Reading through contemporary commentaries on Scripture, it is not uncommon to find claims that Jesus does not actually claim to be God in the New Testament, and that Church teachings asserting his divinity and equality with God the Father are therefore later ‘developments’ (read: fabrications).
If you actually read Scripture correctly, though, you will quickly discover that Our Lord asserted his divinity on many occasions, with reactions varying from stunned silence (Mt 22:42-46) to attempts to stone him for blasphemy (Jn 8:58-9), and ultimately to his crucifixion (Mt 26:63-65).
And the first verse of Psalm 109 is one of the key Scriptural texts that he cites to support his claim, and so today I want to take a look at that verse in a bit of detail.
First let’s look at the text of the verse itself.
Looking at the Latin
Here is the Latin of the verse, along with the Douay-Rheims translation:
Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Sede a dextris meis,
The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand
Let’s look at the Latin.
An oracular statement
Dixit (3rd person indicative perfect of dicere, to say: he said) Dóminus (nominative of Dominus: lord)
Dixit Dominus = the Lord said
It is worth noting that in the Hebrew of the Masoretic Text, the phrase has the connotation of someone announcing a solemn prophecy. The sense is something like ‘The lord uttered an oracle’.
The term ‘Lord’
Dómino (dative of Dominus: to the Lord) meo (dative of my, agreeing with Dominus)
Domino meo = to my Lord
In both the Septuagint Greek (viz kurios) and the Latin Vulgate (dominus) the same word for Lord is the same in both this phrase and the one above. In fact the Catechism (CCC446-7) notes that:
“In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the ineffable Hebrew name YHWH, by which God revealed himself to Moses, is rendered as Kyrios, "Lord". From then on, "Lord" becomes the more usual name by which to indicate the divinity of Israel's God. The New Testament uses this full sense of the title "Lord" both for the Father and - what is new - for Jesus, who is thereby recognized as God Himself. Jesus ascribes this title to himself in a veiled way when he disputes with the Pharisees about the meaning of Psalm 110 , but also in an explicit way when he addresses his apostles…”
In the Masoretic Text, however, two different words are used (yehovah and adonai). Though both words are used to mean God in the Old Testament, the second terms can also mean just the head of a household or similar position, so perhaps implies that God is talking to someone of slightly lesser status. Was this a change from the original text made to counter Our Lord’s use of it perhaps?
It can however be given an orthodox interpretation, as St Alphonsus Liguori points out:
“Jehova is a name that belongs to God only ; it signifies HE WHO is. The Hebrews through reverence did not pronounce the name of God. Adoni… means: To my Lord; the name that is applied to the Messias, not only as God, but also as man; and it is for this reason that David uses it here; for if he had designated Jesus Christ by the name of Jehova, he would have been understood as speaking of him as God only, and not as man.”
The right hand of God
Sede (imperative singular of sedere, to sit) a (a, ab, preposition meaning by, taking the ablative case) dextris (ablative pl of dexter, right hand) meis (ablative of my)
Sede a dextris meis = sit by my right
The right hand place is of course the place of honour, denoting power. Pope Benedict XVI’s commentary on this psalm notes that:
“God himself enthrones the king in glory, seating him at his right, a sign of very great honour and of absolute privilege. The king is thus admitted to sharing in the divine kingship, of which he is mediator to the people.”
The Catechism (CCC659) also points out that this is a reference to the Ascension and Resurrection:
"So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God."…Jesus' final apparition ends with the irreversible entry of his humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and by heaven, where he is seated from that time forward at God's right hand…”
Translating the verse as a whole
The Monastic Diurnal translates the verse as: "The Lord said to my Lord: Sit Thou at My right hand". The standard translations admit of only minor variations, with Coverdale for example making it “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand”
a, ab (governing the ablative) from, by
dico, dixi, dictum, ere 3, to say, speak; to sing; in the sense of to think, plan, desire; to praise.
dominus, i, m. a master, lord, ruler, owner, possessor
meus – a –um my, mine
sedeo, sedi, sessum, ere 2, to sit; dwell, hold converse with, consult; to sit on a throne, to rule, reign
dexter, tera, terum; the right hand.
Dixit Dominus in Scripture
As the synoptic Gospels all make clear, I think, that Jewish tradition at the time of Our Lord did interpret this psalm as referring to the Messiah: the synoptic Gospels all tell the story of Jesus citing it in this context to the Pharisees to refute their ideas about who the Christ was and to assert his divinity:
“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, "What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?" They said to him, "The son of David." He said to them, "How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, `The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet'? If David thus calls him Lord, how is he his son?" And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did any one dare to ask him any more questions (Mt 22:42-46)”
And that this claim constituted a claim to divinity is made crystal clear at his trial, as recorded in St Matthew 26:63 – 65:
“And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy.
The verse has numerous other mentions in the New Testament,including Mk 12:36, 14:62, 16:19; Lk 20:42; Acts 2:34-35; Rom 8:34; Heb 1:13; and 1 Pet 3:22.
The two natures of Christ
Finally, it is worth noting that St Augustine sees the verse as attesting to both Our Lord’s divinity and humanity:
“…If it be said to us, Is Christ the Son of David, or not? if we reply, No, we contradict the Gospel for the Gospel of St. Matthew thus begins, The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David. Matthew 1:1 The Evangelist declares, that he is writing the book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David. The Jews, then, when questioned by Christ, whose Son they believed Christ to be, rightly answered, the Son of David. The Gospel agrees with their answer. Not only the suspicion of the Jews, but the faith of Christians does declare this....
If then David in the spirit called Him Lord, how is He his son? The Jews were silent at this question: they found no further reply: yet they did not seek Him as the Lord, for they did not acknowledge Him to be Himself that Son of David. But let us, brethren, both believe and declare: for, with the heart we believe unto righteousness: but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation; Romans 10:10 let us believe, I say, and let us declare both the Son of David, and the Lord of David. Let us not be ashamed of the Son of David, lest we find the Lord of David angry with us....
We know that Christ sits at the right hand of the Father, since His resurrection from the dead, and ascent into heaven. It is already done: we saw not it, but we have believed it: we have read it in the Scripture, have heard it preached, and hold it by faith. So that by the very circumstance that Christ was David's Son, He became His Lord also. For That which was born of the seed of David was so honoured, that It was also the Lord of David.
You wonder at this, as if the same did not happen in human affairs. For if it should happen, that the son of any private person be made a king, will he not be his father's lord? What is yet more wonderful may happen, not only that the son of a private person, by being made a king, may become his father's lord; but that the son of a layman, by being made a Bishop, may become his father's father. So that in this very circumstance, that Christ took upon Him the flesh, that He died in the flesh, that He rose again in the same flesh, that in the same He ascended into Heaven, and sits on the right hand of His Father, in this same flesh so honoured, so brightened, so changed into a heavenly garb, He is both David's Son, and David's Lord....Christ, therefore, sits at the right hand of God, the Son is on the right hand of the Father, hidden from us. Let us believe.”
Psalm 109 (110)
Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Sede a dextris meis
Donec ponam inimicos tuos scabellum pedum tuorum.
Virgam virtutis tuæ emittet Dominus ex Sion : dominare in medio inimicorum tuorum
Tecum principium in die virtutis tuæ in splendoribus sanctorum: ex utero, ante luciferum, genui te.
Juravit Dominus, et non pœnitebit eum : Tu es sacerdos in æternum secundum ordinem Melchisedech.
Dominus a dextris tuis; confregit in die iræ suæ reges.
Judicabit in nationibus, implebit ruinas; conquassabit capita in terra multorum.
De torrente in via bibet; propterea exaltabit caput.
You can find the next post in this series here.