Does the Title “Lord” Only Mean “Master”?
Jehovah’s Witnesses and other non-Trinitarian groups often claim that the use of the title “Lord” for Jesus Christ is no proof of His deity because the word simply means “master” and has no connotation beyond that. Is this true?
It’s true that the word “Lord” might mean simply a “master” of one sort or another. However, there is a specific Jewish use of the word that follows the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX), which was a pre-Christian Greek translation of the Old Testament. Because of the tradition of not pronouncing the Divine Name, the Jewish scholars who translated the LXX used the word for “Lord” (kyrios) in placed where the Hebrew used the divine name, YHWH. The apostles in particular quoted frequently from the LXX when writing the New Testament. We know this is so because of peculiar wordings in the NT that originated with the LXX – this is why the NT sometimes words quotations from the OT differently than the actual OT text. Many of the texts of the NT apply to Jesus the texts from the LXX where “Lord” substitutes for YHWH. There is no question that, in at least these instances, “Lord” means God and not simply “master.”
For example, in Romans 10:9-13 we are told that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The entire context is speaking of faith in Jesus. Then in verse 13, Paul caps his argument with the statement, “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This latter sentence is a quotation from Joel 2:32, and the “Lord” in that sentence is YHWH. In fact, the JW’s New World Translation translates the Romans passage, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.’” Paul quotes a statement that is explicitly about YHWH and applies it to Jesus.
Again, in Philippians 2:9-11, we read: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This text by Paul is an allusion to Isaiah 45:23, which reads, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’” In context, the “me” who is speaking in Isaiah is YHWH. YHWH is the one in Isaiah to whom every knee will bow, in Philippians it is Jesus. Clearly, the confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord” does not simply mean that He is our master.
The use of the term in the Gospels is more difficult; the disciples regularly addressed Jesus as “Lord,” but one could argue that it was a title of respect rather than identification as YHWH. However, the Pauline usage leaves no doubt. In the context of the entire NT, the term “Lord” as applied to Jesus clearly means more than simply “master.”