Kurios is Jesus

Prelude to Act I

I learned many songs in camp and youth settings.  Those of us in the SE PA/DE/NJ/MD area were multiply blessed at Camp Manatawny—including having to endure only a couple years in which the likes of “Father Abraham” and “Gimmegas for My Ford” were inflicted on us!  The chorus for the latter (“Let us sing ‘hosanna'”) was actually pretty good, although utterly mismatched lyrically and conceptually to the stanzas.  One girl had a penchant for tagging a “king-ke-dink!” onto the end of that chorus.  Unfortunately, her musical “stinger” was a good stylistic fit with embarrassing words like “keep me truckin’ for the Lord” and “gimme umption fer mah gumption.”

Anyone who doesn’t like the so-called “24/7” worship songs of today, take notice.  We could do a lot worse!  The corrupted spelling of “Gimmegas” here is my own, indicating my sense of the nature of the “literature.”

Act I

While blessing can take the form of keeping us from things such as bad songs, blessing can of course also be positive.  I was blessed by being in the middle of some wonderful times and spaces back then.  In my personal devotional history, the “camp song” that was first adopted in full-church settings was “Jesus is Lord.”

Jesus is Lord – YouTube

Ignore the funny-shaped notes if you’re not used to those things, but do notice the beautiful simplicity.

I can’t begin to tell you the number of times that devotionals were planned that included that song.  Before weekly Bible classes on Wednesday nights, in friends’ homes on Fridays and Saturdays with youth groups, at youth rallies at our church or another one, at camp in the morning, at “hymn sing” time, at campfires, and in cabins.  For good reason and to good effect, “Jesus Is Lord” was a go-to song.  The simple acclamation that Jesus is Lord was etched onto the tablet of my spiritual consciousness, and I can only hope the song is still being sung.  I can’t think of a better song to have as a standby when you’re young, or when you’re struggling, or when you’re wanting to worship, or when you’re aimless, or when you’re old.

Act II

Enter Gary D. Collier into my life’s story.  That sounds ominous or overblown, but it’s neither.  When I read a book Gary had written back in the 90s, I was affected dramatically (see the bottom of this post), and my respect for his scholarship, wisdom, and character has grown through the years.  I’ve worked under Gary’s guidance on several projects related to Bible texts, and his articulations of how to read ancient texts tend to be the clearest, most sustainable pieces of advice you’ll see.

Among the significant texts about which Gary has taught stands Philippians 2:5-11, the famous “Christ hymn.”  There is an extensive history of discussion and interpretation of this text.  Gary once studied with Ralph P. Martin, a respected author on the passage and on the whole of Philippians.  Martin is by no means the only scholar who understands the nature and allusions of the passage in the same vein, but he has made important contributions.  The key element for my purposes here is the reading of 2:9-11, and particularly the blue portion below:

2:9 As a result God exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
2:10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow
—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—
2:11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.   (NET Bible)

On the exaltation (2:9), I’ll refer not to Collier or one of his teachers.  Broadening the list of sources, I’ll instead direct the reader to Bob Utley’s note, which is linked on the NET Bible’s Lumina site.  First, the verb “exalted” is a uniquely “intensified” hapax (single-use) word in the NT, and it alludes to the Septuagint’s Isaiah 52:13.  Second, “at the name of Jesus” doesn’t mean that “Jesus” is the name above every name, despite all the sermons and songs that have assumed that very thing.  The name “Jesus” had been a common one in more than one form, for a long may centuries, and it still is today. No, as Utley has stated it,

This special exalted name is “Lord” . . . .  The term “Lord” is an allusion to the OT covenant name for God, YHWH. . . .  “Jesus is Lord” was the public, personal confession of faith for the early Church (cf. Rom. 10:9; I Cor. 8:6; 12:3). Jesus of Nazareth is given the supreme title of Deity (cf. Eph. 1:21 and Heb. 1:4).

If I were to sing “Jesus is Lord” today, I would understand it all differently and worship more specifically and devotedly as I sing.  This crucial concept is why I now have a license plate frame that demands, “Know ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς” (which is mechanically translated “know that Lord is Jesus”).

 

As to the apparently reversed wording from Phil 2:11 (“Lord is Jesus” vs. “Jesus is Lord”), I’m not up to the task of discussing Greek word order, except to say that it’s somewhat fluid, and not necessarily the same as it would be in English.  Here, the being verb “is” is not explicit but is understood.  At first glance, the effect of switching the word order in English might signal that God/Lord is Jesus, but that is not a grammatically based thought.  Here again, the statement of Bob Utley is a good summary:  “The transfer of titles and functions between YHWH and Jesus is another way the NT authors assert the full deity of Jesus.”¹


¹ See this page, and scroll down to the note at 2:10.

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