The Use of the Psalms in Hebrews
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – John Taylor explored the use of the Psalms in the book of Hebrews during Southwestern Seminary’s Biblical Studies Colloquium, March 26.
Far from taking the Old Testament out of context, the author of Hebrews drives his readers to understand the context of the Psalms and their messianic implications. “The author shares with other early believers not only a core of common texts, but a common set of convictions and beliefs about Jesus,” said Taylor, assistant professor of New Testament.
“But Hebrews is not simply recounting common beliefs,” he added. “The author reads the Psalms in an exploratory and creative process which is driven by these shared theological convictions but which is also alive to discovery. This reading strategy leads directly to some of the most distinctive contributions Hebrews makes to the New Testament, with the most important being the idea of Jesus as priest.”
According to Taylor, the author of Hebrews accepts the messianic interpretation that the early church generally assigned to various Old Testament texts, for example, from Isaiah and the Psalms. In using the common “proof texts” gleaned from the Psalms, the author of Hebrews confesses with the early church that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God. Taylor argued, however, that the writer of Hebrews carefully examined these proof texts in their contexts and discovered their rich implications.
“While a few key texts became part of the central Christological tradition of the early church, commentators, following C.H. Dodd, have stressed that New Testament writers paid close attention to the context of their Old Testament quotations,” Taylor said. By exploring the contexts of Psalms used commonly as proof texts, the author of Hebrews applies their messianic implications to other Psalms. According to Taylor, the author often linked the proof texts to other Psalms by noting similarities in language and theme.
“By the way in which Hebrews combines standard messianic texts and formulations with unique readings suggests that the letter is deliberately written to move readers from the known to the unknown,” Taylor said. “The author has moved from proof text to context—from familiar messianic passages to the unfamiliar—and takes his readers on the same journey.”