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Capes on “YHWH Texts” and Jesus

May 6, 2019

Another of the papers written for the recent colloquium on “Varieties of Theism” was by David Capes, “Jesus’ Unique Relationship with YHWH in Biblical Exegesis.”  In the paper Capes returns to the subject of his 1992 book, Old Testament Yahweh Texts in Paul’s Christology, in which he focused on Paul’s application to Jesus of OT texts that refer to YHWH (reprinted by Baylor University Press in 2017).  This use of “YHWH texts,” Capes urged, signals a remarkable association of the exalted Jesus with God.  More recently, Capes revisited his work on this topic in another book, The Divine Christ:  Paul, the Lord Jesus and the Scriptures of Israel (BakerAcademic, 2018).

In the years since his 1992 book appeared, the results of Capes’s work have become widely accepted, one scholar describing a “commonplace” agreement now.  But some other scholars have questioned Capes’s argument, in particular Daniel Kirk, in his book, A Man Attested by God:  The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels (Eerdmans, 2016).  Kirk points to a few Qumran texts as reflecting something similar to Paul’s application of YHWH texts to Jesus.  The Qumran pesher (commentary) on Habbakuk is one text cited by Kirk (1QpHab 8.1-3).  Capes examines carefully this text, showing cogently that Kirk’s claim exaggerates matters and that the text doesn’t really provide a true analogy for Paul’s use of certain OT texts.

Another text is 4Q167 (another pesher-like text from Qumran).  As Capes shows, however, this very fragmentary text scarcely provides a basis for Kirk’s claim.

In the case of yet another Qumran text, 11QMelchizedek, Capes agrees that we have a “more interesting and no doubt more significant” item to consider.  The particular point to observe in this text is that the reference to “the year of the Lord’s [YHWH] favor” (from Isaiah 61:2) is rendered as “the year of Melchizedek’s favor.”  Granting that this seems to be “an extraordinary interpretive move,” Capes nevertheless questions whether is on the same level as Paul’s use of YHWH texts to refer to Jesus.

One of the differences that Capes cites is that speculations about the eschatological role of this Melchizedek figure in this text (who is often thought to be some kind of high angel) were not accompanied by any devotional/worship practice in which Melchizedek figured.  This, of course, contrasts with the rich evidence of the centrally integrated place of Jesus in the devotional practices of earliest Christian circles.  Moreover, Capes notes, this one, somewhat fragmentary text stands in stark isolation over against the several YHWH texts that Paul applies to Jesus.

In sum, Paul’s ready application of YHWH texts to Jesus remains a noteworthy phenomenon that reflects a remarkable association of Jesus with God in Paul’s thought, and in his devotional practices as well.

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  1. A brief comment if I may. An interesting contrast between YHWH and Jesus’s lordship I found can be demonstrated in the construction: in the name of {the} Lord. Typically, the LXX Paul read and cited, and whose anarthrous rule he followed (see 2 Cor 3:16-18), places no article with Kyrios. En onomati Kyriou. This pattern was not actively or explicitly replicated despite seemingly obvious opportunities to the Lord Jesus, e.g. Eph 5:20 and 2 Thes 3:6.

    • John, Things aren’t as cut-and-dried as you think. First, the LXX translation of YHWH isn’t consistent. In the Pentateuch, the pattern is kyrios without the article. But in the Psalms it’s a bit of a mixture.
      Second, in NT uses of OT texts the anarthrous instances of kyrios are also applied to Jesus, as e.g., in Rom 10:13 and a number of other instances.
      Yes, in ordinary usage in the NT, Jesus is “the Lord” (ho kyrios), but the OT citations blur things more.

      • Richard permalink

        Professor Hurtado, I’m curious about the arthrous v anarthrous kyrios in the NT since I haven’t read much on the topic before.

        Do you think that an anarthrous kyrios in Paul typically refers to YHWH instead of Jesus (like in the 2 Cor 3:16-18 passage the other poster mentioned), or is the use of arthrous v anarthous kyrios not particularly meaningful for him in distinguishing YHWH and Jesus?

      • With most interpreters, I take 2 Cor 3:16-18 to refer to an experience of the exalted Jesus, “turning to the Lord”. Yes, Paul does cite anarthrous OT texts as applying them to Jesus.

      • Dr Hurtado, as I think you know it is thanks to your posts on this question that my research into this precise question developed, and it was in brief response in June last year I think when you expressed some interest back on my summary data (and that was amazing I got anything back given the circumstances). Now, is your first comment influenced perhaps by Wevers? As far as I can tell, neither he nor others informed on this phenomenon (e.g. Perkins) have factored in a) case nor b) the rest of the LXX. I am really pleased to have now completed my survey, which I felt spurred to finish given this apparent vacuum of developed research, and can report that of the 4859 instances where the LXX clearly translates YHWH to kyrios in the genitive and nominative, it does so 4687 times without the article according to my count. That’s 96.5%. And the Psalms don’t fare too badly (260 out of 316 occurrences anarthrous) – the only real outlier is the book of Job (apparently those translators didn’t get the memo). If either you or any other of your readers would like to check out my data in detail or access my graphs summarising it, then please contact me.

        Secondly, I’m completely on board with all you say both here and elsewhere on extraordinary linking between God and Jesus, esp. via cultic veneration and inherited authority. Heb 1:4 is a core verse to which Rom 10 and other YHWH-associations consistently drive me back. Your essay on ambiguity in Acts is also in my primary reference material for my current work (so good – anyone who’s reading this should check it out in the Selected Published Essays etc. section). So my point was not (in any way!) to say ‘hey, maybe the Biblical Unitarians are right, Jesus was not initially considered divine’, but rather to place some constraints on the association, i.e. To show also how the ambiguity does *not* function. Funnily enough, it is Capes’ Divine Christ kyrios usage description that I am currently working through (p. 7) and I am struck afresh by the diversity of connotation and the breadth of contemporary usage (esp in contrast to ‘lord’ in English). So the divine strand of kyrios for YHWH and the variety of kyrios categories occupied by Jesus do overlap on occasion conceptually but not in a strict grammatical sense.

        So yes, this amounts to extraordinary association and could be aptly characterised as divine. But yes also most NT authors seem to have been aware of this anarthrous ‘rule’ on YHWH appellation and no they did not generally seem to seek to roll out the remarkably consistent LXX grammar to Jesus.
        Please do let me know if I have misunderstood or am misleading in either of these remarks. Yours, JB

      • John: In some NT instances we do have an anarthrous kyrios-text from the OT applied to Jesus, as, e.g., Rom 10:13; Acts 2:21.

      • Richard permalink

        Thank you for your response Professor Hurtado,
        In NT texts that are not quoting OT passages, do you think the use of arthrous v anarthrous kyrios is at all significant in figuring out whether the kyrios refers to YHWH or Jesus?

        For example in James 5:7-8 the arthrous kyrios appears when discussing “the coming of the Lord” but in 5:10 the anarthrous kyrios appears when discussing the prophets who “spoke in the name of the Lord,” and then both forms show up in 5:11.

        Is such a shift from arthrous to anarthrous kyrios meaningful? Does the use of an anarthrous kyrios by itself suggest the kyrios in 5:10 is distinct from the referent in 5:7-8 or is the shift not significant?

      • The uses of kyrios in James 5 present us with a study in how the term acquired a dual significance in early Christian usage. The “Lord of hosts” in 5:4 is likely God, whereas the “paroiusia of the Lord” must surely refer to Jesus (5:7-8). Likewise, the “Lord” in whose name prayer for the sick is offered (5:13-14) must be Jesus. The prophets who spoke “in the name of the Lord” (5:10-11) could refer to either, and Jesus shouldn’t be rejected too readily as the possible referent. In the NT, anarthrous or arthrous forms don’t in themselves distinguish the referent. Context is the vital evidence.

      • Richard, you might be interested to check out the French Darby translation. Here is a link to Matthew’s birth narrative for instance . In fact, wherever the translators (Darby-trained) detect likely allusions to YHWH via kyrios, ‘Seigneur’ is asterisked: *Seigneur. Super interesting.

        Thus, Matthew and Luke’s birth narratives provide rich instances of probable references to the Tetragrammaton in the NT, and kyrios and kyriou are usually anarthrous in these instances. At least three other broad categories I believe we can identify in addition to the birth narratives:
        – direct LXX citations, as mentioned by Dr Hurtado
        – “the Lord God”, especially in Revelation Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς
        – certain other lexical units and OT/Israelite history scenarios

        These categories can provide a framework within which to contextualise the presence or absence of the article with Kyrios – and of course you can also check to see if the French Darby has applied the asterisk (although many asterisks are lacking in my view). Another check is to see what Peterson did in The Message. Although glossed as a popular and idiomatic translation, there is some serious academic research under the bonnet here. So, for instance, he agrees with me about the referent of 2 Cor 3:16-18 to be YHWH (‘God’), connecting the Israelite historical context of the passage and the grammar of most instances of kyrios in this pericope. Peterson also has understood that the Greek anarthrous rendering of the Tetragrammaton has a special function of combining both Name and Title, which he translates well via his GOD all-caps.

        Finally, remember that the absence of the article in the LXX is only consistent in the nominative or genitive forms.

        The diversity in the evidence for NT YHWH-allusions makes a good case that many of the NT authors (and therefore literate first-century Greek Jewish-Christians) were aware of the anarthrous method provided by the LXX translators, as evidenced by French Darby translation, Peterson’s Message and my own LXX survey of all 6866 tetragrammaton translations.

      • John: Your whole approach presupposes (dubiously) that the NT authors had manuscripts in which YHWH was rendered in written form as Kyrios. But it is not clear that this practice developed as early as that. What manuscript evidence there is from the lst cent CE and earlier shows YHWH rendered in Greek translations of the OT as YHWH in Hebrew characters, or by IAW. The “old Greek” OT is not exactly the same as the LXX, which is a form developed in Christian circles.

  2. John Mitrosky permalink

    Is there any evidence from Qumran are from folks in Jesus’ and Paul’s day that YHWH was honored as a Son of El, or one of the Elohim, hence kind of like a Son of El? I think of the classic text Psalms 82:1, where God (YHWH?) takes his place in the divine council of the gods as judge. And I think of how Jesus is made to quote Psalm 82:6 as law in John’s gospel: “You are gods.”

    • Nobody in the 2nd temple period refers to YHWH as “son of El”. That’s a non-starter Psalm 82:1 has “elohim” arise in “the council of El” and “in the assembly of elohim he gives judgement”. 11QMelchizedek applies 82:1 to a figure named Melchizedek, making him the “elohim” who stands forth in the divine council.

  3. Thanks for this post, Dr. Hurtado. Greetings from Tennessee!

    Suppose that someone said, “I agree with exactly the ‘remarkable association’ you have just described.” But then they add, “Of course, I don’t think that in the NT Jesus is supposed to be divine in the way that the one God is supposed to be divine.”

    In your view, has this person just contradicted himself, or adopted on incoherent position in what he said? Why or why not?

    Thanks & best wishes for your continuing health,

    • Dale, Your question presupposes a prior question: In what way is “the one God divine”? What constitutes his divinity? This is more a question posed in the 2nd century and thereafter in “ontological” terms. In the earlier texts (as in Paul), the question isn’t put in these terms. But, as Bauckham has shown, Jesus is linked with God in creation and sovereignty of the world, attributes exclusive to God. And I have emphasized how Jesus is incorporated into the devotional practice of earliest believers in ways that seem like those reserved for a deity.
      At the same time, unquestionably for earliest believers, Jesus didn’t replace God or reduce God’s place, but was linked with God in a remarkable, and unique degree/manner.

      • If the attributes of being creator and being sovereign are really *exclusive* to God, that is to say that only God has them. So if Bauckham is saying that in the NT Jesus has those attributes, then he would be in their view (numerically identical to) God. That is, they would be collapsing Jesus and God. Leaving Bauckham aside, I don’t think that is *your* view of NT theology and christology. You say the remarkable devotion given to Jesus is much like that which one would otherwise think is reserved for God alone. I agree. Yet as you say, Jesus is *added to* the picture, not displacing God. But if Jesus were divine in the way that the one God is divine, that is just to say that Jesus would be a god. And since these are monotheists, he’d have to be the same god as God. (The door is closed to his being a lesser deity when we say he’s divine *in the same way God is*.) In sum, I interpret your answer to my question as: No. That is, one might (without self-contradiction) say that Jesus and God are as you say “remarkably associated” and yet Jesus is not divine in the way that God is, or we might say, not “fully” divine.

        In my view, that’s the right answer.

        And it fits with what we see in early authors like Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen. They have Jesus (or the Word) as a somewhat lesser divine being, a deity who is in various ways not as great as is the one God (aka the Father).

      • Dale: Justin et alia firmly position Jesus, “the Word”, as the unique expression and agent of the one God the Father, and so there is a relational subordination of the Word to God. But Justin’s imagery of fire taken from fire suggests that he did not distinguish as sharply as you claim between the nature of God and the Word.

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