A Summit in Cambridge

Michael G. McKelvey
Associate Professor of Old Testament
Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson

In 2015, four young scholars converged upon Cambridge, England. The group gathered at the invitation of the International Reference Library for Biblical Research, who organized and funded the event. The gathering, entitled “Young Scholars Summit,” was graciously hosted at Tyndale House (Cambridge), and two senior scholars, Daniel Fredricks (Bellhaven) and Richard Taylor (DTS), oversaw the week’s activities. The group invited to participate in this summit consisted of two New Testament scholars and two Old Testemant scholars: Miraim Kovalishyn (Regent College), Brandon Crowe (Westminster), Andrew Abernethy (Wheaton), and Michael McKelvey (RTS). Their task was to explore and discuss four particular psalms (Pss 8, 16, 40, and 118) with regard to the broader question of what constitutes a Messianic psalm. The main purpose was to foster interaction regarding the interpretation of these psalms in the context of the Hebrew scriptures and their subsequent employment in the New Testament. Of course, conversations regarding the use of the psalms in the New Testament are as old as the Christian church itself, but there remains a great need for further dialogue on this significant hermeneutical matter for a better understanding of the scriptures and for the edification of Christ’s church. The summit participants were under no illusion that the issues surrounding this topic would be resolved over the course of a week’s meetings. Their expectations were more measured. At a minimum, they hoped to gain some direction on this matter in their own thinking, and perhaps, that this work would then bear fruit for the church in some manner.

The bulk of the summit included four days of interpretation and discussion concerning the psalms mentioned above. The mornings were devoted to examining the psalm in the original language and considering its message in the light of the psalter and the Old Testament as a whole. The afternoons were then given to the New Testament use of the individual psalm, and the hermeneutical matters surrounding those texts. To say the least, the interaction was lively, serious, focused, entertaining, exhausting, and at times, comical, but each participant noted that the time together was enjoyable and insightful, and a worthwhile experience.

One of the central questions that kept arising was “what is meant by messianic?” Are only some particular psalms messianic, or only those used in the New Testament, or is the Psalter as a whole in some way messianic? The term “messianic” is used in a variety of ways by interpreters, and virtually every scholar defines a messianic psalm by different standards. This is a topic that deserves much more discussion and consideration, and it was repeatedly brought up during the summit. No consensus on this matter was achieved, but there was general agreement that the messianic nature of the Psalms are both particular (with some individual psalms) and holistic (as a whole corpus). Hopefully, this question will be discussed further in research and dialogue over the coming decades.

As the conference drew to a close, each scholar was assigned one of the four psalms, and tasked with writing a paper that was later presented at a session of the Institute for Biblical Research during the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Research, November 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. The following articles in this journal are the fruit of that summit in Cambridge and the session in Atlanta. The hope for these articles is that they will foster dialogue and further study regarding the messianic nature of the psalms, and that the church will grow in its understanding of the richness of the Psalter as it points God’s people to Jesus, the Messiah!