Sunday, 9 September 2018

Obstacle 5 continued: God making Jesus both KYRION and CHRISTON in Acts 2:36 is cosmic

IF YOU THINK, like I do, that "Lord" belongs to a previous generation of Christianity, what are the appropriate titles for our "Lord" Jesus? Is there a one-size-fits-all? In my post on Kyrios in Mark, we made the astonishing discovery that Mark did not make a strong connection between Kyrios and Jesus, just a small handful of passing references. Now, that was a surprise! As a result, a non-systematised methodology for translating this title in Mark was proposed.

Today, I want to move on from the gospels for a moment to examine a rather important passage reported by Luke in Acts.

So let's read Acts 2:34-36 in my adapted ESV translation, leaving KYRION untranslated for now:

For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "'GOD said to Your Highness, "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool."' Let all the house of Israel, therefore, know for certain that God has made him both KYRION and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."
Acts 2:34‭-‬36 ESV

I gave some solid reasons in my post on Mark for adopting more royal and exalted terminology here when Mark used the Psalm quote in his colt-borrowing scene. I continue to find these reasons compelling, although they aren't without difficulty here if we still have lingering ideas that systematised translation for KYRIOS might still really be the best way to go. If that were the case, it really would be difficult to have God "making Jesus His Highness". Since our job is to unpack multiple layerings and expand the contextual nuances with Kyrios, it might be more helpful to move away from static titles. Here, the ESV like other translations sees "Kyrion" and "Christon" and probably doesn't think too much of it. These are simply translated "Lord" and "Christ". Bingo! 

But there is another way to go about this that can help modern readers not lose sight of the context of this passage, with Peter addressing these Greek-speaking Jews.

In this all-important context, Luke has Peter citing King David, in which Jesus is shown to be connected to David but also superior over him - ironically via a misunderstanding introduced by Mark, whom Luke had read. As in Mark, David is said to be addressing another King as "my Kyrios". Luke makes a similar point then to Mark in this new context. But what of that next bit, that Luke has Peter adding, that God has made Jesus both KYRION and CHRISTON? 

Let's look at Christ first - as we will see they are deeply connected. In the Septuagint, the term "Christos" is already firmly established. Saul is even described that way, and David wouldn't harm him because Saul was Yahweh's anointed king, his Christos (1 Sam 26:9 LXX, χριστὸν κυρίου). This anointing then passed, of course, to David, the new Christos (although with overlap, see 1 Sam 16:6,13). Thus the reign and the divine anointing are already naturally part and parcel in Jewish thinking.

Modern readers then should not be put off nor distracted by having their attention focussed on the action of God in exalting Christ more than the more static titles through which these actions may at one time have been communicated. Thus for Acts 2:36, we should be open to the possibility of:

Let all the house of Israel, therefore, know for certain that this Jesus [our Master] whom you crucified is the one God anointed and crowned to rule as KING.

Readers of this context might be surprised to see the early extent of this rule. Unlike David, Jesus flew through the sky to be sat at God's right hand, reigning in a divine capacity, which for a Jew is utterly unprecedented. Hence "KING" = Cosmic King. His Royal Highness has indeed ascended to as *High* a function as imaginable. Greeks already had a word for this in their naturally blended worldview between the divine and mortal realms: apotheosis. I think this Hellenised view is accepted into Christianity by some of its most influential interpreters, like Irenaeus Athanasius and Thomas Aquinas, but is even evidenced as an acceptable idea in the New Testament (see 2 Peter 1:4 and John 10:34-36). This, however, paradoxically superseded apotheosis. That's the impossible logic you get when you place Judaism and Hellenism in the same ring and think they are actually still boxing each other.

Careful, however, for although this supreme usage here in early Acts has now been provided, that does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that Kyrios now functions in any systematised way, ditching, so to speak, the previous layers and nuances or conveniently forgetting that the narratives in the gospel & Acts accounts are not influenced by events and correspondence preceding their penning, like visions of the resurrected Jesus and Paul's letters. Slaves continue to call their home-owners Kyrios, even Jewish ones. Even Jewish-Christian ones, probably. Context must and will continue to be the golden rule for understanding and translating the Kyrios-ship in question.

This translational care that I am advocating is why I place in the square brackets Peter's relationship with his Master. This inclusion would permit a fantastic semantic bridge between 2 of the key layers of Jesus' authority, being a personal Master to his disciples and God's cosmic KING SIMULTANEOUSLY. That was the power of Kyrios. We don't have a word that does that today.

ESV adaptations taken from ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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