Is Jesus Yahweh? Sanctify Christ as Lord

Generative AI summary:

James White argues that 1 Peter 3:13-17, quoting Isaiah, identifies Jesus with Yahweh. Peter alters the pronouns to address local Jewish opponents, emphasizing sanctifying Jesus as Lord. This parallels Isaiah’s warning of judgment on Israel. Peter, referencing Psalm 118:22 and Psalm 110:1, asserts Jesus as the cornerstone and exalted Lord, urging Jews to honor Jesus amid conflict. This confession implies God’s sharing of rule with Jesus, a crucified messiah. It’s a significant assertion, emphasizing Jesus’ divine authority amidst Jewish-Christian conflict, with implications for eschatological judgment and the sovereignty of God.

Read time: 5 minutes

The last passage that James White puts forward in support of his view that the New Testament identifies Jesus with Yahweh is 1 Peter 3:13-17*:

And who is harming you if you should be zealots of the good? But if indeed you should suffer because of righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear their fear nor be troubled, but sanctify the Lord, the Christ, in your hearts, always prepared for a defence to the one asking you for a reason for the hope in you, but with gentleness and fear, having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those reviling your good behaviour in Christ might be put to shame. For it is better to suffer doing good, if the will of God should will it, than doing evil.

He observes that the injunction “Do not fear their fear, nor be troubled, but sanctify the Lord” is a quotation from Isaiah:

Never say “Hard,” for whatever this people says is hard, but do not fear its fear, neither be troubled. Sanctify the Lord himself, and he will be your fear. (Is. 8:12-13* LXX)

Peter has changed the singular pronoun “its,” which referred to “this people,” Israel, to “their,” effectively changing the sense from “do not fear what they fear” to “do not fear them,” referring not to the people as a whole but to their local Jewish opponents.

He has also changed “Sanctify the Lord himself” to “sanctify the Lord, the Christ.” In the original context, naturally, “Lord” (Kyrios) is the Septuagintal proxy for the divine name YHWH, so White concludes that Peter meant his readers to infer a coincidence of identity. “How do we as believers treat as holy the Christ as Yahweh in our hearts? That is the commitment that Christian believers have.”

What I find interesting about the intertextual hook up here are the narrative contexts that are brought into play.

First, Isaiah has been relating God’s warning to him not to walk in the way of this people. He should not fear what the people fear, rather he should fear the Lord because YHWH will “become a sanctuary and a stone of offence and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken” (Is. 8:14-15).

At issue, then, is a coming judgment on Israel. Peter has already quoted this passage in the letter:

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honour is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. (1 Pet. 2:6-8)

On the one hand, YHWH intends to lay a cornerstone in Zion which has been rejected by the builders but will be a reliable foundation for those who believe in him, who will therefore not be put to shame (cf. Ps. 118:22; Is. 28:16 LXX). The quotation from Psalm 118:22 has messianic connotations. The king is surrounded by his enemies, but the Lord has not given him over to death and has become his salvation (Ps. 118:18, 21). Either the king or Israel is the stone rejected by the builders which has become the cornerstone.

On the other, this stone will be at the same time a stone of stumbling for those who disobey. For Isaiah this dangerous stone was the Lord who was YHWH, for the author of 1 Peter it is the Lord who was Jesus.

So when Peter exhorts his Jewish-Christian readers not to fear the Jews who persecute them but to sanctify the Lord who is the Christ, he invokes a narrative of judgment against disobedient Israel and the salvation of those who believe that Jesus is “Lord.”

This gets us to the heart of the controversy. Whom should Jews in that present moment of judgment—the last days of second temple Judaism—honour as Lord? The context cannot be ignored and the simple transposition of terms extracted to make a dogmatic point, as White does. The whole eschatological argument is operative for meaning, which brings a more remote episode into consideration.

We recall that on the day of Pentecost, Peter quotes Psalm 110:1: ‘YHWH said to my lord (ʾadony), “Sit at my right hand, until a make your enemies your footstool.”’ This is applied to Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, who was “exalted at the right hand of God,” and who has poured out the promised Holy Spirit which he received from the Father (Acts 2:32-35). Then Peter declares to the men of Jerusalem, to the whole “house of Israel,” that “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

The thought is very clear. God who is YHWH has made (epoiēsen) the resurrected and exalted Jesus the kyrios at his right hand, and it is Jesus, therefore, who must now be feared and honoured as kyrios, in the context of conflict with the Jews, even if it detracts in a certain sense from the sovereignty of God.

This is precisely the shocking Jewish-Christian confession—that the God of Israel has condescended to share judgment and rule in the political-religious sphere with a crucified messiah. We again note how fitting it is that when conflict in the political-religious sphere is over, and the last enemy as been defeated, Jesus hands back the authority given to him to judge and rule to the one creator God (1 Cor. 15:24-28).