By Rev. Fr. B Joseph Francis –
Titles of Jesus used by the primitive Church express their faith in Jesus alive and risen
The Resurrection is the foundational experience for the Church and any Christian for that matter. How to communicate this experience to the Jewish audience at the time of the primitive Church in Jerusalem? To preach they had to use those religious terminologies that their Jewish audience was accustomed to and this is but natural but they used some terms which were ambiguous enough so that only those who had faith could perceive their real meaning. Others would take it in their ordinary everyday meaning. This is understandable because if they had plainly said that Jesus was God they would have been stoned to death without much ado. They had to be circumspect.
They used many titles for Jesus which projected their faith in Jesus risen and alive (e.g., Lord, Messiah, Holy and Righteous One, Author of Life, Leader, Saviour, Redeemer, Servant of God, Lamb of God, S/o God, S/o Man, Christ, Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Door etc). Here we examine only one: Jesus is Our Lord: (I Cor 12.3b “…no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit”; Rm 10.9 “…if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”; Phil 2.11 “…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”).
Ordinary meaning of the title “Lord”
This is a popular liturgical title, much used by Christians. In the inter-testamental period (i.e., between OT & N.T) it had the following significances: If I belong to some person in some way then I may address that person as “my Lord” [MARI (Aramaic) or KYRIE (Greek)]. Husband, father, judge, king, governor, owner of slaves are all addressed as “LORD” The pupil calls his teacher Rabbi. Worker of miracles as well as magician was called as “lord” out of fear. The LXX Greek translation supposedly ordered by Ptolemy II of Egypt in the III century B.C substituted for the sacred four letters Word YHWH which was no more pronounced, another substitute word in Hebrew ADONAI meaning LORD (KYRIOS in Greek).From the first century B.C the word “Lord” was used for pagan gods and also later for the Roman emperors who were considered as gods and worship was offered to their statues. In this context fits the story of the Jewish historian Josephus that Pharisees when asked to call Caesar as God by using the word “Lord” for him, refused and bared their necks because it meant giving a title to Caesar, which they had begun to give to God alone.
Higher meaning of the title “Lord”
In the NT we see it used at times in the ordinary meaning but it is applied to Jesus, especially after his Resurrection in higher sense of faith in his divinity. So it seems to be an expression of faith in the divinity by the Primitive church e.g., Acts 2.36 “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified”; Acts 7.60b “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” In I Cor 16.22 we find the cryptic word which could be separated either way with different meanings: MARAN+ATHA (the Lord has come) or MARANA+THA (Come Lord) “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!” The second seems to be original and the meaning would be the Lord is coming to judge. Now who can judge but God alone? So this again is the primitive Church’s faith in the Divinity of Jesus Christ.
N.B The ambiguity of the expression should also be noted because it saved the Christians from being stoned. Paul on the contrary was preaching not in Jerusalem but in the Hellenic world and there was no difficulty about using the word “Lord” for Jesus and he has used it 170 times. More precisely we examine two texts a) Rm 1.3-4 b) Phil 2.6-11.
Rm 1.3-4: “The Gospel concerning his Son v.3a Who was descended from David according to the flesh” (v. 3b) [Therefore truly human +very much a Jew]. What is pointed out is the genuine, full-blooded
HUMANITY of Jesus
“And designated (marked out) S/o God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our LORD” (v.4) [N.B: exalted—in power and given a new title “Lord”]. What is pointed out is the DIVINITY of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not as if he became ‘Lord’ but that he was acknowledged so after the resurrection.
Phil 2.6-11: “Though being divine in nature, he did not claim in fact equality with God, but emptied himself, taking on the nature of a servant, made in human likeness, and in his appearance found as a man. He humbled himself by being obedient to death, death on the cross. That is why God exalted him and gave him the Name which outshines all names, so that at the Name of Jesus all knees should bend in heaven, on earth and among the dead, and all tongues proclaim that Christ Jesus is the Lord”
(Pay attention to the context: Paul was fond of the Philippians’ church for whom he declares his love, constant prayer [ch.1.4+7-8] and who had been his supporters not only materially but also sharing his apostolic mission [ch.4.10-13] and now there were rumblings of trouble, probable divisions, jealousies seem to be showing up. He does not want them to be torn apart and so he recommends that they learn genuine humility, obedience and consider others better than oneself [vv 1-5] and here suggests the example of Jesus who humbled himself, emptying himself, becoming obedient even unto death on the cross)
The kenosis [emptying] (v.7): Form of God to Form of slave: observe the hidden contrast with Adam and Eve who wanted to become God, whereas Jesus, though he was in reality God, did not cling on to being respected as God and chose to humble himself and empty himself unto Death; this is a further lowering which was not necessary; since he was sinless, he need not have died but in humility and obedience he submitted to death on a cross. This is the lowest type of death in those times and most shameful and even accursed. A further lowering is seen in going to Sheol (shadowy existence mentioned by I Pet 3.18-19; we shall explain this further in chapter XIV).
The Exaltation (v.9): God exalted him at Resurrection giving him the name ‘LORD’ at which all would kneel down and God further exalted him at the ascension. He is enthroned at the right hand of the Father.
It is also used in connection with Parousia i.e., the coming of the Lord at the end of time to judge [now who can judge but only God? Therefore the expression points to his Divinity acknowledged by the primitive church] (cf. I Cor 4.5 “…do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purpose of the heart”; 16.22; II Thess 1.9 “They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”). Often he uses the expression IN THE LORD. Observe in the short passage that follows how many times he has used it: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Cf. Rm 14.8-9). This habit has been imitated by pious Christians who end their letter with “Yours in the Lord”.
So, let us as Christians remember that we belong to the Lord and not to the evil forces of this world or to the passions of various types which take us away from the Lord.
To be continued next Thursday…