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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 Kurios (Lord) Mean?

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What Does the Greek Word Kurios (Lord) Mean?

The Attributes of God That Belong to Him Alone – Question 24

When referring to the true God, the New Testament sometimes uses the Greek word kurios translated as “Lord.” It is important that we have a correct understanding of the word because it is often misunderstood.

1. It Does Not Always Refer to God

The thought behind the word kurios is supremacy and authority. Kurios is used a number of different ways in the New Testament; it does not always refer to the true God.

2. The Word Can Mean “Sir”

Sometimes the word is merely a polite title meaning, “Sir.” In these instances it has nothing to do with God or deity.

For example, when the religious leaders addressed Pontius Pilate they used the word kurios. We read the following.

“Sir [kurios], we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’” (Matthew 27:63 NRSV)

In this instance, kurios is a simple title. Pontius Pilate was not being addressed as deity!

3. It Also Means “Master,” or “Owner.”

In some contexts it has the idea of a title such as, “Master,” or “Owner.” Jesus used it in this manner. He said.

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master [kurios].” (Matthew 10:24 NASB)

This is another instance where kurios refers to a human, not someone divine.

4. Kurios Can Refer to Husbands

Even husbands are called by the word kurios. Peter wrote that Sarah the wife of Abraham, called him “master” or “lord.”

For instance, Sarah obeyed her husband, Abraham, when she called him her master [kurios]... (1 Peter 3:6a NLT)

Obviously this does not mean Sarah worshipped Abraham. This use of kurios has the meaning of master, or leader in this context.

5. The Word Was Used of Idols

Paul uses the plural of kurios to refer to non-existent idols. He wrote the following to the Corinthians.

Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords [kurios]... (1 Corinthians 8:5 NRSV)

This is the plural form of kurios. Here Paul is writing about so-called deities which have no substance, which do not exist. They were called “lords.”

6. It Can Also Mean the LORD (Yahweh or Jehovah)

There are many times, however, that kurios is equivalent to the divine name Yahweh, or Jehovah. For example, we read in the Book of Acts.

But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord [kurios] Acts 15:40 RSV).

This is one of the key uses of the term kurios. It is used for the divine name Yahweh or Jehovah.

7. Jesus Is Addressed as Both Human and Divine

We find Jesus being addressed by both the human and divine usages of this Greek word kurios. The polite form of kurios meaning, “Sir,” is used.

In John’s gospel Jesus met a woman at a well in Samaria. She addressed Him as kurios (sir). We read,

The woman said to him, “Sir [kurios], you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water?” (John 4:11 RSV)

At this particular time, she was unaware of the identity of Jesus; she did not know that He was the Messiah, the Lord.

There are other times when kurios speaks of Jesus’ full Deity as God the Son. We find an example of this in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It says the following.

...so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow—of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10, 11 HCSB)

Here Paul states that one day people will confess Jesus Christ as “Lord.” This does not merely mean “master.” Rather it means that Jesus Christ is Yahweh, the God of the Bible.

When Paul wrote to the Romans, He used kurios to refer to the divine name [Yahweh]. Therefore, Jesus is the Lord.

...that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord [kurios], and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved... (Romans 10:9 NASB)

Paul wrote that we are to confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord Himself. Indeed, He is the God of the Bible, the only God who exists.

Thus, we find that Jesus is the Lord in the sense that He himself is the God which is revealed in the Scripture.

8. Divine and Human Usage of Kurios Are Found in the Same Verse

Interestingly we find both uses of this word kurios in the same verse when Paul wrote to the Colossians.

Slaves, you must always obey your earthly masters [kurios]. Try to please them at all times, and not just when you think they are watching. Honor the Lord [kurios] and serve your masters with your whole heart. (Colossians 3:22 CEV)

In the first instance it refers to earthly masters while in the second instance in this verse it is the divine name, Yahweh.

Therefore, when we come across the word kurios in the New Testament, it always has to be understood in its context. It is indeed used for the divine name, Yahweh or Jehovah, but this is not its only use.

Summary – Question 24
What Does the Greek Word Kurios (Lord) Mean?

The Greek word kurios has a number of different meanings. It is important that we understand the various ways in which it is used.

For one thing, it can be used as a polite title meaning “sir.” It was a form of address to an adult male. There is nothing in these usages which imply any type of deity.

There are instances where the word refers to someone who is a master or owner of slaves. The master of the slave is called kurios.

We also find that this Greek word is used with the relationship of a husband to a wife. In this usage there is certainly no idea of ownership.

On other occasions the word is used to refer to idols or false gods which people worship. They are called “lords.” However, there is no idea of genuine deity here. Never do we find in Scripture the slightest hint that these so-called gods have any substance.

However, on a number of occasions it is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word Yahweh or Jehovah. This is the divine name for God. When used in these contexts it refers to the personal name of the God of the Bible.

Jesus Christ is designated as the Lord in many New Testament references. These passages make clear that He is the God of the Bible, Jehovah or Yahweh Himself. This is the consistent truth of Scripture; Jesus Christ is Yahweh or Jehovah.

Thus, when we come across the term kurios we find that it has a number of usages. The context is always the determining factor as to know its exact meaning.

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