Acts 2 – Peter and the Hebrew Bible

Peter’s sermon is a summary of the sorts of things he would have preached in any similar context.  He is speaking to rather well educated Jews in the Temple, people who knew their Hebrew Bible very well.  Rather than pursue modern logical arguments, he turns to the Psalms and shows that David does not exhaust the meaning of the text. Since the messiah is to be a new David, the psalms Peter cites are turning into prophecies of Jesus’ resurrection.

Peter and Paul by El GrecoIn order to show that the Messiah would rise from the dead, Peter quotes Psalm 16:8-11. In this text, David states his faith that God will not abandon him in the grace not “allow him to see decay.” Peter points out that David died and was not resurrected, his tomb was still venerated in Jerusalem to that day. Perhaps people in the audience had already visited the tomb of David during their visit to the City! Modern tours of Israel often visit the Upper Room and the Tomb of David at the same time since they are relatively close together.

Psalm 16 is remarkable in that both Peter and Paul cite it as a prophecy of the resurrection of Jesus (cf., Acts 13:32-37). Yet when one reads Psalm 16, there is little there that hints at a messianic interpretation. To tease out a messianic implication from the psalm Peter blends it with Psalm 132:11 and applies it to Jesus.

To me, this is an exegetical maneuver which I would not a student to make, and probably if I heard a pastor use Scripture in this way I would probably have a few things to say about his exegetical method.  But int he context of Jewish interpretation of Scripture, this makes sense.  Combining texts in this way creates new possibilities which are then applied to new situations.  I think this might be a case where we should be careful how we try and apply Scripture, Peter is not giving a lesson on how to read the Hebrew Bible, only showing that these texts allude in some way to the resurrection.

To further his case, Peter cites Psalm 110, another well known messianic prophecy. There David is told that he would be exalted to the very throne of God and that God would make all his enemies his footstool. This too cannot have been exhaustively fulfilled in the life David. Although David was given great victories, and he was the greatest king in Israel’s history, he was not raised to the level of the throne of God!

Peter therefore tells the crowd that Jesus non only rose from the dead but was taken up to heaven like Elijah or Moses (or Enoch, for that matter). In those three cases, the person was a highly respected prophet who did not experience death. Like the great men of old, God confirmed Jesus’ message by doing miracles through him, but he allowed him to die in order to initiate the new covenant.

Since Jesus fulfills the psalm which David could not, he is confirmed as the Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). This is the most shocking point in the whole sermon – everything which the Hebrew Bible looked forward to had happened with Jesus, he was in fact the Lord and Messiah.

6 thoughts on “Acts 2 – Peter and the Hebrew Bible

  1. I have often heard complaints about people taking scripture out of context in order to support their side of an issue. People may quote Romans 6:1 in support of a more worldly or sinful lifestyle. If I understand correctly, this is what Peter did in a way in Acts 2. While all of the Psalms that were quoted support his argument, they do not necessarily coincide with one another. Peter was saying that David’s claim that he would not “see decay” was fulfilled through Christ; that David’s claim to be at the throne of God and to overcome all of his enemies was fulfilled through Christ. Peter used the scripture of the Old Testament to support what he and the other disciples had seen and to explain to the Jews what had happened. This support is necessary for the time in that the strange actions of the disciples were seemingly crazy and unexplainable. With the support of the prophesies of what Jesus would do and what He would fulfill, Peter could then proclaim the glory that he had witnessed and hopefully show others that this was/is the “real deal”; the “way, the truth, and the life.”

  2. I think that Peter’s point in preaching this scripture is not necessarily to have concrete evidence in prophecy for the resurrection of the Messiah, but to as content and meat to his preaching on the resurrection. In the passages used it does not directly say that “the Messiah will be raised from the dead”. Peter’s use of this scripture seems to me as to discuss the resurrection in terms that the Jew’s would be able to understand and take credibility from. “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you: listen carefully to what I say.” (Acts 2:14) Peter is addressing a primarily Jewish audience so it makes sense that he would use the prophets and David to provide substance to his message. He states that David was a prophet and knew what was ahead, and Psalms 16 speaks of the Messiah. I find it interesting that Peter spoke first of the Holy Spirit prophesied in Joel and then addresses the resurrection of Jesus, as the two are chronologically backwards. He accuses the crowd; “and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” He goes onto say that God raised him from the dead. He is displaying the omnipotence of God, and how the power and plan of God cannot be stopped. “Like the great men of old, God confirmed Jesus’ message by doing miracles through him, but he allowed him to die in order to initiate the new covenant.” I think that the main point of Peter’s point is to prove that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and his actions go further than the prophets of old by being raised from the dead.

  3. In Acts 2 Peter speaks opening about the resurrection of Jesus. He does it in a unique way. “Rather than pursue modern logical arguments, he turns to the Psalms and shows that David does not exhaust the meaning of the text” (Long). Peter boldly turns to the Psalms to explain that the event of Jesus’ resurrection has been prophesied for ages. Instead of looking at the Psalms in a way that would suggest David is the main focus, he looks at them in a prophetic way, where Jesus is the focus. In Psalms 16, there is talk of someone who will always live with God and never experience decay. Many of the original readers would quickly assume that the person the text referenced is David. However, it is obvious that “David is dead, buried, and his tomb is accessible to the public in Jerusalem” (Jipp 44). Therefore, the Psalm cannot be speaking about him living forever. Peter takes advantage of this knowledge and suggests that Jesus is who is being referenced in this Psalm. If Psalm 16 is looked at prophetically it makes sense that Jesus would be the one who is written about. David said that “you will not let your Holy one see decay” (Acts 2:28, Psalm 16:8-11). The Holy one being referenced is not David but is in fact Jesus. This is a bold step for Peter to take, but the implication makes sense to current readers and the people in Acts 2. As we now know, Jesus rose from the dead and now lives forever. In Acts 2, the people did not fully know this, but Peter was taking this opportunity to prove it to them. He was showing them the text in Psalm to make it clear the listeners that Jesus had risen. He furthers his discussion on the resurrection of Jesus by speaking more about David and his throne. In verse 30, Peter specifically discusses how God promised David an heir that would reign on the throne forever. He is referencing Psalm 132:11 which says “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne.” In verses 31 and 36, Peter states that this descendant is Jesus. This would only be possible if Jesus was alive. This is how Peter chose to display that this was true. Jesus fulfilled the promise the David could not. This shows that He is the Holy One who will live forever, and therefore must have been risen from the dead.

  4. The fact that Paul and Peter both reference the same scripture from Psalm 16, Acts 13 and Psalm 132 to make their points even though there is not an obvious correlation between the two passages makes me realize all of the different possible interpretations that can be made from the words in the Bible. I can see why there is so many different religions and denominations throughout our world because one person can read a verse and take one meaning away from it and another person can read it and take a different meaning away from it.
    Two people can read the same passage and interpret it differently and then live their lives differently because of it but the same general principles should still apply. People should not pick and choose parts of the bible to believe in. All of the prophecies in the Bible have came true including the ones that you mentioned so there is no reason to believe some parts and not others besides just not wanting to live your life that way.

  5. Right away, the fact that Peter uses the psalms to show that Jesus is the one who fulfilled the messianic prophecy caught my attention. As stated in the article, these psalms do not seem like they fit with the discussion of Jesus being the Messiah, but that is not the only odd thing about Peter using the psalms. Typically, in the Hebrew culture, the psalms were considered the part of scripture for the woman. With this being the case, I don’t know if the psalms then would have been less studied by the men, therefore making the meanings of passages not as known to them. Another aspect as to why Peter is using the psalms is that it appears that Peter is not only talking to educated men but to women as well. Polhill mentions that the setting of Peter’s sermon is in the temple grounds because of the large number of people who are present (2083). According to Acts 2:5-11, there were a lot of people present at the time. If I am not mistaken, the temple grounds were open to both men and women, thus making the usage of the psalms a way to minister to both men and women.
    Now the psalms themselves referring to a Messiah from David is also very fascinating. Looking at the genealogy of David, we see that Jesus is a direct descent of the king as Matthew 1:1-17 lays out. So, when Peter speaks that David had indeed died, he points out then that the poetry that David had seemingly written about himself is actually about the Messiah. However, David seems to know that through his bloodline, the Messiah will come. Thus, David will not die because Jesus is the new David and Jesus is the Messiah who rose from the dead and fulfilled the scriptures as Peter pointed to in both Psalm 110 and Psalm 16.

  6. In Acts 2, Peter preaches the gospel and reaffirms Jesus Christ as the Jewish Messiah to educated Jews in the temple. This undertaking would need to display exegetical proof and precision of knowledge of the scriptures, for his audience knew the Old Testament quite firmly. This results, not in modern arguments to the likes of the minimal facts approach, rather it looks towards the Old Testament itself for textual evidence. Firstly, Peter points to Psalms 16:8-11 as evidence of the prophetic proclamation of Jesus’s resurrection. This is proven, according to Peter, because did die and was not resurrected. Furthermore, Peter cites 132:11, asserting this verse is about Jesus Christ.
    Some might argue that these verses cited have no validity in being interpreted as Messianic. Also, many might disagree with the exegetical methods of Peter’s reasoning, finding them unsatisfactory for modern practice standards. However, as Long notes, within the context of the Jewish technique of Biblical interpretation methods, it was logically consistent. The combining of separate Biblical passages and comparing similarities of the messaging led to a more complete understanding of the text, in light of the new situation which emerged.
    Therefore, we should not be greatly concerned with the lack of modern exegetical practices being performed. It was not culturally prevalent nor important, rather the method which Paul used was the most effective to display to the educated temple Israelites that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. When viewed in proper context, we see that the prophetic Biblical passages used by Peter are accurately depicted, yet in light of Jesus Christ, were promptly fulfilled. The long-awaited Messiah which the Jewish people looked forward to had already arrived, been crucified by His own people, and resurrected, establishing the new covenant with His people and the world. The use of scripture by Peter should not be viewed as a standard for reading Biblical passages alongside modern exegetical methods, rather, it should be appreciated in light of the ancient cultural context and its allusion to the Messianic prophecies displayed in the book of Psalms.

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