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Jesus remarked that “the Scripture cannot be broken”
and that not a “jot or tittle” would pass from the sacred text until all is
fulfilled — brought to its final intended completion. Psalm 110:1 is an inspired
oracle, a divine utterance of supreme importance. It is alluded to some
23 times in the New Testament and is massively significant. Not only
does it provide a short encapsulation of God’s great immortality
it designates the two principal figures of the divine drama: Firstly, the LORD (Yahweh), the One God of Israel. Secondly, “my lord,” in this case David’s lord, who is seen by divine prophecy sitting at the right hand of God in heaven, pending his return to this earth to inaugurate his worldwide Messianic government on earth, the Kingdom of God.
After a prolonged examination of the Hebrew word translated as “my lord” I wrote to a number of leading New Testament scholars to verify what seemed to be clear conclusions. Professor Larry Hurtado is the celebrated author of a classic on Christology, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism. I asked him about the validity of my conviction that the original Hebrew text of Psalm 110:1 makes a clear-cut category distinction between the One God and the Lord Messiah. That critically important difference designates the Messiah not as a second God beside the Father, but as the supremely exalted human being. The professor agreed that the second lord of Psalm 110:1 is not God but a human being. “There is no question but that the terms ADONAI [Lord] and adoni [my lord] function differently. The one [Adonai] is a reverent way of avoiding pronouncing the word YHVH, and the other [adoni] the use of the same word for non-divine figures” (correspondence, June 24th, 2000, emphasis mine).
Hard Facts on the Title for Christ in Psalm 110:1
Let me lay out for you the lexical facts from the standard lexicon of
biblical Hebrew. (My explanation for those who do not read Hebrew is in square
brackets. See further our Who Is Jesus? booklet.) From the entry
“Lord” in Whittaker Revised Brown Driver Briggs, the standard lexicon of biblical Hebrew used by all scholars, and in software. (Strong’s will not show you this distinction.)
[Adoni, Ps. 110:1, ‘The LORD (Yahweh) says to my lord (adoni)…” pronounced “adonee” = my lord, never a divine title]
“B147 !Ada’ n.m. lord [ADON]
1. singular, lord, master
(1) ref. to men: (a) superintendent of household, or of affairs; (b) master; (c) king; (2) ref. to God, hwhy !Ada’h’ [Ha Adon Yahweh], the LORD Yahweh (see hwhy).
2. plural, lords, kings; masters; elsewhere intensive plural of rank, lord, master,
(1) ref. to men: (a) proprietor of hill Samaria; (b) master (c) husband (d) prophet (e) governor (f) prince (g) king. (2) ref. to God; ~ynIdoa]h’ ynEdoa] Lord of lords [Adoney Ha Adonim].
3. with suffix. 1st singular [ADONI, my lord] ynIdoa] (yn:doa]) [plural of adoni] [Ps. 110:1] [ADONI, 195 times in OT]
(1) ref. to men: my lord, my master (a) master (Cov’t code) (b) husband (c) prophet (d) prince (e) king (f) father (g) Moses (h) priest (i) theophanic angel (j) captain (k) general recognition of superiority. (2) ref. to God: yn"ïdoa]] [ADONAY, 449 times] a. my Lord; b. Adonay noun, plural, of God, parallel with Yahweh, substituted for it often by scribal error, and eventually supplanting it.”
More on adoni (“my lord,” wrongly capitalized in Ps. 110:1 in many versions, but not RSV, NRSV, NEB, JPS, etc.)
Adoni (“adonee”) is the Messianic title par excellence for Jesus as the Lord Messiah (Luke 2:11).
Luke also calls Jesus the Lord’s Messiah (Yahweh’s Messiah) in Luke 2:26. Elizabeth was visited by Mary, the mother of “my lord” (Luke 1:43), a clear echo of Psalm 110:1.
Astonishingly, the facts about the Hebrew word behind “my lord” in Psalm 110:1 have not infrequently been misstated in commentaries and books. When authors have had this pointed out to them, they have agreed to make a correction in subsequent printings. A professor at Dallas Theological Seminary kindly agreed to change the misinformation in their Seminary Bible Commentary which reported wrongly the second lord of Psalm 110:1 as ADONAI! Adonai means the Lord God in all of its 449 occurrences in the OT. But it does not occur in Psalm 110:1. The word there is ADONI.
Religious studies professor Paula Fredriksen of Boston University wrote: “Thank you for this note [pointing out the error in reference to Adonai in Psalm 110:1]. I have just grabbed my Tanach: You are absolutely right. I made a mistake. I am terribly grateful to you for bringing this to my attention. We all depend upon each other.”
The Value of Psalm 110:1
James Dunn in The Theology of Paul discusses what it means to hail Jesus as “lord”: “The affirmation of Jesus’ lordship is one which we can trace back at least to the earliest days of Christian reflection on Christ’s resurrection. One of the Scriptures which quickly became luminous for the first believers was evidently Psalm 110:1. The first Christians now knew who ‘my lord’ was who was thus addressed by the Lord God. It could only be Messiah Jesus. The text was clearly in mind in several Pauline passages.” On I Corinthians 8:4-6: “In direct opposition to the tolerant pluralism of Hellenism, Paul affirms, ‘But for us there is one lord Jesus Christ.’ For Paul the risen Christ was simply ‘the Lord’ and he was personally convinced that eventually his lordship would be acknowledged by all. As I Cor. 8:5-6 itself implies this was an expression not so much of intolerance as of belief in the uniqueness of Christ, and a corollary of the equivalent uncompromising Jewish monotheism. Jesus is the one Lord just as, and indeed because God is the one God.”
In his Unity and Diversity in the NT, Dunn has
this to say: “Should we then say that Jesus was confessed as GOD from the
earliest days in Hellenistic Christianity? That would be to claim too
1. The emergence of a confession of Jesus in terms of divinity was largely facilitated by the emergence of Psalm 110:1 from very early on (most clearly in Mark 12:36; Acts 2:34; I Cor. 15:25; Heb. 1:13).
“The Lord says to my lord…” Its importance lies here in the double use of kurios [lord]. The one is clearly Yahweh, but who is the other? [note two subjects, two individuals]. Clearly not Yahweh, but an exalted being whom the Psalmist calls kurios [lord].
2. Paul calls Jesus kurios, but he seems to have marked reservations about actually calling him ‘God.’ (Rom. 9:5 is the only candidate within the main Pauline corpus, and even there the text is unclear.) Similarly he refrains from praying to Jesus. More typical of his attitude is that he prays to GOD through Jesus
(Rom. 1:8; 7:25; II Cor. 1:20; Col. 3:17).
3. ‘Jesus is Lord’ is only part of a fuller confession for Paul. For at the same time as he affirms Jesus as ‘Lord,’ he also affirms ‘God is one’ (I Cor. 8:5-6; Eph. 4:5-6). Here Christianity shows itself as a developed form of Judaism, with its monotheistic confession as one of the most important parts of its Jewish inheritance; for in Judaism the most fundamental confession is ‘God is one.’ ‘There is only one God’
(Deut. 6:4). Hence also Rom. 3:30; Gal. 3:20, I Tim. 2:5 (cp. James 2:19). Within Palestine and the Jewish mission such an affirmation would have been unnecessary — Jews and Christians shared a belief in God’s oneness. But in the Gentile mission this Jewish presupposition within Christianity would have emerged into prominence, in face of the wider belief in ‘gods many.’
The point for us to note is that Paul can hail Jesus as Lord not in order to identify him with God, but rather if anything to distinguish him from the One God (cp. particularly I Cor. 15:24-28). So too Jesus’ Lordship could be expressed in cosmic dimensions without posing too many problems to monotheism, since Wisdom speculations provided a ready and appropriate terminology (particularly I Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:3ff).” 
“So far as we can now tell, Jesus thought of himself as Wisdom’s messenger — a self-understanding reflected particularly in Q (Matt. 11:25-27; Luke 7:31-35; 11:49-51). That is to say, there is no evidence that Jesus thought of himself as preexistent Wisdom and nothing in the traditions of Q and Mark which implies that the thought of preexistence was present either to Jesus or Mark. The idea of preexistence first entered by way of implication with identification of Christ with Wisdom herself…"
“Now here we must recall that within Judaism Wisdom was only a way of speaking about God’s action in creation, revelation and redemption without actually speaking about God. Wisdom like the name of God, the spirit of God, the logos (word) of God denotes the immanent [present with us humans] activity of God, without detracting from God’s wholly other transcendence. For pre-Christian Judaism Wisdom was neither an inferior heavenly being (one of the heavenly council) nor a divine hypostasis [person] (as in the later Trinitarian conception of God). Such a development would have been (and in the event was) unacceptable to Judaism’s strict monotheism. Wisdom in fact is no more than personification of God’s immanence, no more to be regarded as a distinct person within the Godhead than the rabbinic concept or talk of a preexistent Torah."
“The probability then is that Paul in applying Wisdom language to Christ is
in effect saying: that which you have hitherto ascribed to Wisdom [or Torah or
word], we see most fully expressed and embodied in Christ; that
same power and wisdom you recognize to be manifested in God’s creative,
revelatory and redemptive purpose, we now see manifested finally and
exclusively in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
(Current critics of “charismata” are rightly unimpressed when they are asked to believe that Jesus Christ is present when only “power” and not wisdom and revealed Truth are present! Pushing people over on the stage may display power — what sort of power? — but there is a conspicuous absence of biblical spirit and wisdom — ed.)
Dunn concludes: “Jesus was not himself preexistent; he was the man that preexistent Wisdom became.” “Paul does not yet understand the risen Christ as the object of worship; he is the theme of worship…Even the title Lord becomes a way of distinguishing Jesus from God rather than identifying him with God (Rom. 15:6; I Cor. 8:6; 15:24-28; II Cor. 1:3; 11:31; Eph. 1:3, 17; Phil. 2:11; Col 1:3). Paul was and remained a monotheist” (pp. 221, 226).
The International Critical Commentary on Peter makes the important statement that the NT does not present Jesus as GOD. Charles Bigg, Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Oxford, writes: “We are not to suppose that the apostles identified Christ with Jehovah; there were passages which made this impossible, for instance, Psalm 110.”
“From Justin Martyr to the Council of Nicea, Christians generally built up their interpretations in accord with patterns established in the earlier period. They went beyond the writings of the NT age, principally in two respects: in applying the entire psalm to Jesus and in arguing explicitly for his divinity [Deity] on the basis of its first and third verses.”
The text in Psalm 110:1 is secure. There are no MSS variations. L’adoni means “to my lord.” There are 195 samples of ADONI (my lord). These include “my lord” (162 times), “against my lord” (twice), “and my lord” (6 times), “from my lord” (once) and “to/for my lord” (24 times). Total of 195 times. L’adoni, “to my lord,” appears 24 times. These are found in Genesis, I, II Samuel, I Kings, I Chronicles and Psalms (110:1). L’adoni is properly translated in our versions as: “to my master Abraham,” “to my lord Esau,” “to our lord” (Joseph). David says: “to my lord (l’adoni), the LORD’s anointed” (Saul).
Abigail says: “for my lord [David] (l’adoni), who is fighting the LORD’s battles.” She says: “the LORD will do well for my lord (l’adoni) David.” Joab says: “May the LORD add to His people a 100 times as many as they are…But my lord king [adoni, David], are they not all my lord’s (adoni) servants? Why does my lord [adoni, David] seek this thing?” David says: “The LORD said to my lord (l’adoni)” (Messiah) (Ps. 110:1).
The phrase l’adoni (to my lord) is contrasted with LORD both in the Hebrew and in the Greek LXX translation from the second century BC. Because l’adoni is rendered in Greek as “to kurio mou” — to my lord — we have the clearest confirmation that the vowel points are entirely accurate in our Masoretic text. In other words both the LXX and the NT Scripture translate the l’adoni of Psalm 110:1 as to kurio mou, “to my lord.”
Thus we have testimony from BC times plus the inspired NT (Mark 12:28ff) that the vowel points for ADONI have not been altered. There is no basis at all for questioning the accuracy of the Bible at this point. The text of the Hebrew Bible has been faithfully preserved in Psalm 110:1 and provides the key to the relationship of God to the Son, Jesus. Jesus is not God, because there is only one God. Jesus is the supremely elevated human Messiah, the “my lord” of our Psalm. In none of its 195 occurrences does ADONI (“my lord”) ever refer to God. It distinguishes the one addressed as someone who is a superior but not God Himself.
Psalm 110:1 is the master Christological key to the NT and the original meaning of “lord” here has been either ignored by commentators or corrupted in many translations by placing a capital letter on the second lord, which according to the practice of the translations would misleadingly tell you that the word there is ADONAI (Lord God), which it is not. The NASB (updated) in its margin at Acts 2:34 misreports the facts of the Hebrew text and says that the Hebrew word for “my lord” was ADONAI, the Lord God. ADONAI means the Lord God in all 449 occurrences. The word in Psalm 110:1 as we know is not adonai but adoni, a mere difference between God and man!
I wrote to the “dean” of evangelical scholarship, Dr. Howard Marshall: “Professor Marshall, may I please venture a comment on your interesting discussion of the all-important Christological testimonium from Psalm 110:1. On p. 204 of Jesus the Savior you note the crucial difference between adonai, the divine title, and adoni, the exclusively human (occasionally angelic) title (195 times). You say that the confusion of the two lords is avoided in the printed versions of the OT which use ‘lord’ both times and print the first lord in caps, LORD for YHVH."
“The problem is that most (not RV, RSV and NRSV) print the second lord with initial capital Lord. Now that form of printing, with capital, belongs in every other case to the Hebrew ADONAI, the substitute divine title. This leaves the reader with the false impression that ADONAI and not adoni is the word in the original. Thus in many commentaries and some books, it is confidently asserted that the Messiah is presented in the psalm, and that is proof of his Deity. The facts here presented in the psalm, however, place the Messiah in a superior human, royal Messianic category. It is in that sense that the NT recognizes Jesus as Lord (cp. Luke 2:11) and Mary as ‘the mother of my lord.’ Would it be fair to add that the LXX version shows the difference properly by rendering l’Adonai (to the Lord God) as ‘to kurio’ whereas l’adoni (to my lord) comes over in the Greek as to kurio MOU ‘to my lord’? I feel that this psalm and the careful distinction it displays is only now beginning to get the careful attention it deserves.”
Dr. Marshall replied: “Dear Anthony, I agree with what you say about Psalm
110:1. The LXX is translating correctly…The use of the psalm does not
identify Jesus as Adonai.”
 F.C. Grant, The Gospel of the Kingdom, Biblical World 50 (1917), pp. 121-191.
 George E. Ladd, Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952, p. 173.
 Anthony F. Buzzard, Our Fathers Who Aren’t in Heaven, Restoration Fellowship, 1999, p. 201.
 George E. Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959, p. 127.
 Ibid., p. 127.
 Eerdmans, 1998, pp. 246, 248.
 SCM Press, 1990, p. 53, emphasis his.
 T&T Clark, 1910, p. 99.