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How did a Jewish, middle class, Israelite man who was beaten, flogged, stripped, and nailed to a cross become to be believed and associated with the almighty God of Israel? In his book The Divine Christ, David Capes (associate dean of biblical and theological studies and professor of New Testament at Wheaton College) examines Paul’s texts and argues both historically and theologically that Jesus was believed to be divine early on in the history of Christianity.
In the first chapter Capes surveys the Hebrew and Greek words our English Bibles translate as “lord,” “Lord,” and “LORD.” In the Septuagint, kyrios, the Greek word for “lord,” is used as a title for certain humans who held authority, the Lord Jesus Christ, and for God. Capes briefly examines how the divine name is used in the biblical texts and in the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS).
In the second chapter observes the work of Wilhelm Bousset who sought to understand Christianity as a historical phenomenon without analyzing their truth claims. He and his colleagues purely observed the historical outworkings of Christianity through situating the NT documents in their contexts with our Christian documents. Bousset wanted to explain how religion devotion to Jesus arose with a Greco-Roman environment. The DSS had not yet been discovered, so he was unable to place the NT within the Second Temple period. He believed that the first people to call Jesus “Lord” were Greek-speaking Gentiles in Hellenistic churches in pluralistic Syria.
While these first two chapters weren’t too exciting for myself, regardless they are important. They situate Paul in a proper cultural context, and Capes shows that it would have been monotheistic, Aramaic-speaking Jews who first called Jesus “Lord” (see 1 Cor 16:22, maranatha, meaning “our Lord, come”) and not Gentiles in a pluralistic who called every god “Lord.”
With the discovery of the DSS, scholars are able to better understand how Greek-speaking Jews understood kyrios in all of its contextual forms. In chapter three, Capes examines Paul’s writings where he refers to Jesus as kyrios. He uses it in four ways: for those who hold authority over others, for other gods and deities, and for the one God of Israel. The fourth way, the majority of Paul uses, refer to Jesus Christ. At the resurrection, Jesus was given the name above all names: Lord. Jesus is not just any “lord;” he receives God’s unique covenant name (YHWH). Jesus holds dominion over the living and the dead.
Generally, Paul uses certain titles for Christ in specific ways. “Christ” = Jesus’ sacrificial death, the cross/crucifixion (1 Cor 2.2). “Lord” = ethical statements with an emphasis on Jesus’ authority (Phil 4.1), eschatology (“the day of the Lord,” Amos 5:20; 1 Thess 5.2; 1 Cor 1.8), instructions on church life and worship (1 Cor 11.20). Just as YHWH (kyrios in the LXX) gave Israel ethical commands, so the Lord Jesus does too. Jesus, Paul’s contemporary who died a gruesome and shameful death on a cross, does now and will do in the future actions that were reserved for Yahweh alone. For example, “calling up on the name of the Lord” in Joel 2.32 [3.5 LXX] is applied to the Lord Jesus Christ in Romans 10.9–13 (cf. 1 Cor 12.3). The Son and the Father are regarded as one, although they are still distinct. Jesus is both associated with the Father and is subordinate to him. The chapter ends with an excursus on the use of “Kyrios as Counterimperial Propaganda.”
In chapters four and five, Capes notes that Paul unambiguously quotes thirteen OT texts which use the divine name Yahweh. About half of Paul’s uses refer to the Father, with the others referring to Christ. Even his allusions to Yahweh texts refer to Christ. In chapter four, after briefly explaining the difference between a quote, an allusion, and an echo, Capes examines the OT texts which Paul quotes in reference to the Father (Rom 4.7–8; 9.27–29; 11.34; 15.9–11; 1 Cor 3.20; 2 Cor 6.17–18). Paul knew the divine name referred to the God of Israel and at times refers to him when he quotes OT “Yahweh” texts. Capes brings up three texts where Paul inserts the word kyrios to speak of God (Rom 11.3; 12.19; 1 Cor 14.21) providing more evidence that the use of kyrios for God was in Paul’s vocabulary.
My only (minor) critique of this chapter was that Capes believes 2 Corinthians 6:14–7.1 to be a self-contained unit of Scripture and so blows off the surrounding context. There are a few commentaries and writings which argue against 6.14–7.1 being a self-contained argument (Seifrid, Hafeman, Beale, etc.), and to treat it as such deflates the impact of Paul’s argument. However, Capes’ discussion was still good, and I gleaned much from it.
In chapter five Capes looks at those OT Yahweh texts in which Paul refers to Jesus and explains the surrounding context of each text (Rom 10.13; 1 Cor 1.31; 2.16; 10.26; 2 Cor 10.17). He also gives tie to explain a few allusions (1 Cor 10.21, 22; 1 Thess 3.13; 4.3; 2 Cor 3.16; Phil 2.6–11). Capes helps the reader delineate between texts which refer to God or Christ—Yahweh texts are reserved for God “primarily in theocentric passages such as Rom. 9–11” (149). When Paul wants the reader to understand that the Father is in view, he clearly states it in the context or in an introductory formula. If a title such as “Lord of hosts”/“Lord almighty” is added, then it refers to God. Paul uses kyrios to refer to Jesus in a pretty straightforward way, possibly because references to Jesus as kyrios make up most of Paul’s uses.
Capes examines the implications of Paul closely associating Jesus with the God of Israel in chapter six. He notes a few allusions in the DSS and other Jewish writings of figures who are closely associated with the God of Israel, but says that there is still a difference between those texts and what Paul is doing. Paul has a pattern of associated Jesus with God, Jesus is the only one associated with God, he has received the divine name from God, Paul quotes and alludes to OT Yahweh texts and uses some of them to refer to Jesus, and Jesus was a real, historical figure who was a contemporary to Paul. He was not a legendary person of old (like Melchizedek). And so, a high Christology can be traced back to the beginning of the Christian movement. On the Damascus road Paul saw the glory of the Lord; it transformed him and compelled him to be a light to the Gentiles. The disciples who lived with Jesus for three years saw his miracles and heard the way he used Scripture to present his authority before all. They saw the coming of God into the world, at through his death, resurrection, and ascension he received the divine name—that above all names.
Capes offers a good synopsis of Paul’s use of the Yahweh texts. He gives enough information for some to be satisfied and to pique the interest of others to go searching for more. The divinity of Christ will be debated with each new generation, and Capes provides a way for us to understand the apostles’ thinking, particularly Paul’s. Some will be disinterested in the first two chapters, but they lay an important historical foundation for the need for this study. Capes’ book could be read in tandem with Gordon Fee’s Pauline Christology (see his more accessible work, Jesus the Lord according to Paul the Apostle), and anything by Larry Hurtado, especially his upcoming Honoring the Son.
- Series: Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology
- Author: David B. Capes
- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Baker Academic (March 20, 2018)
- David’s blog
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