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…
In 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.