Psalm 16 takes its place in Christian scripture and eventually in the creed through Peter’s speech to the baffled Jews gathered in Jerusalem on the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost), which celebrates the giving of the law at Sinai. Acts reports that the Holy Spirit rushed upon the disciples, undoing the curse of Babel to enable them to become apostles and proclaim the news in all languages; Jesus of Nazareth had risen from death (Acts 2).
Peter quotes Ps. 16:8–11 (Acts 2:25–28) to explain that David (in Ps. 16) spoke of Jesus’s resurrection in the psalm’s promise of escaping death and abiding forever (16:9–11). Furthermore, the author of Acts reads the resurrection through Ps. 16 to suggest that Jesus was exalted at the right hand of God (Acts 2:33 reflecting Ps. 16:10). Reading this interpretation of the psalm in Acts (reinforced by Ps. 110:1), the later theological tradition inscribed it in the second article of both the Apostles’ and the Nicene creeds to teach the ascension and session of Christ at the right hand of the Father.
The Christian reception of Ps. 16 illustrates a reading strategy that quite transforms the original pedagogy. The general counsel for a morally flourishing and satisfying life with God morphs into a uniquely Christian vision of adhering to the risen Lord, with the commendation to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
Christianity is born by wrestling with ancient texts in light of startling events that require textual grounding in order to be theologically warranted. The Christian reading of David’s psalm is a fresh instruction for people in a quite different context than the one the psalmist originally attributed to David. But the underlying hope is the same. The psalmist reads David’s life, and the author of Acts reads Peter reading the psalmist’s read of David’s experience to the same end: as the “way of life” (Ps. 16:11) for those who “set the Lord always before them” (Ps. 16:8).