Which son is in Psalm 2?
First, let us look at the text itself, always a good place to start. Who is this psalm about? If we read the Hebrew literally, using a hermeneutic of taking the plain meaning of the original text seriously, it should be clear that this psalm is written by a king (likely David himself) about his being anointed to be king by the Lord God himself. In verse 7 the new king says of himself:
I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you. (NRSV)What does the Lord mean by calling the king of Psalm 2 his son? Many Christians immediately assume that this must refer to Jesus, especially since New Testament writers quote this psalm as referring to him. For instance, Paul preaches in Acts 13:32-33:
The king says,“I will announce the
Lord’sdecree. He said to me: ‘You are my son! This very day I have become your father! (NET)
32. And we proclaim to you the good news about the promise to our ancestors, 33. that this promise God has fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have fathered you.’ (NET)Notice that the NET translators, theological conservatives who believe that Jesus is God's Son, the promised Messiah, uppercase "Son" in Acts 13:33, but not in the Hebrew Bible passage which this verse quotes, Psalm 2:7. I personally believe that the NET translators have translated accurately in each passage and appropriately indicated authorial intent with this differing typographical notation. There is lowercase "son" in Psalm 2 because that psalm originally referred to its author, an Israelite king anointed by God. Then there is uppercase "Son" in Acts 13:33 because Paul refers to Jesus as the promised Messiah and supports his argument in typical Jewish rabbinical prooftexting style by applying the Hebrew psalm to Jesus.
So, what is meant when God is quoted in Psalm 2:7 as saying "‘You are my son! This very day I have become your father!"? A NET Bible footnote properly explains:
The Davidic king was viewed as God’s “son” (see 2 Sam 7:14; Ps 89:26-27). The idiom reflects ancient Near Eastern adoption language associated with covenants of grant, by which a lord would reward a faithful subject by elevating him to special status, referred to as “sonship.” Like a son, the faithful subject received an “inheritance,” viewed as an unconditional, eternal gift. Such gifts usually took the form of land and/or an enduring dynasty. See M. Weinfeld, “The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East,” JAOS 90 (1970): 184-203, for general discussion and some striking extra-biblical parallels.If we revise the original meaning of Psalm 2 so that it no longer refers to the Israelite anointed by God to be king hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, then we are importing a Christian interpretation (firmly supported by the New Testament authors) upon the Hebrew Bible. I grew up in a church and theological tradition where this method of translating the Hebrew Bible Messianically was considered appropriate. It was considered proper for us to be guided by our Christian theology as we translated the Hebrew Bible. I no longer consider this approach appropriate translationally. The Hebrew Bible should be translated on its own merits. Each passage should be translated according to the meaning of its original authors writing within their own historical and cultural contexts. As a Christian, I also believe the New Testament: I accept that Jesus, my Messiah, ultimately fulfills or brings an additional fulfillment to many passages in the Hebrew Bible.
I now consider Bible versions which allow wordings of the Hebrew Bible to follow original authorial intent within original contexts to be theologically objective or neutral. That is, they do not Christianize the Hebrew Bible. Do I accept the Hebrew Bible as part of my Christian Bible? Absolutely. But I also want to be fair and accurate when I read it. I want to know who the authors of the Hebrew Bible were originally referring to. Then, later, I read the New Testament and find my heart spiritually warmed as so many Hebrew Bible passages are applied to Jesus, my Messiah. I do not consider it appropriate for my New Testament understanding of Jesus and the application of Hebrew Bible passages to him to influence how we translate the Hebrew Bible. If I am creating a study Bible, I would consider it appropriate to point out in footnotes New Testament applications of Hebrew Bible passages. Psalm 2 would be one of those passages. It is appropriate to cross-reference Psalm 2:7 to Acts 13:33 in study notes.
This position differs from the translational decision taken by some Christian translators today who believe that it is appropriate or even necessary to include a New Testament interpretation of an Old Testament passage within the translation of that O.T. passage. I consider such a practice to be "interpretive translation," the same claim made by critics of various Bible translation wordings who believe that a translation has gone beyond what the original text "says" to what the translator believes it "means."
Following are Bible versions which Christianize Psalm 2:
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. (NIV; "Son" is revised to "son" in the TNIV)Better Bibles should use the least amount of "interpretive translation" necessary for conveying the original meanings of the biblical authors accurately to translation audiences. Some interpretation is always necessary. The very act of translating a single word from one language to another is a kind of interpretation. But we should avoid introducing our own theological understandings of the text when it is possible to translate accurately without them.
“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. (NASB)
I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you. (ESV)
I will declare the Lord’s decree: He said to Me, “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father. (HCSB)
I will announce the LORD's decree. He said to me: “You are my Son. Today I have become your Father. (GW)