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“Calling upon the name of the Lord”

September 30, 2011

In the continuing discussion about earliest Christian devotional practice and beliefs, especially how Jesus figured in them, a work that has not received the attention I think it deserves is this one.  I’ve cited it a number of times, and have had occasion to consult it again in connection with a current essay-project.

Carl Judson Davis, The Name and Way of the Lord:  Old Testament Themes and New Testament Christology (Sheffield:  Sheffield Academic Press, 1996).

The jump-off point for Davis’ study is the multiple NT references to “calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus (Christ)”.  E.g., in 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul uses such a phrase as a simple and universally-applicable description of fellow believers.  Most serious students and scholars readily recognize the expression as deriving from OT phrasing, where “to call upon the name of the LORD” = to engage in worship, invoking YHWH specifically.  One OT passage explicitly cited in the NT is Joel 2:32 (Heb. 3:5), promising that “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (e.g., Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13).  As Davis observes, OT uses (e.g., Jer. 10:25; Psa 79:6; 116:1-4, 13-19) connote “religious activities and in particular such ones that occur during worship” (105).  (As he also notes, in the Greek translation, it appears that the “middle” voice form of the verb epikaleo is used to distinguish this sort of cultic invocation from more ordinary summoning or calling to/for someone.) 

So, he judges, “… ‘calling upon the name of”, unlike invocation in general, occurs, as far as I can find, only with the divine as the object in pre-Christian Judaism” (116).

Interestingly, he suggests something similar to a proposal that I’ve made:  “‘Calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus’ may have been part of the reason for Paul’s persectution since, according to [Acts 9:14, 21] . . . . Paul came to arrest those ‘calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus’.”  He further notes, “It may have been that this practice was so different from the common practice of Jews that Paul and his Jerusalem kinsmen felt justified to deprive Jewish Christians of all their rights and even their lives because of it” (128-29).

Given the clear connotation of the expression, ” . . . the burden of proof lies upon those who interpret ‘calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus’ as something other than prayer” (133).

Davis’ whole patient discussion is very much worth noting.

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3 Comments
  1. It looks like a good book!

    I’ve been wanting to do a study on that expression. I often hear Romans 10.13 used by Evangelicals as a plea for conversion, but as you noted, it means “to engage in worship.” This seems to imply a reference to the daily practice of those who are already God’s people.

  2. Laurie Schlaepfer permalink

    The “calling upon the name of the Lord (Jesus Christ)” is so obviously an adaption of the OT usage of “calling upon the name of YHWH, that the New World Translation inserts the word “Jehovah” into the text of Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13. In fact, it inserts the word “Jehovah” over 200 times into the New Testament, despite the fact that the tetragrammaton (or its Greek transliteration) is absent from the Greek text. This should tell you something about how consistently the New Testament presents Jesus as Lord of all, in the same way the OT presents YHWH as Lord of all.

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