistic (and presumably prophetic) tie-in with the Old Testament could hardly have been missed as Christians re-read those writings in light of their Messiah, especially when (like the Psalms) the term is linked to having authority.  That connection is also made in Jesus’ personal application of the term as well, providing an enhanced reason to consider such references as significant:

The authority to forgive sin:  “ ‘That you may know that the Son of Man has power to earth to forgive sins’—then He said to the paralytic, ‘Arise take up your bed, and go to your house’ ” (Matthew 9:6); “The Son of Man has come to save that which [Page 67]    was lost” (Matthew 18:11).

Authority over angels:  “The Son of Man will send out His angels” (Matthew 13:41); “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels” (16:27).

Authority as ruler/king:  “They [will] see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:28); “When the Son of man sits on the throne of His glory” (Matthew 19:28); “Will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (24:30); “When the Son of Man . . . will sit on the throne of His glory” (25:31).

            Authority over religious observance:  “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8)           

            Authority over death:  “The Son of Man [will] be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40); “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead” (Matthew 17:9).  

            Hearing/reading of the authority this son of Galilee had, they would also have come across Jesus’ claim to have been the son prophesied by Scripture:  “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! (Matthew 26:24).

Believing this, how would they have interpreted the “son of Man” in Psalms 8 who has authority over all created non-humans (8:7-8), but as the same person?  He had not only claimed even greater authority (over humans rather than just “nature”) but had demonstrated it through His supernatural actions and resurrection. 


            Encouragement for a triumphant messianic king from other Psalms texts.  We have approached the OT linkage made by the disciples as beginning with Jesus’ life and then their reading such passages in light of what He had accomplished.  It could also work in the opposite direction—having first discovered texts that fit Him so well, they would naturally continue to look for others.  This approach would have been reinforced each time they discovered, or were reminded of, another that could also be applied in that manner.  Hence we likely have a situation of “fulfillment reinforcing prophecy” and vice versa.  It is not likely that the process moved in only one direction.

The subjugation of disobedient human society—in contrast to the “animal world”  under consideration in Psalms 8—would, at least in part, likely be derived from taking the ideal king as pictured in places like Psalms 18 and reasoning that if this were true of a mere temporal king it, would be even more so of the Messianic one. 

“You have armed me with strength for the battle; You have subdued under me those who rose up against me” (18:39), the Psalmist recalls with joy. Then later in the same chapter, “It is God who avenges me, and subdues the peoples under me; He delivers me from my enemies.  You also lift me up above those who rise against me; You have delivered me from the violent man” (18:47-48.  Interestingly, the very next verse, verse 49, is quoted by Paul as applying to his own age [Romans 15:9], indicating his willingness to apply at least part of this section of the chapter in a Messianic sense.)  When once found in one place, Christians were hardly likely to stop looking for further cases where the language is germane and appropriate when applied to Jesus. 


            The problem for Totally Fulfilled Prophecy.    Strangely enough, Paul’s use of [Page 68]    this passage represents a direct challenge to the interpretive prism through which TPS advocates insist that prophecy in this chapter must be interpreted.  They contend—vigorously—that since Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14 are referring to what happens to a nation / group that we must find a fulfillment in what happens to a collectivity as well and point to the church as the group that gets resurrected. 

Of course the church is not a nation as are the “bodies” referred to in Isaiah 25 and Hosea 13 and it is composed of both Jew and Gentile while the Jewish nation was composed of only one of these.  On both scores, a full parallel does not exist so the demand for a full one is passed over and the partial one of the church is offered in its place.  That is not the best of signs of the strength of an interpretive approach that wishes to take a text in a previously unused (or little used) direction.  Not necessarily a devastating one, but it certainly raises a “red flag” of caution. 

Of course the church can be considered the “true Israel” (Paul in Romans 9:6, for example) and that permits one to make a parallelism of a sort, but if one is going to insist group prophecy must manifest in a group fulfillment, then the desirable group is one that as exactly as possible duplicates the original. 

Especially when one insists that the prophecy of a group can never be used to apply to what happens to individuals.  To be adamant on that but not on a near match in groups seems rather self-serving, changing what is acceptable interpretation to match one’s special interpretive needs.  Of course if Isaiah 25 and Hosea 13 had been described as the faithful remnant of Israel then there might be something to work with in erecting a parallel with the first century “faithful remnant (of both Jews and Gentiles)” who served God in the church.  But the texts don’t provide us with that option.

            Hence Psalms 8:6 gives every appearance of being a death blow upon the necessity of a group interpretation.  It takes a text clearly written of the entire human race and insists that its ultimate intended fulfillment was through what happened to one specific human being, Jesus of Nazareth.  Group references have to be fulfilled in groups so why not here?

            I suppose one can argue that the human race isn’t a “group,” that it is a collection of individuals short of that.  But most folk would look upon humanity as the biggest group of them all—the entire human race.

            If Paul could—and did—apply a text written of the biggest group possible to an individual, would we expect him to hesitate for one second to apply “group” passages to individuals when the language accurately fits what happens to them?  Hence one should judge the application to be what Paul presents it as.  Since he wrote as if of their individual resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, we should then interpret the OT texts he introduces in such a manner rather than claiming that the original context rules out such a use.  That seems a far more responsible and prudent policy than forcing those references into a “collectivity” framework simply because that was what the original passages involved. 





[Page 69]   [1] For a discussion, see Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, “1 Corinthians,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, edited by G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Academic, 2007), 745.  Joseph L. Kreitzer, Jesus and God in Paul’s Eschatology, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 19 (Sheffield, England:  JSOT Press, 1987), 149, counts five changes.


[2] Constable, 174, and Gordon Lyons, 192.


[3] David Peterson, Hebrews and Perfection:  An Examination of the Concept of Perfection in the “Epistle to the Hebrews,” in the Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 47 (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1982), 52-53.


[4] Sang-won (Aaron) Son, Corporate Elements in Pauline Anthropology:  A Study of Selected Terms, Idioms and Concepts in the Light of Paul’s Usage and Background (Rome:  Editrice Pontifico Instituto Biblico, 2001), 47.


[5] Martin C. Albl, “And Scripture Cannot be Broken:”  The Form & Function of the Early Christian Testimonia Collections,” (Leiden:  Brill, 1999), 228.


[6] Douglas J. Green, Psalms 8:  What Is Israel’s King that You Remember Him?  Westminster Theological Seminary:  Resources.  At: resources/articles/green.html.  [August 2010.]


[7] Citing Michel, David Peterson, Hebrews and Perfection, 52.  Similarly, Ben Witherington III insists “there is little or no evidence that Psalms 8 was ever read messianically before or during this period in early Judaism” (Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians:  A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Hebrews, James and Jude [Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 2007], 141.


[8] Aquila H. I. Lee, From Messiah to Preexistent Son (Tubingen, Germany:  Mohr Siebeck, 2005, n. 52, 216.


[9] Cited by Ibid., Page 217.