Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Conclusion.

3. JESUS AS KURIOS AND THEOS

A. JESUS AS KURIOS. It must be noted first that we are not primarily dealing with the gospels in this section, since “when people address Jesus as ‘Lord’ in the Gospels, this is often no more than a customary polite form of address.”[1] Rather, we will aim more narrowly at the post-resurrection narratives in Acts and the canonical epistles of the early church.

In the book of Acts, following the account of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the word κύριος takes on new significance for the earliest Christians. As C.C. Newman observes,

The resurrection undeniably revealed Jesus’ true identity as the divine Lord, the kyrios (Acts 2:36). Numerous times within the narrative does Acts specifically identify Jesus as the ‘Lord’ (Acts 1:6, 21; 4:33; 7:59; 8:16; 9:5-6; 11:17, 20; 15:11, 26; 16:30; 19:5, 13; 20:21, 24; 21:13; 22:8; 26:15; in many other places implied). By employing the same word used by the Septuagint to translate the divine name (i.e., Yahweh) as a title for Jesus, Acts comes close to binitarianism.[2]

Trejer agrees, noting that while during his lifetime “Lord” was merely a term of respect akin to “sir” in modern usage, after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension “its use as the Greek equivalent of the OT Yahweh becomes significant.”[3]

This significance is carried on from Acts into the epistles of the early church. Of particular significance are the NT passages where OT texts specifically referring to Yahweh are said to be fulfilled in Christ, who is κύριος.[4] One such text is found in Phil 2.9-11. Here Trejer notes that

Paul uses this name to identify Jesus with Israel’s covenant God—in shocking fulfillment of a strong monotheistic text, Isa. 45:21-24. The exaltation of a human being to share in what was, and is now fully revealed to be, Yahweh’s identity was a remarkable claim.[5]

In this particular context it is essential to note the importance of both names in general, and of the name of Jesus in particular. “In ancient thought a ‘name’ was employed not only as a means of distinguishing one person from another but also as ‘a means of revealing the inner being, the true nature of that individual’.”[6] So in a context where names are significant for identifying the essence of the person it is especially significant to note, with O’Brien the following:

The name (τὸ ὄνομα is definite) greater than any other that God conferred on Jesus as a gracious gift (ἐχαρίσατο) is his own name, κύριος (‘Lord’), in its most sublime sense, that designation used in the LXX to represent the personal name of the God of Israel, that is, Yahweh.[7]

O’Brien concludes by noting the greatness of this honour by viewing this statement in light of Is 42.8: “ἐγὼ κύριος ὁ θεός τοῦτό μού ἐστιν τὸ ὄνομα τὴν δόξαν μου ἑτέρῳ οὐ δώσω.” Other passages of similar thrust and importance include 1 Cor 8.6; 12.3; Heb 1.10-12; Rev 19.16, however, space restrictions will not allow for in-depth discussion of these passages here.[8]


[1] I.H. Marshall, “Jesus Christ,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, eds. T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D.A. Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000), 599. For some possible exceptions to this, see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 544-545. Among the more plausible are Matt 3.3; 22.44; Luke 1.43; 2.11, 18. Nevertheless, the normal use of κύριος throughout the gospels is still simply a “polite address to a superior” (544).

[2] C.C. Newman, “God,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), 416.

[3] Trejer, “Jesus Christ”, 364.

[4] See, for some examples, Matt 3.3; Mark 1.3; Acts 2.21; Rom 10.9, 13; 1 Cor 12.3.

[5] Trejer, “Jesus Christ”, 364.

[6] Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 237.

[7] Ibid., 238. Emphasis original.

[8] For a more extended discussion of κύριος implying Jesus’ deity, see J.I. Packer, God’s Words (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus), 48-51.