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“YHWH Texts” and Jesus: A Follow-up

May 7, 2019

Further to my posting yesterday about David Capes’s paper on “YHWH Texts” applied to Jesus in Paul’s letters, a couple of comments of my own.

First, it is worth noting that, to judge from ancient manuscripts of the early Roman period, the treatment of the name of God, the “tetragrammaton” (YHWH), in the Greek translation of the OT was typically to write it in Hebrew characters, not to write a translation or substitute for the name.  However, when reading the Greek OT it appears that the dominant practice was to substitute the Greek term kyrios for YHWH.  Our manuscripts of the Septuagint (LXX) routinely have kyrios where the Hebrew has YHWH, but that is a scribal practice that seems to have developed sometime in the second century or so.

So if, for example, the Greek OT manuscripts that Paul consulted had YHWH retained in Hebrew characters, this would have meant that the original referent was “God” YHWH.  So, for Paul then to apply to Jesus a number of texts that originally referred explicitly to YHWH did not result from some confusion on his part, or some ambiguity in the text.  Instead, this was a fully conscious and deliberate exegetical move.  One could argue that the rendering of YHWH as kyrios in LXX manuscripts could have allowed for a certain ambiguity, for from earliest moments the risen Jesus was referred to as “the Lord” (the kyrios).  But, given what appears to have been the dominant treatment of the tetragrammaton in earlier manuscripts of the Greek OT writings, this suggestion doesn’t work.

Second, as discussed briefly in an earlier posting here, with some exceptions the translators and copyists of the LXX dominantly tended to use the term kyrios without the definite article as the substitute/rendering of YHWH.  This effectively made kyrios function as if it were a name, and not simply as a common noun meaning “master” or “lord.”  This means that in the LXX it is still unambiguously clear when YHWH is being referred to.  So, once again, Paul’s application of YHWH texts to Jesus can’t be accounted for as his mis-reading of ambiguous OT texts.  That is, even if he consulted Greek OT manuscripts that had kyrios in Greek instead of YHWH in Hebrew characters, the original referent was clear.  So, to repeat the point, Paul’s application of certain OT “YHWH texts” to Jesus was intentional and fueled by powerful convictions about Jesus’ exalted status.

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  1. Richard Brown permalink

    Awesome insight, and answers to comments. So important.

  2. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Professor Hurtado, when you wrote:

    “Our manuscripts of the Septuagint (LXX) routinely have kyrios where the Hebrew has YHWH, but that is a scribal practice that seems to have developed sometime in the second century or so.”

    Could you clarify, did you mean second century CE or BCE?

  3. John Mitrosky permalink

    Is the term Kyrios short form for “Kyrios of Hosts”, in the sense that “Lord of Hosts” is older?

    • No. In LXX mss Kyrios is the substitute for YHWH.

      • John Mitrosky permalink

        What about “Angel of the Kyrios”? I’m thinking of Second Macc where it also mentions “the Sovereign of Spirits” (3:24). Does Paul refer to any of these traditions?

      • The expression “angel of the LORD” is almost always rendered in the Greek OT as “angelos kyriou” (i.e., anarthrous construction. The expression in 2 Macc 3:24 is something else entirely and is not echoed in Paul.

  4. Thank you for an interesting observation. However, I think I would question the extent to which Paul regularly consulted manuscripts, rather than cited text from memory. I appreciate this is hard to adjudicate, but the text he memorised may well have had the tetragrammaton as written, but the version (presumably) vocalised in memorisation would have had kyrios. While I wouldn’t want to argue Paul was confused, or that he didn’t intend a high ascription of status to Jesus, I would suggest that a memorised text allows for a degree of scriptural theological blurring in the use of kyrios as a way of naming Jesus.

    • Whether Paul had a manuscript before him when writing his letters is irrelevant. Yes, he no doubt carried large amounts of OT texts in his memory, but that memory will have included how the text was written and to whom it referred. I doubt that there was much unconscious “blurring” in Paul’s mind!!

  5. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Can you give examples of texts where YHWH is definitely quoted and definitely applied to Jesus? Because couldn’t most such texts be construed as either 1) referring to God rather than Jesus (Rom 10:13: see Commentary by John Ziesler) or 2) not direct quotations (Phil 2:11)?

    Additionally, what about the texts which appear to distinguish between YHWH and Jesus? Such as 1 Cor 2:16 for example, which appears to use a YHWH quotation to make a contrast between having the mind of YHWH, which is not possible, with having the mind of Christ, which is possible. The purpose of the quotation being to contrast Jesus with YHWH rather than to identify him as YHWH.

    • Donald: OT YHWH texts applied to Jesus: Rom 10:13 (Joel 2:32); Rom 14:11 (Isa 45:23); 1 Cor 1:31 (Jer 9:23-24); 1 Cor 2:16 (Isa40:13); 1 Cor 10:26 (PSa 24:1); 2 Cor 10:17 (Jre 9:23-24). There is no contrast between God and Jesus in 1 Cor 2:16; and Rom 10:13 is quite evidently a reference to cultic invocation/acclamation of Jesus. Just read the context.

  6. Bill Wortman permalink

    Very helpful observations, Larry! Some years ago I was reading a minor prophets Greek version from Qumran, as I recall, that had YHWH in Hebrew (paleo-Hebrew even). But I wasn’t aware that we are so confident that Paul’s Greek OT MSS would have followed this practice. If you have a study in mind on this, please refer me to it. Thanks!

    • The fullest and most recent study is this one: Anthony Meyer, “The Divine Name in Early Judaism: Use and Non-Use in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek” (PhD, McMaster University, 2017).

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