Is Kyrios Christology a High Christology? My Response to McGrath’s Response to My Response to Ehrman (Gupta)

Since my buddy James McGrath decided to respond to my response to Ehrman, I thought it necessary to briefly respond to James’ response to my response to Ehrman!

In my critique of Ehrman’s approach to the earliest Christology (which Ehrman calls an “exaltation” Christology), I suggest that we have better evidence (if you want to try and dig down to “earliest” layers) for what I call a Kyrios Christology – where Jesus is associated with the identity of Yahweh himself in some special way (hence “Jesus is Kyrios” and maranatha appear to be earliest creedal/liturgical statements). If this is true, then Jesus could not have been viewed as a man exalted after his death to divinity, because Yahweh would not want to share his own title (Kyrios) with an exalted man.

James McGrath doesn’t buy this at all. He thinks that because kyrios is a term that has a range of meaning, there is not reason to think that calling Jesus kyrios would have created any confusion about monotheism because “‘lord’ was never a title felt to be ascribable only to one God and no other.” James also points out that the word kyrios can mean “sir” and other things.

Here is my response to this response (!)

(1) Yes, kyrios can mean many things, and we see this in the gospels, even in regards to Jesus (perhaps Mark 7:28), but I don’t think James is giving enough weight to the fact that kyrios becomes a kind of technical term in the LXX as how the name YHWH is expressed and that surely influences how the NT uses the title in reference to Jesus.

(2) Even though, in the gospels, Jesus could be called “sir” (kyrios), we never see the mundane uses of the word in the epistles at all (right?). Notice how, even in 1 Thess (which most scholars think is the earliest extant early Christian text) Paul uses language of “word of the Lord” (1:8) and other absolute forms of “the Lord” (1:6; 3:12) in reference to Jesus in this text – phrases/terminology that, in the LXX is used of YHWH.

(3) It is hard to read 1 Cor 8:6 and not think that Paul’s own use of Kyrios for Jesus is a “Most High” divine title.

(4) There are a number of occasions in Paul where he quotes the OT in reference to YHWH as Kyrios (1 Cor 14:21; 1 Cor 6:17-18) and yet the same letter uses the word Kyrios (without the name Jesus) as a clear reference to Jesus (so 1 Cor 7:10; 2 Cor 12:1) – my point is that naturally this clearly divine title can float between YHWH and Jesus almost seamlessly. Also, my point is that, for Paul, Jesus is not ever a lord (as in, a great figure, an angel, a master), but he is always the Lord (see 2 Cor 5:6), which is why it can be a reference to him without naming him.

That is all I got for now, but on this subject I have been helped very much by Gordon Fee’s outstanding Pauline Christology.

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5 thoughts on “Is Kyrios Christology a High Christology? My Response to McGrath’s Response to My Response to Ehrman (Gupta)

  1. C. Kavin Rowe (Early Narrative Christology: The Lord in the Gospel of Luke [Baker, 2009]) would seem to support your perspective.

  2. Nijay, I think you are correct on this. Just because KYRIOS can mean a human master or “sir” does not mean that it must mean that in reference to Jesus. The range of meanings for the word includes the divine name. Paul has clearly redrawn the Shema to include Jesus as Lord (1 Cor 8.6. Not only that “the Lord Jesus Christ” is credited as the agent of creation (through whom are all things) and redemption (we through him). In my YHWH texts book (1992) I consider the quotations of and allusions to YHWH texts that Paul applies to Jesus. This is a remarkable feature of his letters. It indicates a high Christology very early.

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