Richard Worden Wilson has drawn attention to a short piece by Scot McKnight on the relation between Paul’s statement about one God and one Lord in 1 Corinthians 8:6 and the Shema, the great Jewish confession that “The LORD our God (yhwh eloheinu), the LORD (yhwh) is one” (Deut 6:4). McKnight thinks that “one Lord, Jesus Christ” identifies Jesus with YHWH: ‘astoundingly, Paul sees “God” (Elohim) as the Father and he sees “Lord” (YHWH) as Jesus’.
I respectfully disagree with this interpretation. I think it is a mistake to identify the “Lord” who is Jesus in Paul’s statement with YHWH, for reasons which I will set out. But first I want to say again, for the benefit of those who want to banish me into outer darkness, that this is not an argument against the view that Jesus is presented in the New Testament as God. It is an argument for the view that this is not what is meant by the confession that Jesus is Lord. It is the argument that at the heart of the New Testament is the apocalyptic story of how the God of Israel raised his obedient Son from the dead and gave him authority to judge and rule over the nations, a narrative trajectory which I suggest found its historical fulfilment in the conversion of the empire. It is an argument for thinking that this historical ambition is much more important for understanding the New Testament than the assertion of Jesus’ divinity.
Now for my reasons….
1. The statement “there is no God but one” in 1 Corinthians 8:4 alludes to the Shema and perhaps a couple of other texts: “the LORD (yhwh) is God; there is no other besides him…. the LORD (yhwh) is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other” (Deut. 4:35, 39). These texts all include YHWH in the formula, but Paul has dropped “Lord” and states merely that “God” is one. This renders the allusion a little hazy.
2. Paul’s assertion that “for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist” has stronger and more extensive links to Malachi 2:10-11 than to Deuteronomy 6:4 (LXX):
Did not one God create us? Is there not one Father of us all? Why then did each of you forsake his brother, to profane the covenant of our fathers? Judah was forsaken, and an abomination occurred in Israel and in Jerusalem, for Judah profaned the sacred things of the Lord with which he loved and busied himself with foreign gods.
Contextually, this matches Paul’s argument against idolatry rather well: entanglement with foreign gods is potentially, at least, a contradiction of the fundamental Jewish conviction that there is one true creator God. The Shema may still be in the background (note also Deut. 6:14), but the evident relevance of the Malachi passage suggests that Paul’s intention was not so much to reformulate the Shema as to affirm in the language of the prophets—Deutero-Isaiah is also clearly germane—the uniqueness of God the Father who created us.
3. Paul acknowledges that there are “many gods and many lords” in the world which are worshipped or obeyed. The kyrioi could perhaps be the same as the “gods”. They could be deified rulers. In any case, when he says that “for us there is… one Lord, Jesus Christ”, the first point of reference in the flow of Paul’s argument is not to the Shema, which has not been brought clearly into focus, but to the “many lords” acknowledged in the idolatrous pagan world. The meaning of kyrios in this context is very different to the meaning of “LORD” (i.e. YHWH) in Deuteronomy 6:4.
4. To the extent that New Testament thought about the status of Jesus is controlled by Psalm 110:1,1 we have to reckon with a distinction between the “LORD” which is YHWH and the “Lord” which is kyrios:
The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
I noted in a previous post Dunn’s argument that the second part of Paul’s formula is determined by this verse. The one God who is YHWH grants the one Lord (adon, kyrios) who is Jesus the right to rule at his right hand until those who oppose him are subdued. There is, then, a strong case for thinking that this distinction governs the application of texts such as Isaiah 45:22-23 and Joel 2:32 to Jesus.
5. Presumably for the sake of the parallelism Paul adds to the confession about Jesus “through whom are all things and through whom we exist”. The thought owes something to Jewish wisdom traditions (cf. Prov. 8:22-31; Wis. 7:22; 9:9). Creation is “from” God but it is “through” Jesus, and “through whom we exist” suggests an eschatological orientation: it is through Jesus’ faithful obedience that a new creation reality as been brought about. The distinction between “from” and “through” weighs heavily against directly equating Jesus with YHWH in this passage, but the association of Jesus with the “word” and “wisdom” of God certainly points in the direction of Jesus’ unique participation in the creative action of God. Whether action can then be translated into identity, as Bauckham argues, is another matter. If we step back far enough—say two to three hundred years—I think it probably can.
So when Paul says that “for us there is… one Lord, Jesus Christ”, he is not saying that Jesus is the “LORD” in the Shema, that Jesus is YHWH. He is saying that Jesus has been given an authority—or a name—above that of all the other “lords” that hold sway in the Greek-Roman world. He does not have this authority as YHWH. He has received it from YHWH.
- 1. See Matt. 22:44; 26:64; Mk. 12:36; Lk. 20:42, 43; Acts 2:34, 35; 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 2:8; 8:1; 10:12-13; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22.