The New Testament's Use of the Old Testament: The Psalms and Christ

I don’t claim to be a logician, but I do know at least one basic syllogism, it goes as follows: 

If:            A = B

And:       B=C        

Then:      A=C

With this in mind, consider the following passages of scripture:

1 Peter 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

Acts 2:29-31 "Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.

Let’s apply our rudimentary logic to these passages and see what we discover…

 If:            The prophets, speaking by the spirit of Christ, predicted the sufferings of Christ.

And:       David was a prophet.

Then:      David, as a prophet, spoke by the spirit of Christ AND spoke of Christ!

David, in 2 Samuel 23:1-2 is called the “the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel”.  In this passage David claims:  "The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me; his word is on my tongue.”  Where do we find the “prophetic words of David?”  The Psalms!  The LORD Jesus confirms this in Luke 24 when, speaking to the disciples on the road to Emmaeus, He states: “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."  Reading the New Testament carefully, reveals that this is precisely how the inspired writers of the New Testament viewed the Psalter!  James Adams, in his wonderful book:  The War Psalms of the Prince of Peace[1],  notes that of the approximately 283 direct quotes taken from the Old Testament that are found in the New Testaments, 116 are taken from the Psalms – over 41%![2]  Consider just a handful of examples that specifically demonstrate that the New Testament writers understood the Psalms to prophetically reveal Christ:

Example #1 (Peter in Acts 29-32):

The majority of this passage is already copied above.  If we continue to read verse 32, we find:  “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.”  Preaching on the day of Pentecost, Peter stands before the Jewish people and quotes David in Psalm 16 as speaking of the resurrection of Christ.  

Example #2 (The Lord Jesus Christ)

Jesus, as a Jew, not only sang from the Psalter, he directly quoted from it as though the words of the Psalter were His own.  Consider this sampling:

  1. In Mark 7:23 Jesus quotes from Psalm 6:8:  “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me you evildoers.’”
  2. In John 15:25 Jesus applies the words of Psalms 35:19 and 69:4 as referring to Himself:  “They hated me without reason”.
  3. On the cross, Jesus cries:  “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”.  [Luke 23:46 quoting from Psalm 31:5].
  4.  His final word(s) of triumph: tetelestai (it is finished!) found in John 19:30 quote Psalm 22:31].

Example #3 (The writer of Hebrews)

The writer of Hebrews freely applies the Psalms to Christ.  In the first chapter alone, the following passages are cited as referring to Christ:  Psalms 2:7; 45:6-7; 89:26-27; 97:7; 102:25-27; 104:4; 110:1.  In Chapter 5, verse 6, Psalm 110:4 is allied to Christ:  “You are priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

Example #4 (Paul)

When demonstrating that the work of Christ fulfills the promises given to the patriarchs, Paul quotes  Psalm 117:1 as the praise God deserves as the result of the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3:  “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen 12:1 ESV)  Christ is the descendant of Abraham and because of his work, salvation has come to the Gentiles, they are “blessed”!  Hence they are called to bring praise to God:  “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”

Following the lead of the inspired New Testament writers should certainly lead us to 1) find Christ in the Psalms and 2) recognize that God has given us fitting words of praise that reveal the beauty, majesty and person of the LORD Jesus Christ in the Psalms.  “From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him.” (Psalm 22:25 ESV)  We are hard pressed to find a better place to sing of Christ, than the Psalms!  

[1] I am indebted to Dr. Adams for this wonderful book.  The reader should know that this brief article is heavily influenced by his work.

[2] This doesn’t include the long list of New Testament allusions to the Psalms found in the appendix to the Fourth Revised Edition of the UBS Greek New Testament!

Martin B. Blocki has served since 2003 as the Associate Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North Hills in Pittsburgh, PA since 2002.  He is a counselor at the Biblical Counseling Institute in Pittsburgh.  Rev. Blocki graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington (BME), Arizona State University (MM), and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological  Seminary (MDiv).  Martin and his wife, Kathy, have two married sons, one daughter, and 2 grand children.

Martin Blocki