Jesus is Lord, but which Lord is He? My Response to Gupta and McGrath

There is an interesting discussion ensuing concerning whether or not Jesus being called “Lord” in the New Testament is an indicator of high christology. Recently, Nijay Gupta has offered a response to James McGrath, who was responding to Gupta’s response to Ehrman (I feel like I am explaining the trajectory of communication mentioned in Rev. 1:1). I thought I would throw in my two cents and draw attention toward some neglected evidence which I hope would bring this discussion toward areas of agreement.

I continue to be amazed that the most cited and alluded text from the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 110:1, wherein Yahweh speaks to another lord (“my lord”), fails to get enough press in discussions concerning the significance of Jesus being called Lord. I repeat, Psalm 110:1 is the New Testament’s favorite text from the Hebrew Bible to reference in regard to Jesus, his relationship to Yahweh, and his position of exaltation. It seems fairly obvious, to me, that the various New Testament authors regarded Jesus in terms of this second figure on Psalm 110:1. The “my lord” in this psalm, is the Hebrew adoni, which in every single of its 195 occurrences within the Hebrew Bible denotes a human superior, husband, and sometimes even an angel. However, in not one of those 195 occurrences does adoni refer to the God of Israel. Not once! I’ve actually verified each reference to confirm this fact, but hey [insert LeVar Burton voice] you don’t have to take my word for it…

levarIn Psalm 110:1 we have Yahweh speaking to an exalted human figure, “YHWH says to my lord, sit at My right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” This seems to indicate on the plain reading of the text that this human figure, summoned to the right hand of God, is to be distinguished from Yahweh. And it is this sort of relationship, I argue, that the New Testament writers repeatedly portrayed in their writings. Jesus is Lord indeed, but this does not make him Yahweh. Rather he is Lord in the sense described in Psalm 110:1, an exalted human figure who is distinct from Yahweh, but is God’s “right hand man” (pun intended).

Since Gupta correctly suggests that 1 Thessalonians is the earliest Christian correspondence which has survived, I’ll use the opening lines from that letter as an example:

constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1:3)

When Jesus here is called “our Lord” this certainly cannot mean “our Yahweh.” Such a phrase does not exist in the Hebrew Bible. Too often scholars have assumed that kyrios language identifies Jesus with Yahweh without stopping to think if this even makes sense, especially in regard to the multiple instances where Jesus is called “our Lord.” This point is shared by James Dunn, so I reckon the McGrath shares it as well.

I also suggest that 1 Cor 8:6 makes better sense if it is informed by Psalm 110:1. Both passages have two figures: God and an exalted human lord. Gupta never comes out and says this, but he implicitly seems to think that the Shema is split in 1 Cor 8:6, making the one Lord Jesus Christ be read as if Paul meant “the one YHWH Jesus Christ.” However, McGrath has persuasively refuted the nonsense of ‘Shema splitting’ theology in regard to 1 Cor 8:6 in his book ‘The Only True God.’

I suppose that the terminology regarding “High Christology” is not very helpful. If the human Messiah Jesus is exalted to the right hand of Yahweh, this is definitely a high view of Jesus. He is no ordinary man. He is God’s vice regent. But he is not Yahweh. However, many of those who read “God the Son” language into the New Testament regard the phrase “High Christology” as an indicator that Jesus is to be equated with Yahweh. I therefore suggest we need sharper terminology. While we are at it, let’s jettison the “divine” language. It likewise is too slippery.

In short, I contend that modern interpreters take Psalm 110:1 more seriously in their reconstruction of early christology. The writers of the New Testament regarded it as their chief reference from the Hebrew Bible to understanding Jesus. We should follow suit.

 

 

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23 thoughts on “Jesus is Lord, but which Lord is He? My Response to Gupta and McGrath

  1. Another interesting post Dustin, and I almost fully agree. I say ‘almost’ because I am uncomfortable with the claim (which I’ve encountered elsewhere) that “in not one of those 195 occurrences does adoni refer to the God of Israel”. The problem I have with this is that it is sometimes impossible to determine from a consonantal text whether the Hebrew אדני should be vocalised as adoni or adonai and in some cases the Masoretes may have pointed the text to read adonai where adoni might have been intended. For example, in the same Psalm (110) adonai appears in the MT in v.5 (“the Lord is at your right hand”), and this raises the question why the writer should use this term for God when he has already (in v.1) identified him as יהוה. Mitchell Dahood (Psalms, vol. 3, p.118) has argued that this should be revocalised as adoni, designating the human king in v.1, and he translates this as “You are a priest of the Eternal .. his legitimate king, my lord”.
    To argue that the Hebrew Bible never uses the term adoni for the God of Israel (“Not once!”) you should also look at occurences of the noun adon with other pronominal suffixes, or the noun without suffixes. In fact, adoneinu (“our lord”) IS used of the God of Israel in the Psalms (e.g. 135:5). The same title (adoneinu = our lord) is used of King David in 1 Kings 1:11.
    There are several instances where the singular adon refers to the God of Israel. For example, Joshua 3:11, 13 refers to him as אדון כל־הארץ “adon kol ha-aretz” = “lord of the whole earth” and this text may have been alluded to in Ps 114:7 where adon is paralleled with “Jacob’s God”. Unmistakeably, Exodus 23:17 and 34:23 has האדון יהוה ha-adon YHVH = “the lord Yahweh”.
    The argument that adoni must always refer to a human and never to the God of Israel assumes that the Masoretes always got it right when deciding to vocalise אדני as either adonai or adoni. The vocalisation adoni in Psalm 110:1 is demanded by the context and supported by the LXX and versions (as well as the NT which probably follows the LXX). But as the Hebrew Bible uses the terms adon (lord) and adoneinu (our lord) of the God of Israel I personally think one is barking up the wrong tree to argue from the use of use of adoni exclusively for human lords in the MT that any use of adoni MUST refer to humans.

    1. Thanks, You are right that adonenu (our lord) is both for man and God. So also adon. But adoni is never for GOD and there is no evidence of a corrupted MT here.

      The adoni not adonai, is confirmed by the Greek of the NT and LXX (my lord, kurios mou).

      Ps 110:5 is a REVERSE picture found in Ps 109.31 and other places that God is at the right hand of a person, to help. [Ps 16.8; 121.5; cp. Acts 2.25]

      You cite adon and adonenu! But we are talking about adoni! Adoni is always the non-Deity title.

      No one in the Bible thought GOD was speaking to GOD in Ps. 110:1.

      You surely accept the Gk of the NT Scripture? [kurios mou is adoni!] And adoni is 195 times not used of GOD.

      Note how below you sort of cast doubt on the NT when you say it copied the LXX! NT is Scripture.

      1. Anthony, my point is that adon and adon + pronominal suffix (adoneinu) are both used of God. To argue that one pronominal suffix (our) can be used of God but not another (my) is unwarranted. If I am wrong about this I would appreciate a reference in a standard Hebrew Grammar.

        “No one in the Bible thought GOD was speaking to GOD in Ps. 110:1.” I agree absolutely, but this is not the issue.

        “kurios mou is adoni!” I agree again, and in fact I commented earlier that this translation is demanded by the context of Psalm 110:1.

        “there is no evidence of a corrupted MT here.” I agree again, and I never suggested there was a corruption.

        “you sort of cast doubt on the NT when you say it copied the LXX”. I don’t think I do. The NT often quotes the LXX. The LXX translation of Psalm 110:1 is correct, so are the NT quotations of Psalm 110:1. Whether the NT writers use the LXX or provide their own translation doesn’t change anything: the LXX and NT translations/quotations are correct and this is not an issue.

        I agree entirely that the adoni of Psalm 110:1 refers to a human lord. My comment to Dustin was that I am uncomfortable with the argument that adoni can ONLY refer to a human lord being used to defend this as there is no grammatical support for the argument and the evidence is actually agianst it (i.e adon + pronominal suffix is used elsewhere of God).

  2. Dustin,
    An excellent post!
    I think that RESURRECTED Christ was MADE “Lord and Messiah’ in recognition of his faith -even unto death on the cross.

    It is not surprising therefore to see Christ referred to as ‘Lord’ in Pauls writings – after all they were penned post-resurrection.!!!

    Regarding Psalm 110 v1
    -This is NOT YHWH talking to YHWH
    -This is NOT two YHWHS talking.
    -One party is ‘superior’ to the other since he is doing the ‘elevating’ and the ‘crushing’
    -this is ‘adonai’ talking to ‘adoni’
    -surely it is evident that the oracle is NOT YHWH – and therefore ‘not God’ by identity.
    -Trinitarians frequently cross-refer this verse with Christs words in Matthew 22
    (see vs 41-45) . All one can say is –
    (a) If God is the Messiah why does he not just ‘come as himself’
    (b) Why should it NOT be for the Messiah to have greater status than his famous and powerful Father?

    Every Blessing
    John

  3. All’
    I must admit to being totally confused!

    Regarding Psalm 110 I find it difficult to accept that YAHWEH sat on any humans right side (v5)

    Surely the ‘adon’ referred to in this verse is a human ‘lord’?

    Without doubt the being referred to in verse 4 is YAHWEH.

    Blessings
    John

    1. Thanks, just check the major commentaries: You will find ADONAI at the right hand of a human to help several times. Why make one exception in v. 5? No need.

      195 times YHVH and adoni are quite clear and adoni is never GOD. Jews carefully knew the difference.

      Why do you find it difficult for YHHV to sustain someone by holding someone by the right hand?

      Look up the examples.

      No need for any difficulty.

    2. “I find it difficult to accept that YAHWEH sat on any humans right side (v5)”. John, I think you have misunderstood something. No one is suggesting that.

      “Surely the ‘adon’ referred to in this verse is a human ‘lord’?” That’s what Dahood suggests in his excellent 3 volume commentary on Psalms in The Anchor Bible series. But the Masoretic Text has ‘adonai’ which would be God. Dahood argues that it should be vocalised ‘adoni’ – the same as verse 1. His argument well illustrates the difficulty in determining how the consonantal text should be vocalised and the Masoretes may not always have gotten it right. There is no dispute about verse 1 however. All the ancient versions and the scholars agree that it should be ‘adoni’.

  4. Stephen,

    Thanks, but just look in BDB and the other lexicons please and see that ADONI never means other than GOD! Lexicons just confirm our point.

    Show us where ADONI ever means GOD.

    1. Anthony, my preferred Lexicon is Koehler & Baumgartner ‘Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament’ (HALOT) which notes (vol. 1 p. 12) that אדון is used of God 400 times. You would be well aware that in a consonantal text (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls) there is no difference between adonai and adoni, and that until the Masoretes added niqqud in the medieval period there was no way of distinguishing these terms in the text. In fact, HALOT renders the frequently occuring (280X) term ’אדני י as ‘my lord Y[ahweh]’, obviously understanding this to be adoni.
      Do you regard the medieval Masoretes as inspired? If not, how would you personally determine from a consonantal text whether to read adonai or adoni?

      1. Thanks, we all know that adon is for GOD and Man!

        You say that HALOT renders ADONAI Lord GOD as ADONI!! 449 times Adonai means the Absolute Lord, see TDOT.

        The difference between adonai and adoni is known long before the Massoretes. Adonai is even in the Vulgate!

        Not quite sure of your point. Halot is not different in its facts than BDB.

  5. Anthony, we seem to be unnecessarily at cross purposes here. We agree on several things:

    1. The MT Hebrew of Psalm 110:1 reads ‘adoni’ and means ‘my lord’.
    2. In this context this refers to a human lord.
    3. The ‘adoni’ in this verse is different to YHVH.
    4. The ancient versions, including LXX and Vulgate, and the NT, support the translation ‘my lord’.

    However, the points you have raised are not relevant to my initial concern which I raised with Dustin, viz. there is no textual or grammatical justification for the idea that adoni can refer ONLY to a human lord, and you have not answered my quite specific question about this.

    The Masoretes were very thorough in identifying all the cases where they believed אדני referred to God and pointed these cases as אְַדֹנֶי adonai, while pointing the others as אָדֹנִי adoni, but we cannot argue backwards from this that אדני MEANS ‘God’ in some cases but ‘human lord’ in others. There is no difference in meaning. Both vocalisations (adoni and adonai) mean ‘my lord’ (or my lords [plural] in the rare case/s where the subject is plural, such as the reference to angels in Genesis 19:2). The vocalisation of the suffix does not change the meaning of the word (which is ‘my lord’ whether human or divine). Even BDB, which you referenced, says these “are variations of Mass. pointing to distinguish divine reference fr. humans” (p. 10). We have no evidence whatsoever that the original consonantal writings made such a distinction.

    So I will put my question to you again: how would you determine from a consonantal text (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and ALL Hebrew texts before the medieval Masoretic text) whether to read אדני as adonai or adoni?

    1. Yes, indeed: that is all correct.

      You then ask about how the points work: The answer is found in the NT inspired scripture. The ADONI is correct because of kurios MOU. Thus, both the LXX and the NT Greek confirm adoni and not adonai. NT tells us that the pointing ADONI is right!

      You seem not to give the NT the final authority?
      (You more or less concede this in point 4.)

      1. Anthony, you say that “ADONI is correct because of kurios MOU” but I think it is more accurate to say that the context and grammar of Psalm 110:1 demand that we read adoni. The ancient versions and the NT confirm that this is the only possible reading.

        I have no idea how you could get the idea from anything that I’ve said that I am questioning the NT. On the contrary, I have repeatedly said that the NT confirms your reading.

        However, my point still stands and you continue to ignore it: in the original consonantal writings there is no difference between adoni and adonai – both are written אדני – and we should not therefore argue that “adoni can only mean HUMAN lord” as the different pointings of this word are possibly (and even probably) a late rabbinical device to give reverance to God.

        By the way, I wasn’t asking how the points work. I know how they work.

        I have no idea how you could get the idea from anything that I’ve said that I am questioning the NT. On the contrary, I have repeatedly said that the NT confirms your reading.

        However, my point still stands and you continue to ignore it: in the original consonantal writings there is no difference between adoni and adonai – both are written אדני – and we should not therefore argue that “adoni can only mean HUMAN lord” as the different pointings of this word are possibly (and even probably) a late rabbinical device to give reverance to God.

        By the way, I wasn’t asking how the points work. I know how they work.

  6. Thanks for this blog post. It is refreshing to see people taking the bible seriously, as opposed to the fundamentalists who are so obviously fearful of departing from their sacred Trinity nonsense.

    Also, I think your call for more well-defined terminology is greatly needed in this field. Otherwise the Trinitarians will keep equivocating all day, and pretend that they are doing serious scholarship.

  7. Stephen, Take your first sentence above: What I am saying is that the NT shows that KURIOS MOU proves that ADONI was in the Hebrew when read aloud and later written as pointed!

    You question the NT not me!

    Kurios mou cannot translate ADONAI, it translates ADONI! That is the point you are missing. The original pointing is simply confirmed by the GREEK. That is to say that the oral reading which was from as early as the 3rd century BC is properly confirmed by the later Mass. pointing [c. 800-1000 AD.]!

    I hope this is clear.

    You have no basis for questioning the MT since long before it ADONI demonstrates that kurios mou was read.

  8. >>Kurios mou cannot translate ADONAI, it translates ADONI! That is the point you are missing.<>The original pointing is simply confirmed by the GREEK.<>You have no basis for questioning the MT since long before it ADONI demonstrates that kurios mou was read.<<

    I haven't questioned the MT. I agree with the MT pointing in Psalm 110:1.

    I know you're very busy and probably don't get time to closely analyse every message you receive, but I am disappointed that you initiated this dialogue with me without carefully reading my comments. You've failed to grasp that I've agreed with you on almost every point you've raised. Yet you still haven't attempted to answer the one question I've asked. Sadly, there probably isn't much point in continuing the discussion.

  9. The formatting in my previous comment was corrupted in transmission so here it is again.

    AB: “Kurios mou cannot translate ADONAI, it translates ADONI! That is the point you are missing.”

    SC: I haven’t missed the point Anthony. I’ve repeatedly agreed with it!

    AB: “The original pointing is simply confirmed by the GREEK.”

    You would be well aware that there was no “original pointing”. The original writings were consonantal. Pointing wasn’t used until the medieval period. You may mean “the original vocalisation”. If so, I’ve repeatedly agreed with this.

    AB: “You have no basis for questioning the MT since long before it ADONI demonstrates that kurios mou was read.”

    SC: I haven’t questioned the MT. I agree with the MT pointing in Psalm 110:1.

    Anthony, I know you’re very busy and probably don’t get time to closely analyse every message you receive, but I am disappointed that you initiated this dialogue with me without carefully reading my comments. You’ve failed to grasp that I’ve agreed with you on almost every point you’ve raised. Yet you still haven’t attempted to answer the one question I’ve asked. Sadly, there probably isn’t much point in continuing the discussion.

  10. Stephen, is the point now clear that ADONI, with that pointing, is guaranteed by the fact the LXX and NT translate it as kurios MOU?

    The kurios MOU shows that ADONI lies behind it.

    When YHVH is spoken of as a Person distinct from another lord, then ADONI is always kurios mou.

    So the the LXX and Greek NT confirm that ADONI is correctly pointed.

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