Reviews of

Psalm 110 and the Logic of Hebrews

In Bloomsbury, Jared COMPTON, Madison N. Pierce, Messianism, Scripture on August 24, 2016 at 2:00 pm


2016.08.16 | Jared Compton. Psalm 110 and the Logic of Hebrews. London: T&T Clark, 2015.

Review by Madison N. Pierce, Durham University.

Many thanks to T&T Clark for providing a review copy.

Psalm 110 and the Logic of Hebrews is the revised version of Jared Compton’s doctoral dissertation completed under the supervision of D. A. Carson at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 2013. As he notes in his first introductory chapter, Compton considers the intersection of the epistle’s use of Scripture and its structure key to understanding the “logic” of the text as a whole. Psalm 110 is, in his estimation, the consistent thread that ties Hebrews together, and so he proposes that its use in Hebrews be analyzed as a means to trace the author’s argument. Compton then summarizes prior literature in terms of four “starting points” for his study (p. 7). This includes most notably the monograph Jesus Our High Priest by James Kurianal, a study that discusses the role of Psalm 110 in Hebrews 5.1–7.28.
As such, Kurianal’s work is the most significant precursor to Compton’s. In the remaining pages of the introduction, Compton outlines his “plan” (pp. 11–12) and “presuppositions” (pp. 13–18, minus an excursus on the audience from pp. 13–15).

Chapter 2, “Messianic Enthronement and Death in Hebrews 1–2,” splits Hebrews 1–2 into three major sections: (1) Hebrews 1.5–14; (2) Hebrews 2.5–9; (3) Hebrews 2.10–18. Hebrews 2.1–4 (and other exhortations) are not addressed, an aspect of the study to which we will return later. For each passage Compton outlines the “logic” of the section as a whole and then the role of Psalm 110 within it. Readers will appreciate this consistent structure, which persists throughout the monograph, as it offers ease of use both when reading through from cover to cover, as well as when working on a singular passage in Hebrews. In this first content-based chapter, we see one of Compton’s additional presuppositions: messianism is key to understanding Psalm 110. (This is also reflected in Compton’s chapter titles.) For instance, in his discussion of Hebrews 1.5–14, he argues that the catena presents the “son’s exaltation” as that which “fulfills promises made in the Jewish Scriptures to David and his heirs.” Two potential exceptions, per Compton, are the citations of Deuteronomy 32.43 (Heb. 1.6) and Psalm 101.26–28 LXX (Heb. 1.10–12). He resolves this perceived tension with the fact that the author understood Jesus to be divine and the fact that they are not “so obviously non-messianic” (p. 31). Here we begin to see Compton’s broad definition of “messianic” at work, something to which we will also return. The next section describes the role of Psalm 110 in Hebrews 1.5–14. Compton gives three ways (p. 37–38): (1) it concludes the series of quotations; (2) the catena is Davidic, which thus “establishes the framework” for the Psalm throughout; (3) and when paired with Psalm 8, Psalm 110 leads to the comparison of Jesus and the angels. Compton then moves to a discussion of Hebrews 2.5–9. He offers a helpful reading of Psalm 8 that attends to the tension of polarizing “anthropological” and “christological” interpretations of the author’s use of the Psalm, which of course leads into Compton’s discussion of the role of Psalm 110 in this conversation. He concludes that it “funds the present notion of a messianic representative” (p. 53). The final major section in this chapter addresses the role of Psalm 110 in Hebrews 2.10–18. The primary contribution of this passage for Compton is its focus on the messiah’s suffering and death, which solves the “human problem” (p. 53). Here Jesus’ portrayal as ἀρχηγός is said to have “messianic potential” (p. 64), which extends to the context where Jesus acts on behalf of humanity (see esp. Heb. 2.17).

Chapter 3, “Messianic Priesthood in Hebrews 5–7,” addresses three sections within that range of material: Hebrews 5.1–10; 7.1–10; 7.11–28. As expected, this excludes the so-called “warning passage” from 5.11–6.12, but unexpectedly also excludes 6.13–20 without any rationale. This is particularly curious since 6.20 contains one of the most explicit allusions to Psalm 110.4. Nonetheless, Compton begins with a discussion of 5.1–10, which first argues for the qualifications of a high priest in general, and then moves to “show how each applies to Jesus” (p. 67). The two qualifications that Compton identifies in 5.1–4 are: (1) being called by God and (2) offering sacrifices for sins. In his section on the role of Psalm 110 in Hebrews 5.1–10, Compton reads the humanity of Jesus into the Psalm text: “the author suggests that suffering qua weakness and, thus, humanity is necessary for priesthood. Thus, he demonstrates that Ps. 110.4 implies a human, and, thus in some sense, a suffering messiah (cf., e.g., 2.9, 10, 14, 17)” (pp. 75–76). Since Compton connects Psalm 110 so strongly with the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus—“if the audience was willing to interpret Jesus’ resurrection as the enthronement of the long-awaited Davidic son…, then it would be a short step to their acknowledging that this son was also a priest” (p. 75)—a gap remains between Psalm 110 and his humanity and suffering. This is particularly so due to the fact that Compton situates Jesus’ priestly ministry primarily at the moment of Jesus’ death, rather than in the heavenly realm (see, e.g., Moffitt, Atonement and the Logic). Compton’s definition of “messianic” continues to grow. But one place where the discussion shifts from the messianism of Psalm 110 to the text of Psalm 110 itself are the two sections on Hebrews 7.1–28. Here, Compton makes no attempts to connect Melchizedek and David.

The final content chapter, “Messianic Sacrifice in Hebrews 8–10,” in many ways reinforces Compton’s previous assertions. He traces the argument of each section and then shows how the role of Psalm 110 enables the author’s progress. For example, with regard to the author’s quotation of Jeremiah 31.31–34, Compton claims that “perhaps without the inferences drawn from Ps. 110.1 and 4, the author would not have felt at liberty to suggest via Jeremiah 31 that the Levitical cult’s sacrifices were deficient…” (p. 106). This chapter in particular deviates from those prior in that the focus on Psalm 110 is largely relegated to the section on its influence. This chapter also has a large number of excurses (six), which interrupt the flow of the chapter substantially.

The conclusion summarizes the expositional units from the chapters preceding, with an additional chart that traces the author’s logic and summarizes the key facet of Psalm 110 at work in each section of Hebrews. These facets are “enthroned,” “priest,” “permanent,” “heavenly,” and “seated.” Here Compton also summarizes Hebrews 10.19–13.19 as “transitional summary, additional warnings, and exhortations.”

As noted above, Compton’s monograph is well-structured (apart from the excurses) and easy to follow. His language is clear, and he covers a broad range of interpretive issues within the passages that he has selected. The command of both primary and secondary literature is likewise noteworthy. Nevertheless, I have some substantive concerns with the monograph as a whole. First, while “messiah,” “messianism,” and other related terms appear countless times throughout, I could not find Compton’s definition of what he thinks “messianism” entails for the author of Hebrews. Is it primarily consistent with Hebrew Bible? The texts found at Qumran? Neither? Since messianism and Psalm 110 are so closely linked in the chapters to come (due I think to Compton’s strong connection between messianism and the “Davidic” Psalms in the LXX), his failure to provide a definition is a significant omission. At times, it appears the term stretches to ensure it applies to every passage addressed. This relates to another concern, the selection of passages. By eliminating the sections that Compton classifies as exhortation (curiously all of Hebrews 11–13?), he not only stacks the deck in his favor, but he also does damage to the logic of Hebrews as a whole. He eliminates the wilderness motif found especially in Hebrews 3–4, the discussion of faith in Hebrews 11, eschatology and the heavenly mountain in Hebrews 12, and so many other crucial elements of the author’s program. Indeed, perhaps it is primarily the packaging of this monograph that I hold in contention. In my estimate, this is not a monograph about Psalm 110 in the entire epistle, but it is a monograph about messianism and Psalm 110 in selected (though by all means crucial) passages in Hebrews.

Madison N. Pierce
Durham University
m.n.pierce [at]


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