What Name Did God Give the Messiah?

What Name Did God Give the Messiah? August 29, 2015

Most Christians probably would think that this is a stupid question. For the most part, I would agree with them. But in the history of Christianity, for many Trinitarian Christians the most important biblical text they have cited for their belief that Jesus is God is Philippians 2.6-11. Modern scholars identify it as a hymn, calling it “the Philippian hymn.” There is no consensus among them on whether or not Paul crafted this hymn himself or he merely adopted it as one probably known to his readers. The majority of scholars are inclined toward the latter. One feature of this text has to do with what name God gave Jesus.

I have fifteen pages about Philippians 2.6-11 in my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ. There have been two main interpretations of it. The “preexistence interpretation” means that Jesus preexisted “in the form of God” (v. 6) and then “emptied himself” (v. 7), usually regarded as him emptying himself of certain divine attributes in order to become a man by taking on “human form.” The other view is called the “human interpretation,” to which I subscribe and of which an increasing number of New Testament scholars have been embracing. It has been most ably explained, and thus adopted, by my friend Dr. James D. G. Dunn. It means that this text says no more about Jesus than that he was born a human being, died, and God greatly exalted him, implicitly referring to his resurrection and heaven session. So, according this view, the self-emptying does not mean Jesus preexisted but that he humbled himself, rather than grasped at “equality with God” (v. 6) as Adam did, by becoming obedient to God in going to the cross to die for our sins. Nevertheless, Dunn is a Trinitarian as are many other scholars who adopt this human interpretation of Philippians 2.6-11.

So, according to this human interpretation of the hymn, it especially and purposely contrasts the righteous Jesus with sinfully-fallen Adam as another piece of Paul’s Adam christology as he also has in Romans 5.12-14 and 1 Corinthians 15.45-47. Due to this Adam christology, scholars identify Jesus as “the second Adam.” I think it is difficult to reconcile Adam christology with the classical incarnation christology–that the preexistent Logos-Son became the human being Jesus.

In my book, I worked hardest on my treatments of Philippians 2.6-11 and John 1.1c. Especially in light of so-called orthodox christology (Jesus is both God and man), there are several christological issues that arise in this Philippian hymn. The last one regards what is meant by its final words, “Therefore God also highly exalted him [Jesus], and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Most Trinitarians claim that this hymn means that “the name” that God gave Jesus is “Lord,” whereas, in my book I take the view that “the name” here is “Jesus.”

This doesn’t make much difference in theology except that Trinitarians often cite various texts in Paul’s letters as evidence that Paul implicitly calls Jesus “God” when he calls him “Lord.” The reason for this is that the Septuagint (3rd century BC Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible=Old Testament) translates God’s name, YHWH, as kurios, which is the Greek word for “lord.” YHWH appears almost 7,000 times in the Hebrew Bible. Thus, many Trinitarian scholars assume that New Testament writers calling Jesus “Lord” means they are calling him YHWH, meaning God. I think this is a ridiculous interpretation, but I won’t bore you with my reasons except one. It’s kind of like saying the King James version of the Bible is the inspired version.

The reason I am writing this post is that I just read in Early Christian Creeds (3rd ed. 1972; orig. 1950), something about this, and I wish I would have put it in my RJC book. Its author, J.N.D. Kelly, is regarded as one of the preeminent scholars on church creeds and patristic writings. He relates on p. 125 concerning Philippians 2.9-10 that a certain scholar says “‘the name which is above every name’ was in the eyes of second-century churchmen [referring] to the title ‘Lord.’ To the majority of modern exegetes it seems indisputable that such was St Paul’s meaning. The ancient fathers, however, thought differently. For them ‘the name which is above every name’ was generally the sacred name of Jesus,” to which I say “Amen” (=”I believe it”).


To see a list of titles of 130+ posts (2-3 pages) that are about Jesus not being God in the Bible, with a few about God not being a Trinity, at Kermit Zarley Blog click “Chistology” in the header bar. Most are condensations of my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ. See my website servetustheevangelical.com, which is all about this book,  with reviews, etc. Learn about my books and purchase them at kermitzarley.com. I was a Trinitarian for 22 years before reading myself out of it in the Bible.

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