A brother of the faith brought something to my attention recently, a Unitarian paper arguing for a Unitarian understanding of Psalm 110:1, in which the supposed author also criticized some Trinitarian interpretations of this text, the paper went by the title of Psalm 110:1 and the Status of the Second Lord – Trinitarian Arguments Challenged by Jaco Van Zyl. Unfortunately, like most Unitarian apologists – Van Zyl has definitely not delved deep enough into the issues but offered us a common Unitarian outlook. Like most of the Unitarian apologists, he has repeated the same erroneous understanding of Psalm 110:1 as those before him (e.g. Sir Anthony Buzzard) whilst critiquing the Trinitarian position from a flawed and fallacious angel.
I cannot for one moment overemphasize the fact that this verse flies in the face of the Unitarian position, especially those who reject the pre-existence of the Messiah. I’ve decided to review some of the potent errors that Van Zyl has made. Before I go directly to the material presented in his supposed challenging of Biblical Trinitarian orthodoxy, I would like to quote the citation of Psalm 110:1, in the World English Bible it reads,
“Yahweh says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool for your feet.””
It is no surprise to anyone, at least those educated, that this is a clearly Davidic Messianic Psalm. Yahweh says to the David’s Lord (the Messiah), that He will make David’s Lord’s enemies his footstool for his feet. Jaco in short is trying to argue that Yahweh and the “my Lord” figure are two separate beings, and that the second Lord figure cannot be deity (Yahweh) but rather a mere man (a strictly non-divine figure) , basically, he is proposing what other Unitarians have in the past argued for, “Psalm 110:1 mentions those two contrasted Lords. One is Yahweh, the Father of Jesus, and the other is the human lord Messiah. David referred to the lord Messiah as “my lord” (in Psalm 110:1 which should be memorized by every believer) a thousand years before Jesus was born. He called him in Hebrew adoni (pronounced “adonee”). That form of the word “lord,” adoni, occurs 195 times in the Old Testament Hebrew Bible and it never once refers to God.”
Is it true that Psalm 110:1 teaches against the deity of the Jesus? I don’t think so, but let’s see what Van Zyl has in store.Considering the Messianic nature of this passage and the fact that it is cited many times in the New Testament, this gives us the clear revelation—that this text is undeniably important. What needs to be noted is that, it is important for the exact opposite reason than what Van Zyl’s Unitarian hermeneutics conveys, the momentum of this text thus will prove to abolish Unitarianism as a whole. I will now pay closer attention to the content that Van Zyl has provided in his Unitarian apologetic:
Challenging the Unitarian Position
Van Zyl’s arguments are codified in the following excerpts (italics will be utilized in order to distinguish between my own writings and the excerpts):
Jaco lays the groundwork for his argument stating,“Central to this understanding of who the Lord(s) is/are comes from the distinction made between the two “Lords” as evidenced in the Hebrew of the Masoretic Text – a distinction not so clearly seen in the Greek of the LXX…”
What needs to noted is that, the Masoretic Text would not have been the utilized text in the time of Jesus (and is considerably far younger than the LXX), moreover, the distinction between the two “Lords” in Psalm 110:1 is as Jaco affirms not clearly differentiated, I will leave that point to stand – it is not something which should simply be brushed aside. Van Zyl continues to argue against Trinitarianism, making mention of Dr. James White and Sam Shamoun’s interpretation of Psalm 110:1,
“What their argument amounts to is this: no vowel pointings were present in the Christian and pre-Christian Hebrew text. ADNY in the Hebrew could be Adonai or Adoni. In fact, since Ps. 16:2 and 35:23 both have Adonai translated “my Lord” in the LXX, the ADNY could just as well have come from Adonai, not the royal, non-divine Adoni, which would, as can be seen from their rebuttal, have rendered the recipient of the oracle non-divine. Their conclusion? The first referent is Adonai or Yahweh, as well as the recipient of the oracle is Adonai”
While it is definitely true that that the Masoretic vowel pointing were later additions and therefore later commentaries of these biblical texts, Van Zyl in the following will seek to defend that the Lord Messiah of the Psalm 110:1 is not deity, but I will invite you as the reader to examine for yourself if this holds up against the clear Biblical stance. Van Zyl goes on in the following, making his first point:
Adoni-Adonai—Does it Matter?
“First of all, there’s no valid, objective reason to question the Masoretic vowel pointing of the text (unless, of course, if you need to defend a non-biblical doctrine). Furthermore, if we only had the Greek, we probably could reason like this, with some difficulty, since, except for the two occurrences noted above, kurios mou was always the Greek for Adoni, not Adonai; but we don’t have only the Greek. We have several LXX fragments from pre-Christian and Christian times which look surprisingly different from the LXXs of later periods. We also have the paraphrases or Targums, which shed invaluable light on the ancient understanding of the text.”
I’d like making some comments on this:
1. It is absolutely unreasonable to use the Masoretic text and Septuagint (LXX) to try and prove that there is a distinction between the two Lord figures of Psalm 110:1, the fact remains that the Masoretic text conveys the message from a later rabbinical interpretation. All this would prove is that the rabbinical interpretation of the Masoretic time viewed the Messiah as a human being, which Trinitarians do not reject.
2. It is furthermore climatically ironic that Van Zyl would argue that refusing to use the Masoretic text is unreasonable. He even goes as far as to claim that this would only be the case if we needed to defend a non-biblical doctrine. The only non-biblical doctrine present here would be the assertion that Christian exegetes are compelled to use the later Rabbinical Masoretic text as authoritative. I find it absolutely astonishing that Van Zyl would even make such a claim. The earlier Hebrew and Greek LXX manuscripts contain more than sufficient evidence to give us a Scriptural verdict on doctrine.
Van Zyl argues that the Trinitarian interpretation is an illogical one since we believe it could be “Adonai,” it is my conviction that whether or not “Adonai” or “Adoni” is used is irrelevant. If the Son Y’shua is called “Adoni” then it conveys the fact that he is a human being, Trinitarianism is left untouched, since it is the consistent testimony of Trinitarianism, that the Son is both truly God and truly man. It does not, however, follow that the Son being a human being makes him non-divine, but rather that the eternal Logos who himself was God, “became flesh.” (Jn. 1:1, 14).
In the words of the New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright,
“Long before anyone talked about “nature” and “substance,” “person,” and “Trinity,” the early Christians had quietly but definitely discovered that they could say what they felt obliged to say about Jesus (and the Spirit) by telling the Jewish story of God, Israel and the world, in the Jewish language of Spirit, Word, Torah, Presence/Glory Wisdom, and now Messiah/Son. It is as though they discovered Jesus within the Jewish monotheistic categories they already had. The categories seemed to have been made for him. They fitted him like a glove. And—this being of course the point within the logic of this paper and this conference—it was the human Jesus, the earthly Jesus, that they fitted. It was not some nebulous “Christ of faith” that these writers were talking about. It was the one and only Jesus himself.”
As N.T Wright clearly notes the human and earthly Jesus is not someone we should see as an expense to the clearly divine portrait of the biblical Jesus. Rather the divine attribution of Jesus and the human Jesus go hand in hand. Jaco, as well as other Unitarians, have embraced Y’shua Messiah’s biblical humanity whilst closing and shutting their eyes from the glorious divine figure of Jesus. Therefore to understand the Messiah as Adoni doesn’t within itself necessitate the Unitarian position of Psalm 110:1, on the contrary, after I have reviewed Jaco’s arguments, I will make the case—that it is upon this exact verse that Trinitarians find their devotional assurance in the God-Man Y’shua.
Van Zyl states quite emphatically that since Trinitarians believe that Adonai most definitely appears in Psalm 110:1, that our position leads us to an illogical one. He explains:
“Simply put, this means that the predicates in both the major and minor premises (“my Lord” translation) does not exhaust all the occurrences of this translation and would therefore not necessitate its occurrence also in Ps. 110:1 as if it did. A more non-dogmatic and accurate conclusion would be that Psalm 110:1 could have Adonai in its original rendering. But again, this should also be said with much caution as the argument for such a conclusion is not nearly as simplistic. So, their first error is a logical one.”
As to where I definitely do agree that many Trinitarians probably do hold this belief, it is not true of the entire Trinitarian majority. As I have stated quite clearly—its occurrence is irrelevant. Van Zyl’s Second Objection Noted Van Zyl’s second point is codified in the following, where he simply brushes off Psalms 16:2 and 35:23 where Yahweh is identified as “my Lord.” However, since I believe such texts are irrelevant for the overall point, I will continue to the more important finer details.
Van Zyl states in the conclusion of his second point:
“The only speakers in these psalms are Yahweh and David. In Psalm 110:1, however, David speaks about Yahweh and another Lord giving us the “my Lord” appellation addressing someone other than Yahweh.”
What is very clear from Van Zyl’s writing is His refusal to even identify the second figure as being Yahweh based on Unitarian presuppositions. However, I think Van Zyl’s positions should probably be challenged: Biblically, there are many references to two Yahweh-figures or “Deity” figures, indicative of divine plurality. In the following I’d like to provide some citations alongside interpretations of these texts, citations are taken from the World English Bible:
(Genesis 19:14) Then Yahweh rained on Sodom and on Gomorrah sulfur and fire from Yahweh out of the sky. The text states that Yahweh rains from fire and sulfur from Yahweh out of the heavens, implying two distinct figures/persons. Some have in the past argued that this is simply referring to Yahweh in two ways.
However further investigations reveal that Yahweh refers to another figure as being God pointing back to the same incident (Amos 4:11; Isaiah 13:17-19; etc.)
(Zechariah 3:2) Yahweh said to Satan, “Yahweh rebuke you, Satan! Yes, Yahweh who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Isn’t this a burning stick plucked out of the fire?” This Scripture clearly declares that Yahweh is speaking of Himself in the third person. The previous verse seems to suggest that the Messenger/Angel (מַלאָך) of Yahweh is the one speaking here–it would be reasonable interchangeability of titles.
This has often led some to propose that the Angel was speaking in Yahweh’s place, however, the text itself does not support that apparent ‘solution,’ on the contrary—it confuses the reader.
The NET Bible Notes interestingly gives us this valuable insight:
“The juxtaposition of the messenger of the Lord in v. 1 and the Lord in v. 2 shows that here, at least, they are one and the same. See Zech 1:11, 12 where they are distinguished from each other.”
(Daniel 7:13-14) I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.14. There was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. This text has been brushed aside by some, but here the Ancient of Days (which we unambiguously believe is God the Father) gives the Son of Man figure “him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him,” and that the kingdom of the Son of Man will not pass away. This is the deity language used elsewhere of Yahweh (Daniel 7:27).
To the dismay of Unitarians, it must be clearly established that some rabbinical interpretations included the Son of Man figure being identified as another mode of God—comparable to modalism, which affirms the premise that Y’shua is deity.
(1 Corinthians 8:6) yet to us, there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we live through him. Many scholars have pointed out that Jesus is being identified as the Lord of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), the basis for this view is that the same Shema mentality is portrayed in 1 Cor. 8:6. Y’shua is therefore identified as the Lord of God’s covenant people. The Shema which advocates clear covenantal monotheism now attributes the Lord title (signifying Adonai/YHWH) to the Messiah.
It is also useful to note that the Shema in the New Testament identified God as Lord (κύριος) rather than YHWH, using this title to signify the divine name. New Testament scholar N.T. Wright states concerning this text:
“In 1 Corinthians 8:6, within a specifically Jewish-style monotheistic argument, he adapts the Shema itself, placing Jesus within it: “For us there is one God—the Father, from whom are all things and we to him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and we through him.” This is possibly the single most revolutionary christological formulation in the whole of early Christianity, staking out a high christology founded within the very citadel of Jewish monotheism.”
The above table will eventually lead us to the consistent conclusion in favour of Trinitarianism, and the rejection of the Unitarian position about Psalm 110:1. My overall point based on this is that the idea of two Yahweh figures appearing alongside (and interacting) is completely consistent with definite Biblical precedence. If by any chance, we put these evidences aside, we may also respond that it is completely reasonable for Jesus to be identified as Lord without being identified as Yahweh, what doesn’t follow however is that Jesus cannot be Yahweh based on the above mentioned texts—Yahweh speaking of Himself in the third persons and distinctions in a divine plurality are thoroughly biblical.
Manuscript Evidence—Yahweh And The Lord.
Van Zyl, continues to approach this issue surrounding Psalm 110:1, with a misguided fervor and zeal that will proves to be unreliable yet again. He argues based on some manuscript evidence:
“The Qumran Psalms Scroll, dated between 30 and 50 CE also sheds light on the issue. As can be seen here, the scroll contains the Tetragram, written in distinct Paleo-Hebrew characters. According to the Qumran Psalms Scroll the distinction between YHWH and ADNY is thus clearly made, again clarifying our understanding of the issue surrounding the 110th psalm.”
In conclusion he writes,
“Taken parallel to each other – the ancient LXX with the Qumran Scroll of Psalms – we can assume with high probability that the earlier LXX copies probably retained the Tetragram in the case of the first referent while giving an equivalent rendering to the second referent. What about the Hebrew text? A distinction between YHWH and ADNY would be made, since it has ADNY in the place of the second referent – not the Tetragram. From the oldest and best mss then, we see a distinction between the first referent, Yahweh, and the second “Lord.”
Firstly, having one figure being identified as YHWH and the other simply being identified as Lord does not in any way mean that the second Lord figure should be understood as being a mere man. Trinitarianism does not in any way, shape or form deny that the second figure can be identified as merely Lord, this however does not necessitate a non-divine figure.
Secondly, I fail to see any significance in this argument anyways. It seems Van Zyl is unfamiliar with the Trinitarian proposition surrounding this text. I would also point back to my citation of 1 Corinthians 8:6, where Y’shua is identified as the κύριος of the covenantal monotheism present in the Shema; it is also interesting that Y’shua is explicitly identified as the Lord in context of deity elsewhere with regard to creational monotheism (Heb. 1:10; Isaiah 44:24). The apex of Van Zyl’s conclusions should be disposed of, since the entirety of his arguments builds upon an unfounded Unitarian presupposition which breaks when considering the clear and present testimony of the Scriptures.
The Targums and Arguing Ex-Nihilo
Something I find more interesting are Van Zyl’s argument from the Targums, in which he states:
“The clearest evidence as to the second referent’s non-divine, yet royal status, comes from the Paraphrases or Targums.”
After this, he begins to make various quotations from the Targums. In conclusion, he writes after the formerly mentioned citations –
“In this oracle, reference to a recipient’s non-divine, royal status cannot be brought into question here. The LORD, Yahweh, is speaking to a royal recipient of His oracle. This royal status is ultimately applied to the antitypical Davidic King, namely the Messiah…Before going over to the NT evidence, I’d like to make something clear: Trinitarians allow a distinction between the different “Persons” of the “Godhead.”
In other words, in the Trinitarian godhead, the Father is different from the Son is different from the Spirit. This distinction in “Persons” is indeed allowed. What is not allowed, however, is the distinction or difference between “God” and the “Persons” of the “Godhead.” In other words, when I read the OT, and I find a text that says, “Thus saith Yahweh,” Yahweh refers to all three, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. There is, therefore, according to classical post-biblical Trinitarianism, no difference between God and the Son or God and the Father or God and the Spirit. All are fully God, one and the same Yahweh, with no difference between the “Person” and “God.”
Van Zyl’s assumption is that the recipient of the oracle being human must by necessity advocate that the human figure cannot be divine, a premise which I am yet to see any proof for. However, Van Zyl does not bother making any effort in trying to substantiate his unnecessary Unitarian presuppositions. As in the past, I echo the same Trinitarian level of scepticism—that Van Zyl is simply reading the testimony of Scriptures with one eye closed.
I would also like mentioning, that when Yahweh speaks, it is not a necessary interpretation that “thus saith Yahweh” means that all three divine persons of the Trinity are speaking. It is my view that when Yahweh does say things like this, stating that He is the sole deity that the other divine persons are by necessity not excluded from the speaking person. In other words, the Father can properly declare to be the only true God, without any exclusion to the other divine members—since God the Father’s being is shared by his Son and his Spirit who are clearly inseparable from himself.
The Early Church goes through various ways to explain this, I will put this into my own words:
“The Father, the only true God, bases His eternal ‘Father’ role on the basis that He has always had a Son, who is also His Word and Wisdom, who is then inseparable from Him and of the same nature as Him, since a Son does not carry a different nature from His Father, therefore the Father and the Son are inseparable. The Father and Son have always been in existence—for eternity, and therefore since They have been living, they have also been ‘breathing’, and this ‘breathing’ eternally point us to the Spirit who is the eternal Spirit because as long as the Father lives, he has had a Son who also lives, and their living is revealed in the third—the Spirit. These three are not separate deities but inseparable therefore One.”
When the Father then claims to be the only true God or rather is called the only true God by his Son (Jn. 17:3), it cannot by any logic exclude His Son from being God, since His Son is His wisdom and word (Jn. 1:1; Lk. 7:35; 1 Cor. 1:24, etc.), and obviously somebody’s wisdom and word cannot logically be a distinct being from Him, the same logic would then apply to the eternal Spirit (Heb. 9:14), which sheds light on Van Zyl’s assumption about Trinitarianism.
Peter Toon (D. Phil, Oxford University) states in the same kind of flavor,
“It is perhaps also worth noting that there are passages where Yahweh, his Word/Angel of the Presence, and the Spirit are named together as co-causes of effects…”
The Messiah’s Refutation of “Biblical Unitarianism”
He goes on listing 1 Corinthians 15:21, 23, 24, 27, 28 and Hebrews 10:12, 13 trying to interpret Psalm 110:1 in light of that, he concludes with misguided zeal:
“Here Psalm 110:1 is used clearly marking a distinction between, not Father and Son (as Trinitarianism equivocatingly accept), but God – Yahweh – and Jesus, the Son. Thus, a distinction is drawn between Yahweh and someone else, Jesus (a distinction not recognized or tolerated by Trinitarianism). This is NOT presented to us in Trinitarian terms (the distinction between Father and Son), but in Monotheistic terms (between Yahweh God and Jesus) – something Trinitarianism cannot afford.”
I fail to see how Van Zyl’s claim even makes sense. Perhaps one of my biggest concerns are his failure to accept that Trinitarianism orthodoxy builds itself on the premise of monotheism. How Van Zyl is able to make such a jump, reveals intellectual dishonesty. However, whether it is blatant ignorance or refusal to accept—does Van Zyl’s argument hold up in reality?
No, there are a few reasons why:
Firstly, even though a clear distinction is made between the two figures in Psalm 110:1, the Unitarian assumption is simply not supported by any of this, even more so by the mentioned citations utilized by Van Zyl. What is also interesting is that many in Trinitarian circles have identified the designation of the Messiah being at the right hand of God as being one connoting clear deity. One scholarly publication on the deity of the Messiah states:
“From one standpoint, Christ’s sitting on God’s throne is a unique, unparalleled position of authority at the right hand of God. From another standpoint, Christ’s sitting on God’s throne is the means by which we have direct, intimate fellowship with God.”
Secondly, Van Zyl proposes a false dichotomy, stating that the “Father-Son” language is not used in Psalm 110:1 but rather between Yahweh God and Jesus—I fail to see how that is even relevant really. Of course, his claims are thoroughly refuted when realizing that the texts he cited (1 Corinthians 15:21, 23, 24, 27, 28 and Hebrews 10:12, 13) reveal the exact Father-Son relationship between the two—“God the Father” is mentioned in 1 Cor.15:24 and “the Son” is mentioned in v.28, which in turn leaves Van Zyl’s points to be self-refuting and very ironic.
Third, since Van Zyl blatantly ignores what Jesus Christ himself states about the verse (Ps. 110:1), I think I will boldly knock this issue back into perspective since it is infinitely important to understand what the Messiah thinks of himself. Let’s turn some attention to the words of the Messiah himself:
“Jesus responded, as he taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? For David himself said in the Holy Spirit, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies the footstool of your feet.”‘ 37. Therefore David himself calls him Lord, so how can he be his son?” The common people heard him gladly.”” (Mark 12:35—37, World English Bible)
At reading the above citation, it becomes very clear that Y’shua Ha Mesiach, Jesus the Anointed One, did not see Himself as being a mere man as Van Zyl has degrading Him into.
Van Zyl has in his analysis stripped the glorious Lord (1 Cor. 2:8) of all his glory, let me making some clear points on the verse and then my conclusion about Jaco’s misguided Unitarianism:
(1) Notice in the above text, Jesus asks His listeners why He is Lord. It is very apparent that Jesus wants us to make our own conclusions from logic.
(2) In conclusion, Jesus asks “If David calls him (Jesus) Lord, how can he be his son?” The Messiah’s point here is that he cannot merely be David’s son but more than that. The Messiah is here declaring that he is more than a human being (a physical descendant of David), in the words of one commentary I wholeheartedly agree—“There is but one solution of this difficulty. Messiah is at once inferior to David as his son according to the flesh, and superior to him as the Lord of a kingdom of which David is himself a subject, not the sovereign. The human and divine natures of Christ, and the spirituality of His kingdom—of which the highest earthly sovereigns are honored if they be counted worthy to be its subjects—furnish the only key to this puzzle.”
In conclusion, we find that Van Zyl’s argumentation does not by any means hold up to the Biblical stance of the Messiah. All of the arguments proposed by Van Zyl lacks substance, and are based on serious misinterpretations of the Trinitarian position as well as the inconsistent claims that he cannot back up concerning Unitarianism. In such respect, we witness typical Unitarian apologetics where Unitarianism is merely assumed without any proof given. As many before me have quite emphatically stated, monotheism does not by any stretch of the imagination automatically prove Unitarianism. It is worth noting, that I am very sure that Van Zyl’s motives were probably good, he has however stripped the glorious Lord Y’shua of all his glory, a figure which has been the source of unfailing love and comfort to me as well as others. I appeal to Van Zyl and other Unitarians, to recognize their supreme error in denying the deity of the weighty figure of the Nazarene. Jesus Christ, Y’shua the Anointed One, is worthy of our greatest devotion and praise—He is the perfect Light unto the world. In closing, I cite:
“Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish [from] the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed [are] all they that put their trust in him.” (Psalm 2:12, King James Version).
By: Maverick Victor Witlouw
1. Jaco van Zyl, Psalm 110:1 and the Status of the Second Lord – Trinitarian Arguments Challenged
2. Sir Anthony F. Buzzard, The Amazing Aims and Claims of Jesus: What you didn’t learn in church (Restoration Fellowship/ www.restorationfellowship.org; ©2006 Anthony Buzzard), Pg. 94
3. N.T. Wright, JESUS AND THE IDENTITY OF GOD (Originally published in Ex Auditu 1998, 14, 42–56.)
4. NET Bible® Notes – copyright ©1996-2007 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.
5. Alan F. Segal’s “The Two Powers In Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism”
6. Dr. Michael Heiser’s video lecture “How the New Testament Writers Communicated OT Theology with a focus on Jesus, Part 4” (00:18:00—00:21:40)
7. Robert Bowman; J. Ed Komoszewski; Darrell L. Bock. Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Kindle Locations 3013-3014). Kindle Edition.
8. Peter Toon, Our Triune God: A Biblical Portrayal of the Trinity (1996, Victor Books/SP Publications, Inc.), pg. 102
Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, Andrew Robert; Brown, David; JFB Bible Commentary: Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871).