Is Jesus Called YHWH in Romans 10:13?
Romans 10:13 stands at the summit of Paul’s grand discourse on salvation, famously quoting Joel 2:32: “For, ‘everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’” The apostle is no doubt aware that the divine name YHWH appears in the original passage from Joel, even though the Greek Septuagint – likely the source of his quote – replaces “YHWH” with “the Lord.”
But Paul situates this quote within a discourse that focuses upon Jesus as “the Lord.” Has he therefore taken an OT verse about YHWH and applied it to Jesus? And would this suggest that Jesus is YHWH? Dr. David Capes thinks so, arguing in his book The Divine Christ: Paul, Jesus, and the Scriptures of Israel that verses like Romans 10:13 provide “the raw materials” for the Trinitarian doctrinal developments of later church councils.1
Such a claim might seem a reasonable inference at first glance, but just how well does it hold up under scrutiny? Below we will evaluate each of the four reasons Capes gives for thinking that Paul applies Joel 2:32 to Jesus in order to identify him as YHWH.2
1. A shift from theocentric to christocentric in OT quotes leading up to Romans 10:13
Capes identifies two OT passages that he claims are originally about YHWH yet are applied to Jesus in the verses leading up to Romans 10:13. This allegedly indicates that Paul is already beginning to identify Jesus with YHWH in an unusual way. We will look at each of these OT allusions in turn.
a. Romans 9:33 (citing Is. 8:14 & Is. 28:16)
As it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’
In Romans 9:33, Paul combines Is. 8:14 and Is. 28:16 into one midrashic statement, indicating that the “stone of stumbling” (8:14) and the “cornerstone” laid in Zion (28:16) are both the same stone. He implicitly identifies this multi-purpose stone as Jesus, yet Isaiah 8:14 says that YHWH will be the stone of stumbling to both houses of Israel. Capes therefore contends:
Paul takes Isaiah’s oracle describing YHWH as the stumbling stone for both houses of Israel and transfers the words to Christ. He apparently has concluded that prophetic statements about Israel’s God can appropriately be used to described the crucified and risen Messiah.3
According to Capes, Paul uses this stone metaphor to merge the identities of Jesus and YHWH into one. But is it wise to attribute such a confusing theological method to Paul, when the apostle constantly distinguishes Jesus from God throughout the book of Romans?4 An informed decision must consider key portions of the OT background that Capes appears to neglect.
The notion of a stumbling stone first appears in Psalm 118:22-23. David first recounts how YHWH delivered him, then gives the following Messianic prophecy that is later quoted by Jesus just before his crucifixion: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s [YHWH’s] doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”
This passage describes one Messianic “stone” serving two different functions: it is first rejected by Israel (foreshadowing Isaiah’s “stumbling stone” metaphor) and then becomes the foundation stone of a new temple (foreshadowing Isaiah’s “cornerstone” metaphor). Significantly, the Davidic Messiah is portrayed as the stone, while YHWH is the one who empowers him to function as such.5
With this background in mind, we are now prepared to evaluate the statement that YHWH himself will be a stumbling stone in Isaiah 8:13-15. The key to an accurate reading of this statement is found in the remainder of the oracle, which goes on to describe Israel’s stumbling. Here we find a second distinct individual – Israel’s Messianic King (cp. Heb. 2:13):
18 Behold, I [Messiah] and the children whom the LORD [YHWH] has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD [YHWH] of hosts. . . 20 If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. 21 They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God.
In this portion of Isaiah’s “stumbling stone” oracle, YHWH is plainly depicted as someone other than the Messiah – he is in fact portrayed as the Messiah’s God. Thus there is no suggestion that they have merged identities. Israel stumbles over YHWH and his appointed human king not because they are both the same individual, but for the simple reason that YHWH is working through the Messiah. To stumble over the Messiah is also to stumble over the one working through him.
Isaiah 8:14 is a prime example of the Jewish principle of agency whereby something done to one’s agent is regarded as having been done to the person himself. Paul confirms this by noting that the righteousness of God is seen in the work he has done through Christ (Rom. 10:1-4, cp. 3:21-26).6
b. Romans 10:6-8 (citing Deut. 30:11-14)
But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);
According to Capes, Paul’s use of Deut. 30:11-14 shifts the focus from its original context. Whereas it used to be about the law, now it is recast in light of Christ. But Capes curiously stops short of the next two verses that complete Paul’s thought and introduce a crucial second figure into the picture:
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Rom. 10:9-10)
Paul has in reality maintained a distinction between God and Jesus in this passage, weaving Deut. 30:11-14 into a picture of God working through the Messiah. But Capes nevertheless urges that “to bring Christ down” in Romans 10:6 is “a likely reference to what is later called the incarnation.” 7
His theory seems to be based upon the order of the two actions mentioned – first Paul warns against bringing Christ down from heaven and then against bringing Christ up from the dead. Capes appears to assume that Paul’s warning corresponds to two sequential events, such that the first warning must be referring to a pre-existent Jesus. But there are problems with this supposition.
The entire passage is focused upon the ascended Jesus, to the extent that we find a parallel between the ascending/descending motif in vss. 6-8 and the confession in vs. 9: Jesus is Lord precisely because he has ascended to heaven to sit at God’s right hand, and God raised him from the dead precisely because he had descended into the grave.
This intentional parallel is confirmed by the fact that Rom. 10:9 reverses the actual sequence of events. One would normally say that Jesus was first raised from the dead and then exalted as Lord, as Paul frequently does elsewhere.8 Leon Morris explains the probable reason why the order has been flipped:
Paul proceeds to speak of confessing and believing. We would have expected the reverse order, but we should probably not make too much of this. The two are in the order of “mouth” and “heart” in the passage Paul has just quoted [Deut. 30:11-14], and he goes on to put them in the order we would expect (v. 10).9
The sequence in Rom. 10:9 is most likely reversed in order to mirror the ascending/descending motif mentioned in Rom. 10:6-8. This, in turn, indicates that Rom. 10:6 refers to bringing down the ascended Christ.
|Romans 10:6-8 (ESV)||Romans 10:9-10 (ESV)|
|6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);||9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord [because he ascended into heaven] and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead [after he descended to the grave], you will be saved.|
Paul’s warning in vss. 6-8 highlights the need for a faith in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus that is based upon verbal testimony rather than visual proof.10 Though most Jews had not personally observed Christ’s ascension or resurrection, they had the eyewitness accounts of the apostles, who brought them the word of God regarding salvation through Christ (Rom. 10:8). The Jews were therefore to believe in faith that God had accomplished what David prophesied in Ps. 110:
For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”‘ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” — Acts 2:34-36
2. A focus upon the resurrection, since it is frequently associated with the title Lord.
Next, Capes points to the fact that Jesus is identified by Paul as the resurrected Lord:
Paul thinks that the title kyrios [Lord] now belongs to Jesus on the basis of the resurrection (Rom. 1:3-4; Phil. 2:9-11), and resurrection is frequently associated with the title. Therefore, the resurrection emphasis in this passage also makes it likely Paul applies this YHWH text [Joel 2:32] to Jesus.11
The resurrection emphasis in Romans 10 can justifiably be used to argue that Paul applies Joel 2:32 to Jesus. But it also entails a clear distinction between Jesus and God, since Paul tells us that “God raised him (Jesus) from the dead” (Rom. 10:9). Indeed, Jesus as resurrected Lord is the theme of Psalm 110:1 – a passage quoted by Paul in Rom. 8:34 that plainly distinguishes the Lord Messiah from Lord God.
The apostle writes that “Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God.” This is a direct allusion to Ps. 110:1, where we find two Lords mentioned: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’”
Psalm 110:1 depicts the Lord God placing a human Lord at his right hand. We know this because the first LORD is “YHWH” in the original Hebrew, while the second Lord is “adoni,” which is used exclusively of non-divine Lords throughout the Hebrew scriptures.
Old Testament professor Claude Mariottini confirms that “[t]he word translated ‘lord’ is ‘adoni’ and should be translated ‘my lord.’ The word is not ‘Adonai’ which, if it had been used, would be a reference to God.” 12 Moreover, the NET Bible commentary says of this verse:
In the psalm’s original context the speaker is an unidentified prophetic voice in the royal court. In the course of time the psalm is applied to each successive king in the dynasty and ultimately to the ideal Davidic king. NT references to the psalm understand David to be speaking about his “lord,” the Messiah. (See Matt 22:43-45; Mark 12:36-37; Luke 20:42-44; Acts 2:34-35).13
Capes’ sparse treatment of Ps. 110:1 makes no mention of Paul’s letter to the Romans, despite the apostle’s clear allusion to the verse in Rom. 8:34. It also relies upon the ambiguity of the Greek LXX translation,14 where the divine name YHWH is replaced with “Lord” (kyrios). This results in two individuals who are both called “Lord” in Psalm 110:1. He alleges that the NT authors exploit this ambiguity to say something surprising about Jesus.
But he fails to notice that Paul actually affirms the distinction between the two Lords of Ps. 110:1 found in the original Hebrew. In Rom. 8:34, Jesus is at the right hand of God, which identifies the first LORD (YHWH) of Ps. 110:1 as God. In Rom. 15:6, Paul goes on to call him “the God. . .of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, he thinks the first LORD (YHWH) in Ps. 110:1 is the God of the second Lord (Jesus). Thus Paul does not think YHWH and Jesus are the same Lord.
3. A focus upon the eschatological aspect of the salvation, since Paul usually applies the word “Lord” to Christ in such cases
Capes argues that Paul is in the habit of applying the title “Lord” to Jesus in eschatological matters like those discussed in Romans 10:9-13, and therefore Paul must be applying Joel 2:32 to Jesus.15 But Capes also notes that Paul associates the OT eschatological “day of the LORD” mentioned in Joel 2:31 with Jesus by calling it the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” in 1 Cor. 1:8.
Capes appears to view this as another hint that Paul is using Joel 2:32 to identify Jesus as YHWH. But in fact the apostle’s christological framework is grounded in Psalm 110,16 which associates the day of judgment with both YHWH and his Messiah as distinct individuals:
2 The LORD [YHWH] sends forth from Zion your [Messiah’s] mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! 3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your [Messiah’s] power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. . . .5 The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his [YHWH’s] wrath. –Psalm 110:2-5
The day of YHWH’s wrath is also the day of the Messiah’s power, because YHWH will empower the Messiah to execute his wrath. There is no confusion of identities; the Messiah is depicted as the human agent of his God YHWH. This once again flatly dispels any notion that Paul has somehow collapsed the two figures into one. To the contrary, the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” in 1 Cor. 1:8 identifies Jesus as the prophesied Messianic agent through whom YHWH would mete out justice on the day of judgment.
4. The Christological confession that “Jesus is Lord” in Rom. 10:9
Here we arrive at the real meat of Capes’ four-part argument. He considers this the deal-clincher that should convince the reader of his claims, even if his previous three points failed to do so:
[In Romans 10:9] the apostle characterizes his gospel and believers’ appropriate response to its proclamation by the confession “Jesus is Lord.” [In Romans 10:13] he proceeds to quote Joel 2:32: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [kyrios] shall be saved.” The internal logic of the passage requires that the one who is confessed as Lord is the same Lord called upon by everyone to be saved. 17
This parallel carries weight and should be considered carefully. Romans 10:9 and 10:13 both mention a confession that results in salvation, and in 10:9 this confession involves Jesus. Further, 1 Cor. 1:2 mentions believers who “call on the name” (epikaleo ho onoma) of Jesus. The same Greek phrase is used in both Rom. 10:13 and 1 Cor. 1:2.18
It seems clear, then, that Paul’s use of Joel 2:32 has Jesus in view. But does it have Jesus alone in view? This is Capes’ premise. He argues that “Paul apparently had no qualms about shifting his focus from God to Christ. . . when quoting texts containing the divine name.” 19 According to Capes, this is evidence that Paul thought of Jesus in a surprising way not anticipated by the OT.
Yet Paul’s letter to the Romans consistently makes the case that there are two distinct figures involved in the salvation he preached: God and his Messiah.20 The interaction of these two figures in the drama of salvation is nowhere more evident than in Rom. 10:9, which Capes rightly places in parallel to Rom. 10:13:
|Rom 10:9 (ESV)||Rom 10:13 (ESV)|
|because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised [Jesus] from the dead, you will be saved.||For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”|
To “call upon the name of the Lord” is not merely to speak the name of an individual, as one might suppose if Rom. 10:13 is taken in isolation. Romans 10:9 makes it clear that eschatological salvation is obtained by confessing and believing that God raised Jesus from the dead and made him Lord. In other words, Rom. 10:9 is the full expression of Paul’s point, while Rom. 10:13 is an abbreviated version. Romans 10:9 thus implicitly links Joel 2:32 to a more robust confession of faith derived from Psalm 110:1.
Peter was the first to make this connection between Psalm 110 and Joel 2. At Pentecost, he noted that the outpouring of the spirit (Joel 2:28) was triggered by Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God (Ps. 110:1).21 One may be baptized in the name of Jesus to receive the Holy Spirit for salvation, explains Peter, expressly because “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36)
In like manner, Paul instructs us to call upon YHWH for salvation by confessing Jesus as the one whom YHWH has resurrected and exalted as Lord. That is, one cannot acknowledge Jesus as Lord without also acknowledging his God YHWH, who put him in that position to begin with. This is explained in Rom. 10:9 and therefore need not be repeated in Rom. 10:13.
The theology behind Paul’s use of Joel 2:32 is rooted in a key principle regarding God’s salvation that is evident throughout the OT: one can simultaneously attribute salvation to YHWH and to an intermediary figure appointed by YHWH, without nonsensically implying that the second figure must be YHWH. This is because YHWH is simply working through the second figure. A good example is found in 1 Samuel:
|1 Samuel 7:8 (ESV)||1 Samuel 9:16 (ESV)|
|And the people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the LORD [YHWH] our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.“||“Tomorrow about this time I [YHWH] will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come to me.”|
This principle stands behind the proclamation in Rev. 7:10 that “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” It also brings Romans 10:13 and 1 Cor. 1:2 into harmony with the wider Biblical narrative about the salvation of YHWH – a narrative whose central premise is that God would first extend his salvation to the Messiah and then establish him as agent of that salvation for the rest of mankind.22
Moreover, Jesus was the first to experience the salvation described in Joel 2:32 when he called upon the name of YHWH (someone other than himself) and was subsequently saved at his resurrection. This is powerfully depicted in the Psalm Jesus quoted while hanging on the cross:
|Psalm 31:7, 16-17 LXX (Brenton)||Joel 2:32 LXX (Brenton)|
|Into thine hands I will commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth. . . . Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save [sodezo] me in thy mercy. O Lord [Heb=YHWH], let me not be ashamed, for I have called upon [epikaleomai] thee: let the ungodly be ashamed, and brought down to Hades.||And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on [epikaleomai] the name of the Lord [Heb=YHWH] shall be saved [sodezo]: for in mount Sion and in Jerusalem shall the saved one be as the Lord has said, and they that have glad tidings preached to them, whom the Lord has called.|
In sum, while the confession in Rom. 10:9 does suggest that Paul is applying Joel 2:32 to Christ, it also confirms that Christ is not the only one in view. YHWH is the additional and superior figure in the picture, portrayed as the one who saved Christ before establishing him as the agent of our salvation. Paul’s theology in Rom. 10:9 is thus at odds with Capes’ interpretation of Romans 10:13.
In this article we have reviewed all four elements of David Capes’ argument and discovered a few solid points that were unfortunately outnumbered by a host of unconvincing ones. On the positive side, the claim that Rom. 10:13 applies Joel 2:32 to Jesus was particularly well supported by the fourth element of his case. We can therefore agree with Capes on this much.
However, the idea that such an application identifies Jesus with YHWH in a proto-Trinitarian sense utterly fails to convince. Our investigation has shown that Paul’s view of salvation in Rom. 10:9-13 – in harmony with the wider Biblical narrative – involves two figures, only one of whom is YHWH. Indeed, each text Capes attempts to leverage in favor of his premise is better understood within the theological framework established by Psalm 110, which depicts YHWH seating a human being at his right hand to act as his agent in accomplishing the salvation of mankind.
- David Capes, The Divine Christ: Paul, Jesus, and the Scriptures of Israel, p. 186. ↵
- Capes shies away from actually stating that Paul is identifying Jesus as YHWH, preferring to frame it as Paul identifying Jesus with YHWH in an unexpected, proto-Trinitarian sort of way. But the meaning is essentially the same. ↵
- Divine Christ, p. 112. ↵
- Although Capes cites Romans 9:5 several times as evidence that Jesus is called “God” in Romans, he fails to acknowledge the well-known grammatical ambiguity of this verse in the Greek. While some translations render it like the ESV: “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen,” other translations render it similar to the KJV: “Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.” The second reading suggests that the last clause, “God (be) blessed forever,” is a separate doxology offered to God the Father. This is made more likely by the fact that every other occurrence of the word “eulogetos” (“blessed”) in the NT is applied to the Father, including the doxology in Rom. 1:25. ↵
- Paul underscores this fact in Eph. 2:19-22, where Jesus is identified as the “chief cornerstone” of a structure that is composed of the apostles, prophets, and all believers (vs. 20). God, on the other hand, is identified as the one who will dwell in that temple (vs. 22). ↵
- For more on the principle of agency, see Shalich: An Introduction to the Law of Agency. ↵
- Divine Christ, p. 114. Brackets mine. ↵
- See, e.g. Rom. 8:34, 14:9; Phil. 2:8-11; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1 ↵
- See Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Pillar New Testment Commentary), under Romans 10. ↵
- It also may well anticipate the activity of the wicked human ruler depicted in Isaiah 14:13: “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high. . .” While some early church fathers took this as the fall of Satan, many later theologians have pointed out that the context doesn’t support such a conclusion, since the passage is clearly about human pride. (See, e.g., John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, p. 320.) ↵
- Divine Christ, p. 115. Brackets mine. ↵
- See https://claudemariottini.com/2012/08/21/the-lord-said-to-my-lord/ ↵
- See http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Psa&chapter=110&verse=1 ↵
- See p. 29. ↵
- The Divine Christ, p. 115 ↵
- Cp. Rom. 8:34, Eph. 1:20, Col. 3:1 ↵
- p. 116. ↵
- Paul also refers to the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” in 1 Cor. 1:8, which parallels the “day of the LORD” in Joel 2:31. ↵
- p. 117 ↵
- Rom. 1:9, 16-17; 5:1-2, 8-10; 6:4, 11-14, 22-23; 7:25; 8:3-4, 11; 9:33; 10:1-9 ↵
- See Acts 2:33-35 ↵
- See, e.g., Is. 49:7-8, Heb. 5:7-10. ↵