I had to preach the Sunday before last. In preparation I came up against the problem of Mark 12:35-37.
While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he said, “How is it that the experts in the law say that the Christ is David’s son? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, said,
‘The Lord said to my lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
If David himself calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” And the large crowd was listening to him with delight (NET Bible).
The quotation is the opening of Psalm 110. The problem is that Jesus in Mark seems to completely misunderstand the Psalm.
Psalm 110 presents an oracle to David, not a statement by David.
A prophet appears before the king and says, “YHWH says to my lord [David] ….”
Mark’s Jesus interprets YHWH and lord as synonomous. But this could hardly happen in Hebrew, where the first lord is YHWH and the second is adoni. Sometimes ADONAI replaces YHWH in Hebrew as a circumlocution, like the capitalized LORD in many English versions. But people knew it stood for the unsayable NAME. Adoni is always a human master or lord.
But in Greek there is only one word for lord, kurios. So the confusion most likely arose in a Greek-speaking environment. This calls into question that this was actually a saying from the historical Jesus. Much more likely is the theory that this saying arose in debate between early Christians and diaspora rabbis. This is especially true since we can’t find Palestinian evidence that Psalm 110 served as a Messianic Psalm. The Dead Sea Scrolls, for instance, never use it that way (Eduard Schweizer’s commentary on Mark).
Jesus could still have made this point, just not by misconstruing Psalm 110. Perhaps Mark does preserve a memory that Jesus claimed not to owe his authority to David. Perhaps it also preserves a memory that Jesus spoke of the son of man at the right hand of God, bringing together an image from this Psalm and Daniel (see Mark 14:62).
The passage reflects a discussion between the early church and the synagogue about the nature of messiahship. Was the messiah a military and political leader like David, only more powerful and exalted? Or did the messiah take on characteristics of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53?
I see no good argument that Jesus was not actually a descendant of David. But this may have seemed a problem to the early Christians arguing that Jesus was a messiah both unlike David, the war lord, and not dependent upon David for his authority.
Eventually Paul voiced the view that Jesus was both son of David and Son of God but on different levels.
“. . .his Son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh, who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:3-4 NET Bible).
Mark 12:35 ff. probably constitutes part of the discussion that led up to Paul’s formulation.
This is not the kind of thing you can get into in a sermon if you want people to stay awake. The point for me is to avoid saying something that is wrong, for example, that David speaks rather than is spoken to in Psalm 110. So I just said that the passage meant that Jesus was a different kind of messiah than the scribes may have expected and that he did not owe his authority to David.