What is the New Testament referring to, when it tells us about the “paths of life” in Acts 2:28?
Peter quotes this small passage from Psalm 16:8-11. Peter was declaring the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He then connected this passage in David’s Psalm prophesying about the resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus (Acts 2:24).
If you look at the original Psalm 16 passage you will notice some slight differences especially in the beginning. These differences are due to Peter quoting from the Septuagint (the Greek text of the Old Testament) instead of from the Masoretic text (the Hebrew text of the Old Testament).
In Psalm 16 David expresses his trust in the Lord that he will preserve David’s life. But he seems to speak beyond his current life into the future. He says that the Lord will not abandon his soul to Sheol, the place of the grave, or a holding place for souls. It is the place where he rests with his forefathers.
This is key to Peter’s reference to resurrection. David declares his trust that God will not abandon his soul to death. He expresses the fact that God will not allow him to see corruption, what I interpret to be the corruption of the body.
David declares his faith that God will raise his Holy One from the dead. The holy one most likely refers to his descendent who remains on his throne forever, the Messiah. If it wasn’t already a messianic Psalm, Peter interprets it as one in his sermon to the men of Israel.
David also refers to his beautiful inheritance, perhaps another reference to resurrection after death and decay. The fact that he talks about bodily resurrection, the body itself being preserved from corruption, also agrees with the resurrection of Jesus, for his body was not in the tomb.
While the Septuagint shortens the original Hebrew, when you look at Psalm 16 you see an expansion of what it means for the paths of life. First, the paths of life could have referred to David’s current life. And we know from what we have already seen of Psalm 16 that he refers to resurrection after death.
So the paths of life could be interpreted, especially from Peter’s entire sermon, as life after the resurrection with God. This is why David mentions fullness of joy in God’s presence. Elsewhere Jesus has told us that God is the God of the living, not the dead (Mark 12:27).
So David is talking about the life of resurrection, eternal life in Christ the Messiah. This is Peter’s whole reason for bringing it up during his sermon. He is using David’s Psalm to show that even David understood that the Messiah, Jesus, would be raised from the dead and make resurrection possible for the saints.
The final line of the Psalm, “at your right hand are pleasures for evermore,” is a synonymous line with the last one. “In your presence” and “at your right hand” are the same experience. So David affirms that God will raise him from the dead after he has raised his Holy One.
The paths of life refer to eternal life in Christ, the resurrection of the body, soul, and spirit by Jesus Christ. “Paths of life” are not just experienced by Christians in the here and now, but for eternity.