Did Paul call Jesus “Lord” in the Jewish YHWH-sense (as a substitute for God’s name)?

  • The question

    Paul’s letters (written in Greek) exemplify an ubiqitous religious pattern of habitually calling Jesus “lord” (κύριος). Like “lord” in english, κύριος (kurios) had several meanings, but among them was the Jewish reverential translation of God’s personal name (YHWH). When Paul called Jesus κύριος, was he generally intending it in this Jewish way, such that it carries the meaning and weight of YHWH? Was Paul indirectly applying God's name-designation to Jesus?

“Yes, after all…
  • E.g. Paul uses verses about God to describe “Lord” Jesus

    In describing Jesus, and calling him “Lord”, Paul’s letters cite or harken back to Old Testament quotes (with concepts and expressions) about “Lord” (YHWH) but in contexts that make them about “Lord” (Jesus).

    Examples abound:

    • Phil 2:9-11 makes Isa 45:23 (“every knee… bow…Lord”) about Jesus.
    • 1 Cor 8:5-6 makes Dt 64 (the Shema) about Jesus.
    • 1 Cor 10:21 makes Mal 1:7;12 (“defile… Lord’s table”) about Jesus.
    • 1 Cor 10:22 makes Dt 32:21 (“provoke…Lord to jealousy”) about Jesus.
    • 2 Cor 3:16 makes Ex 34:34 (“Lord… veil”) about Jesus.
    • 1 Thes 3:13 makes Zech 14:5 (“Lord… come.. holy ones”) about Jesus.
    • 1 Thes 4:6 makes Ps 94:2 (“Lord… of vengeance”) about Jesus.
    • 2 Thes 1:7-8 makes Isa 66:15 (“Lord… come in fire…) about Jesus.
    • 2 Thes 1:9 makes Isa 2:10f (“presence of Lord[s].. glory”) about Jesus.
    • Expressions applied to Jesus in multiple letters: “Calling on the name of the Lord,” “Lord… be glorified,” “Boasting in” the Lord” (knowing him).
    • Rom 10:13 makes Joel 2 (“Call... Lord [YHWH]”) about Jesus.
    • 1 Cor 1:31 makes Jer 9 (“Boast in... Lord [YHWH]”) about Jesus.
  • Paul habitually called Jesus “Lord” in religious contexts

    In his letters (about religious matters), Paul habitually attributes to Jesus the title “lord.”

    After all…

    • It is used about 180 times in the undisputed letters.
    • It is used about 50 times in the disputed letters.

    This is relevant for two reasons:
    A) Unless Paul was intending it as a YHWH-substutition, such a frequent use of the honorific title is unprecedented and inexplicable.
    B) Paul was not an inept communicator. Christians regularly referred to God as “Lord” [Forthcoming] Given the frequency and religious contexts in which Paul called Jesus “Lord”, Paul would have rightly expected readers to interpret him as using it in the YHWH-substitution sense. (And yet despite the obvious “risks” he continued to do so without worry, as if that is precisely what he intended.) This is exacerbated since Paul calls Jesus, not simply Lord, but “the” Lord.

  • The Jerusalem church did

    The church lead by the apostles in Jerusalem publicly maintained that Jesus was properly designated as κύριος in the YHWH-sense.

    A full page will cover these arguments:

    • Pauline churches inherited “Lord” (Jesus) from them.
    • Paul’s calling Jesus “Lord” (in the YHWH-sense) is a Jewish-Christian tradition he relayed
    • Early Christians in general called Jesus “Lord” in a YHWH sense.

    This is relevant because the Jerusalem church's teachings-traditions and Paul's teachings-traditions largely matched.[Forthcoming]