A Refutation of Dr. Al Garza’s Opening Statement in the Xavier – Garza Debate On ‘Is Jesus God In Psalm 110:1’

This debate took place on April 15 between Carlos Xavier, a biblical unitarian, and Dr. Al Garza, a trinitarian scholar. Dr. Garza is the author of over 20 books and holds a PhD in Biblical Studies and is an Associate Scholar in Biblical Linguistics from Hebrew University’s Institute of Biblical Studies, Israel. Dr. Garza was answering the debate question in the affirmative.

I was expecting a vigorous presentation by Dr. Garza, but instead was surprised to hear him offer such a weak case. In fact, it seemed as if Dr. Garza was unenthusiastic or half-hearted about the debate, using only half of his allotted ten minutes for his opening. His opening consisted of four main points and a conclusion, all of which were weak and unconvincing. In this article I want to go through each point and show it’s flaw. I will also engage with some of what he said in the cross-examination section. Finally, I will give an explanation of what Jesus was getting at in Matt 22:41-45 {see also Mk. 12:35-37; Lk. 20:41-44}. Here is a link to the debate video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o3c0pPpkHo&t=497s

Garza’s Case Refuted

Garza’s main argument in this debate was that the original reading of Ps. 110:1 did not say: “YHWH said to my lord (Heb. ladoni – which could refer to a man), as we have it in the Masoretic text, but rather, “YHWH said to the Lord (Heb. ladonai – which must refer to God). His first line of defense for this assertion (3:45-4:22) is the fact that in Matt. 22:43-45 Jesus is recorded as saying that David, in the psalm, called the messiah “lord” rather than “my lord”. To Dr. Garza’s mind this means that the text that Jesus knew in his day did not contain ladoni (to my lord) but ladonai (to the Lord), for if the text had said ladoni then Jesus would have said that David called him “my lord”. But since Matthew records Jesus as saying that David called the Messiah “lord” then this is proof that the text of Jesus’ day read ladonai instead of ladoni.

Well, I must say that this is not a very strong argument. Why should we assume that, if David called the Messiah “my lord”, Jesus would have to say that David called him “my lord” and that it would be inaccurate for Jesus to simply say that David called him “lord” if in fact David called him “my lord”. Jesus’ point is that David called the Messiah by the title lord, not that he specifically said either “my lord” or simply “lord”. In fact, there is another passage in the NT which parallels this passage in Matthew and shows Dr. Garza’s argument to be irrelevant – 1 Peter 3:6:

. . . like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him lord.

Here are the two passages in Greek :

Matt. 22:45 – καλεῖ (calls) αὐτὸν (him) Κύριον (lord)
1 Pet. 3:6 – κύριον (lord) αὐτὸν (him) καλοῦσα (calling)

So we see that the two passages are identical except for the different forms of kaleo. Now here is the thing I want you to see. The only place in the Hebrew bible that Peter could have been referring to is Gen. 18:12, which reads:

After I am worn out, and my lord (Heb. adoni) is old, shall I have pleasure?

Here we have an exact parallel case. In both Ps. 110:1 and Gen 18:12 we have someone calling someone else “my lord”. And in both cases, when someone in the NT is referring to these passages, they relate them as if they said merely “lord” instead of “my lord”. Is Dr. Garza going to claim, based on 1 Pet. 3:6, that the original Hebrew of Gen. 18:12 must have read adon instead of adoni? I think not! This point by Dr. Garza is, therefore, invalidated.

His next point (4:30-5:28) is that there are no rabbinic commentaries that ascribe Ps. 110 to the Messiah. He states that the rabbinic interpretation is that the “lord” whom YHWH invites to sit at his right hand is Abraham, and he quotes Rashi to that effect. He then makes the claim that it was based on this traditional understanding of the psalm as referring to Abraham that the scribes added the vowel points to make the word adoni rather than adonai, which is supposedly used exclusively for God. For those who may not know, the original Hebrew text consisted of only consonants. The proper vocalization of the scriptures was passed down by tradition and vowel pointings were added to the text by the Masoretes between the 7th and 10th centuries, based on that tradition. In the original, without vowels pointings, there would have been no distinction between adoni and adonai, except by the traditional vocalization. What Dr. Garza is claiming is that when they added the vowel points at Ps. 110:1 they did so purposely based on the tradition that the psalm referred to Abraham, hence adoni, a word that can refer to men, rather than adonai, a word that refers to God.

This is indeed a bold assertion, but what proof does he offer for it? Well, the only supposed proof that he kept referring to throughout the debate is the fact that rabbinic tradition applied the psalm to Abraham. But this is simply begging the question. How can the fact that a rabbinic tradition that Abraham is the referent of Ps. 110:1 prove that the original text read adonai instead of adoni? Dr. Garza simply assumes it because that’s how he wants it to be. Are there any rabbinic sources admitting that the scribes pointed the vowels for the express purpose of aligning the text with their tradition of interpretation of the text? He doesn’t provide any because they don’t exist. It is much more rational to reason that, based on the tradition of vocalization, which read Ps.110:1 as adoni rather than adonai, that they interpreted it as referring to Abraham (and David and Saul), because they believed, based on that traditional vocalization, that it referred to a man, not to God. Dr. Garza’s claim is simply preposterous. Not only that, but his claim that there is no rabbinic tradition which refers the psalm to Messiah is false. Here are some sources:

  • Yalkut Shimoni on Tehilim 110:
    “Rabbi Yusan said for Rabbi Aha Bar Hananiah: in the future the Holy one blessed be He will sit the King Messiah at his right and Abraham at his left, and Abraham’s face crumpled and he said: the son of my son sits at the right and I sit at the left? but the Holy one blessed is He reconciled him by saying: the son of your son sits at your right and I sit at your right hand…”
  • T’fillat R. Shimon ben Yochai:
    “And the Holy one, blessed be he, will fight for Israel and will say to the Messiah: ‘Sit at my right’. And the Messiah will say to Israel: ‘Gather together and stand and see the salvation of the Lord’.”
  • Midrash Rabbah, Genesis LXXXV, 9:
    “… AND THY STAFF alludes to the royal Messiah. as in the verse The staff of thy strength the Lord will send out of Zion (Ps. 110: 2).”
  • Midrash Rabbah, Numbers XVIII, 23:
    “…That same staff also is destined to be held in the hand of the King Messiah (may it be speedily in our days!); as it says, The staff of thy strength the Lord will send out of Zion: Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies (Ps. 110: 2).”
  • Artscroll Tenach Commentary Tehillim:
    “Sforno says that this Psalm is dedicated to the future king Messiah. He is on God’s right hand and the ministering angels are on the left. The armies of Gog and Magog will attack, but HaShem will subdue them until they come crawling to the feet of the Messiah.”

The fact that rabbis could refer the psalm to Messiah, knowing that the traditional vocalization read adoni, shows us that they regarded the Messiah who was to come, strictly as a human being, not as God. On top of the rabbinic sources, the very fact that Jesus uses Ps. 110 as recorded in Matt 22:41-45, proves that the Jewish leaders of that day must have considered the psalm messianic. Jesus’ purpose in applying the psalm to Messiah would have been completely moot if those to whom he was speaking did not regard the psalm as messianic. Mr. Xavier pointed this out to Dr. Garza later in the debate, but he had no response.

Dr. Garza’s next point (5:28-6:01) is where we start to see some sleight of hand. He asserts that we can know that Ps. 110:1 originally said ladonai, i.e. to the Lord, instead of ladoni, i.e. to my lord, because in all of the psalms ladoni appears no where else, but ladonai does. As if to strengthen this claim he makes the following statements: “David wrote ladonai in every other place in the psalms . . . When we look at all of the places in the book of Psalms where ladonai appears, we can see what David intended to write. David did not intend to write ladoni in any other place in all 150 psalms.” Note the underlined sections of this quote. Don’t you get the impression that there must be many places in the psalms where ladonai occurs. Well, if so, you would be wrong. In fact, the word occurs only twice in the psalms, in 22:30 and 130:6. So Garza’s argument seems to be that because ladonai is used by David in two other psalms then 110:1 must read ladonai instead of ladoni. No, really, that is his argument. Not only is this a weak argument, but it borders on ridiculous. I’m stunned that someone would not see the silliness of such an argument. By what logic does the fact that David intended to write ladonai in two places in the psalms mean that he didn’t intend to write ladoni in another psalm? What a text reads is not to be determined by how many other times the same word is used, either in the same book or in other books of the Bible. The fact of the matter is this, that in every Hebrew text, in every Greek text, and in the OT Peshitta, Ps. 110:1 reads to my lord. To postulate that it should read “to the Lord” based on such weak arguments as Dr. Garza presented in this debate is to leave the realm of reality for the world of fantasy.

Next (6:02- 6:19), he attempts to strengthen his case by appealing to v. 5 of the psalm, which reads, The Lord (Heb. adonai) is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. Dr. Garza says that, “David describes Adonai at the right hand of Yahweh, referencing back to v.1.” He then states that in the NT only Jesus is depicted as at the right hand of God, implying that Jesus must be Adonai. He also states that Yahweh is never mentioned as being at the right hand of the Messiah. The problem that Dr. Garza is going to have is that vv.5-7 are somewhat ambiguous and open to multiple interpretations. Such passages are not at all conducive for use as proofs. One interpretation, given by the NET Bible commentary, takes adonai as a reference to Yahweh, who is being addressed, hence “O Lord, at your right hand he (the king) strikes down kings in the day of his wrath.” Vv. 6-7 then would be referring to the king who sits at Yahweh’s right hand. Another possible explanation is to see adonai i.e. Yahweh as being at the right hand of the king. Dr. Garza claims that Yahweh is never mentioned as being at the Messiah’s right hand. Well, yes and no. There is no passage specifically about the Messiah which mentions Yahweh being at his right hand, but in Ps. 16:8 David, as Israel’s king and Yahweh’s anointed (i.e. messiah), stated that Yahweh is at his right hand. Therefore, there is no reason why Ps. 110:5 could not be understood in this way. The NET Bible commentary gives a third option – to revocalize adonai as adoni to match v.1. This would make v.5, as well as vv. 6-7, addressed to Yahweh but about the king. In any case, Dr. Garza’s understanding of the text is not at all certain and is therefore a weak proof of the debate thesis.

His next point (6:29-6:46) is another case of sleight of hand by Dr. Garza. He quotes from the Targum on Psalm 110 and states that it “refers to adoni as the Word.” He quotes it as saying, “Yahweh said at him or with him the word . . . “ In quoting it like this he gives the impression that the “my lord” in the Hebrew text is replaced with “the word” (Aram. memra) in the Targum. He then goes on to show how Jesus is referred to as “the word” in the NT. But this is completely false. The Aramaic text of the Targum actually has the word ribbon or ribbona, not memra, as the translation for adoni. Here is how one English translation of the Aramaic text reads:

1.     Composed by David, a psalm. The Lord said in his decree to make me lord of all Israel, but he said to me, “Wait still for Saul of the tribe of Benjamin to die, for one reign must not encroach on another; and afterwards I will make your enemies a prop for your feet.” Another Targum: The Lord spoke by his decree to give me the dominion in exchange for sitting in study of Torah. “Wait at my right hand until I make your enemies a prop for your feet.” Another Targum: The Lord said in his decree to appoint me ruler over Israel, but the Lord said to me, “Wait for Saul of the tribe of Benjamin to pass away from the world; and afterwards you will inherit the kingship, and I will make your enemies a prop for your feet.”

Targum Psalms – An English Translation by Edward M. Cook 2001

Note the underlined word “decree”. This is the word memra, i.e. “the word” that Dr. Garza wants us to believe is replacing the adoni of the Hebrew text. Now note the underlined word “lord”, which is ribbon or ribbona in Aramaic, and which is the translation of the Hebrew adoni. Dr. Garza has either completely misunderstood the Targum text or he was being less than candid in what it says. This point by Garza fails to show what he wants it to.

In conclusion(7:38 – 7:44) he states, “We can safely conclude that adoni in Ps. 110:1 is based on rabbinic tradition.” I’m sorry, but he did not even come close to proving any such thing. I hope you can see just how flawed and deficient Dr. Garza’s opening presentation was in proving his case. So much for his opener.

Further Fallacies

I now want to show other fallacious arguments used by Dr. Garza in the rest of the debate. At timestamp 26:14-26:48 Dr. Garza states emphatically that in the NT Jesus is never once called kurios mou (i.e. my lord), the Greek rendering of adoni. But this is manifestly false. Jesus is called kurios mou in Lk. 1:43; Jn. 20:13, 28; Phil. 3:8. When I pointed this out to Dr. Garza in the comment section on the debate video page, instead of admitting his mistake he obfuscated the issue with these responses:
I already stated that in those verses you read ‘THE Lord of me’ with the article in a different tense in Greek and you have other places where Jesus is called just Lord like God the Father. Kurios is a generic word for Lord and can go either way based on your belief. The Hebrew and Peshitta are more exact to YHVH and Adonai to Jesus which I pointed out and Carlos did not refute.”

“In other words, you would not translate Luke and John has to say “to my lord.” It would be translated as ‘the Lord of me.’ That is the difference grammatically.”

The underlined section of his response is hard to make sense of. He says “different tense” but I think he meant different cases. But the meaning of a word does not change because the case is different. Kurios mou (nominative), kuriou mou (genitive), kurion mou (accusative), all mean the same thing, my lord.

But even more than this, Jesus is called dozens of times in the NT kurios (or kurion, kuriou) hemon, which means “our lord”. Mou is the 1st person singular genitive of the Greek word ego. Hemon is the 1st person plural genitive of ego. So Jesus is called “my lord” in the singular and “our lord” in the plural many times in the NT. Dr. Garza is simply wrong!

At stampmark 27:52-29:17 Dr. Garza appeals to the Peshitta NT, claiming that in Matt. 22:43-45 the Peshitta calls Jesus by the divine name Yahweh. Is this true? I had never heard this claim before this debate, so I did some checking to see if his claim is true. What he is referring to is that in the Peshitta the Aramaic word for “lord” in Matt 22:43 & 45 is marya. It seems that there are a few scholars in the field of Peshitta studies who have put forward the theory that marya, a form of mara, meaning ‘lord’, is meant to designate the name Yahweh. Hence the “lord” in Matt. 22:43 & 45, which is referring to the Messiah, is supposed to be calling him Yahweh. The claim is that marya = mar+yah = Lord Yahweh1. From what I could gather, only some scholars take this position while others deny it, seeing marya simply as the emphatic form of mara. It is true that marya is used throughout the Peshitta OT and NT for the tetragrammaton (YHWH), but this appears to be a substitution for the divine name, like kurios in Greek. Marya is most likely an equivalent of the Hebrew adonai, which was used by the Jews as a substitute for YHWH when reading or reciting the scriptures out loud, and like adonai is an emphatic form of adon, so marya is the emphatic form of mara. Kurios is an equivalent of adonai in Greek, and it seems to me the best way to understand marya is as an equivalent to adonai in Aramaic.

That marya occurs a few times with reference to Jesus in the NT is extrapolated by the proponents of this view to mean that Jesus is being called Yahweh. But Dr. Rocco A. Errico, a former student of Dr. George Lamsa, takes a more sensible approach:

“When the Aramaic word Mariah is used it may refer to either the LORD God or to the highest ranking Lord of lords. For instance Jesus was called by the people “my Lord”, Mar- from the word Mara, lord, master, sir…The term Mariah-LORD was substituted for the Hebrew word Yahweh, which refers to the LORD God only, but on a few occasions the Messiah is called Mariah (as in [Matthew] verse [22]:45) because he is the highest Lord among men. (GOD is the LORD of the Messiah.)”

The validity of Dr. Errico’s perspective can be seen in the absurdities that would result if marya, when used of Jesus, meant to signify him as Yahweh. Take for example Acts 2:38: “Therefore, let all the people of Israel understand beyond a doubt that God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” The Peshitta has marya for the word “Lord”, which if we would take it to mean Yahweh would result in this: “Therefore, let all the people of Israel understand beyond a doubt that God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Yahweh and Messiah!” God made the man Jesus {see v.22} Yahweh? What kind of nonsense is that? Another example is Rom. 14:9, which would read like this: “For this reason the Messiah died and returned to life, so that he might become Yahweh of both the dead and the living.” Does anybody really find this plausible?

Dr. Garza’s perspective is that just as he thinks that Jesus being called kurios in the Greek NT means he is Yahweh, because kurios is used as a substitute for the divine name in both the LXX and the NT, so likewise, that Jesus being called marya in the Peshitta means he is Yahweh, because marya is used as a substitute for the divine name in the Peshitta OT and NT. But he is mistaken on both counts. The words kurios and marya have meaning beyond their use as a substitute for the divine name. In Acts 25:26 the Emperor of Rome is called kurios by the Roman governor of Judea. Are we to assume that this Roman governor was calling Caesar Yahweh? If kurios, when used of Jesus, was meant to designate him as Yahweh, then the oft used phrase in the NT, “our Lord Jesus Christ” would amount to “our Yahweh Jesus Christ.” I’m sorry, but this is simply ridiculous and makes no sense whatsoever. Jesus is called “lord” (kurios in Greek and marya in Aramaic), not because the NT authors are designating him Yahweh, but because they are designating him as the one Lord out of all created beings, whom God has appointed and exalted to that position, and to whom all others must submit.

Matthew 22:41-45

41 While the Pharisees were still gathered, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They told him, “David’s.” 43 He asked them, “Then how can David by the Spirit call him ‘Lord’ when he says, 44 ‘The Lord told my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘? 45 If David calls him ‘Lord’, how can he be his son?

Orthodox Trinitarian Christians are nearly universal in the belief that the only way to make sense of this passage is to see Jesus as affirming that the Messiah is himself God and that this is why David could call him Lord. In other words, the Messiah must be more than just David’s son or descendant if David calls him ‘Lord.’ He must also be David’s God.

The first thing that needs to be said in response to this is that the text does not explicitly say this. No where in this passage, or in it’s parallels in Luke and Mark, does the text have Jesus or the author explaining that what Jesus meant is that the Messiah must be God. This is merely an assumption on the part of those who already presuppose that Jesus is God in accordance with orthodox creedal dogma. To be sure, if one holds this presupposition then the passage can be made to correspond, making the passage appear to be support for the presupposition. But what if one does not approach this text with the presupposition that Jesus is God? Can the text be made to make sense if it is approached with the presupposition that the Messiah is strictly a man? Well, let’s see.

The first point I want to look at is that the words of Jesus in this passage give the impression that he is challenging the popular belief of the Jews that the Messiah would be a descendant of David. But I don’t think we should even entertain such a thought too long. Why would Matthew start off his gospel with the words, “This is the record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham,” and then include a statement of Jesus denying this very thing. The Jews were certainly correct to hold that the Messiah would be a son of David, since their scriptures declared as much {1 Chron. 17:11-14; Is. 9:6-7; Jer. 23:5-6}. That Jesus is a descendant of David is affirmed in other NT documents {see Lk. 1:32-33, 69; Acts 13:22-23; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 22:16}. So then what is Jesus driving at by this questioning of the Jews. Again, some say that he is challenging their belief that the Messiah is simply a man. This is, of course, Dr. Garza’s position, but it is not the necessary conclusion that must be drawn from the passage.

Jesus’ question can be put like this, “If the Messiah is David’s son, then how is it that David calls him ‘Lord’?” The relevance of the question is to be found in the Semitic culture, in which a man’s son or descendant would not be considered greater than himself. This would be even more so if the man were a great patriarch or, as was David, the originator of a royal dynasty. Take Abraham, for example. It is doubtful that Jews would have thought that any descendant of Abraham, the father of their nation, would ever hold a place of greater honor than Abraham, not even the Messiah. They would have envisioned the Messiah, no matter how great he would be, as bowing down before Abraham to pay him honor. This can be seen in the rabbinic quote cited earlier in this article:
“Rabbi Yusan said for Rabbi Aha Bar Hananiah: in the future the Holy one blessed be He will sit the King Messiah at his right and Abraham at his left, and Abraham’s face crumpled and he said: the son of my son sits at the right and I sit at the left? but the Holy one blessed is He reconciled him by saying: the son of your son sits at your right and I sit at your right hand…”
Here Abraham takes offence at the Messiah being given a greater honor than him. But God placates him by reminding him that the Messiah and ,indeed, God himself is sitting at Abraham’s right hand, thus putting Abraham in a place of greater honor. In the same way, David, the great king of Israel, would likely be viewed as bowing before Abraham and addressing him as ‘my lord’ after the resurrection, in the age to come, rather than the reverse.

I have to disagree with Carlos Xavier when he said (55:00 – 56:02) that Jews would not have a problem with a son becoming greater than his father and uses the story of Joseph’s dream in Gen 37:9-11 as evidence. But the reaction of Jacob in v. 10 shows that he was not comfortable with the thought. Mr. Xavier says that Jacob accepted it, believing God had a plan, but the text doesn’t say this, it merely says that Jacob “kept the matter in mind.” Later in the story, when Joseph and Jacob are reunited, there is no indication in the text that Jacob bowed down to Joseph and called him ‘my lord’ as Joseph’s brothers had done.

So it seems to me that Jesus is challenging the Pharisee’s understanding of the extent of Messiah’s authority and position in comparison to the patriarchs. The Jews, though they would have held Messiah to be a figure of great importance and authority and worthy of great honor in his own day, in the resurrection it seems they would have regarded Messiah as subject to the patriarchs. By quoting Ps. 110:1 Jesus was showing an inconsistency in the thinking of these Jews. If the Messiah would be subject to the patriarchs after the resurrection then why does David call him ‘my lord’, an address that a subordinate bestows on a superior?

What the Jews of that day did not know, in that it was hidden from them, was the fact that the Messiah would be rejected by the people, be put to death, and then be raised from the dead, not along with all of the righteous of all time in the resurrection event at the end of the age, but in a separate and singular event, prior to the event known by the Jews as the resurrection. Hence the Messiah would be the first man to receive immortality and so become the source of resurrection for all others, including the patriarchs themselves, establishing him as preeminent over all others {Heb. 5:7-9; Jn. 5:26-30; Rom. 14:9; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:17-182}. So in the resurrection at the end of the age it is the Messiah who will call forth from their graves the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David, who will then bow down before Messiah and acknowledge his preeminence. This is what was faulty in the Jew’s understanding of Messiah, not that he would be God come in human flesh.

1. Here is an article that explains the problem : https://logoi0.blogspot.com/2011/11/marya-miryam.html?fbclid=IwAR3EGxSlfZB7muTA8F0F0xlAInJJ_Li-BngZDYWoRf9bhLYuzgtiTzgGi-I
2. The appellation “the First and the Last” need not be understood as denoting deity simply because Yahweh is so designated {Is. 44:6; 48:12-13}. The appellation can be understood as a declaration of being unique in one’s class. Yahweh is the First and the Last in that among all the gods of the nations he alone is the true and living God, the Creator. Jesus the Messiah is the First and the Last in that among all humanity he is the only one to have died and been raised from the dead immortal, prior to the resurrection event at the end of the age.