Charles Gieschen, professor and dean at Concordia Theological Seminary (Indiana), has written what I regard to be a significant article. I’d like for people to know about it. It is in a refereed journal entitled Vigiliae Christianae 57 (2003): 115-158. The title of the article is “The Divine Name in Ante-Nicene Christology.” His thesis is this: many references or allusions to the “name” of Jesus in early Christianity should be understood as signifying that Jesus possesses the Divine Name, the holy, unspeakable name of Israel’s God (YHWH), often called the Tetragrammaton. The “name” of Jesus in these contexts does not refer to the name given to him on the eighth day by his parents. Gieschen spends a good deal of time in the New Testament but he also considers such extra-canonical texts as 1 Clement, the Ascension of Isaiah, the Odes of Solomon, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, among others.
Clearly, I think Charles is onto something. He cites favorably my own book Old Testament Yahweh Texts in Paul’s Christology, WUNT (Tubingen, 1992), that showed how Paul, the earliest Christian theologian, took Scriptural texts containing the Divine Name and applied them to Jesus. The name “Jesus” was a common name in its day, even if it is unusual in English-speaking circles. It is a transliteration through Greek, into Latin, into English of the Hebrew name “Joshua.” I’ve been to many a baseball game where players from Latin American countries were named “Jesus” (pronounced Hay-soos).
When Paul says that “at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord . . .” (Phil 2:9-11), it seems clear that the Greek genitive should be rendered possessively “the name that belongs to Jesus.” And what name belongs to Jesus? Gieschen argues, and I think he is correct, the covenant name of God revealed to Moses at Sinai (YHWH).
Gieschen concludes his study asking why a Divine Name Christology fades in the next Christian centuries. He gives two reasons. First, as the Jesus movement became more and more Gentile, knowledge of the Divine Name is no longer determinative for how Christ followers assess his significance. This begins to happen even among Greek-speaking Christians who read Kyrios as the standard translation/ rendering of the Divine Name in Hebrew biblical texts. Knowledge of the Divine Name traditions began to fade. Second, it seems that heretical groups in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD are those who utilize and keep the Divine Name Christology in tact. The “orthodox,” in responding negatively to the “heretics,” set aside their teaching which associated Jesus so clearly with the Divine Name.
To cite one example:
“One single name is not uttered in the world, the name that the Father gave the Son, the name above all things: the name of the Father.” (Gospel of Philip II.54.5-8)
If Gieschen is correct, the heretics kept alive a neglected aspect of early Christology.