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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ

Don Stewart :: Why Was Jesus Called Lord?

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Why Was Jesus Called Lord?

The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ – Question 8

The gospels record people addressing Jesus as, “Lord.” This is a translation of the Greek word, kurios. What does it mean when they used this title? Was it referring to Him as the God of the Old Testament or did it mean something else?

Yahweh or Jehovah Is Translated as Lord in New Testament

Whenever God’s name, “Jehovah” or “Yahweh,” is given in the New Testament, it is rendered by the Greek word kurios. We read of this usage in Paul’s letter to the Romans. He spoke of people referring to Jesus as Lord:

Because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord [kurios] and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. (Romans 10:9, 10 NRSV)

In this instance, Paul calls Jesus “LORD” or “Yahweh.” This is a reference to His Deity. Jesus is Yahweh or the God of the Old Testament.

It Does Not Always Mean Deity

While the Greek word kurios is used to translate the divine name of God, Jehovah or Yahweh, this is not always the case. The word can also mean a polite title like, “Sir.”

For example, when a woman in Samaria addressed Jesus, she used the same word kurios. However, in this context it is translated, “Sir.” We read the following in John’s gospel about the conversation between Jesus and this woman:

The woman said to him, “Sir, [kurios] you don’t have anything to use to get water, and the well is deep. So where are you going to get this living water?” (John 4:11 God’s Word)

In this instance, she was not recognizing His Deity. She was merely addressing Him with the polite title, “Sir.”

They Are Not Necessarily Recognizing His Deity

Consequently, the fact that Jesus is addressed as “Lord” does not necessarily mean that people acknowledged His Deity. The Greek word for Lord, kurios, can be used for God’s name—Jehovah or Yahweh. However, kurios can also be merely a polite way of addressing someone.

For example, there are people apart from Jesus who are addressed as kurios in the New Testament:

Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem to attend the Passover paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee. They said, “Sir, [kurios] we want to meet Jesus.” (John 12:20, 21 NLT)

Here we have Philip, the disciple of Jesus, being addressed with the Greek word kurios. Obviously this is not a reference to Deity!

Therefore, while Jesus is the Lord, or Yahweh, not every instance where the English translation calls Him Lord refers to His deity. The context must be the determining factor.

Summary – Question 8
Why Was Jesus Called Lord?

In a number of places in the New Testament Jesus is called “Lord.” The word translated Lord is from the Greek word kurios. It is important to understand why He was called “Lord.”

At times, it is a translation of the divine name for God — Yahweh or Jehovah. Therefore, on a number of occasions when Jesus is addressed as “Lord” it means that He is addressed with the divine name for God! No mere mortal could ever be spoken of in this manner. The fact that He was addressed in this way means that Jesus was considered to be God Himself.

However, at other times this Greek word is merely a polite form of address. Indeed, people, such as Philip the disciple of Jesus, are addressed with the Greek word kurios.

Thus, we should not always assume kurios is a reference to the divine name. As always, the context must determine exactly what is meant by the use of the term.

What Was Jesus' Relationship to the Law of Moses? ← Prior Section
What Was the Significance of the Transfiguration of Jesus? Next Section →
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