Here is an intellectual piece on the meaning of the word “Kyrios”, which means “Lord” in the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint was the original writings of scripture…the canon, written in the Greek language. Often times, the translations from Greek to English do not do proper justice to some of the words that were originally used by those who contributed to the writing of Scripture, such as the apostles.
In my Gospel of Luke class, we took a look at what it meant for people of Jesus’ time to address him as “Kyrios” and how that contributed to His true identity recognized by His followers.
Enjoy and don’t be afraid to grapple with the thought. It’s not meant to be a simple concept for the brain.
In the Gospel of Luke, the Greek word κύριος (“Kyrios”) meaning “Lord”, is used consistently throughout the book as a title for both Jesus Christ and Yahweh. Luke, as the author of his gospel, purposefully engages the word as a means to express Christology throughout. Christopher Rowe explored this concept for his graduate research and published the renowned Early Narrative Christology: Lord in the Gospel of Luke. Rowe approaches the issue from many different perspectives. While reading the book, the one perspective that I found particularly worthy of my attention was the connection between an individual’s note of their own unworthiness and their simultaneous identification of Jesus as κύριος. While this word for Lord can be and is used as a simple title, not limited to a dubbing of Jesus, it’s specific context, in which several individuals use it in reference to Jesus, portrays a parallel between biblical times’ and modern times’ connection to Jesus, their Lord.
Within the first chapter of Luke, κύριος is used at least twenty times to refer to Yahweh, before the identity of Jesus has even been acknowledged. It is in 1:43 that Jesus is first called κύριος. After being told that she would bear the Messiah and her cousin Elizabeth would become pregnant as well, Mary goes to visit her. Scripture says that John lept within Elizabeth as she heard Mary’s voice and she was filled with the Holy Spirit; she then exclaimed, identifying Jesus as Lord for the first time: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why does the mother of my Lord (κύριος) come to me?” (KJV). Elizabeth recognizes a special babe within Mary’s womb and supernaturally is filled with not only the Holy Spirit, but the knowledge that her Lord is being physically carried by her cousin. As a Jew, Elizabeth’s Lord is κύριος, as in Yahweh, but here she recognizes the Messiah…not in His entirety, but in His significance and out of obedience. Rowe calls this resonance: “If one were to hear the Gospel read aloud, one would not be able to hear a difference between κύριος and κύριος, but would instead experience a resonance…” (Rowe 41). In knowing this, Elizabeth ponders aloud why, in her unworthiness, is she favored so much that κύριος, Yahweh and Jesus as one, would dwell in her presence. She has recognized, in a sense, the unity between Yahweh and He who is in Mary’s womb. “God’s life is now bound up with Jesus’ life to such a great extent and with such intensity that they share the name/title κύριος” (48).
The next two examples are found in chapters 5 and 7; they appear to be very similar to each other. In chapter 5, Scripture tells us that that Jesus entered Simon Peter’s boat to preach to the people, and then subsequently instructed Peter to let down his nets after a full night of no catching of fish. Peter responds to Jesus instructions by addressing him as “Master” and relating a doubt that the outcome of his fishing would change. After catching a huge abundance, Peter fell at Jesus’ feet and said “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (KJV). The significance of Peter’s shift in how he addresses Jesus is great. Rowe says:
The contrast in the picture of Simon before and after the catch of fish should be apparent. Such a change corresponds to the change in Christological title from [Master] to κύριος, wherein, on the basis of the miracle, Peter sees who Jesus is and responds accordingly: Jesus is in fact the κύριος who deals with sinners. (Rowe 86).
This address change is amazing. There is no evidence that Peter knows the man who commanded him to let down his nets, but his use of “Master” suggests he understands some sort of resonance, as Elizabeth did. However, after the miracle, Peter is overcome by fear and reverence and immediately addresses Jesus as κύριος, something far beyond a mere “master”. “Peter’s use of κύριος is linked with a confession of sin: Peter characterizes himself as a [sinner] at the knees of κύριος. This self-characterization simply does not make any sense on the supposition that κύριος is a polite address” (87). Later on in the narrative, Peter leaves his whole vocation and follows Jesus, knowing He is someone beyond man or master.
Alike to Peter’s experience, the centurion in chapter 7 sent his friends to seek out Jesus’ healing for his servant. His message to Jesus was, “Lord (κύριος), trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof” (KJV). Many have argued that this use of κύριος by the centurion was a mere title of respect, but the centurion’s faith and preceding factors prove otherwise. Rowe quotes Nolland in reference:
The linking of such a profound recognition of Jesus’ authority with the centurion’s own sense of unworthiness…suggests that more is intended. In the first instance the centurion’s unworthiness is as a Gentile…but after 5:8 we cannot avoid seeing a connection between this sense of unworthiness and his insight into the person of Jesus. (Rowe 115)
Whether the centurion recognized his unworthiness through his identity as a Gentile or a sinner, we do not know. The Gentile was certainly considered, by the Jews, one of the most unworthy breeds. Luke certainly uses this key part of his gospel as a segway into the second half of his writings: Acts. “The address κύριος from a Gentile centurion serves to foreshadow or prefigure the success of the Gentile mission in Acts…the centurion represents those who will respond in faith to Jesus and acknowledge him as κύριος” (117).
After these three examples, the direct reference to personal unworthiness is not again directly used in Scripture, nor specifically mentioned by Rowe, but it is implied. In Luke 18:41, the blind beggar, in his unworthy and outcast nature, identifies Jesus as κύριος: “Lord (κύριος), that I may receive my sight” (KJV). In Luke 19:8, Zacchaeus, recognizes his own downfalls as the Lord dares to enter his house, the house of a sinner. Realizing who Jesus was and what Zacchaeus was guilty of, he immediately identifies Jesus and confesses: “Behold, Lord (κύριος), the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold” (KJV). Lastly and quite significantly, in Luke 23:42, the repentant thief on the cross rebukes the other thief for mocking Jesus, recognizing that both of them were deserving of their punishment while Jesus was not. He says to Jesus, “Lord (κύριος), remember me, when thou comest into thy kingdom” (KJV). It is by this acknowledgment of Jesus’ sacrifice and identity that the thief is granted eternal life in some of his last moments.
Throughout the gospel, it will not be found that one who turns from Jesus, questions His authority, scorns His teaching, or will not sacrifice for Him, will address Jesus as κύριος. Different individuals come to realize Jesus’ identity and address Him accordingly; this realization occurs in various forms, but the common factor is a reverence and a healthy fear that places Jesus on a pedestal in their minds. They recognize His authority and identity while simultaneously recognizing their own identity of unworthiness. But despite their recognition of identity, the difference between Jesus and other leaders is that He does not implement a fear that causes individuals to cower in their guilt and shame. Instead, they desire wholeheartedly to make themselves vulnerable before their all-powerful, yet loving Lord. In this same way must we approach our relationship with Jesus. Although we are not physically treading the same soil as our Lord like individuals in the gospel of Luke, this recognition of His authority and of our lowliness is essential to the relationship that God designed to have with us through His Son…one of reverence and awe, but also of compassion, care, personal relationship and more than anything, access to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…our Lord, our κύριος.