No, we can't affirm that. The grammar doesn't stretch that far, sorry. Today, I'd like to show you the constraints given by the biblical texts in Greek. That is the primary task for Part 1. This sounds like a crushing concession from a Protestant trinitarian standpoint, but it needn't be at all. In fact, taken in perspective, it strengthens the Triune Hub Hypothesis, which I will develop more fully in Part 2. For now, let us be assured that those committed to a form of trinitarianism are just as committed to engaging the biblical data honestly and accurately.
THIS IS A fascinating question and not the easiest to ask. We remain on a primarily historical quest, which is my burden, which is why I worded with some care. Christian apologetics is keen to stress that Yahweh just is Jesus, all part of a task (frequently non-trinitarian) to recognise Jesus as eternally God. There are some problems with approaching Jesus' identity this way, not least that it is driving an eternal perspective, which is all that a lot of people are interested in, bracketing the historical first-century Christian perspective.
Some of my work has been to investigate an apparently overlooked avenue into this question, boringly perhaps, to do with grammar. BUT, if you care about what you mean by saying “Jesus is/is not God”, you might be concerned to know if the grammar around Jesus' Lordship demonstrates deliberate or even programmatic allusion by the New Testament writers to Yahweh, the Israelite “God of gods” and creator of the cosmos.
Anyone new to this issue, let's super-quick recap: the New Testament authors along with at least a good chunk of the first century Church, relied heavily not on the Hebrew versions of the Old Testament scriptures, but rather their Greek translation. Rewind the clock 250 years.
There was a problem in that translation project facing the first Alexandrian translator team with regard to the Hebrew Name of God: Yahweh. Forget about transliterating it, this Name was problematic anyway. The Name had become so holy that it was considered unpronounceable. There is some strong evidence readily available from the team's translation of Leviticus, manifested here in the NETS literal English translation (plus article bracketing):
Whoever names the name of [the] Lord - by death let him be put to death; let the whole congregation of Israel stone him with stones. Whether a guest or a native, when he names the name, let him die.
That is not what the Hebrew says. Here's a translation of the Hebrew (NIV, with transliteration of Yahweh):
[A]nyone who blasphemes the name of Yahweh is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.
Lined up like that can you sense the huge sense of awe, and maybe even some superstition, around this naming problem? The translation matches perfectly the information we have about the ultra-sanctification of the Name. This solution, found by the first team of Alexandrian translators, was to use a title associated already with Yahweh, “Lord”. Back in March 2017, I wrote an article on the blog entitled The name of [the] LORD, in which I concluded:
Yahweh is the name of the God of Israel.
[anarthrous] Kyrios is the name of the God of Israel.
Anarthrous means without the article. Kyrios means Lord.
Of the two obvious English matches for Greek anarthrous-ness (an English anarthrous scenario, such as “in the case of Michael”, and an English indefinite article, such as “in the event of a drought”), “in the name of a Lord” is clearly never in mind when both the Jewish translators and the later Christians wrote in Greek “ἐν ὀνόματι [τοῦ] κυρίου”.
As I have mentioned over and again, the evidence for an intentional omission of the article before Kyrios when translating the Hebrew Yahweh, especially for the Pentateuch, is overwhelming. Grammatically, this practice brings what would normally appear as a title to be in line with the grammar we would expect for a proper name.
Annoyingly, yet sometimes traceably, there are other instances where the article is dropped in Greek while the meaning of an article is retained. My research into the Greek expression for “in the beginning”, for instance, actually sheds light on a broader practice with the preposition “in”, ἐν. Does that mean that that ἐν is never followed by an article Greek? No, but the interesting point of the “in-the-beginning” work is that some scenarios do provide good consistency. “In the name of” seems to be another good example of consistent article-dropping around ἐν. That means that in koine Greek, people literally went around saying and writing “in beginning”, “in name of” and other similar “in” (ἐν) clauses.
Ok, it is time to return to the question of today's post, Is Jesus' Other Name “Yahweh” for the first-century church? To answer this question, we can compare article usage for potentially different referents (albeit intimately connected, related, bound together, etc.): Jesus and Yahweh.
THE DATA: OT (LXX)
There are different degrees of consistency to be identified in the Greek translation of Yahweh*.
1. Within the Pentateuch, approximately 93% percent of the time, Kyrios as a translation for Yahweh is anarthrous, akin to any other personal name.
2. The rest of the Old Testament, varying but less consistent application of the grammatical “signature”**.
3. Transversal Greek lexical units, often with near perfect or actual 100% consistency. This is where our Old Testament survey of translation of in [the] name of [the] Lord leads. In other words, there is not a single trace of ἐν ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου, i.e. zero occurrences of “in [the] name of THE Lord”, with seventeen occurrences across the Old Testament of ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου. The distribution of the Hebrew lexical unit, “in Yahweh's Name”, is not particularly even. It first crops up in Joshua, then we have 11 hits in the Israel history books from Samuel through Chronicles, 4 in the Psalms and an occurrence in the prophetic book of Micah. Here is the first one:
They answered: ‘Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God.
καὶ εἶπαν ἐκ γῆς μακρόθεν σφόδρα ἥκασιν οἱ παῖδές σου ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ σου ἀκηκόαμεν γὰρ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ καὶ ὅσα ἐποίησεν ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ
The remaining 16 can be found at the end of this post along with some additional references from the Septuagint that tie this grammatical structure to a divine reference.
The message should be clear and unanimous. Since every single Greek Old Testament instance expressing “in Yahweh's name”, is translated ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου, we should expect any deliberate or programmatic Jewish-Christian allusion to Christ’s “Yahweh Name” to be formed in the same way. This is another way of saying that for Jesus's lordship to have instant or natural full divine connotations, we could reasonably expect instances of this Greek idea to follow suit when appropriate.
THE DATA: NT
As it turns out there are 9 New Testament occurrences of in the name of the Lord (ἐν ὀνόματι [τοῦ] κυρίου). Of these 9, 6 form a special indirect group that we will look at separately under the title Mark’s Precedent-setting Usage. Thus only three occurrences of “In the name of the Lord” are directly applied to the Lord Jesus, and all are from within the disputed Pauline corpus. Two of the three are conspicuous in their departure from the firm form we have seen with the “in the name of Yahweh” tradition, by appending the article to κυρίου. Let's start with those, before examining the sole direct NT anarthrous occurrence of Colossians 3:17.
[B]e filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Jesus-God distinctions and unity in the epistle to the Ephesians are among the strongest of the New Testament, containing some striking phraseology rarely repeated in church contexts today (such as “The God of our Lord Jesus” in 1:3 and 1:17 or “the kingdom of Christ and of God” in 5:5). For our purposes, it is important to note that the distinction between God and Lord is placed right at the offset of the epistle:
1:2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is an obvious point but it is worth remembering here: from a Jewish perspective, including the hellenized viewpoint represented in the Septuagint, God had in no way a monopoly over the title “Lord”. A less obvious point but one that I have laboured to make clear is that Yahweh is never, ever described as “our Yahweh” or “our Lord” in its translated Greek form. So it is in this wonderfully trinitarian context of 5:19-20 that we neither expect nor find an unusually anarthrous kyrios, it naturally reads: ἐν ὀνόματι τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν.
In the name of the Lord [ἐν ὀνόματι τοῦ Κυρίου] Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.
As with the previous passage examined in Ephesians, and indeed it could be described as the classic Pauline-style opener, 2 Thessalonians opens with the traditional God/Lord distinctions and unity: Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of [the] Lord Jesus [ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου Ἰησοῦ], giving thanks to God the Father through him. (NIVUK)
For Christian apologetics wanting to build a case around Jesus' divine lordship (and also quite what they mean by “divine lordship”), this is surely the place to start. At least here, from a grammatical and textual critical perspective we are looking at an impressive state of overlap between Yahweh and Jesus. As we saw repeatedly, even insistently, this is exactly how you would want to express “in Yahweh's Name”. However, without wanting to put a dampener on Christ exaltation strategies, we have some important constraints then need to be laid out.
We are asking the question what did the first century church believe about the relationship between Yahweh and Jesus via this question of the name. The nuance often subtly glossed via the expression “the Pauline author”, should not been neglected here because even a very Pauline text that has been re edited recomposed recompiled re whatever soon after Paul's time could push the perspective into the 2nd century.
Secondly, we need to be aware that during the second and third centuries scribal changes were at work in this text as copies and copies of copies were transcribed for the flourishing church. For an English reader, the textual issue I'm referring to here becomes quickly apparent simply by comparing, for example, a King James Version to a more modern critical version, such as the NET or the NIV translations. Scribal changes between “God” and “Lord” within this chapter alone were multiple. Why that might have occurred is a subject for another day, although I have no doubts whatsoever that the first-century Christian mutations of Jewish belief lie at the heart of such corruptions. The point is though that for one generation to leave matters unresolved for a second generation does not for a second mean that the original author found himself randomly wavering between “God” and “Lord”.
Thirdly, even if we granted that the “ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου Ἰησοῦ” of Colossians 3:17 was written by a first-century author, it is difficult for me at least to build too much off from a single occurrence, hardly representing a significant stage of development for the first-century church. For them, it would seem sufficiently extraordinary to so programmatically include Christ alongside God in theological discourse and devotion. Ephesians 5:20 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6 are indeed active witnesses of texts from a similar period that actually had not yet alined Christ’s Lordship language with the Septuagint’s established grammar for Yahweh.
And that’s almost it for the New Testament’s reluctance to make this significant grammatical step. Before wrapping up, however, we need to trace Mark’s precedent-setting citation of Ps. 118:26.
The six remaining occurrences we need to account for trace their ancestry from Mark 11:9 and its derivatives, where Mark cites Psalm 118 v26 to frame Jesus' triumphal entry:
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the Lord we bless you. (NIVUK)
Due to established literary dependence between at least the synoptic gospels, and a remarkable recollection also from John, we can place GMark’s citation in its full citation “family”:
Since I am a strong adherent to the “Matthean Posteriority Hypothesis”, my summary of this family ancestry can be summarised briefly as follows.
● Mark wrote the triumphal entry scene (featuring a single donkey, by the way!), citing the Psalm.
● Luke follows suit in 19:38, including the firm union of the distinct entities Yahweh and “the king”.
● Luke innovates in 13:35 to anticipate the later scene with this same popular citation, where he has the threatening situation presented to Jesus, tying together Herod, Jerusalem and Jesus’ own death.
● Matthew follows both Mark and Luke in 21:9 and 23:39.
● As per Mark Goodacre’s nuanced description of the Mark-John relationship, John also recalls the perfect aptness of the Psalm precedented by Mark’s usage in his account.
Put simply, the reason this group is bracketed is that on face value it simply explicitly refers to two individuals: the authoriser and the authorised***.
From a majority of the first-century proto-orthodox Christian perspective, Yahweh is God is the Father, with a rather stunning inclusion within most of the theological discourse of Jesus Christ as “our Kyrios”, through whom God’s lordship is mediated. Typical anarthrous Kyrios usage for Yahweh translations are not in force.
* Within the scope of relevant Greek cases, which as far as I can tell are the nominative and the genitive.
** There is a serious dearth of work in this area. A rigorous study of the entire Septuagint Canon needs to be undertaken and checked. I myself have attempted Psalms and Ezekiel including some comparative analysis of article behaviour around Adonai.
*** That is not to say that I think that Mark has not powerfully innovated a divine lordship entrusting/transferral right back in Mk 1:3 via his citation of Isaiah.
For other relevant posts, please see:
● My six-part series on the Greek wording for “in the beginning”
David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.
καὶ εἰπεν Δαυιδ πρὸς τὸν ἀλλόφυλον σὺ ἔρχῃ πρός με ἐν ῥομφαίᾳ καὶ ἐν δόρατι καὶ ἐν ἀσπίδι κἀγὼ πορεύομαι πρὸς σὲ ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου σαβαωθ θεοῦ παρατάξεως Ισραηλ ἣν ὠνείδισας σήμερον
Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, “The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants for ever.” ’
καὶ εἶπεν Ιωναθαν πορεύου εἰς εἰρήνην καὶ ὡς ὀμωμόκαμεν ἡμεῖς ἀμφότεροι ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου λέγοντες κύριος ἔσται μάρτυς ἀνὰ μέσον ἐμοῦ καὶ σοῦ καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σπέρματός μου καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σπέρματός σου ἕως αἰῶνος καὶ ἀνέστη Δαυιδ καὶ ἀπῆλθεν καὶ Ιωναθαν εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὴν πόλιν
After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty.
καὶ συνετέλεσεν Δαυιδ συναναφέρων τὰς ὁλοκαυτώσεις καὶ τὰς εἰρηνικὰς καὶ εὐλόγησεν τὸν λαὸν ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου τῶν δυνάμεων
When your people go to war against their enemies, wherever you send them, and when they pray to the Lord towards the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name
Nets translation of 1 Kings 8:44
For your people will go out to Battle against their enemies, by a way that you shall turn them, and they will pray in the name of the Lord by Way of the city, which you have chosen to be in it, and the house that I have built for your name
ὅτι ἐξελεύσεται ὁ λαός σου εἰς πόλεμον ἐπὶ τοὺς ἐχθροὺς αὐτοῦ ἐν ὁδῷ ᾗ ἐπιστρέψεις αὐτούς καὶ προσεύξονται ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου ὁδὸν τῆς πόλεως ἧς ἐξελέξω ἐν αὐτῇ καὶ τοῦ οἴκου οὗ ᾠκοδόμησα τῷ ὀνόματί σου
Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire – he is God.’
καὶ βοᾶτε ἐν ὀνόματι θεῶν ὑμῶν καὶ ἐγὼ ἐπικαλέσομαι ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ μου καὶ ἔσται ὁ θεός ὃς ἐὰν ἐπακούσῃ ἐν πυρί οὗτος θεός καὶ ἀπεκρίθησαν πᾶς ὁ λαὸς καὶ εἶπον καλὸν τὸ ῥῆμα ὃ ἐλάλησας
With the stones he built an altar in the name of theLord, and he dug a trench round it large enough to hold two seahs18:32 That is, probably about 11 kilograms of seed.
καὶ ᾠκοδόμησεν τοὺς λίθους ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου καὶ ἰάσατο τὸ θυσιαστήριον τὸ κατεσκαμμένον καὶ ἐποίησεν θααλα χωροῦσαν δύο μετρητὰς σπέρματος κυκλόθεν τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου
The king said to him, ‘How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?’
καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ βασιλεύς ποσάκις ἐγὼ ὁρκίζω σε ὅπως λαλήσῃς πρός με ἀλήθειαν ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου
He turned round, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.
καὶ ἐξένευσεν ὀπίσω αὐτῶν καὶ εἶδεν αὐτὰ καὶ κατηράσατο αὐτοῖς ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐξῆλθον δύο ἄρκοι ἐκ τοῦ δρυμοῦ καὶ ἀνέρρηξαν ἐξ αὐτῶν τεσσαράκοντα καὶ δύο παῖδας
After David had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord.
καὶ συνετέλεσεν Δαυιδ ἀναφέρων ὁλοκαυτώματα καὶ σωτηρίου καὶ εὐλόγησεν τὸν λαὸν ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου
So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the Lord.
καὶ ἀνέβη Δαυιδ κατὰ τὸν λόγον Γαδ ὃν ἐλάλησεν ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου
The king said to him, ‘How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?’
καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ βασιλεύς ποσάκις ὁρκίζω σε ἵνα μὴ λαλήσῃς πρός με πλὴν ἀλήθειαν ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
οὗτοι ἐν ἅρμασιν καὶ οὗτοι ἐν ἵπποις ἡμεῖς δὲ ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου θεοῦ ἡμῶν μεγαλυνθησόμεθα
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου εὐλογήκαμεν ὑμᾶς ἐξ οἴκου κυρίου
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
ἡ βοήθεια ἡμῶν ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου τοῦ ποιήσαντος τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν
May those who pass by not say to them,
‘The blessing of the Lord be on you;
we bless you in the name of the Lord.’
καὶ οὐκ εἶπαν οἱ παράγοντες εὐλογία κυρίου ἐφ᾽ ὑμᾶς εὐλογήκαμεν ὑμᾶς ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου
All the nations may walk
in the name of their gods,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord
our God for ever and ever.
ὅτι πάντες οἱ λαοὶ πορεύσονται ἕκαστος τὴν ὁδὸν αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς δὲ πορευσόμεθα ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου θεοῦ ἡμῶν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα καὶ ἐπέκεινα
The following references do not contain the exact same expression but rather affirm the divine status of such a grammatical structure.
Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.’
καὶ εἶπεν Ηλιου τοῖς προφήταις τῆς αἰσχύνης ἐκλέξασθε ἑαυτοῖς τὸν μόσχον τὸν ἕνα καὶ ποιήσατε πρῶτοι ὅτι πολλοὶ ὑμεῖς καὶ ἐπικαλέσασθε ἐν ὀνόματι θεοῦ ὑμῶν καὶ πῦρ μὴ ἐπιθῆτε
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. ‘Baal, answer us!’ they shouted. But there was no response; no-one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
καὶ ἔλαβον τὸν μόσχον καὶ ἐποίησαν καὶ ἐπεκαλοῦντο ἐν ὀνόματι τοῦ Βααλ ἐκ πρωίθεν ἕως μεσημβρίας καὶ εἶπον ἐπάκουσον ἡμῶν ὁ Βααλ ἐπάκουσον ἡμῶν καὶ οὐκ ἦν φωνὴ καὶ οὐκ ἦν ἀκρόασις καὶ διέτρεχον ἐπὶ τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου οὗ ἐποίησαν
This is a rather curious occurrence that includes the definite article before Baal.
But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.
καὶ ἐθυμώθη Ναιμαν καὶ ἀπῆλθεν καὶ εἶπεν ἰδοὺ δὴ ἔλεγον ὅτι ἐξελεύσεται πρός με καὶ στήσεται καὶ ἐπικαλέσεται ἐν ὀνόματι θεοῦ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐπιθήσει τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τὸν τόπον καὶ ἀποσυνάξει τὸ λεπρόν
Note how in this reference the translator dispensed with the repetition of the Lord his God; Call on the name of his God was sufficient.
Then the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo prophesied concerning the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel who was over them.
καὶ ἐπροφήτευσεν Αγγαιος ὁ προφήτης καὶ Ζαχαριας ὁ τοῦ Αδδω προφητείαν ἐπὶ τοὺς Ιουδαίους τοὺς ἐν Ιουδα καὶ Ιερουσαλημ ἐν ὀνόματι θεοῦ Ισραηλ ἐπ᾽ αὐτούς
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your requests.
ἀγαλλιασόμεθα ἐν τῷ σωτηρίῳ σου καὶ ἐν ὀνόματι θεοῦ ἡμῶν μεγαλυνθησόμεθα πληρώσαι κύριος πάντα τὰ αἰτήματά σου
They named it Dan after their ancestor Dan
καὶ ἐκάλεσαν τὸ ὄνομα τῆς πόλεως Δαν ἐν ὀνόματι Δαν πατρὸς αὐτῶν ὃς ἐτέχθη τῷ Ισραηλ καὶ Ουλαμαις τὸ ὄνομα τῆς πόλεως τὸ πρότερον