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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Attributes of God That Belong to Him Alone

Don Stewart :: What Does the Greek Word Despotes (Master) Refer To?

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What Does the Greek Word Despotes (Master) Refer To?

The Attributes of God That Belong to Him Alone – Question 25

Theos and kurios are the common names for God in the Greek New Testament. There is also a third word found in the New Testament that refers to the Lord, despotes. It is important that we know why this word is used as well as what it means in the various contexts.

Despotes Defined: Master

The Greek word despotes is where the English word “despot” is derived. It has the idea of ownership, supremacy, and authority. We can make a couple of observations about the term as we find it in the New Testament.

There Are Only a Few Usages in the New Testament

Despotes is only used five times in the New Testament. The fact that this word is used so infrequently should make us closely examine it each time we find it.

In one instance, we find that the elderly man Simeon used it when he prayed to the Lord. Luke records it in this manner.

“Now, Master, You can dismiss Your slave in peace, according to Your word.” (Luke 2:29 HCSB)

Simeon used this infrequent term to address the Lord, the God of Israel. In this context, he called Him “Master.”

Peter, and those with him, used the term when they prayed to God. We read of this in the Book of Acts. It says,

Then all the believers were united as they lifted their voices in prayer: “O Sovereign Lord [despotes] Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them...” (Acts 4:24 NLT)

In this instance the believers had gathered together to pray to the Lord. As a group, they addressed Him as the Supreme Lord.

The word despotes is used in the cry of the martyrs in the Book of Revelation. The Bible records them crying out to Almighty God in the following manner.

They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10 NIV)

In this verse, they are calling upon the Sovereign Lord for justice. They want their deaths avenged and they use this particular title when addressing Him.

These are three of the uses of this term in Scripture.

Christ Was Called a Despot

In two instances, Jesus Christ is called despot. Peter used this term in explaining whom it is that the false teachers deny, the Lord or Master. He wrote,

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master [despotes] who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. (2 Peter 2:1 NRSV)

These evil people were denying the Master, the Lord Jesus. He is the One who bought them but they deny Him. Peter thus used this rarely used title in describing the Lord Himself.

Jude also wrote about those who denied the Lord and Master. In doing so, he also used this term despotes. We read,

For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master [despotes] and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 4 NASB)

This is a description of these people who have become part of the congregations. They actually denied that Jesus was the Lord.

In sum, this word is used in a few contexts to describe the Lord, the God of Israel. On a couple of occasions it refers to Jesus Himself.

Summary – Question 25
What Does the Greek Word Despotes (Master) Refer To?

While the words theos and kurios are the usual terms used in the New Testament to speak of the God of the Bible, on a few occasions we find another word used. This is the Greek word despotes.

This Greek word has the idea of authority or supremacy. It is only used on only five occasions in the New Testament.

Three times we find it used of the God of Scripture. It is used in contexts which emphasize His supremacy.

The old man Simeon was promised that he would see the Christ before He died. When he held the child Jesus he addressed God as despotes.

In the early church, as they gathered to pray, they addressed the Lord as despotes when acknowledging God's supremacy over all things.

In the Book of Revelation, the martyrs of heaven uses this term in addressing the Lord as they ask for His vengeance on those who murdered them.

In all of these instances, the Lord is emphasized as being supreme or sovereign. Indeed, the Lord, the God of the Bible, is supreme over all.

Twice this word refers to Jesus Christ. Once it is in the writings of Peter and another time we find it in Jude. In these instances, it is emphasized that He is the ultimate authority, the supreme One. The unbelievers were denying His supremacy.

Thus, we find God is called the Supreme One with the title despotes. We also discover that Jesus Christ is designated with the same title. This is a further indication that Jesus Christ is the God of the Bible.

Consequently, like the other designations of God, we learn much from the use of the word despotes.

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