Friday, June 7, 2019

What Is the Name Above All Names?

Over the years, I have used a number of study Bibles. It’s a great, simple way to gain a variety of perspectives, and I highly recommend it. But sometimes, even coming from different perspectives, they can have similar conclusions. I happened to notice this recently when reading the CSB Study Bible’s take on Phil. 2:9–11, and realizing how often I had seen their interpretation before. Not only had I seen it before, but it has never really sat right with me on those occasions. Possibly, it is a good example that scholars can make errors even when they all make the same one. Or possibly, it is a sign that I have a lot of hubris to think I can take them all on. Still, I think it is a matter of plain meaning and it is worth taking the risk.

Discovering the Name

This passage is part of an early Christian hymn speaking to the nature of Jesus Christ. Phil. 2:6–8 concern Jesus’ willingness to step down from His eternal blessedness as the Son of God so that He could become the sacrificial Son of Man. Meanwhile, Phil. 2:9–11 speak of His exaltation after the crucifixion. They read,

For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The question comes from v. 9. What is “the name that is above every other name?” From what I have seen over the years and from what I could find in researching for this article, most scholars believe the name is “Lord” from v. 11. The word “lord” in the New Testament translates the Greek kurios, both of which mean “master.” But Jews and Christians in the 1st Century A.D. had also developed the habit of using kurios to personally describe God.

That is because of a system that Jewish people had developed a few centuries previously. Not wanting to break the Third Commandment concerning the taking of God’s name in vain (Ex. 20:7), they refused to speak or write the personal name Yahweh. Instead, everywhere it appeared in the Old Testament, they would put the Hebrew word adonai instead. Adonai means “lord,” which Greek translators made into kurios, which English speakers make “Lord.” Therefore, it can be and often is used as a name rather than a title.

It is generally argued that this is what happens in Phil. 2:9–11. The case is certainly strengthened by reference to Is. 45:21–23. In that passage, God identifies Himself by His name, Yahweh, and says there is no other God besides Him. And in v. 23, He says,

Every knee will bow to me, every tongue will swear allegiance.

The hymn in Philippians is clearly a reference to this verse, and the point of all of Phil. 2:5–11 is to identify Jesus as the one true God. Christianity is not polytheistic. Jesus is not a lesser or another God. He is Yahweh, and His resurrection and exaltation are the proof of that to us.

Identifying the Name in Context

It is a strong argument, then. But I still feel it reads more into the passage than in truly necessary. Look again at Phil. 2:9–11. In v. 10, it is not “at the name of the Lord” that “every knee will bow.” It is “at the name of Jesus.” In context, it seems to me common sense to assume the name given in v. 9 is the name repeated in v. 10. I feel the connection is obvious simply from reading the verses together.

As I have said on many occasions, I am no expert in Greek. My understanding of the language of the New Testament is barely elementary. It could therefore be that I have this wrong, but I will share it anyway. Looking at the sentence structure of Phil. 2:9–11, even the original language does not explicitly connect the “name” of v. 9 to the “Lord” of v. 11. Nor have I found a scholar who says that it does. It seems pretty uncontroversial. Whether looking at the Greek or the English, experts are making an inference. There is nothing that demands we understand “Lord” to be the given name. Again, if anything, “Jesus” is the name that the language highlights.

Objections and Responses

With that being the case, why do so many of the experts continue with the identification of “Lord?” I think there are a few reasons. The first and most important is what I already described above. The whole hymn is a strong statement on the deity of Christ, but without turning into polytheism. Identifying Jesus as Yahweh shows His equality as God, while defining His personality shows His submission as Son.

I agree fully with that. Jesus is unequivocally called “Lord” in v. 11, and there should be no doubt of who He is. But we are talking specifically about the name that has been given to Him. The Lordship of the Son has always been true. He has always been Yahweh, there has never been a time when He has not. Being Jesus, on the other hand, was a later development. That name was given to Him at the incarnation (Matt. 1:21, 25; Luke 1:31; 2:21). The giving of this name fits the context of Phil. 2:9.

We need to understand the meaning of the name Jesus in order to fully understand the impact of it, but first, I want to discuss the other reason why I think so many scholars continue to identify “Lord” as the name given to Jesus rather than the other way around. This is just a guess, but I feel like it is because the name Jesus is not unique.

We do not use it often in English, but Jesus is a common name in Spanish-speaking countries (or at least in Latin American ones, I am not sure about Spain itself). And that is not to say it is unused elsewhere. It is just given a different translation. “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Yehoshua,” which we also know as “Joshua.” They are all the same word. There are plenty of Joshuas in the world, and there have been plenty throughout Israelite, Jewish, and Christian history. So it does seem to beg the question: how can that be the name above all names when so many other people have it?

This is where we come back to what the name means. It is a compound word in Hebrew that connects Yahweh with their word for “save,” yasha. Together, then, they mean, “The Lord is salvation.” Plenty of other people have held this name, but none have ever fulfilled it like Jesus has. That was why He came into the world. It was why He was given the name before He was even born. And when He gave His life as a ransom so that we could be rescued, He proved that it belonged to Him uniquely. However many Jesus’s and Joshuas there are, Jesus Christ is known unmistakably as the Savior of the world. That is the name by which He has been revealed as mankind’s only hope.

While I do think the name referenced in Phil. 2:9 is Jesus, this discussion on meaning does go to show that it is a bit of a moot point. The name “Jesus,” strictly speaking, contains the name “Yahweh.” That means figuring it out is not an important point of doctrine. I just think it is worthwhile to remember the special significance of “Jesus” that has to do with the incarnation. That name is how we know Him for who He is. It is the one “name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Knowing that is far more important than getting a scholarly detail right. I simply think it is possible to do both.

Have a question about the Bible? Want to share this article on Facebook? Interested in becoming a patron of Quest Forums? Check out the links in the sidebar!

No comments:

Post a Comment