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The Meaning of “Lord” in 1 Corinthians 8:6

Robert M. Bowman, Jr.

What a Jew would understand is that the apostle Paul in this epistle has all along been treating the Lord Jesus as if he were the Lord (YHWH), while also distinguishing him from the Father. The various ways in which Paul distinguishes God the Father from the Lord Jesus Christ should already be familiar to you (for example, 1 Cor. 1:3, 9; 3:23; 6:14). What you may not realize is just how often Paul speaks of Jesus as if he were the Lord YHWH:

* Christians, according to Paul, are those “who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). Judaism, of course, taught that one should call on the name of the Lord (YHWH; e.g., Joel 2:32).

* Christians hope to be found “blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:8; see also 5:5), whereas Judaism spoke of that judgment day as “the day of the Lord” (YHWH).

* Paul exhorts his readers “through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:10), again placing the focus on the name of Christ that Judaism placed on the name of the Lord (YHWH).

* After quoting the words of Jeremiah 9:23-24 about boasting only in the Lord (YHWH), Paul says that his whole message to the largely pagan Corinthians could be summed up as “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1:31; 2:2). Can you imagine one of Jehovah’s Witnesses preaching to people who never heard of Jehovah and summing up his message in that way?

* The one who was crucified, Paul says, was “the Lord of glory” (2:8), language no faithful Jew would use for anyone but YHWH.

* Later Paul quotes the words of Isaiah, “but who has known the mind of the Lord” (YHWH) and then comments, “But we have the mind of Christ” (2:16). In other words, the mind of the Lord can only be known if he reveals it to us, and that is what we have in the mind of Christ.

* In answer to his critics, Paul states, “the one who examines me is the Lord” (4:4); this “Lord” must be Jesus because Paul, like the rest of the NT writers, regards the Lord Jesus as the one who will sit in judgment (recall 1:8; see also 2 Cor. 5:10). It is Jesus who is the “Lord” who will “come” and “bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of hearts” (4:5). Again, this is what Judaism taught that the Lord (YHWH) would do.

* The members of the Christian church assemble “in the name of our Lord Jesus” (5:4); the “assembly” or “congregation” of YHWH in Judaism has become the assembly or congregation of the Lord Jesus.

* Christians confess that they are “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (6:11), even though in the Old Testament all people are summoned to be “justified in the Lord” (YHWH, Is. 45:23).

* The directions received from the Lord are indistinguishable from those received from God: “Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk” (7:17).

* Paul wants a Christian to be “concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord,” with the ideal being “undistracted service to the Lord” (7:32, 34-35). The purpose of life in Judaism, of course, is to please the Lord (YHWH; see Ex. 15:26; Deut. 6:18; etc.). The only other use of any form of the verb translated here as “service” (EUPAREDRON, also translated “devotion”) is just a couple of chapters later in the same epistle, where Paul says that those “serving” (PAREDREUONTES) at the altar share in what is offered at the altar (9:13). Thus, Paul makes religious devotion or service to the Lord Jesus the ideal and purpose of the Christian life.

This constant placing of God and the Lord Jesus side by side (see also 1:1, 2, 4, 24, 30; 3:5, 6, 19-20; 4:1, 19-20; 6:13; 7:21-24, 39-40), attributing functions to the Lord Jesus that Judaism understood to be those of God, could only be understood by Jews as treating Jesus as on par with God and as in some way even identifying him as the Lord YHWH. Eleven times, at least, prior to 1 Corinthians 8, the apostle has spoken of Jesus as KURIOS in contexts that would be naturally understood by literate Jews as alluding to the honors, attributes, and functions of deity belonging in biblical Judaism only to the Lord YHWH.

Thus, when this same literate Jew comes to 1 Corinthians 8:6, he will see Paul placing God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ AGAIN side by side, distinguished from one another, yet both attributed functions of deity in creation, in a way that strongly echoes the SHEMA: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord [Heb., YHWH, Jehovah; Gk., KURIOS] our God, the Lord [Heb., YHWH, Jehovah; Gk., KURIOS] is one” (Deut. 6:4). After eleven times (at least) in which Jesus Christ is spoken of as Lord (KURIOS) in a way that alludes to the functions of the Lord YHWH in Judaism, such a Jew will recognize the same thing going on in 8:6. Yes, the roles of the Father and the Son are also distinguished in some way (EK and DIA imply some sort of functional distinction), yet for Judaism the confession of Jesus as the “one KURIOS” and the attribution to him of an intimate role with the Father in all of creation will still clearly amount to identifying or equating Jesus with the Lord YHWH.

Let me make one supplementary observation regarding an objection that has already been implicitly raised. The oldest copies of the Septuagint that we currently have extant do not use KURIOS as a surrogate for the name YHWH but instead have some form of the tetragrammaton. That is true enough. However, during New Testament times, Jews customarily would *say* “Lord” (ADONAI or KURIOS or some equivalent) when reading aloud or quoting an Old Testament text using the divine name YHWH. Furthermore, the NT evidence is unequivocal that this was also the practice of the NT writers, since they routinely use KURIOS (or occasionally QEOS) in place of the name YHWH when quoting from the OT. In support of this conclusion we have ALL of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, ALL of the ancient language versions (Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic, Slavonic), ALL of the writings of both the church fathers AND of the heretical writers (especially the Gnostics). The evidence from the church fathers pushes our evidence back into the late first century. These writings all follow the same practice of using KURIOS in place of YHWH, whether in quotations from the OT or in other speech about the Lord God.

 

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