JESUS AND YAHWEH: HOW ARE THEY RELATED?

Question: Recently I saw an article that declared that Yahweh (Jehovah) in the Old Testament is God the Father only, and that he does not include the other persons of the Trinity. The article specifically said that Yahweh and Christ Jesus are two distinct individuals. Is this Biblical? What do you think?

Answer: I saw the same article, and I disagree with the view presented there. I believe that Yahweh as the name for God revealed in the Old Testament includes all three persons of the Trinity. Depending on the context, this name may refer to all three persons or to any one of them. The New Testament makes this very clear regarding the divine nature of Jesus Christ, and based on this I simply infer that it would apply to the Holy Spirit also. Here I will present the NT evidence that the OT name “Yahweh” is inclusive of the Logos, i.e., the second person of the Trinity, the one who became Jesus of Nazareth. (See my book, The Faith Once for All, ch. 13, “The Person of Christ,” pp. 233-234, 240-241.)

First, we will notice the connection between the name “Yahweh” and the NT title for Jesus, “Lord” (the Greek word kurios, or kyrios). The title “Lord” is used for Jesus almost 500 times. This is significant because of the way the title kurios was used among the Jews. In most extant manuscripts of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT), kurios is the Greek word used around 8,000 times to refer to the God of Israel. Sometimes it translates the Hebrew terms ’adonai (“Lord” in a literal sense) and ’elohim (“God”), but mostly–over 6,000 times–it appears in the place of “Yahweh,” the divine name itself. Nearly a thousand times kurios appears in combination with theos, “God,” in the common expression “the LORD God.” It is never used for pagan deities and idols.

The bottom line is this: any Jew who knew the OT in its Septuagint form would have associated this title (kurios) immediately with the one true God. This is certainly the case with the Apostle Paul and other NT writers, who frequently quote from the Septuagint version of the OT.

It is significant, then, that the NT writers use this title so frequently–in Paul’s case, almost exclusively–for Jesus. There is no way that they could have applied this title to Christ in its religious sense without in their minds identifying him with Yahweh. This is especially true after his resurrection from the dead, as a result of which Thomas addressed him as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28), God the Father declared him to be “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36), and the whole world will ultimately “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11), indeed, the Lord of lords” (Rev. 17:14; 19:16). The latter is a title used for God (Deut. 10:17; 1 Tim. 6:15), and surely there can be only one “Lord of Lords.” Thus when the early Christians confessed “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3), they were confessing belief in his deity and identifying him with Yahweh.

Second, it is a fact that in a number of instances NT writers apply to Jesus Christ specific OT passages that speak unequivocally of Yahweh. For example, Matt. 3:3 says that Isa. 40:3 is talking of John the Baptist’s ministry as the forerunner of the Messiah: “Make ready the way of the LORD, make His paths straight!” But Isa. 40:3 speaks specifically of Yahweh: “Clear the way for the LORD [Yahweh] in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.” The same is true of Mal. 3:1, where Yahweh says, “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me.” In Matt. 11:10, however, the Holy Spirit sees fit to change Me to You, thus showing that the specific reference is to Jesus: “Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way before You.”

Other passages are equally insistent that OT references to Yahweh are speaking of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:10-12 quotes Psalm 102:25-27 and applies it to our Savior, thus ascribing to him Yahweh’s work of creation and attribute of eternality. Joel 2:32 is especially significant: “And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD [Yahweh] will be delivered.” The NT quotes this passage on two occasions and refers it to Christ (Acts 2:21, 36; Rom. 10:9, 13). In Isa. 8:13-15 Yahweh describes himself as a stumbling stone, and in Isa. 28:16 he declares that he will lay in Zion a firmly-placed cornerstone. In Rom. 9:32-33 Paul quotes from and combines these two texts, and implies that the stumbling stone is Jesus Christ (see also 1 Peter 2:6-8). Similar comparisons can be made between Ps. 68:18 and Eph. 4:6-8; between Isa. 45:23 and Phil. 2:10-11 (see Rom. 14:11); between Deut. 10:17 and Rev.17:14, 19:16; between Ps. 34:8 and 1 Pet. 2:3; between Isa. 8:14 and 1 Pet. 2:5-8; and between Ps. 24:7-10 and 1 Cor. 2:8.

After surveying passages such as these and many others, Christopher Kaiser says, “We conclude that Jesus is identified with Yahweh, the God of Israel, in virtually all the strata of the New Testament, early as well as late” (The Doctrine of God, Crossway 1982, p. 35).

Third and finally, if Jesus in some sense IS Yahweh, how do we explain the fact that the OT at times distinguishes between Yahweh and the Messiah Jesus (as in Ps. 2:7; Ps. 110:1; and Isa. 53:6, 10, for example)? Here we will make two points.

For one thing, as indicated above, to say that Jesus is Yahweh does not mean that Jesus alone is Yahweh, but that Yahweh of the OT includes Jesus, along with the Father and the Spirit. Thus in texts such as these, Yahweh the Father is distinct from Yahweh the Son, with the former speaking of the latter.

In addition, strictly speaking, when we say that Jesus is Yahweh, we are referring specifically to his divine nature, the eternally pre-existing Logos who became Jesus (John 1:1-14). We are not referring to Jesus the human being as such, who did not even exist until he was supernaturally formed in the womb of the virgin Mary (Luke 1:31-35). Prior to his incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth, the Logos co-existed with the Father and the Holy Spirit under the shared name of Yahweh. From this perspective all three persons of the Trinity could foresee and speak about the yet-to-come Messiah, who would take on the identity of Yahweh by virtue of his union with the Logos. Thus even though in a sense the God-man Jesus is distinct from Yahweh, there is a stronger sense in which he IS Yahweh.

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JESUS AND YAHWEH: HOW ARE THEY RELATED? — 2 Comments

    • You are citing Philippians 2:9-11, which says that God has highly exalted Jesus (via his resurrection, his ascension, and his enthronement at the Father’s own right hand), and that God has bestowed on him “the name that is above every name” (v. 9). Verse 10 might lead some to think that “Jesus” is that name, but I don’t believe that is the point. Verse 11 says that every tongue should “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The name that is above every name is LORD (see Acts 2:36). “Jesus is LORD” should be our main confession. The Greek word for “Lord” is kurios. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, this same Greek word was used over 6,000 times to translate (or represent) the sacred name of God, YAHWEH. The New Testament’s testimony to the fact that JESUS IS LORD is one of the ways it establishes his deity, and thus the fact that he is part of the Trinity. Verse 10 is telling us that every time we hear the name of Jesus, we should remember that he is LORD.

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