Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Lord Jesus Christ, S2 Part 3: Jesus as Lord or Jesus as LORD?

I HAVE BEEN really looking forward to this section. Some readers might know that I had some dialogue with Dr. Hurtado back in 2016 around the fascinating issue of Kyrios use in the Greek Septuagint, a compilation of Greek translations initiated in Alexandria in the third century BC for diaspora Greek-speaking Jews living in that area and beyond. The reason why this is of interest to us here is to recall that Lord Jesus Christ was written in 2003. Research into the Septuagint has been going on for many years, but new scholarship continues to shine fresh light on some aspects of the New Testament, and will certainly come up here in this section. Before we look any further, then, into Hurtado's 2003 perspective on Paul's use of Kyrios as a "divine title" for Jesus, let's recap what we know about the usage of Kyrios in Judaism in the second temple era.

When the LXX was written, certain theological understandings and tendencies had ultra-sanctified the name of Yahweh, God's revealed name for his people to call him by (paradoxically!), to such an extent that even uttering the name might be considered so terrible that the person might risk being divinely fried.

As a result, there were special ways of writing Jewish texts that had two forms - the proper form and the read-aloud form. Scholars ponder a lot about how Jews of the second temple era got around the numerous references to Yahweh (or Kyrios), but I believe that Kyrios represented a good route for the mainstream Greek-speaking diaspora. It is also a common term used for a human master and the Alexandrian translators had inserted a clever designator that this Kyrios was both different and personal. How? They removed the article. So, whenever we read in our English Bibles, especially from Genesis to Deuteronomy, "the LORD" said or did this or that, I recommend you start practising replacing that with either simply "Yahweh" or "LORD" (no "the"). The second option I still find the most stilted, even if loyal to an intermediate state of transmission of the text to us (which should make us ponder why we are so loyal to it, in fact).

Since we are talking about Paul, I will also say that I believe we have good evidence he was aware of this special translation practice. Not only do we have his testimony of his intensive religious training as a literate multilingual Jew, but I think I also stumbled over some interesting textual evidence that I have examined before on this blog in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18, see here. (Note: I am not at all convinced that such intimate textual knowledge can be postulated for other authors of the New Testament, Revelation being one example I noticed just recently.)

So before we get into this section of Hurtado's chapter on Paul, what should we be asking? Hurtado is on the lookout for special status for Jesus that would warrant the evidence of the binitarian worship patterns we have looked at in Chapter 1. I too am on the lookout for special New Testament treatment of Christ and the Spirit that could explain Father-Son-Spirit religious dynamics that would require a reconfiguration of the Jewish core view. But, as on this blog we have insisted over and over again: absolutely no shortcuts are allowed. Some apologists want to insist that Jesus "just is Yahweh", pointing to occasions when the New Testament authors, including Paul, apply Yahweh texts to Jesus who seems to become the Kyrios in question. Seems simple enough? But can it be as simple as that if anarthrous Kyrios is a personal name as well as a title?

We want to see if the simple theory neatly matches the fuller usage of the term. For me, seeing how sensitive Paul is to not only repeating anarthrous Kyrios citations but also applying that anarthrous principle to Yahweh elsewhere (that in context does not have the Lord Jesus in view, rather, Yahweh or "LORD", see the aforementioned post on 2 Corinthians 3:16-18), I would want to see how Paul responds to the question of the article when it is applied to the Lord Jesus, both inside and outside of Old Testament fulfilment passages. Of course, I also want us to learn from Hurtado what Kyrios could have meant as a title for the early Christian communities we learn of through Paul.

In response, Hurtado immediately opens with the obvious concession: Kyrios was used to refer to and address someone in a variety of socially superior positions (p. 108) It's the title a slave-owner would expect from his slaves, it could be a general term of respect like "sir", and came to be used in some Eastern provinces of the Roman empire. I would also expect John the Baptist's disciples to have referred to John in this way, as "master". Hurtado notes the usage of Kyrios for these eastern provinces in the same breath as noting that this is also where living emperors could be divinised, which was not possible in the west. Regardless, what we are looking at is a highly diverse word with ranges of meanings in multiple contexts, and so I would be more hesitant than Hurtado, when he states:

This pagan religious usage ... shows that pagans could easily have understood the term as connoting reverence for Jesus as divine (p. 108).

For Jewish understanding of the term, Hurtado recognises that we don't look first and foremost at the pagan culture, but at the ethnic and religious heritage of the Jewish people, introducing a word that is absolutely key to my own hypothesis of the Triune Hub: "semantic", a term Hurtado sadly leaves sadly underdeveloped with only five other meaningful occurrences (pp. 293, 302, 304, 305, and fn48 p. 506):

Most recent studies of these questions conclude that the key semantic background lies in Jewish tradition, and that the christological designation of Jesus as "Lord" goes back into the very earliest circles of Jewish Christians. (p. 109, emphasis mine)

But will that earliness really settle the questions we were asking just now, and what does Hurtado mean by "semantic background"? Recently, we have opened up the idea via Paul Ricoeur's work in Conflit des Interprétations; of the impact of "phenomenology" to our human processing, itself deeply impacted during its development by Freudian psychoanalysis, that insists on multiple layers of meaning. Suffice it to say for now that this bridge between phenomenology and "theological mutation" has not yet been sufficiently developed and articulated, despite its successful employment by Hurtado, Wright, Crossan and no doubt others (by the way, if blog readers could point me to other serious biblical scholars who reason in terms of mutation of Jewish worldviews/semantics, etc., please let me know). Regarding the question of earliness, I'm not sure. For Hurtado, everything has to be very early, that's how his model works. But if Jesus is by and large referred to largely in the non-special sense introduced by the Septuagint, then that should strongly nuance any unnecessarily strong assumptions about the divinity overhanging the word Kyrios. And yes, by the way, Jesus generally does have an article and, perhaps more importantly still, his lordship is personalised: "my Lord", "our Lord", etc. Yahweh, despite his thousands of mentions in the Old Testament, is never "my Yahweh" or "our Yahweh". Even other Hebrew words rendered Lord like Adonai are very rarely used in this possessive sense - twice in Nehemiah and four times in the Psalms. Jesus? 73 times. That is a totally different and unique usage that LJC simply does not account for as far as I can see in its bid to create a semantic divine overlap between Jesus and God, at least with respect to worship reserved for the One True God.

For other related posts on this subject (close to my heart, for some reason), please see the following posts, mainly from last year, one in French:

The name of [the] LORD

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