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In his book, The Jesus Dynasty, James Tabor asserts that James and Jude, which he takes to written by Jesus' brothers, use the term κύριος to mean something like "master". It was a sign of honor for an older brother and mentor. He contrasts that with Paul, who uses the word to mean "Lord" and (according to Trinitarian Christianity) equates Jesus to God.

Thayer's Greek Lexicon gives several* meanings to the word:

  1. universally, of the possessor and disposer of a thing, the owner

  2. a title of honor, expressive of respect and reverence, with which servants salute their master

  3. this title is given to:
    a. God, the ruler of the universe
    b. the Messiah

Is there any evidence from the texts of these letters that Jude and James intended κύριος to not include the "title given to God"?


  • There is also a fourth meaning given but it seems to be disputed. It also relates specifically to Paul, so it doesn't seem to apply to this question.
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Jon, perhaps, I am missing something here, but is Κύριος in Jude 1:5 not a clear reference to God?! ("I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not") –  brilliant Jun 14 '13 at 16:34
Tabor is anything but a friend of Paul. For him James and Jude are family (therefore Jesus-Dynasty) while Paul is a stranger, an illegitimate usurpator of the dynastic kingship tradition after Jesus. I liked Tabor's book, it offers a lot of fresh thoughts, but he seemed to thoroughly do injustice to Paul (which is rather common than unusual). The question is nonetheless very interesting and it may help to reevaluate ones understanding of what Kyrios can mean to us. –  hannes Jun 14 '13 at 16:34
@brilliant: Well, that verse happens to have a lot of textual variations. It seems possible to me (and certainly to Dr. Tabor) that Jude originally used θεός here as is preserved in some manuscripts. –  Jon Ericson Jun 14 '13 at 16:51
Which manuscripts use θεός in that verse? –  brilliant Jun 14 '13 at 16:59
May I suggest we meet in the The Library to discuss the question further? (I'm getting lost in the comments. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Jun 14 '13 at 17:16
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2 Answers

The principal meaning of the Greek word κύριος is "master," and this meaning, I believe, is the one most frequently associated with the word by all NT authors alike. Certainly there are some instances where κύριος is being used as the equivalent to the Tetragrammaton יהוה, but these are the minority.

Paulos certainly does not always (nor even mostly) use κύριος as an equivalent to the Tetragrammaton יהוה.

For example, in Romans 6:11, it is written,

Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς λογίζεσθε ἑαυτοὺς νεκροὺς μὲν εἶναι τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ ζῶντας δὲ τῷ θεῷ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ Κυρίῳ ἡμῶν

Here's what we need to understand. When κύριος is being used as the equivalent of the Tetragrammaton, it must be treated as a proper noun (a name). On the other hand, when it is being used in the sense of "master," it must be treated as a common noun.

In Romans 6:11, is it being used as a proper or common noun?

Since Paulos used a possessive pronoun (i.e., ἡμῶν, "our") with κυρίῳ, then it's undoubtedly a common noun, and thus, it means "master."

In any language, you simply never use a possessive pronoun in conjunction with a proper noun except for colloquial speech (which does not always follow the standard rules of grammar).

For example, one would not say, "Our Jon Ericson," but one could say, "Our friend." Likewise, one would never say, "Our YHVH," but one could say, "Our creator."

So, when we see κύριος written in conjunction with a possessive pronoun, then it should be understood as meaning "master," rather than being a reference to the Tetragrammaton.

The relevance is that Paulos quite often uses κύριος in conjunction with a possessive pronoun, so to say that Paulos uses the Greek word κύριος in order to equate Jesus as "God" is not entirely correct. He does this sometimes, but usually when he is quoting a passage from the Tanakh.

For the most part, he and other NT authors are using it in the sense of "master." The main reason is that the Greek word Χριστιανός (English: "Christian") means, "belonging to Christ," i.e. Christ's servant/ slave. Hence, Christ is literally our master, and we are his slaves/ servants.

James 5:10-11 is one example where it seems that James uses the Greek word κύριος in the sense of the Tetragrammaton rather than "master."

Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure . Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

Prophets speaking "in the name of the Lord" is a common expression in the Tanakh, translated from the Hebrew phrase בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה (beshem YHVH) (cp. Deut. 18:22).

Of course, "the end of the Lord" is referring to the ultimate reward that YHVH gave Job after he endured his trials.

As these are two examples where the Greek word κύριος is being used as an equivalent of the Tetragrammaton, rather than "master," need we find more in order to refute Tabor's hypothesis?

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"Certainly there are some instances where κύριος is being used as the equivalent to the Tetragrammaton יהוה, but these are the minority. Paulos certainly does not always (nor even mostly) use κύριος as an equivalent to the Tetragrammaton יהוה" - I a bit confused. Why necessarily narrow the scope of the question down to Tetragrammaton? It looks to me that the scope of OP's question is defined by the word "God", not just by one of God's names. So, in this case, "our Lord" can really mean and be equated to "our God" as using possessive pronouns with "God" (θεός) is absolutely correct in Greek. –  brilliant Jun 14 '13 at 11:02
I'm actually more interested comparing Jude and James to Paul. Paul's writing is rather more voluminous than Jesus' brothers' short letters. I'm going to edit the question to narrow the scope to those letters, but I hope you will still be able to use this answer with minor edits. –  Jon Ericson Jun 14 '13 at 16:01
@H3br3wHamm3r81 - "That is why κύριος is used for the Tetragrammaton in the LXX, and that is why the scope is so narrow" - The fact that translators used κύριος for rendering Tetragrammaton in the LXX does not at all mean that they could not have also used κύριος as another means of referencing to God. The translators' laxation in standards that you are talking about only proves it. Therefore, I think the answer to this question shouldn't be kept strictly within the considerations of Tetragrammaton. –  brilliant Jun 14 '13 at 17:00
@H3br3wHamm3r81 - I don't have anything particular in mind. It's just that your point about possessive pronouns, which, as you rightly said, don't go along well with Tetragrammaton, could only be a 100% reliable method if we knew for sure that ALL instances of Kyrios in the N.T. were either used in the sense of "master" (owner, possessor) or as a means of rendering Tetragrammaton. However, we don't have such surety. –  brilliant Jun 14 '13 at 17:21
Thanks for the update. That does seem strong evidence refuting the theory. Certainly, I would want to find out how Dr. Tabor would respond to it. –  Jon Ericson Jun 17 '13 at 19:53
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If you look at a few places James uses κύριος or related, they are all about God, Jesus or Sabaoth. Whomever you take Sabaoth to be (he's the commander of Yahweh's army who discloses the weakness of Jericho such that the walls then collapsed, or he's Yahweh, or he's Jesus, or he's Sabaoth, you tell me...).

Also, I have not read the book you mention. I don't know if I have time with all thte James commentaries I have piled up. But I will say this clearly:

James called Jesus the Christ in the first verse of James, 1:1:

1:1) James of God and of Lord Jesus Christ, slave to the 12 tribes of the diaspora, greetings:

That word Christ is in the Greek MS as Xrictou. So James is clear on what he thinks of Jesus. He does not think of him as a good carpenter, a big brother, or a mere cool dude. James is strongly a Jew and calls Jesus the Christ. In 5:6 he refers to him as "the righteous one" as in the same word that Abraham was reckoned "righteous and a friend of God." To James, dikaion, or righteous, meant beloved of God.

So I dunno if we have to dig into a theory around κύριος, do we? If we do...

James 1:7 uses κύριοu to mean "of the Lord" referring back to 1:5's antecedent, theou, of God.

James 1:12 uses κύριος to mean God again.

James 2:1 uses κύριοu to refer to Jesus. Read this:

2:1) My brothers, do not be having partialities in the faith of the Lord (κύριοu) of us, Jesus Christ, Anointed of the Glory.

Now if you read 2:2-2:4 at least you will see that in 2:1, he is saying, "When you are in church to worship the Lord Jesus Christ, if a man shows up with a gold ring and splendid clothes, and you seat him in a quality seat, but a poor man shows up in poor clothes, and you place him under the underfoot of you, or tell him to go stand over there, then you are having unjust judgings of you.

2:1 is about where people would sit in church worshipping of the κύριοy Jesus Christ, the Anointed of the Glory.

I would call that bigger than a guidance counsellor.

4:10 uses κύριοu and is part of the context 4:6-10 which is part of the overall 4:1-12 larger context. 4:13 is a bit of a turn in the road, but not a non sequitor. It's hard to know where to draw the boundaries around context in James, because it flows like an epic poem.

But however you slice it, you cannot read 4:10 without considering 4:8 and so once again, James means God when he writes κύριοu.

4:15 is again clearly referring to God in my opinion, what with the context of the preceding verse, 4:14. In 4:13-17 James is clearly talking about God again, and so 4:15 κύριος means God.

BTW, 4:15 is always misinterpreted. James means this:

4:13) Addressing now the ones saying, "today or tomorrow we shall be going in to the city and we shall be there one year and we shall go in and out and we shall profit"

4:14) who of you are not aware of tomorrow? for the aliveness of you consists of exhaling, which toward a few appears on-thereafter [(that is, tomorrow)], and then disappears.

4:15) Instead of that, you say, "κύριος should be willing and we shall be living and we shall be doing this or that." [Notice the disregard with which James describes that planned activity, "this or that." He does not usually write like this and it makes a point.]

4:16) Now (when you say 4:15) you are boasting in the exaggerations you make. Every such boasting is wicked.

4:17) Thus to one who has perceived the quality thing to do, and is not doing it, that is sin.

In other words, the thesis of 4:13-17 is that when you know what would be good to do in the eyes of the Lord God, shut up and do it. Specifically, do not say "κύριος willing, we shall live, and ..." If you know what the quality thing to do is, and you know you might die at any moment, and you don't do that quality thing, you are sinning.

Of course, this is obviously true. Not only would a quality thing to do potentially incur profit or going in and out of a city, a quality thing to do would please the Lord God, in James' view.

5:4 Is κύριοu Sabaoth. Look up Sabaoth. Make up your own mind.

5:7-8 are about the return of the κύριοu, the return of Jesus. He is the "righteous one" mentioned in 5:6, but 5:7-8 stand on their own, anyway.

Another person would dispute that the Righteous One of 5:6 is Jesus, but James word and analogy to Elijah make it clear he does mean Jesus in 5:6. Even if you take κύριοu in 5:7-8 to refer to Sabaoth, and believe Sabaoth is not a Christophany, Sabaoth is still a big deal. But in my opinion, 5:6 is clearly about Jesus, so κύριοu in 5:7-8 are about Jesus.

5:10 uses κύριοu and refers to the "name of Lord" spoken by "the prophets," I take this to mean κύριοu as of-Yahweh in this case.

5:11 uses κύριοu and κύριος and clearly refers to the God of Job, Yahweh.

5:14-15 is beyond textual analysis and gets into belief. I submit this is clearly a reference (κύριοu) to either Jesus or Yahweh. Given the action of removing sins from the dying brethren, this is God, either Yahweh or Jesus, the judge of sins who is being called on as κύριος in these verses. The anointing with olive oil is first described in Exodus.

I may have missed a κύριος, I sincerely hope not. I used my eyes and my paper copy of James to compile the above.

Here is the score:

κύριος Means Yahweh God: 6

κύριος Means Sabaoth: 1 or 3 (Sabaoth + Jesus == 4)

κύριος Means Jesus Christ: 1 or 3

κύριος Means God or Jesus who removes sins from dying brothers: 1

God or Jesus or Sabaoth Total: 11

On the other team:

κύριος means one who is anointed: 0

κύριος means mentor: 0

κύριος means respect for a mortal human, not the Christ: 0

κύριος refers to care bear: 0

I hope I didn't miss any κύριος, but w.r.t. James, I would say, no, the book you mention must be mistaken or otherwise corrupted by the adversary.

I don't yet know as much about Jude, can't help you there, yet.

About James, the book: It is short. At 108 verses, I can say I have read it in Greek more times than twice its verses. I would suggest if you want to get insight to this address (i.e., oration or sermon) of James' to his Hellenized Jewish Christian church, you should read it, a lot, in Greek. When you have read it 200 times, you may not have learned Greek, but you will certainly have learned James. And you will know that James very much believes that Jesus is the Son of God who is returning in the final days.

EDIT: I unfortunately spent some minutes reading excerpts from Tabor's book. I see that Tabor claims that "Christ" does not mean the Messiah who the Jews anticipated was to come, redeem humanity, and return in the Last Days. However I hope you will read James and see that this is absolutely, without any doubt, not an honest representation of what James believed.

Tabor is surely correct that Jesus had half-brothers, they are named. Otherwise, I saw lots of things that were clearly incorrect. There were too many to enumerate and address; there were innumerable incorrect statements about James in the excerpt of Tabor I reviewed. There were also some correct statements, but overall I wouldn't consider that a source that needs to go into my research.

Also, Tabor states that xrictoc means "anointed one." I am not sure it meant that to James. In James 5:14, when talking about actual anointing, the Greek word James chose was rather different from words related to either Messiah or Christ. If Tabor's suggestion that James mean something less than "Lord Jesus Christ" as we understand it today, and really meant, "Mentor Jesus Anointed-one," why did he change root words when what he actually meant "anoint?" Don't discredit James: he only uses the root words he means; he is incisive. I do not agree that James thought the word Christ or the phrase "Kuriou Jesuou Christou" to mean much less than Christians today would think it to mean. It's just not right.

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