How High is Kyrios Christology?

How High is Kyrios Christology? May 8, 2014

Nijay Gupta has offered a reply on his blog to my post which was critical of his claim that, since Jesus is referred to as “lord” in the New Testament, and “lord” could be used to refer to God, therefore Jesus was being identified with God.

My complaint was, in the first instance, about the way the equation was presented, which seemed to me far too simplistic.

But as Nijay points out, there are passages in the New Testament where Biblical texts which refer to “the Lord” – or in the Hebrew to Yahweh – are applied to Jesus.

How should such passages be understood? I think that we have a clear answer given within the New Testament (although there is relevant background to be found outside it).

In Philippians 2:6-11, Jesus is “hyper-exalted” to a status beyond any that he is said to have had before. In the process, he is given the “name that is above every name” – i.e. the divine name. That name is explicitly said to be given to him by the one who exalted him, namely God. It is not said to be something that he possesses as part of his nature – on the contrary.

And so the New Testament kyrios Christology is indeed rightly called a “high” Christology. It has a human being exalted to a status second only to God himself, and having bestowed upon him the very name of God, enabling him to exercise rule over all things on God’s behalf.

Calling such a Christology “low” would be inaccurate. But so too would be claiming that these texts depict Jesus as sharing in the divine “nature.”

When Nijay writes that “It is hard to read 1 Cor 8:6 and not think that Paul’s own use of Kyrios for Jesus is a “Most High” divine title,” I have to disagree. The text sets Jesus alongside the one God. It doesn’t divide God into one God and one Lord.

And so, in short, I think I was right to emphasize that the mere use of “lord” is not in and of itself indicative of divinity, and Nijay was right to push back that some instances of the title in the New Testament apply Yahweh texts to Jesus. But carrying the discussion further, I think that the New Testament texts themselves indicate that the Hebrew Bible texts applied to Jesus are understood to apply to him because God has bestowed the divine name Yahweh upon him, and not because he is a figure who shares eternally in the divine nature. The latter seems to clearly represent a historical development out of the relevant textual data, and not something that those texts presuppose or assert.

See also Ken Schenck’s post (giving in to the siren call from Nijay, myself, and other bloggers) raising the question of what the consensus on Christology is at the moment. It seems to me that there is still the same longstanding tension between scholars who seek to find ways to defend traditional credal Christology as being an accurate representation of what the New Testament says, and scholars who regard later Christology as a significant development beyond what the New Testament texts (and particularly the earliest of those texts) say.

UPDATE: See now also Nijay’s post on Gathercole’s chapter in the response book, as well as Dustin Smith’s post interacting with Nijay and myself.

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  • Sean Garrigan

    Good points, James. As I’ve shared here in the past, I think that verses like Eph. 1:3, 2 Cor 1:3, 1 Pet 1:3, etc, essentially nullify the argument that Kyrios, when used of Jesus, was a substitute or rendering of the Divine Name. Such verses would have been tantamount to saying “the God and Father of Yahweh”, which, I suspect, would have been abhorrent to Jews, and would have required elucidation.

    Philippians 2 is different, as you note, as it deals with the exaltation of God’s chief agent, and employs rich symbolism in doing so.

    • I think we have to differentiate between two different uses here:
      1) anarthrous kyrios unmodified; and:
      2) anarthrous kyrios with a proper name.

      The former is Biblish for the LORD, the latter is incredibly common and just the way one refers to any master from Herod to Claudius. Normal Greek doesn’t stop existing because there is a layer of Biblish going on.

  • smijer

    First a somewhat off-topic question, then an on-topic quibble:
    1) – Would you say that Hebrews 3 reflects the author’s view of Jesus’ eternal nature, his exalted status, or something else such as his status during his career but before death and resurrection? Would you say the parallels drawn fairly explicitly between Jesus and Yahweh in Hebrews 3 (especially 3:3-4 and 3:6,14-15) support a “higher” christology than merely possession of the divine name and authority (as it seems to read to me)?
    2) – “It has a human being exalted to a status second only to God himself” – I quibble… I see where “second only to God himself” is not contradicted by the text is placing Jesus “second” to God required by the texts you are discussing? Wouldn’t it be more neutral to characterize the Kyrios christology as portraying Jesus as second to no-one with the possible exception of God himself?

    • Hebrews 3 puzzles me, I confess. Jesus is said to be appointed. The builder of the house gets more glory than the house. Moses is as a servant in God’s house, and Jesus like a son. The author’s point could be clearer.

      In 1 Corinthians 15, however, it is clear that all things are subjected to Christ by God, that God is not thus subjected, and that Christ hands all things over to God in the end so that God can be all in all. That seems clearer than your language of “with the possible exception of God.”

      • smijer

        It seems to me that Jesus is parallel to the “builder” while Moses is parallel to the “house” in 3. I just don’t see where Jesus’ implicit designation as son differentiates him from the position of builder and its implicit designation as God… ?

      • C. Bauserman

        Hebrews 3 seems to pull a few weird transitions. First it calls Moses faithful “in the household,” JUST AS Christ was faithful in the house as a high priest (seemingly equal footing). Then it compares Jesus to the builder and Moses to the house itself, saying Jesus has greater glory. It flips back to saying Moses was faithful in all the house, but Christ was a son over the house. It then proceeds to designate what the house is: us. The problem is, it seems like the author is playing off multiple meanings and designations of “house” in that tiny structure…

  • Wayne Coppins

    Dear James, just a minor point and yet one that I think is important, since rhetoric matters. It may just be me over-reading your phrasing, but I find some discomfort in your way of setting up the tension between scholars. On one side you place “scholars who seek to find ways to defend” and on the other side “scholars who regard”.The reason that this frustrates me is that it reminds me of what I sometimes find in quite conservative scholarship, where it is sometimes suggested that scholars (like me) who do not reach their same conclusions are seeking to find ways to undermine the Bible or the like, often by subtly referring to them as “critics”. For my part, I think that with regard to the issue at hand there is a tension between scholars who regard traditional creedal Christology as standing in substantial continuity with earlier and later New Testament perspectives and scholars who regard such Christology as going beyond what is found in the New Testament in a way that introduces a substantial note of discontinuity. At the same time, I think that scholars on both sides are rightly (!) seeking to find ways to defend their perspective, just as I think most (or at least many) scholars on both sides are open to reconsidering their conclusions in light of further discussion and debate. For my part, I don’t see the tension as a contrast between “defenders of the Bible” and “critics of the Bible” as some conservative scholars unfortunately frame it or as a contrast between “historical, objective, honest scholars” and “non-historical scholars blinded by dogma” as less conservative scholars are sometimes inclined to frame it, but between scholars of good will (at least in very many cases) on both sides of this issue (and other issues) who are genuinely seeking to grapple with what views and understandings of the Bible do justice to the Bible and the contents and questions that come to expression within it. So my critique of your phrasing in this post involves a subtle point of rhetoric, and yet one that I think matters. At the same time, what I greatly respect about your post here and more generally is the way that you almost invariably make a concerted effort to advance your own perspective with careful arguments that try to provide a plausible account of the material at issue, a point that also applies to Nijay’s posts. For my part, I do feel the weight of many of your arguments, which (like Daniel Kirk’s arguments) have helped me to rethink some of my perspectives and shift some of the accents of my own understanding, even if I am still inclined, at least at present, to find a higher Christology earlier than you do and to find greater continuity between traditional creedal Christology and the earlier and later perspectives of the New Testament. All the best, Wayne

    • Thanks for making these points, Wayne. I do think that there is definitely a false contrast between “defenders” and “critics.” There is a risk on one side of the spectrum of conforming the evidence to a creed, and on the other side of trying too hard to avoid having the evidence conform to a creed. There are serious scholars on both sides, and people whose role merges with or entirely becomes that of “apologist” when you get far along towards the extremes. I definitely don’t want to articulate, or inadvertently reinforce, that dichotomizing language that I once engaged in and took for granted myself!

      • Wayne Coppins

        Thanks James, I like the way you have formulated the issue that I was raising and appreciate your sensitivity to it!

  • But carrying the discussion further, I think that the New Testament texts themselves indicate that the Hebrew Bible texts applied to Jesus are understood to apply to him because God has bestowed the divine name Yahweh upon him …

    Dr McGrath, please allow me to disagree to that statement. I hope my point here is worth reading.

    Philippians 2:9-11
    New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
    9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
    10 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    11 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

    If we already hold the assumption that God’s name is YHWH, then it doesn’t seem to make sense for YHWH to give his own name to Jesus. Later in verse 10, the passage continues to refer to Jesus with the name “Jesus”, which suggests that the expression “gave him the name that is above every name” implies the exaltation of the name “Jesus” itself, and not simply granting Jesus the name of “YHWH”. Furthermore, the expression “the name that is above every name” necessarily excludes YHWH from the set of “every name”, the logic of which Paul has painstakingly explained in 1 Cor 15, as follows:

    1 Corinthians 15:27-28
    New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
    27 For “God[a] has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him.28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

    I hope this makes sense, and hope to hear your response.

    (I would think that the way Jesus is said to do the things that YHWH is said to do, is easily understood by the fact that Jesus is YHWH’s representative agent. In the Old Testament, YHWH was said to do many things, and in many instances, it was YHWH’s anointed King who did them on YHWH’s behalf. In many cases, even YHWH’s angels are said to be the ones actually doing what YHWH was said to have done. Or even the pillars of cloud and fire. This is the logic of transcendence. I can make a computer program that does things for me, but I can also be said to be the one ultimately responsible for doing those things. I exist on a higher level than my computer program. I think this is how YHWH’s transcendent existence should be understood.)

    • Sean Garrigan

      When I first researched this issue many years ago, I found many scholars and commentators who held that the “name above every name” that Jesus was given was Ἰησοῦ, in harmony with your view. While I find the view plausible, I hesitate to favor it for two reasons:

      1) The context is about the exaltation of Christ, and the symbolism is meant to signify the elevated authority/status that he has been grated by God. It isn’t obvious how giving Jesus his own name would have been the best way to accomplish this.

      2) There is another word in the immediate context that served as a substitute for YHWH, which was undeniably the name above every name for ancient Jews. The bestowal of this name would make the exalted authority/status unmistakable.

      Number 2 is the biggest problem, IMO, for those who favor your view, and, again, there are many.

      • Thanks for chiming in on this more quickly than I managed to. I would just add to Sean’s points a third – or perhaps an intensification of the first. It seems in Philippians 2:6-11 that the name is bestowed upon Jesus to honor him when he is exalted by God. Yet there is no evidence that anyone thought Jesus only came to be known as Jesus at that point.

        As a fourth point, it is also arguable that, for Jews, there could be no other name than “Yahweh” which might be considered the “name above every name.” It is doubtful that anyone would have considered “Joshua” to fit that description. The echo of a Yahweh text from Isaiah, with its language of every knee bowing and every tongue confessing in a context of universal monotheism, likewise makes it unlikely that the Philippians text was redefining monotheism rather than emphatically asserting it.

        • Thanks Sean Garrigan, and Dr McGrath, for the responses. I hope you see that our views work on different assumptions. These are my considerations:

          (1) In Jewish thinking, “name” is synonymous with the person himself. To exalt a person’s “name” is to be exalting the very person.

          (2) Psalm 118:16 says “The right hand of [YHWH] is exalted.” I’m sure we all understand how essential Psalm 118 is to Jesus’ understanding of his own vocation (right up there with Isaiah 53). Also, we find in many, many places in the Old Testament that speak of the same prophecy that YHWH will exalt a “chosen one”, i.e. Messiah, i.e. Christ.

          (3) In the New Testament, Acts 5:31 makes the same argument about Jesus Christ that is echoed throughout the Old Testament (as in point 2), and in the New Testament as well in several places.

          So, what I’m trying to say is that there seems to be no redefinition at all. The exaltation of YHWH’s “right hand”, who is the Messiah, has always been part of Jewish understanding of their own.

          Finally, I would like to add that the Greek word translated as “given”, should not be understood so narrowly to simply mean actually giving Jesus a new name. If God wants to make someone wealthy, he can either multiply the person’s existing wealth, or he can cause the person to acquire wealth from an external source. Both kinds of wealth can be said to be “given” by God.

          I hope this was worth reading.

        • Sean Garrigan

          “As a fourth point, it is also arguable that, for Jews, there could be no
          other name than “Yahweh” which might be considered the “name above
          every name.”

          It’s hard to resist the force of that point, isn’t it? I have friends who believe that “Jesus” is the name, and that the “giving” involved investing it with greater authority/status. The words “…so that in the name of Jesus every knee will bow…” can easily be taken to support that notion. However, as you say, for Jews “Yahweh” is the only name that could be considered “above every name”, and so that is the name that those words would have most naturally implied.

          If Jesus were the only name in the text to which those words could apply grammatically, that would be different, but since (a) the description most naturally implies “Yahweh” in a Jewish setting/writing, (b) the grammar allows Kyrios to be the name referenced, and (c) Kyrios was a substitute for Yahweh, I’m pretty confident that that’s what Paul intended. It would have been helpful if IAO or some other Greek form of the divine name appeared in the text to settle matters, but the ancients apparently weren’t concerned with settling this for me;-)

          • I think you’ve helpfully illustrated an assumption that I feel is unwarranted, viz. the idea that “Lord” being used as a substitute for “YHWH” automatically implies that “Lord” is synonymous with “YHWH”. Throughout the New Testament (and Old Testament), the way “Lord” is used clearly shows that it is an honorific title akin to “master”. So, saying that Jesus Christ is Lord simply means Jesus Christ is Master. It is a servant-master relationship that the New Testament writers are trying to emphasise. If you are satisfied with a simplistic assumption that Lord = YHWH, then you are already ignoring the semantic differences inherent in the language, and thereby misreading the original author’s intent.

          • Sean Garrigan

            Actually, I don’t assume that “Lord” is synonymous with Yahweh. As I pointed out in my first post, I think that verses like Eph. 1:3, 2 Cor 1:3, 1 Pet 1:3, etc, essentially nullify the argument
            that Kyrios, when used of Jesus, was a substitute or rendering of the
            Divine Name.

            In fact, I don’t even think that Jesus was literally named Lord=Yahweh at Philippians 2, either. But I think that the symbolism of giving Jesus God’s name via its substitute Kyrios was a rich, metaphorical means of conveying that he has been exalted as one who is second only to God himself.

          • Yes, I understand how seeing it that way could be a rich metaphorical means of conveying that. The question is whether that was what the author actually intended.

            My point is essentially that the context does not require your kind of reading, and in fact suggests otherwise. There is no example in the entire bible, of person A being given person B’s more-highly-exalted name in order to exalt the status of person A. It just doesn’t seem to work that way. If person A is exalted, it is person A’s own name that is exalted. Person A is synonymous to person A’s own name, so to exalt person A’s own name is to exalt person A. This is the logic I see throughout scripture.

            If you want to figure out the author’s original intended meaning, you must reason according to the author’s own logic, and not inject your own foreign logic into the text.

          • Sean Garrigan

            I’m not really committed to viewing the account metaphorically. I describe it that way because I don’t think that, after the exaltation, Jesus became known as YHWH in heaven, and it wasn’t Paul’s intent that Jesus become known as YHWH by Christians. To put it humorously, when a group of angels are sitting around in heaven taking an unofficial break, and one sees Jesus approaching, the one doesn’t say to the others, “Stand up, fix your ties, and look alert, YHWH is coming!” 😉 The intent wasn’t the re-naming of Jesus; it was the exaltation of Jesus. The naming was the method used to convey to us the level of exaltation.

            As for figuring out the author’s original intended meaning, obviously that’s what James and I believe we have done, but I’m sympathetic to your view. I just don’t see it as the most likely interpretation for the reasons stated. I’m not dogmatic about it though, though if older manuscripts are someday found with IAO in the text, then I might be;-)

          • Thanks for the response. My point is simply that the context does not even suggest that sort of metaphorical view. You can always say how it makes sense, but you would also need to explain how the context even suggests such a view. As I’ve explained, the Jewish context of exalting a person’s name itself, rather than giving a person a new more-highly-exalted name, should be taken seriously.

            Also, the point couldn’t be more clear that Jesus is exalted above all other beings (except God himself), even without that unnecessary “metaphorical” allusion to Jesus taking YHWH’s name. It is already painfully clear that Jesus is exalted to God’s right hand as Messiah, as many places in the Old and New Testaments have explained.

            Jesus’ exaltation as Messiah is supposed to have been prophesied fully in the Old Testament anyway. I don’t see any reason at all for the New Testament authors to add such an entirely foreign idea to their explanation, because the material in the Old Testament is already exceedingly sufficient.

            Furthermore, if Jesus being given YHWH’s name is not meant literally, then it doesn’t seem to serve any meaningful purpose at all.

            That’s the way I see it. Thanks again.

          • Sean Garrigan

            Your objection to the possibility that the name was Lord=YHWY seems to be based on some personal religious conviction involving some perceived impropriety in the possibility that Jesus was given the divine name. I don’t know how to respond to that because I don’t really understand why it would be considered objectionable by anyone, regardless whether they be Trinitarian or not.

            You might find it fruitful to ask some devout members of the Jewish faith what name they would consider “above every name” in the universe. They may not be willing to pronounce it, but they’ll probably be unanimous in recognizing what that name would be, and what word came to be used as its substitute.

            Take care, and thanks for sharing your thoughts.


          • Sean Garrigan

            I had said “Lord-YHWY”. Sorry, obviously I meant “Lord=YHWH”.

          • I feel you’ve somehow missed my point entirely. I am not objecting to the possibility. What I am objecting to is the plausibility.

            If you want to talk about possibility, all kinds of things can be “possible”, yes, even the likes of the invisible pink unicorn and the celestial teapot. How about the flying spaghetti monster? When religious people speak of “possibility” while completely ignoring the concept of “plausibility”, they invite the criticisms of well-known atheists, and make a laughing stock out of religion.

            You deliberately ignore Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 15, that when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him..

            Of course a Jew who is not a Christian will tell you that the name is YHWH, and that’s precisely the problem we have here, that you are deliberately ignoring the clear Christological context explained in other passages in the New Testament. But Paul already explained so clearly how Christ’s pre-eminence is surpassed only by that of YHWH himself.

            There is no contextual reason to claim that Jesus was given the name of YHWH, however metaphorically you make it out to be. (In fact, there are clear contextual reasons against such a frivolous claim.) Jesus’s pre-eminence is not even on YHWH’s level, and this is absolutely clear even in the Old Testament itself which clearly explains that the Messiah is exalted to YHWH’s right hand, and is therefore “above all”, but nonetheless below YHWH in pre-eminence.

            P.S. The fact that you completely fail to address my logical objections, and instead make use of an ad hominem argument, makes me wonder whether the ad hominem argument actually applies to yourself.

          • Sean Garrigan

            The emotional nature of your response — with the absurd comparison of James’s view to belief in pink unicorns and flying spaghetti monsters — seems to suggest that I am correct in inferring that your objection is based on some personal religious conviction involving the perceived impropriety of allowing that Jesus was given God’s name.

            You should be aware that your view isn’t made more plausible by mere power of assertion, nor is James’s view rendered implausible because you say so. As I see it, none of the points you’ve raised really serve as evidence against the probability that Jesus was given God’s name at his exaltation according to Philippians 2. You obviously feel strongly otherwise, which is fine, but the many scholars and commentators who differ with you aren’t likely to change their view based on what you’ve offered here, and noting you’ve said really contradicts the view you oppose, when properly understood.

            As just one example, Paul’s words at 1 Cor 15 are not in tension with Jesus’ being given the divine name. Indeed, the two accounts are complimentary, again, when the significance of the latter is properly understood. Both accounts lay comfortably within the agency paradigm that James argues for in a number of places, and which is clearly how the early Christians conceived of Christ, i.e. as God’s supreme agent. The Rabbis referred to this principle as shaliah, and described it by explaining that “the agent is as the principle himself”. I would argue that this principle explains why monotheistic Jews could refer to their kings as “O God” (Ps. 45) and as “Mighty God” (Isa 9), i.e. not because their kings were thought to be ontological deities, but because they sat on God’s throne, just as Jesus does.

          • If you insist on describing my arguments as emotional, instead of addressing the logic behind them, then I have nothing more to say.

          • Sean Garrigan

            I have addressed the logic in them by pointing out that nothing you’ve offered constitutes evidence against James’s view (and mine), when properly understood, and I demonstrated this using 1 Cor 15 as an example. I haven’t offered a point-by-point counterargument because I don’t think it’s necessary, as your counter evidence isn’t really counter evidence at all, IMO. From my perspective, most of it is actually complementary (e.g. 1 Cor 15) or simply irrelevant (e.g. the name was never given to any other man in the Bible to signify exaltation, etc.)

            When you respond to a serious argument by comparing it to belief in a “flying spaghetti monster”, you’re either (a) offering a visceral reaction born from emotion, or (b) you’re deliberately choosing to use implied ridicule against those who are trying to keep the dialogue dignified just because we don’t happen to agree with you. Since I think option b would reflect negatively on you, I chose to give you the benefit of the doubt and go with option a, esp since, as I’ve said, I sense that you have some personal religious conviction involving the perceived impropriety of allowing that Jesus was given God’s name. I could be wrong, but that is the sense I currently have. I have friends who share this conviction, and so I’ve tried to tread lightly when the subject comes up, even though, as I said, I really don’t understand why anyone would object to the view that Jesus was given God’s name, esp once the reason is properly understood.

          • Do you even understand the logic of a flying spaghetti monster? Fantasy without good reason? Deliberately reading the text in a way that is completely foreign to its Jewish and Roman context, just to prove a point that could easily be proved without going to such ridiculous lengths? Giving someone an exalted name, specifically a name belonging to another person whose level of pre-eminence continues to far exceed that of the person who has been exalted?

            Do you seriously think Jesus even deserves to metaphorically be given the name YHWH? If you do, then I’m sorry that you have completely failed to understand the immeasurable difference in pre-eminence between YHWH and his Messiah.

            If you deliberately assume worse of your conversation partner, then, fine. The way you keep saying that you’re giving me the benefit of the doubt, but actually aren’t, betrays an utterly disgusting level of hypocrisy. You seem to fail to see that. Really, this time, I’ll just let you have the last word.

          • Given that ancient Jews considered it appropriate to say that the divine name had been bestowed upon Yahoel and Metatron, and ancient Samaritans said something similar about Moses, why do you think it would have seemed inappropriate to the early Christians to say that about Jesus?

          • Dr McGrath, thanks for your input! I am not familiar at all with Yahoel and Metatron, though I have googled and looked at Andrei A. Orlov’s articles on both. It is clear that “YHWH” is incorporated into their name or title in some way, but it does not seem at all that the name of “YHWH” is ever given to them without any modifications / adaptations.

            The name of Jesus himself, i.e. Joshua, already incorporates a shortened form of YHWH (as do the names of many other biblical characters). I don’t see how the cases of Yahoel and Metatron even depart in any way from that sort of “YHWH” incorporation, let alone justify the way “YHWH” is being claimed to be simply “given” to Jesus, as though it was an obvious expression that Jewish / Gentile readers would have understood.

            I think the issue lies in whether “lord” is to be interpreted as “master”, or as “YHWH”. In other words, whether you see “lord” as a word, or as a name. The entire Old Testament context seems to point clearly to the former. It is when Jesus is acknowledged as Master / Christ, that the Father (YHWH) is glorified. Also, in the New Testament, the word “lord” is used in many places clearly to mean “master”, to emphasise the servant-master relationship between Christ and the church.

            Furthermore, the gospels repeatedly demonstrate the way Jesus’ own disciples say to Jesus, “thou art the Christ, son of the living God”. What people need to confess, is that Jesus is the Christ, rather than confess that Jesus is YHWH. (Jesus’ mission was to get people to understand how he was the Messiah of YHWH.) They don’t simply say “thou art God”, or even “thou art the lord”. Liguistically, logically, and contextually, it just doesn’t seem to fit.

            How does it make sense for people to confess that Jesus is YHWH, even though, clearly, Jesus is not YHWH? I know that there are ways to make it make sense, but it just feels extremely forced and against the logical flow of the passage itself, along with its larger context.

          • I am not referring to the common phenomenon of names with theophoric elements in them. I am referring to the traditions about Metatron as the “little Yahweh” (connected with the Elisha ben Abuyah/two powers traditions), Yahoel as a figure in whom the divine name is said to dwell, and the Samaritan traditions about Moses having been vested with the divine name.

          • Firstly, I must again admit that I really don’t know exactly how Metatron, Yahoel, and Moses could be said to have been “given” the name of “YHWH”.

            What I do know, is that in Jewish thought, name and person seem to be synonymous, because a person is identified by his name.

            If Metatron is called “little YHWH”, then it is already clear that “YHWH” is being applied to Metatron with a clear qualification of “little”, which to me doesn’t seem problematic at all.

            Also, if you take into account the idea that “name” is synonymous with “person”, then to say that YHWH’s name dwells in Yahoel, is to say that YHWH dwells in Yahoel. (Perhaps I’m sorely mistaken. I’m no scholar, so it is really not in my place to tell you what to think. I just offer my suggestions as a non-specialist.)

            Likewise with Moses. I’m not sure the Samaritan traditions actually use the sort of straightforward language simply proclaiming that “Moses is YHWH”.

            Ironically, this feels like a sort of discussion on Justification. The issue is whether a highly-exalted name can simply be said to be “given” to another person, just to express a point that the person is being exalted. Can a person be exalted simply by naming him YHWH? Does YHWH need to give Jesus the name of YHWH simply to exalt Jesus? If YHWH himself exceeds Jesus in terms of pre-eminence, wouldn’t giving Jesus the name of YHWH, with absolutely no qualifications, be giving Jesus more honour than he deserves?

            Finally, if Jesus himself has been exalted, wouldn’t Jesus own name of “Jesus” be exalted alongside Jesus himself? When a person is exalted above all things (except YHWH himself), wouldn’t his name also be said to be a “name above all names” (except YHWH itself)?

          • I think in order to discuss this, you would need to familiarize yourself with the relevant texts. Jarl Fossum wrote a monograph which, although it tended to draw too haphazardly on texts from across a wide range of time, still is very useful inasmuch as it gathers a lot of citations primary evidence in one place. Then you would need to explain to me why you don’t consider Philippians 2:6-11 as a comparable instance of Yahweh sharing his name with an appointed divine agent, as part of making that agent Yahweh’s supreme representative, in a way that maintains both distinction and subordination on the one hand, and the authority of viceroy on the other.

          • Sean Garrigan

            Interestingly, G. H. Box, M.A., lecturer in Rabbinic Hebrew, Kings College, London, noted the following:

            “Jaoel (= Heb. Yahoel) is represented in our Apocalypse as a being possessed of the power of the ineffable name, a function assigned in the Rabbinical writings to Metatron, ‘whose name is like unto that of God Himself’ (T.B. Sanh. 38b). The name Yahoel (Jaoel) is evidently a substitute for the ineffable name Yahweh, the writing out of which in full was forbidden. In chap. xvi i . below God Himself is addressas [Sic] Jaoel.”
            (The Apocalypse of Abraham, with a Translation from the Slavonic Text and Notes by G. H. Box, M.A., with the Assistance of J. I. Landsman), p. 29.

            Found here:

            So, in Box’s view, Yahoel isn’t merely a name with theophoric elements; it was given as a substitute for the divine name of God for the purpose of empowering the angel. God himself is referred to as Yahoel later in the text, which is probably part of the reason Box doesn’t think that Yahoel, when applied to the angel, is merely a theophoric name, i.e. because in the very same context it is God’s own name.


          • Well, that’s almost like a suggestion that I become a scholar myself, which unfortunately is beyond my ability / willingness at this time. I understand how this would limit my ability to critque your view.

            Still, I can’t help but get the feeling that the interpretation that Jesus is granted the name of “YHWH” relies on deliberately selecting texts that confirm such a view (which can be described as selection bias), while ignoring logical, linguistic, and contextual reasons that make such a view less desirable. The many scholars who disagree surely have many good reasons.

            There are all kinds of extra-canonical Jewish texts offering all kinds of views, and there will surely be many cases in which carefully selected texts can be used to confirm one particular interpretation. My biggest concern is whether such fringe texts can be reliably said to reflect Paul’s view in Philippians.

          • Sean Garrigan

            “Still, I can’t help but get the feeling that the interpretation that
            Jesus is granted the name of “YHWH” relies on deliberately selecting
            texts that confirm such a view (which can be described as selection
            bias), while ignoring logical, linguistic, and contextual reasons that
            make such a view less desirable. The many scholars who disagree surely
            have many good reasons.”

            You have it precisely backwards, I’m afraid. The observation that Jesus is probably given God’s name at Philippians 2 is based on Philippians 2, i.e. where we find a phrase that overwhelmingly suggests that the divine name is given (i.e. the “name above every name), in a context which includes the most common substitute for that name (Kyrios), in a grammatical construction that allows Kyrios to be the name given.

            What the other texts help us to do is to corroborate our interpretation of what it would mean for God to give someone else his own name. At Philippians 2 the giving of the name appears to be done to show that Jesus is the Cosmic Christ, God’s living, breathing power of attorney whom he placed over his affairs until the end, when his power of attorney will hand them back to that God can be all in all. That’s what the giving of the name seems to signify, and the other accounts help us to confirm that such an interpretation is warranted.


          • It seems to me that Paul explicitly says that Jesus is given the name above every name when he is exalted, which, if taken at face value, rules out the possibility that the name is Jesus twice over. We have evidence of this idea from elsewhere. It seems to me that the evidence supports the interpretation I have offered, and I have yet to hear any argument as to why the proposed interpretation fits the evidence less well than some alternative. It may be possible to construe it as meaning something else. But when is it not possible to do so?

          • I suppose my perspective comes with an assumption that the New Testament writers are always drawing on the Old Testament texts in their arguments. The language in Philippians 2 seems consistent with the interpretation that it is Jesus’ own name which is exalted. If it weren’t at least linguistically consistent, I’d think other scholars wouldn’t be so willing to hold such a view.

            I find that the biggest argument against your view is the fact that no similar reasoning can be found elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments. There is a real need to consider the fact that in all related canonical passages speaking on the same subject, such a view cannot be seen at all.

            There is the epistemological principle, that when you subject a theory to a test, the test needs to have a high probability of disproving your theory if your theory is wrong. But the way obscure texts are called upon to support your theory seems to go against this principle. The evidence gathering process is carried out merely to suit a pre-existing bias.

            It seems to me that you’re only looking at extra-canonical evidence that confirms your theory, and are not giving due consideration to the fact that the entire body of canonical texts fails to give even a hint of support for your theory. This is what I mean by selection bias. If evidence is selectively analysed this way, then anything can be “proven”.

            I’m really thankful that you’re reading my arguments at all. Hope the above makes sense.

          • A historian cannot limit themselves to canonical texts, and certainly not to texts which, whether or not they were considered canonical in the first century, were not compositions of that period and this do not reflect the context of the New Testament. When seeking to provide a historical explanation, one looks for context to texts from close to the time in question.

          • I didn’t mean to imply that non-canonical texts should not be taken into consideration. My emphasis on canonical texts is based on the understanding that canonical texts reflect mainstream views, and therefore better reflect the context. Didn’t mean to draw an artificial distinction between canonical and non-canonical.

            Non-canonical texts belonging to obscure groups just don’t seem to be representative of the general population, and if Paul’s writings were meant to be understood by the general population, then the more obscure the text, the less weight it should have as evidence for context.

            Well, I’m probably going deeper into this issue than I’m qualified to. I don’t mind if it ends here. Thanks for the conversation. Noticed that you’re leaving for Israel anyway. Have fun!

          • Canonicity reflects what was defined as mainstream by those who defined the canon. It certainly cannot be taken as a measure of what was mainstream in an earlier or later period. And of course, if you look at ancient Christianity in its first millennium, you will find it is significantly different from what people today come up with when they claim to allow their Christianity to be shaped by “the Bible alone.”

            The mediator traditions I’ve been referring to were not obscure. These are part of a very widely evidenced aspect of ancient Jewish thought.

            I understand if you want to end the conversation, at least for now. I probably won’t be able to keep it up in the next week or two anyway.

            In the mean time, here is a link to the Apocalypse of Abraham, which mentions Yahoel:


            In that translation it is rendered in English as Jaoel, and in this translation it is spelled Iaoel:


          • Agreed. Thanks for all the good information! It’s not so much that I want to end the conversation. Was afraid to take up too much of your time. And then there’s the fact that I’m not particularly qualified to discuss this anyway.

          • Sean Garrigan

            It’s funny, you complain that I’m engaged in ad hominem when I suggest that you have some personal religious conviction that it would be improper for Jesus to be given God’s name, but then you turn around and demonstrate, quite unmistakably, that I read you correctly. You said:

            “Do you seriously think Jesus even deserves to metaphorically be given
            the name YHWH? If you do, then I’m sorry that you have completely failed
            to understand the immeasurable difference in pre-eminence between YHWH
            and his Messiah.”

            So you DO feel it is improper for Jesus to be given God’s name, just as I sensed was the case. Rather than complaining about a misconceived ad hominem you should be congratulating me for my perceptiveness;-)

          • I congratulate you on finally realising that I obviously believe that YHWH’s pre-eminence is on a completely different level from that of Jesus. I also congratulate you on failing to address my argument logically, by simply pretending that my arguments have no logical basis simply because I am arguing for a position that I personally favour.

            Finally, congratulations on completely failing to understand the idea of “ad hominem” as a logical fallacy, which leads to your failing to see the absurdity into which your arguments have degenerated.

          • Sean Garrigan

            It’s sad how religious convictions so often inspire the sort of lamentable behavior you display above. Your attitude is far more likely to become food for atheists than my very reasonable view that Jesus was given God’s name.

            BTW, the author of the book of Hebrews disagrees with your claim that Jesus’ glory is so far below God’s. Indeed, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”. The Son radiantly shines forth with YHWH’s own glory, and he does so via his perfect obedience. God is not diminished by letting his Son radiate his own glory, nor is it improper for the Son to do so, for he glorifies God in the process.

            Larry Hurtado pointed out in one of his articles that the greater the glory God’s agents have, the greater God himself is glorified.

          • All I’ve done is call you out on your logically fallacious ad hominem arguments, along with the hypocrisy that it entails. You obviously feel a need to make this personal. Your tone makes it very clear. I do not wish to put up with your continual barrage of hateful remarks any longer.

            Say whatever you want. I’m done with the likes of you.

          • Sean Garrigan

            But you haven’t “call[ed] me out” on anything. You merely tried to dismiss an observation I made by calling it ad hominem, when the observation turned out to be accurate.

            I’m not making this personal at all, though you certainly seem to be doing so. I am conversing with a person, however, and I am able to make inferences about that person based on his words and behavior. So, I reviewed your arguments and found that they (a) didn’t support your view that Jesus couldn’t be given God’s name, (b) some actually complement James’s view, when properly understood (e.g. 1 Cor 15), and (c) some were simply not relevant.

            As an example of c, other biblical examples of exaltation would only be relevant if they shared the unique features that we find at Philippians 2. Since no other example includes God giving someone the name that is above every name in a context where a substitute for the divine name appears in a grammatical construction that permits the DN substitute to be the name given, such other examples as might exist simply don’t count as precedence for interpreting Phil 2. I’m therefore not the one smuggling in a foreign context and forcing it on the text, whereas it seems to me that you are.

            So, since your arguments obviously (IMO) didn’t logically accomplish what you think they accomplish, I had to ask myself, where is this rejection of James’s view coming from, i.e. it’s not based on the data, so what’s it based on? My guess was that you felt it was somehow inappropriate for Jesus to be given God’s name, and that “ad hominem” observation turned out to be correct.

            This has been very helpful, thanks.

          • Sean Garrigan

            “I do not wish to put up with your continual barrage of hateful remarks any longer.”

            I was originally just going to let this go, but I’ve decided that such false accusations should not go unanswered.

            The fact is that I’ve been extremely respectful to you, and noting I’ve said can legitimately be construed as “hateful” in any way, shape or form. If you think you’re hearing hate, the truth is that it’s coming from your own imagination, and nowhere else, I assure you.


  • Jaco van Zyl

    Thanks, James. Who was the first scholar who said that Paul “split the Shema?” Was it perhaps James Dunn? Because if it is so, then what “splitting the Shema” means to Dunn is completely different from what it means to Evangelical apologists today. Right?

    • I thought it was N. T. Wright who coined that phrase.

      • Jaco van Zyl

        Aah, thanks for clarifying. I still think that the whole “splitting” attempt is more a permutation than a split.

  • houseman

    I would like to join this discussion. In the very beginning, at creation, who was Jehovah[YHWH] speaking to when the words was spoken, “Let US make man? It was not JESUS. Remeber this angelic creature had his own name in heaven at this time, one that Jehovah [YHWH] called him for eons of time before the creating of anything angelic or physical. JESUS was the name given to the HUMAN baby born through the woman Mary. At his baptism when he was 30 years old he was appointed by his Heavenly Father Jehovah [YHWH] as the CHRIST. When he died he left that name hear in the grave, as he did his fleshly body. He would have taken back the name he had before he left to do his Father’s will and live as a human on earth. Because now he is resurrected back as a spirit creature, faithful in what he was to do, Jehovah [YHWH] gave him the gift of immortality and the ‘name above every other name’. That name only those in heaven know. why is that? Because the same thing Jesus taught here on earth holds true even now. He came to do his Father’s will, not his own. We are discussing Jesus superiority, when in fact Jesus wanted nothing of it. He wanted his Father’s name known not his own; not even the praise this world is trying to give him. The name is for Jehovah to his Son, not for us. Paul spoke of the ‘name’ we need to call on for salvation at Romans 10:13 ” For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Paul was quoting the prophet Joel, the name( i.e. “the Lord) is not speaking about Jesus Christ, but Jehovah God Almighty, his Father in heaven. So the name that we as humans need to know is Jehovah [YHWH], because Jesus taught it to his disciples, made it known, prayed for it to be sanctified. This is the line of thought Jesus taught and which the Scriptures today teaches.