Carson and Ralph Davis wrong on Psalm 1

The gateway to the Psalter - it’s vital to get it right

I’ve previously linked to the John Owen Centre’s 2012 conference “ADAM, in the Bible, the Church and the World” on the SWS linkblog. The final lecture from N. Irishman Michael McClenahan (bio here), entitled “Preaching Adam to Adam’s race”, is essential listening. 

Conference on Adam should lead to preaching about Christ

He first notes that, of course, our task is not to take all the conference has taught about Adam and go home and preach about Adam - but to use it to preach Christ. He then attempts to show how that can be done from two familiar passages: Psalm 1 and the Parable of the Sower (not - he strongly argues - the soils!).

The theological process does not exist for itself, it exists only as a preparation for preaching - Donald Macleod

On Psalm 1 he boldly takes as his starting point the arguments of Don Carson and Dale Ralph Davis (both legends, it should be said) that Psalm 1 should not be interpreted Christologically.

The repeated expectation of a saving king

Salvation, he argues, is fundamentally about representation.As Greg Beale writes in his new Biblical Theology: “There is a repeated new-creational expectation of an Adamic king throughout the OT.” That is the story of the Scriptures - about a new creation through a saving king. So we should read the psalms on light of the fact that the story of the Bible is about new creation through an Adamic king.

Wisdom literature is not standalone advice

The alternative is a reading of it which says: “Read your Bible and pray every day, and you will grow, grow, grow.” But Psalm 1 is not about failure in our personal devotions. A redemptive-historical hermeneutic requires us to read Psalm 1 within the fundamental context of the first and the second man. Wisdom literature is not standalone advice for ‘your best life now’.

This is not you

The psalm pictures a new man who is a fruitful tree of life, planted by a river, yielding abundant fruit - and it’s not you. He is like Adam before the fall. It can’t be any man with his quiet time. This is no more a description of a believer than Psalm 2.

Gateway to the Psalter

McClenahan’s treatment of Psalm 1 is especially important, as he notes that Psalms 1 and 2 are the doorway into the whole Psalter. If we misunderstand them, we’ll misunderstand the rest.

He may disagree with two big names - but he has two even bigger ones on his side:
For Augustine the picture the psalms paints is: “surely to be understood of the Lord Jesus Christ”.
Luther says: “the first psalm speaks literally of Jesus Christ”.