Glossary of Terms



Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)


In the O.T., a title for God. Deut. 14:1-2; Josh. 13:33; Ps. 24:10; Isa. 13:4. (See God and other names; host for Lord of hosts.)

In the N.T., occasionally the same meaning, Matt. 1:20; Luke 2:22-23; John 12:13, but usually a title for Jesus* Christ*, signifying that he was from God. Luke 7:19; John 13:13; 20:28; Acts 2:36; 1 Cor. 1:3.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Lord, a title of dignity and honor acknowledging the power and authority of the one so addressed. In the OT ‘Lord’ is used to translate various titles for God (e.g., Adonai, El Shaddai). It can also be used in a secular sense for a master or owner. In Aramaic these words are translated by mara, with possessive suffixes (‘my’ or ‘our’ Lord), and in Greek by kyrios. In the Septuagint the sacred name ‘Yahweh’ was left untranslated in Hebrew characters but was read kyrios.

In Jesus’ time the Aramaic word mari, ‘my Lord,’ was coming into use as a title of respect (not of divinity) in addressing human beings with authority, e.g., a rabbi, and it would appear that Jesus* was so addressed (e.g., Matt. 7:21). Jesus insists that recognition of his authority requires obedience to the demands of God enunciated by him. Mark 7:28 suggests that a Greek-speaking woman could address Jesus as kyrie, ‘Lord’ or ‘Sir.’ Thus, Jesus during his earthly life could be addressed as ‘Lord’ in recognition of his authority as a teacher (rabbi) and as a charismatic prophet.

After Easter one of the most important OT texts to be applied to the Risen One was Psalm 110:1. Here the word ‘Lord’ is used both for God and for the messianic king (Acts 2:34). The application of this text to Jesus meant that the title mari, ‘my Lord,’ addressed to him during his earthly life in recognition of his unusual authority was upgraded as a messianic address. Thus, we get the liturgical acclamation in Aramaic marana tha, ‘our Lord, come’ (1 Cor. 16:22; Rev. 22:20).

Scholars once thought that use of the term ‘Lord’ (maµraµ) in the absolute sense was not possible in Aramaic, but new evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls shows that it was possible to refer to God as ‘Lord’ or ‘the Lord,’ not only as ‘my Lord’ or ‘our Lord.’ Consequently, it is possible that the formula from early Christian preaching, ‘God has made him both Lord and Christ*’ (Acts 2:36), goes back to the earliest Aramaic-speaking church. The title ‘Lord,’ while not connoting divinity in the metaphysical sense, means that at his exaltation Jesus entered upon a new function as the representative of God’s Lordship in the world and over the church (Phil. 2:11). It is henceforth through the exalted Jesus that God exercises Lordship or kingly rule. The two ‘Lords’ God and Jesus are distinguished from each other but not separated. We may assume that the Christology of Acts 2:36 was shared by both the Aramaic and Greek-speaking sections of the earliest Jerusalem community.

With the mission to the Gentiles, which began in Antioch (Acts 11:20), Christianity entered a milieu in which the title ‘Lord’ was already given to the deities of various religious cults. They were ‘lords’ (the feminine, kyria, was used for the goddess Isis) of their religious communities. Scholars used to hold that this pagan usage was the source for the application of the title kyrios to Jesus, but that theory has been ruled out by the Aramaic evidence for the use of ‘Lord.’ Moreover, Christianity did not regard Jesus as a cult deity. Christian worship was directed to the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. At the same time Paul can assert the Lordship of Christ polemically against the pagan cults. ‘There are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’—yet for us there is one God, the Father…and one Lord, Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 8:6).

The title ‘Lord’ (kyrios) was also coming into use in the eastern part of the Roman Empire for the emperor (Acts 25:26, here with the possessive pronoun, ‘my Lord’). It is doubtful, however, whether this usage had any direct effect on early Christian usage, although Luke’s birth narratives polemically assert the Lordship of Christ over against the claims of Caesar (Luke 2:11).

Paul is the one NT author to develop the Lordship of Christ theologically. The authority of Jesus as teacher during his earthly life is projected into the present life of the believing community. Thus Paul uses the title ‘Lord’ when he appeals to the teaching of the earthly Jesus (1 Cor. 7:10; 9:14; 11:21). Those who have been justified have been brought under the authority of the Lord Jesus and are now committed to obedience to him (Rom. 14:8; cf. Rom. 6:3-11; 7:4-6). To be ‘in the Lord’ is much the same as to be ‘in Christ,’ though the emphasis in the formula ‘in Christ’ is primarily soteriological (having to do with salvation), whereas the emphasis of being ‘in the Lord’ is primarily ethical. Thus, for example, Christians are to marry ‘in the Lord’ (1 Cor. 7:39). ‘In the Lord’ is also used in contexts concerned with ministerial activity: note how frequently the phrase occurs in Romans 16, where Paul is greeting those who shared his apostolic labors (Rom. 16:2). Finally, Paul uses ‘Lord’ in contexts that speak of Christ’s second coming. Those who are still alive at that time will be caught up in the air to meet ‘the Lord’ (1 Thess. 4:17). That will happen ‘on the day of the Lord,’ not the day of Yahweh but the day of Christ (1 Thess. 5:12).

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lord, one who wields authority. When used to address some individual and not as a title for God or the Christ, this term conveys esteem to a leader from his people (e.g., Num. 32:25; cf. Acts 25:26), or a master from a slave (so the brothers to Joseph, Gen. 44:6-17; see also Jesus’ parable of the wicked servant, Matt. 18:23-35). It can refer to secular heads of tribes or nations (e.g., ‘the five lords of the Philistines,’ Judg. 3:3; Judg. 16; 1 Sam. 5:8; Isa. 16:8 [‘The lords of the heights of the Arnon,’ Num. 21:28, may refer to idols]) or even an entire class of nobles (Dan. 1:10). In Dan. 5:1, Belshazzar gives a feast for a thousand of his lords or courtiers. It is over human lords such as these that God is ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 19:16). That lordship can be demonstrated even against the corrupt elite of Judah (cf. Jer. 22:8; 25:35; 34:5).

In one NT instance, Jesus uses the term to establish his authority over ancient custom: ‘The Son of man is lord even of the sabbath’ (Mark 2:28; Matt. 12:8; Luke 6:5). As a verb (‘to lord it over’) the term is used occasionally to describe high-handed behavior (Neh. 5:15; Eccles. 8:9), the very antithesis of the style Jesus commands of his disciples (Luke 22:24-27; cf. 2 Cor. 1:24).

(Note: This definition is in complete agreement with the "Glossary" definition in S&H 590:15.)


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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