The conversion of Saul of Tarsus was the most important event which occurred in the history of the early Christian church. It is described three times in Acts, and is given a prominence quite above that of any other incident mentioned in that book. Moreover, that conversion was a kind of event in the life of a human soul so extraordinary and striking, was such a violent and extreme soul-change, and produced such wide and deep results upon mankind, that it deserves to be studied with all care, to discover, if possible, the secret of the sudden and tremendous transformation which took place in the soul attitude of this wonderful genius. From all the narratives it is evident that the cause of the change was in the noonday vision which appeared to Saul on the way to Damascus. Hence, if we can only find out just what he did see then, and all that he saw, we can penetrate to the innermost secret of that great change which took place in him. The following is offered as an attempt toward that finding out.
I. Saul saw and heard Jesus of Nazareth in the Shechinah in heaven. All three accounts give the same words as spoken from the sky, — “I am Jesus whom thou perse-cutest”; Paul himself adding “of Nazareth” in his address from the stairs. And Ananias, plainly referring to Jesus, said to Saul at the healing in Damascus, “that thou shouldest … see the Righteous One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.” Moreover, “the glory of that light” was doubtless the same as the Shechinah of the Old Testament, and as the “bright cloud” which rolled down upon the group on the mountain of transfiguration; and was also the same “glory of God,” with Jesus standing in it, which Stephen saw at his martyrdom.
II. Saul also saw Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah whom the prophets of old foretold. This is evident from what he heralded right after in the synagogues of the Jews, as we are told in Acts 9:20, 22, as follows: “And straightway in the synagogues he heralded Jesus, that he is the Son of God.” “And Saul grew strong more and more, confounding the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, demonstrating that this one [Jesus] is the Messiah.” The Greek has ho Christos, which the Authorized Version renders, “very Christ.” But Saul and the Jews, speaking Hebrew, as they did, must have used the word “Messiah,” of which Christos is the Greek equivalent; and only as we use the very word which they used can we get the full historic flavor of their speech. Therefore I say, “the Messiah.”
3: But the chief matter is now to be stated. Along with seeing Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of the Old Testament prophets, Saul also saw him as Jehovah incarnate. As he gazed upon Jesus standing in the midst of that “great light” “above the brightness of the sun,” even the Shechinah of God, “the glory of that light” flashed into his deepest soul, as a revelation from God, the conviction that He upon whom he was gazing, and whose voice he heard declaring, “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutest,” was also the human embodiment of the very Jehovah of the Old Testament; and that this was how he was “the Son of God.” In that glorious, blinding vision it was disclosed to Saul, that to Him upon whom he was gazing there really belonged the threefold character rightly expressed by the threefold name, Jehovah-Jesus-Messiah; and at once he realized that he had been persecuting, and was now on his way still further to persecute, the disciples of that very being whom he and all Israel had worshiped as Jehovah from the beginning of the nation; and whom the prophets had foretold should come as the Messiah. And it was the direct sight of this to him astounding, manifold reality, which completely overwhelmed his soul. Such was the revelation manifested to Saul of Tarsus in the vision which befell him on his way to Damascus. The proof for this view will be urgently and justly demanded; and to present that proof is my further task.
1. This task I begin by remarking that the above is the fundamental view, which is woven into the whole warp and woof of the New Testament. Take one cornerstone fact for evidence. Isaiah 11:3–5 is quoted or referred to by all four of the Gospels, and applied to Jesus. But the prophet himself explicitly refers to Jehovah. His words are, “A voice crieth, In the wilderness prepare ye the way of Jehovah; make straight in the Arabah a highway for our God.” Now what the prophet utters directly concerning “Jehovah, our God,” the four Gospels apply with equal directness to Jesus. But, unless Jehovah and Jesus are the same being, such application is, to use a very mild term, a wild delusion. But the application is right, because the two are one and the same, as the use of the passage in the New Testament teaches, this oneness of the two being of the very marrow and substance of the Gospels. A quotation will make this appear with emphasis. Matthew 3:1–3 reads: “Now in those days cometh John the Baptist, heralding in the wilderness of Judaea, saying, Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is near. For this is he that was spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make his paths level.” Now all the four Gospels, and John himself, declare that John the Baptist was the Voice; and equally that Jesus was the being before whom the Voice was crying; all thus teaching that Jesus and Jehovah are the same being, just as they teach that John is the Voice. Herein, at the very opening of the Gospel narrative, the view that Jesus was Jehovah incarnate appears fundamental.
2. Another evidence of what I am presenting is to be found in the saying of “the Angel of the Lord” to the shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem, which is given in the Authorized Version as, “For unto you is born this day … a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” But what the angel really did say was, “a Saviour who is Messiah-Jehovah.” The proof of this I present in brief.
We have already noted that Christos is the Greek for Messiah. Now as, naturally, the angel spoke to the Jews in their own tongue, doubtless the word he actually used was the Hebrew “Messiah”; and his very word we also have a right to use, and do so. But what right have we to put Jehovah for Lord? Of the ground for that right I give an outline.
Any reader of the Old Testament will note how constantly the word “Lord” appears there in small caps. The word which “Lord” is put to represent we call “Jehovah”; but every scholar knows that is not the true Hebrew, but is a mongrel which gives no idea of the real word. The explanation is this.
The four capital letters, YHVH, which are the foundation of what is now called “Jehovah,” stand for a word which the later Jews came to think so sacred that it must never be spoken except by the High Priest on the great Atonement Day, in the Most Holy Place in the temple. So when, in reading the Scriptures, they came to that word, they used a euphemism, putting another word instead of that;—they read the word adhonoi, which meant “lord” or “sovereign”; thus putting the name of a function of God for the special name by which he was known to them. Now when the Septuagint translation was made, the translators put into it the Greek equivalent for the euphemism adhonoi, namely, kurios, which means “lord” or “sir”; and made no attempt to represent the real Hebrew. Hence, throughout the Septuagint, kurios always appears wherever the sacred name is in; Hebrew. Moreover, the translators took a special way to show this. They seem to have made it their rule, to which the exceptions are rare, to put kurios without the article, wherever it stands for the sacred name. It is so in the chapter above quoted, and generally.
It has been said that the Septuagint made the Greek of the New Testament. This is certainly true in this use of kurios, especially in the Gospels. After some examination I venture to say, that in every instance where a quotation is made in them from the Old Testament, and Jehovah appears in the Hebrew, there is some form of kurios without the article in the Greek. For example, in the account of the temptations, Matt. 4:7 is quoted from Deut. 6:16; and the words in the Gospel are identical with those in the Septuagint, having kurios without the article; so that it should read, “Thou shalt not tempt Jehovah thy God.” Again, the quotation in the tenth verse is from the thirteenth verse of the same chapter in Deuteronomy, and is evidently from the Septuagint, though one word is different; but again we have kurios without the article, and the translation should be, “Jehovah thy God shalt thou worship, and him only shalt thou serve.” One more example must suffice; and I quote from our Lord’s discourse at Nazareth what he quotes (Luke 4:18-19, from Isa. 61:1-2. The quotation seems to be from the Septuagint; and in both verses we have kurios without the article, so that they should read, “The Spirit of Jehovah is upon me,” and “to proclaim the acceptable year of Jehovah.”
This view is further confirmed by the use of the phrase “angel of the Lord,” which is found seven times in the Gospels, and five times in Acts, always meaning “the Angel of Jehovah” of the Old Testament; and in each instance, just like the Septuagint, kurios is without the article.
Such is an outline of the argument which seems to me conclusively to show that, as a rule, kurios without the article stands for Jehovah. We may now apply this fact to the saying of the “Angel of Jehovah” to the shepherds.
The part of the saying material to our purpose is, “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christos kurios” Concerning Christos we have already learned that the angel really said, “Messiah.” Now we note that kurios is without the article, and so comes under the rule already established. We note, also, that in the sentence before, kurios without the article appears twice, and both times unquestionably means “Jehovah.” What, then, can reasonably hinder us from saying, that of course it means the same here? Nothing known to me; and I assume the case as proved. Then using the real word which good modern scholarship puts instead of the mongrel “Jehovah,” we may give the passage thus: “And the Angel of Yahweh stood over them, and the Shechinah of Yahweh shone round about them, … And the Angel said to them, … to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Messiah-Yahweh.” Thus are given the very words of the name which the Angel of Jehovah (to return to our customary word) gave to the Babe of Bethlehem, so far as those words can be lettered and sounded in our English tongue. That Angel named him Messiah-Yahweh, though the name has been now for so many ages lost. But in the day of Saul’s conversion it was not lost; and when he saw Jesus up there in the sky, in that very seeing itself Jesus was disclosed to him as Yahweh or Jehovah incarnate. There is much evidence of the first order corroborative of this.
3. For a part of that evidence I turn to the very beginning of the church, to the discourse of Peter on the day of Pentecost. The peroration of that discourse, according to our version (Acts. 2:36), is as follows: “Therefore, let all the House of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye crucified, both Lord and Christ.” But the Greek words kurios and Christos, translated “lord” and “Christ,” are both without the article, just as they are in the saying of the Angel to the shepherds. And the same writer, Luke, made both records. So, in the light of the foregoing discussion, it is evident that the Hebrew words which Peter used (for he undoubtedly spoke in Hebrew), and which are represented by the Greek words in question, were Jehovah (Yahweh) and Messiah. The true rendering, then, would be, “God hath made that same Jesus whom ye crucified both Jehovah (Yahweh) and Messiah.” No wonder that they who heard him were pierced to the heart when the fact was brought home to them irresistibly by the sermon of Peter, that their rulers “by wicked hands had crucified and slain” the human embodiment of the very being whom they and all their fathers had worshiped as God from the beginning of their nation; and whom all the prophets had foretold should come as their Messiah. Thus does it appear that the central thought in that first, great, Pentecostal sermon, under which the Christian church began to grow was, that Jesus the crucified was both Jehovah and Messiah. And what Saul saw in his vision was the same fact revealed in the manifestation of Jesus as both, standing in the Shechinah.
4. To the same effect is the argument of Stephen before the Sanhedrin. His whole line of thought was to show, historically, how from age to age Jehovah had appeared to the fathers of Israel through the prophets, and how those fathers had rejected him. Now when, as Stephen proceeded, his hearers came to see that the trend of his argument led right up to the conclusion that, as their fathers had rejected Jehovah speaking through the prophets, so they had rejected the same Jehovah incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth, and speaking through him, that is, that they had crucified the very being whom they worshiped as God, their faces flamed up in rage against him. He seeing this, suddenly broke off and hurled against them the consummation of his argument in the fearfully denunciatory words, “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who told beforehand about the coining of the Righteous One, of whom ye just now became the betrayers and murderers;—ye who received the Law through the ordinances of angels, and did not keep them.” Thus Stephen with all his might charged against assembled Israel, embodied in the Sanhedrin sitting right there before him in their official hall in Jerusalem, their capital city itself, that they had rejected Jehovah in Jesus, as their fathers had rejected him before, when speaking through the prophets; and that, in having crucified Jesus, they had murdered their Messiah: for the phrase “Righteous One” was a current equivalent of “Messiah.” No wonder that after such a charge the crowd burst into ungovernable rage and stoned him to death.
This speech Saul of Tarsus heard. From him the account of it may have been derived. And he never forgot it. Of that we may feel assured. Instead, rather, that argument formed the basic outline of the life-teaching of Paul, the converted Saul. Stephen had said in substance, Jesus whom ye crucified was Jehovah in human flesh; and then, right there on the spot, “being full of the Holy Ghost, and gazing intently up into heaven,” he “saw the Glory,” that is, the Shechinah “of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,” and cried out, declaring what he saw. That same, at length, Saul of Tarsus himself also saw in his vision on the way to Damascus,—saw Jesus standing as the incarnate Jehovah in the midst of the Shechinah-Glory, and saw that as such he was the Messiah whom the prophets had foretold. And it was all this, set in one solid event before his mind, which revolutionized his whole mental and moral being in an instant.
From the above argument it seems warrantable to conclude that the saying, “Jesus is Messiah-Jehovah,” is literally the teaching of the Angel who led the heavenly hosts to the shepherds of Bethlehem; and of Stephen declaring what he saw in vision, and for which he was stoned; and of Paul declaring what he also saw in vision. That this was the teaching of Paul becomes fully evident when we take up certain passages in his Epistles, and ascertain what he really does say in them.
5. We have now, therefore, to examine those passages in the Epistles of Paul in which he plainly teaches that Jesus is Jehovah.
As the first passage I adduce 1 Cor. 12:3, which in the Authorized Version reads, “No man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” Now in the original the word for “Lord” is kurios without the article, just as in the quotations from the Old Testament to which I have referred. Hence, following what we have learned, the translation would be, “And no one can say Jehovah is Jesus [following the order of the Greek, or Jesus is Jehovah, if that order be reversed], save by the Holy Spirit.” On this passage Dean Alford in his commentary says: “All that is implied in kurios being also here implied: and we must not forget that it is the Septuagint’s solemn word for the Hebrew Jehovah.” This comment approves our whole claim. You cannot have one single peach without you first have a peach-tree. So you cannot have Paul once saying Jehovah is Jesus, or Jesus is Jehovah, without first you have the tree of that thought growing up through the whole substance of his mind. This one passage, therefore, shows the Jehovah-Jesus thought as permeating the whole of Paul’s career as a Christian.
We will next examine Rom. 10:9, 12-13. Romans is Paul’s greatest epistle, his especially theological one; and what it teaches has the greatest weight. Verse 9 reads, “Because if thou shalt confess with thy mouth kurion Iesoun” that is, “Jehovah-Jesus,” kurios being without the article, “and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Verses 12 and 13 read, “For the same Lord of all is rich unto all who call upon him. For every one who shall call upon the name of kurion [Jehovah], shall be saved.” The whole of verse 13 is taken from the Septuagint of Joel 2:32, kurios is without the article, and the Hebrew has Jehovah. The verse was written about Jehovah; and yet Paul applies it to Jesus, thus showing that in his mind Jehovah and Jesus are the same being. And this was in his mind because, in the vision when he was converted, he had seen Jehovah in the Shechinah-Glory and heard him saying, “I am Jesus.” Alford confirms our interpretation as follows: “The name of the Lord (Jehovah,—but used here of Christ beyond a doubt… . There is hardly a stronger proof, or one more irrefragable, … of the unhesitating application to him by the Apostle of the name and attributes of Jehovah).” Furthermore, Paul having applied to Jesus what Joel said concerning Jehovah, goes right on and applies to Jesus also what Isaiah says concerning Jehovah, “How beautiful upon the mountains,” etc. (Isa. 52:7), which would be high treason to God, unless Jehovah and Jesus are the same being.
As our third passage we will examine Phil. 2:9–11, which may be rendered as follows: “Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and of his free grace bestowed upon him the Name which is above every name: in order that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Isa. 45:23), of those in heaven, and those on earth, and those under the earth; and every tongue should confess, Kurion Ieson Christon, to the glory of God the Father.” Here again both kurios and Christos are without the article, just as in the heralding by the angels to the shepherds; the former standing, as there, for Jehovah, and the latter for Messiah. Hence the translation should be either, “confess Jehovah-Jesus-Messiah,” or “confess that Jehovah is Jesus-Messiah, to the glory,” etc. Thus in this passage again is the view that Jesus is Jehovah shown to be the spinal cord of all Paul’s conception of Christ and Christianity.
But what is “The Name which is above every name”? The Old Testament permits but one answer. It is the Memorial Name given to Moses as recorded in Ex. 3:13–15, which is represented by the letters YHVH, and which we call Jehovah, of which God said, “This is my Name forever, yea, this is my Name unto all generations.” And this is The Name, this sacred, “Memorial Name,” which Paulin the above passage declares that God had bestowed upon Jesus. So he combines into one group, as well as is possible in Greek, the three,—the Memorial Name, the human name which the angel gave for the Babe before it was born, and the title by which the prophets had foretold him, —sets them all arow as one name, pressing all the ages and the infinities into it, and so calls the Being whom he is heralding, Jehovah-Jesus-Messiah; and, to crown all, applies to him the saying of Isaiah concerning Jehovah, “Every knee shall bow, and every tongue” shall confess. How can there be any doubt as to what Saul saw in his vision on the way to Damascus, or how it changed his life?
Our next passage is 2 Cor. 4:5, which may be rendered thus: “For we herald not ourselves, but Christon Iesoun kurion” Here again Christos and kurios are both without the article, and, as before, the one stands for Messiah, and the other for Jehovah; so that the saying should read, “For we herald not ourselves, but Messiah-Jesus-Jehovah.” The name identifies Jesus with Jehovah, as before, only the first and last words are reversed in order.
Yet further may be quoted 1 Thess. 4:1, 6, as follows: “Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in kurio Iesou,” kurios being without the article, and so the phrase signifying “in Jehovah-Jesus.” Then in the sixth verse there is kurios without the article, the passage meaning, “because an avenger is Jehovah against all these”; apparently referring to Jesus. And yet again in chapter 5:2, Paul says, “day of kuriou” the word being without the article, and Paul evidently meaning the day both of Jehovah and of Jesus as one being, even the day of judgment, when he shall come on the clouds.
But one more passage will claim our attention, viz., Col. 3:17, which may be rendered as follows: “And everything which ye do, in word or in work, do all in the name of kuriou Iesou.” The article being absent, kurios stands for “The Name,” and the clause should read, “do all in the name of Jehovah-Jesus.”
IV. The facts and argument thus presented would seem to establish the view, that what Saul saw in his blinding vision on the way to Damascus was Jesus standing in the Shechinah “glory of that light” as Jehovah-Messiah; and to show that what he so experienced was the central fact and force in Saul’s whole career. But there is immediately suggested by this result a question which I have never seen raised, much more answered, viz., How came the title “Lord” to be applied to Jesus? My answer is, The original church from the day of Pentecost, having full consciousness that Jesus was Jehovah, as Peter declared at the close of his sermon that day, and having received the teaching of this by the flooding power of the Holy Spirit, did, from that day on, consciously and deliberately apply to Jesus all that in the Old Testament which pertains to Jehovah, as far as that looked forward to the Messiah as the incarnate Jehovah. Then, as the Greek-speaking Jews came to the front (as represented by Stephen, for example), the whole Septuagint use of the word kurios for “Jehovah” (the Septuagint being their Bible) was by them applied to Jesus, and he was called Kurios Iesous, meaning Jehovah-Jesus; and thus the use of kurios as designating Jesus became fixed as we now have it. But about the close of the first generation the Gentile church had broken off from that composed of Jewish Christians; and in two generations the latter had practically ceased to exist, at least as an effective force. Hereby the Gentiles lost all historic sense of the original use of kurios in the Septuagint as standing for Jehovah, and of the original use of that word by the first Jewish Christians as signifying that Jesus was that very Jehovah incarnate; and they simply thought of it in its natural, Greek meaning of “lord” or “master” or “sovereign.” Thus the special and real sense of the word in the historic connection I have pointed out was completely lost. Once lost it stayed lost, the conditions of the times making any other result impossible. Hence all Christendom reads the word as a mere title signifying sovereignty, without any true sense of its real historic significance. But if only Christendom could come to see that wherever in Paul’s writings there is “The Lord Jesus Christ,” he thought Jehovah-Jesus-Messiah, and we ought to think the same, how differently in some aspects Jesus would appear to Christians from what he does now.
The view thus presented enables us to understand Paul’s career as otherwise we cannot do. When we know that he saw the Jesus whose disciples he was persecuting, as the Jehovah in whose name he was doing the persecuting, saw it right there in that midday vision, then do we realize how he must have been overwhelmed indeed, and have experienced such a vast revolution as came. Abundant reason was there, then, why he should go away into Arabia and stay three years, that in the solitude and quietude he might think over and think out the solutions of the many problems which were necessarily involved in the Old Testament seen in the light of that revelation.
We understand, also, on what grounds Paul so stoutly affirmed that he did not receive his Gospel from men, not even from the most “pillar-apostles,” as he himself says in Galatians: but that he received it only “by revelation from Jesus-Messiah.” That assertion was the literal truth; and that revelation began with that noonday vision, when he saw Jesus standing in the Shechinah-Glory, as both Messiah and Jehovah. Therefore it is that his message is really a “Fifth Gospel” in a higher sense than they who coined that phrase may have imagined. “The Twelve” had the exterior Gospel of the historic, human side of Jesus, and of his Kingdom; and they told the story of his human life, of which, apparently, Paul knew very little. Paul had the interior side of the same matter to tell,—the relation of the crucified Jehovah-Jesus-Messiah to the Mosaic ceremonial, and to the moral government of God.
We further understand why the presence and teachings of Paul angered the Jews so everywhere. The foundation of all his teaching and work was that the Jews, in crucifying Jesus of Nazareth, had “by wicked hands crucified and slain” that very Jehovah whom they and their fathers had worshiped, and that very Messiah whom the prophets had foretold. To an irritable, excitable, highly religious race, such as the Jews were, nothing could be more maddening than to be charged with such a crime, especially by one of so highly electrical a nature as Paul was. Hence like hornets they flung themselves upon him whenever they could.
And now, at last, in the end of the Ages, has not the time fully come when this fivefold Gospel, interior and exterior (interior in God’s moral government over all moral beings, exterior in his human Kingdom on this earth), should be made known, understood, comprehended, and mastered, as the full, complete, all-around divine-human system of both doctrine and life? And all serious souls who love Jesus are called with earnest cry to possess themselves of this stupendous immensity of God’s truth in the whole Gospel of Jehovah-Jesus-Messiah.