Tuesday, August 4, 2009
If you’ve ever read much of the Old Testament (OT) and paid attention, you’ll notice that there are two primary words* used for the Divine: “God” and “LORD.” But why is that? Religious people of various persuasions would say that they are simply synonyms and move on. But is that fair? Are we missing something by doing that?
Generally speaking, “God” (Hebrew ‘ELOHIM) is often used in the OT to refer to God’s universal lordship over all creation (see Genesis 1; Psalm 66; etc.). “The LORD” (Hebrew YHWH, sometimes rendered Yahweh or, erroneously, Jehovah), however, is often used in the context of the universal God’s particular relationship with Israel, his covenant people (see especially Exodus 3:14).
A quick bit of background (I’m sure someone else has expounded this more thoroughly; this is just my quick explanation.): Historically speaking, following the exile, the Jewish people went out of their way to avoid breaking the third commandment: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:7 NRSV) So they began substituting Adonai (our Lord) in place of the Divine Name, lest they besmirch God’s glorious identity revealed in his name.
And when the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the common language of the Mediterranean world, during the third century before Christ, this practice was enshrined: YHWH was translated as Kurios (“Lord”). Incidentally, most Christian Bibles correctly continue this translation tradition of substituting LORD in place of YHWH in the OT.
This leads to the sensational claim that is made frequently throughout the New Testament (NT). The NT authors often claim that Jesus is Lord. Which, considering the history just related, is breathtaking! Get this: Jesus is Lord; Jesus is THE Lord; Jesus is YHWH!
Luke regularly uses Kurios to refer to Jesus, even in passing (Luke 18:6; Acts 7:59; Acts 9:10-11, 43 etc.). John also refers to Jesus as Kurios (John 21:7; etc.). And Paul repeatedly proclaims that Jesus is Kurios (Romans 1:4; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Philippians 2:11; to name just a few!).
This means that the appearance of the God-Man, Jesus the Messiah, totally redefines our understanding of who God is and what his relationship with creation and his covenant people has been. When Paul (who was inspired by the same Holy Spirit who spoke to the ancient prophets) says, quoting the prophet Joel that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” he really means that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved”! (See Romans 10:13) It’s the same as saying that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 ESV).
Theologically and biblically speaking, this is seismic. The whole of inspired Scripture speaks of one God, who is both “God” and “Lord,” who is mysteriously revealed in the man from Nazareth who was proclaimed “Kurios/Lord” from the beginning. Following this profound truth (throwing in a few other passages such as Matthew 28:19 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-6), the doctrine of the Trinity is a mere formality!
And for me, as a Jesus follower, it’s amazing to re-read with the OT with this in mind. When it says “the LORD” I try to imagine that the Bible is talking about a pre-incarnate Jesus: “The Lord Jesus is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). “I saw the Lord Jesus sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1). “The word of the Lord Jesus came to me” (Ezekiel 3:16). Truly humbling.
This amazing, biblical truth also confounds those religious groups who would like to sever Jesus the man from the eternal Godhead. Many apologies to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other groups who contend that Jesus is just a man or some kind of angelic being, but not God! The truth is that Jesus is none other than the Lord/Kurios/YHWH.
Check back next week for the second installment!
* There are other titles and “names” used for God that all have significance, but these are the two primary, personal monikers for God in the OT.