Seeing the Psalms Across the New Testament
How much do the Jewish Psalms permeate the Christian Scriptures? And, why does it matter?
To answer that first question, I turned to my Accordance library’s GNT OT Cross References. After searching for “Psalms,” I clicked on View Analytics, and then on Hits Graph.
The results? The New Testament contains more than 100 quotations from the Psalms. With two small exceptions, every New Testament writer draws from the beloved hymnbook of God’s chosen people.
In the opening line of the New Testament, Matthew declares that Jesus is “the son of David” and then uses 15 quotations from the Psalms to prove His Messiahship.
Mark follows suit with 10 more quotations.
In Luke’s Gospel, you find the Psalms absolutely everywhere.
When Mary—“a virgin pledged to be married to...a descendant of David”—breaks out in song (1:46-55), she effortlessly quotes repeatedly from the Psalms. The same is true of Zacharias, father of John the Baptist (1:68-79).
Even Satan gets in on the act, misquoting Psalm 91:11-12 when tempting the Lord Jesus (Luke 4:10-11).
Jesus Himself draws from the Psalms frequently and with authority to teach the people (Luke 13:19, 13:27), lament over Jerusalem (Luke 13:35), confound His enemies (Luke 20:17), and give evidences of His Messiahship (Luke 20:42-43). He quotes from the Psalms while dying on the cross (Luke 23:46) and again after His resurrection while explaining Old Testament Messianic prophecies to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27).
Furthermore, Luke records how the multitudes quoted from the Psalms during the triumphal entry (Luke 19:38), how the soldiers unwittingly fulfilled Psalm 22:18 (Luke 23:34) and Psalm 69:21 (Luke 23:36), and how the religious leaders unintentionally fulfilled Psalm 22:7-8 (Luke 23:35).
John follows the lead of the synoptic writers, drawing from the Psalms 15 times in his Gospel and book of Revelation.
The good news of Jesus Christ is almost unintelligible apart from the Psalms. So is the history of the Early Church. Jesus, His mother, His disciples—they all demonstrate a profound love and knowledge of the Psalter.
You find the Psalms on the lips of Peter when he recommends appointing another apostle to replace Judas (quoting verses from two psalms in Acts 1:20), when he preaches to the multitudes on the day of Pentecost (quoting three other psalms in Acts 2:25-28, 2:30, 2:31, 2:34-35), and when he speaks in his defense before the Sanhedrin (quoting still another psalm in Acts 4:11). Not surprisingly, years later he quotes repeatedly from the Psalms in both of his epistles.
In addition, you find the Psalms on the lips of the apostle Paul when he preaches his first evangelistic sermon (quoting two psalms in Acts 13:33 and 13:35) and 26 more times in his epistles.
The writer of Hebrews quotes the Psalms another 19 times, with special emphasis on the superiority of Jesus Christ, proving beyond doubt that He is both Lord and Savior.
The early Christians looked first and foremost to the Psalms to understand more fully the significance of Jesus Christ’s person and work. To them, however, the Psalms were more than prophetic theological texts. They were Holy Spirit-inspired songs of joy and praise.
During the Last Supper, Jesus evidently sang the traditional Passover psalms of praise (perhaps Psalms 113-118) with the apostles (see Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26).
The traditional Jewish appreciation for the rich Messianic nature of many of the Davidic psalms only grew as the early Christians continued to study and meditate upon them.
After Pentecost, the apostles actively promoted the recitation and singing of psalms whenever the church gathered for worship (1 Corinthians 14:26, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). They also quoted from Psalms in their prayers (Acts 4:25-26).
As well, the apostles Paul and John record a number of new, distinctly Christian psalms exalting the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:6-11 and Revelation 4-5, 7, 11, 12, 15, 16, and 19).
Throughout the centuries, the psalms of David remained especially dear to the hearts of the Church.
Chrysostom noted, “If we keep vigil in the church, David comes first, last, and midst. If early in the morning, we seek for the melody of the hymns, first, last, and midst is David again.”
Until the proliferation of Christian hymnbooks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many branches of the Church used the Psalter almost exclusively for public worship.
Based on the authority and example of the New Testament, Christian have both the freedom to use new songs to exalt Jesus Christ and every reason to continue to declare the Lord’s praises as recorded in the Psalms.