Guys and Gals, I’m sorry for the delay in offering this post, but it has taken me several days to really think through this passage. This is a tough one.
Peter’s use of Psalm 16:8–11 in Acts 2:25–28 offers the interpreter significant challenges. The passage reads:
For David says of Him, “I SAW THE LORD ALWAYS IN MY PRESENCE; FOR HE IS AT MY RIGHT HAND, SO THAT I WILL NOT BE SHAKEN. THEREFORE MY HEART WAS GLAD AND MY TONGUE EXULTED; MOREOVER MY FLESH ALSO WILL LIVE IN HOPE; BECAUSE YOU WILL NOT ABANDON MY SOUL TO HADES, NOR ALLOW YOUR HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY. YOU HAVE MADE KNOWN TO ME THE WAYS OF LIFE; YOU WILL MAKE ME FULL OF GLADNESS WITH YOUR PRESENCE.”
As Peter is speaking to the “men of Israel” (Acts 2:22) he is trying to convince them of the resurrection of Jesus. Verse 24 states that God raised Jesus up since it was impossible for death to keep Him in its power. What is also significant is that Peter explicitly declares that David, the author of Psalm 16, explicitly wrote about the Messiah’s resurrection:
"Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:29–32)
However, many have noted that a plain reading of Psalm 16 seems to indicate that the whole psalm including verses 8–11 (which are quoted in Acts 2) appears to be the experiences of David—not a prediction of the Messiah. Also, some have noted that the context of Psalm 16 is deliverance from premature death while the context of Acts 2 is bodily resurrection from the dead. So what do we do here?
There are several options to explain the connection between Acts 2:25–28 and Psalm 16:8–11.
First, some see this is an example of pesher hermeneutics in which an OT passage is removed from its historical-grammatical context and applied to Jesus’ resurrection. In this case Peter is not using Psalm 16 contextually.
Second, others say that Peter may be using Psalm 16 typologically and in doing so shows a divine correspondence between David’s expectation that he would not experience premature death and Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead. But with this view David did not have the Messiah in mind.
Third, others claim that there is a TYPOLOGICAL–prophetic aspect in which “typology” is the primary emphasis with perhaps a hint of prophecy as well. But this approach would hold that David was primarily referring to himself in Psalm 16 although there are hints of his words going beyond himself to the Messiah.
Fourth, some hold that with Psalm 16 David is writing as if the Messiah is the author of the psalm. In this case, David would be specifically and explicitly referring to the Messiah throughout the psalm. Thus Peter uses Psalm 16 contextually.
Fifth, another view is that David, as the one to whom the eternal David covenant was given, consciously understood that the ultimate King and His resurrection were coming. Thus, David understood that his words ultimately referred to the coming Messiah although they had application to him as well. This approach could be classified as PROPHETIC-typological in which the prophetic element is primary although there are some typological implications as well.
Right now I find myself agreeing with the fifth approach. I think David had the coming Messiah in mind, thus Peter’s use of Psalm 16 in Acts 2 is contextual and indicates a literal fulfillment. Yet I also believe that what David wrote in Psalm 16 has implications for David as well.
I conclude that David had the Messiah in mind because Peter explicitly tells us that David “was a prophet” and that “he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ.” This is a case where an apostle tells us what an earlier writer of the Bible meant by what he said. In essence, what we have here is inspired commentary on an earlier passage. We do not have to guess what David meant because Peter explicitly tells us what he meant.
And not only does Peter tell us what David meant, he tells us why David said what he did. It was because David understood that God had promised that one of his descendants would sit on his throne. From the beginning, David knew that the Davidic Covenant included him but it also went beyond him since there was an eternal aspect to the covenant (see 1 Sam 7:16). Thus, we should not be surprised that David knew events in his life were related to a greater fulfillment with the coming Messiah. And this is what he expected when he wrote Psalm 16:8–11.
Thus, I see Acts 2:25–28 and its use of Psalm 16:8–11 as a case of contextual, literal fulfillment with implications for a divine correspondence between David and Jesus.
What are your thoughts on this passage?