Reviewed by Matt Emadi
The New Testament authors quote Psalm 110 more than any other Old Testament passage. Of the entire New Testament corpus, the epistle to the Hebrews relies most heavily on this psalm to shape and inform the logic of its argument. In Psalm 110 and the Logic of Hebrews, Compton focuses on the role of Psalm 110 in the theological logic of the epistle. According to Compton, the function of the Old Testament in the structure and logic of Hebrews has been a neglected area of research (1–18). Compton’s book attempts to overcome this neglect by analyzing Psalm 110 within the major expositional sections of the epistle: Hebrews 1–2, 5–7, and 8–10. According to Compton, the logic of these expository sections turns on inferences drawn from Psalm 110:1 and 4. Compton constructs each of his main chapters by analyzing the expository sections before discussing the role Psalm 110 plays in the logic of the author’s argument.
In chapter 1, Compton lays out the trajectory of his study. He follows George Guthrie’s observation that Hebrews contains two genres—exposition and exhortation—that can be separately considered (2–3). Compton analyzes the role of Psalm 110 in the expository sections of Hebrews in order to uncover a comprehensive understanding of the author’s discourse. In this chapter, Compton also surveys the research on the use of Psalm 110 in Hebrews, although no “full-scale” treatment of the use of Psalm 110 in Hebrews has been conducted in Hebrews’ scholarship (7–11).
In chapter 2, Compton divides the first major expositional unit of Hebrews (Heb 1–2) into its three main sections (Heb 1:5–14; 2:5–9; Heb 2:10–18) to unpack the role Psalm 110 plays in each. In the first of these sections, Compton shows how the scriptural catena in Hebrews 1:5–14 legitimizes the resurrected Jesus as the enthroned messiah. According to Compton, Psalm 110 accomplishes three primary purposes in Hebrews 1:5–14. First, Psalm 110:1 is both the climax to the first exposition (Heb 1:13) and the foundation on which the messianic argument of Hebrews 2:5–9 is built (37). Second, as the concluding citation to the Davidic catena in Hebrews 1:5–12, Psalm 110:1 establishes the framework for the author’s entire argument along the lines of promise-fulfillment (37). Third, Psalm 110 is the key to understanding why the author chose angels to be the foil for building his case for the son’s supremacy as the human messiah.
Next, Compton analyzes Hebrews 2:5–9. His discussion focuses on the author’s use of Psalm 8 in the logic of the argument and he tackles the difficult issues surrounding the temporal phrase βραχύ τι in Hebrews 2:9. Compton brings together the anthropological and eschatological meaning of Psalm 8 in its original context to show how both relate to the author’s Christology. In Hebrews 2:5–9, the author appeals to Psalm 8 to present Jesus as the answer to humanity’s problem. Jesus is the enthroned (eschatological) human messiah (anthropological) who reigns over the world to come (eschatological) as the true image of God and true Adam (anthropological). What role does Psalm 110 play in this section? Compton gives four answers: First, Psalm 110:1a justifies the author’s claim in Hebrews 2:9 that Jesus has already been “crowned” in keeping with the vision of Psalm 8 for humanity (51–52). Second, Psalm 110:1b facilitates the author’s eschatological reading of Psalm 8 by demonstrating how Psalm 8 can be fulfilled in Christ while his readers have not yet received final dominion. Third, the imagery of an enthroned messiah awaiting the final subjugation of his enemies in Psalm 110:1 solidifies the presence of the eschatological age. Jesus’ suffering was the means whereby the vision of Psalm 8 and Psalm 110:1a was secured. Lastly, Psalm 110:4 subtly informs the logic of a messianic representative in Hebrews 2:5–9—a fact that will become explicit in the next exposition (cf. Heb 2:17).
In the final section of this chapter, Compton discusses Hebrews 2:10–18 even though explicit citations of Psalm 110 are lacking in these verses (53–65). This section explains why Jesus had to suffer and die in order to win humanity’s salvation and in order to rule the coming world. The influence of Psalm 110 in this section manifests itself in various ways, but primarily through the author’s mention of Jesus as the successful ἀρχιερεύς who defeats death through his own suffering and death (64–65).
In chapter 3, Compton analyzes the role of Psalm 110 in the major expository sections of Hebrews 5–7 (Heb 5:1–10; 7:1–10, 7:11–28). The influence of Psalm 110 in each of these sections pertains to the psalm’s priestly Melchizedekian messianism (Ps 110:4). In Hebrews 5:1–10, the author appeals to Psalm 110:4 to establish the fact that the messiah was expected to be a priest (66–76). In Hebrews 7:1–10, the author of Hebrews exposits Genesis 14:17–20 in light of Psalm 110:4 to establish the superiority of the Melchizedekian priesthood over the Levitical priesthood (76–86). According to Compton, the Melchizedekian priesthood is the superior priesthood because it is a permanent priesthood (85). Lastly, Compton demonstrates how Hebrews 7:11–28 builds on the argument of Christ’s permanent priesthood in order to show that Christ’s permanent priesthood is able provide perfection 86–96). This perfection is, according to Compton, to be associated with eternal salvation (97).
Chapter 4 covers Hebrews 8–10 by analyzing the role of Psalm 110 in Hebrews 8:1–13, 9:1–10, 9:11–28, and 10:1–18. Each of these sections builds on the others to unfold the relationship between (1) Christ’s permanent priesthood and better covenant and (2) the relationship between the permanent priest and a sufficient, vicarious sacrifice. Through these relationships, Compton concludes that these final four expositions develop the logic of Psalm 110:1 and 4 to explain how the messiah would restore the vision of Psalm 8 to humanity (Heb 2:10–18).
In chapter 5, Compton summarizes his work and offers a couple of suggestions for further study. Based on his analysis of Psalm 110 in the logic of Hebrews, he infers that the epistle’s audience may have struggled with doubts about the plausibility of a suffering messiah (170). Furthermore, the epistle’s attention to Jesus’ heavenly session may have been driven by a concern to demonstrate the presence of the messianic era even though Jesus is not physically on earth delivering his people from suffering (171).
Compton’s monograph is a helpful and compelling contribution to Hebrews’ scholarship. He has produced, in my opinion, the best and most comprehensive work on the use of Psalm 110 in Hebrews. The fact that not much work been done on the use of Psalm 110 in the logic of the entire epistle is somewhat of a mystery. As Compton points out, scholarship dealing with the structure of Hebrews or Hebrews’ use of the Old Testament has focused on issues of rhetorical devices and classic rhetoric or hermeneutics and exegetical method (2). By focusing on the author’s use of Psalm 110—as opposed to rhetorical issues, linguistic analysis, or Sitz im Leben—Compton has appropriately identified the primary source undergirding the macrostructure of the epistle’s argument, namely Psalm 110. Compton’s razor sharp exegesis and insightful analysis of how Psalm 110 informs the major expository sections of Hebrews, presents a compelling case that Psalm 110 undergirds the logic and structure of the epistle.
Compton’s research of the secondary literature is thorough and his exegesis engages the major issues and debates surrounding the relevant texts. I found many of his exegetical arguments on difficult passages to be some of the most insightful I have ever read. For example, his analysis of how the use Deuteronomy 32:34 and Psalm 102:25–27 fit into the logic of Hebrews 1 (23–36) and the meaning of βραχύ τι in Hebrews 2:9 (44–51), is enormously satisfying.
Furthermore, Compton did not shy away from difficult interpretative issues even when they were not immediately relevant to his thesis. He includes ten excurses dealing with some of the most challenging exegetical issues in Hebrews. The excurses add an extra layer of depth to Compton’s work and demonstrate his command of the relevant issues.
While I do not have any major criticisms of Compton’s work, I do have a few exegetical quibbles. For example, he could have more fully developed the logic behind the author of Hebrews’ reason for juxtaposing Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4 in Hebrews 5:5–6 to support Christ’s appointment to the high priesthood. Compton explains the relationship between the author’s use of Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4 as one of analogy. In other words, the messiah’s appointment to sonship is analogous to his appointment to priesthood (70–71). I wonder, however, if the relationship between Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4 is much deeper. It appears that the author of Hebrews was operating within a larger biblical-theological framework where the status of sonship (Ps 2:7) and royal priesthood (Ps 110:4) picks up God’s original design for covenant mediation reflected in creation (Adam) and later picked up in Israel. Maybe this example suggests that a chapter on Psalm 110 in its Old Testament context would have helped Compton’s argument by laying the foundation for Hebrews’ Christological appropriation of this psalm.
Compton limited his analysis of Psalm 110 in the logic of Hebrews to the major expository sections of Hebrews. By doing so, I believe that he was able to accomplish his goal of uncovering the influence of Psalm 110 on the structure and logic of the epistle’s argument. Nevertheless, Psalm 110 may inform the logic of the epistle in the places Compton did not address. For example, on the heels of Hebrews 11, Hebrews 12:2 alludes to Psalm 110:1 in an important Christological passage addressing Jesus as Israel’s climactic expression of faithfulness. The use of Psalm 110:1 in Hebrews 12:2 is connected to the author’s broader Christological development of Jesus as the “founder” and “perfecter” of faith (cf. Heb 2:10; 5:7–10).
Compton rightly recognizes that there are places in Hebrews where Psalm 110 is not cited, but influences the logic of the author’s argument (64)—a point that could have been further developed. For example, I posit that Psalm 110 undergirds the Joshua-Jesus typology in Hebrews 4. In Hebrews 4:14, Jesus’ Joshua-like entry (“passing through”) into heaven is a function of his high priesthood. How does Jesus’ priesthood fit with the author’s Joshua-Jesus typology? Perhaps Psalm 110 provides the answer. Whenever the author of Hebrews mentions the high priesthood of Jesus, it is fair to assume that he has the Melchizedekian priesthood in mind. If Psalm 110 undergirds the logic of the Joshua-Jesus typology, then it makes sense why a Melchizedekian high priest “passes through” heaven to provide the rest that Joshua could not (Heb 4:14). Jesus has begun his work of global conquest—“sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”—as the Melchizedekian priest by passing through the borders of the heavenly Zion in fulfillment of Psalm 110:1 and 4.
Again, these are minor quibbles and points that Compton did not need to address to substantiate his thesis. Compton’s work is superb. It is a well-written, carefully researched, highly needed piece of scholarship in Hebrews research. Compton compellingly argues that Psalm 110 undergirds the logic and structure of Hebrews. The author to the epistle to the Hebrews was a master of Old Testament exegesis and Psalm 110 was the foundation on which his entire argument was built. Compton has done a great service to pastors and scholars by helping us all to grasp more fully the logic of this theologically rich epistle.
Matthew Emadi is pastor at Crossroads Church in Sandy, Utah.
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Psalm 110 and the Logic of Hebrews