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In the New Testament the Greek word used for 'Lord' is often 'kurios' or 'Kyrie', a transliteration of Greek Κύριε (Kyrie), vocative case of Κύριος (Kyrios). I understand and believe the implications from the Septuagint is relating YHWH.

In Luke 5:5 Peter referred to Jesus as 'master', epistates (Ἐπιστάτα), and in 5:8 he used Kyrie (κύριε).

Luke 5:5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

epistates (Ἐπιστάτα) http://bibleapps.com/greek/1988.htm

Luke 5:8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

kurios. (κύριος, ου, ὁ) http://bibleapps.com/greek/2962.htm

My question is more about epistates (Ἐπιστάτα). How would that term have been routinely used during that time period? It seems that Kurios/Kyrie were used interchangeably with people of high standing so would 'epistates' have been used in the same way? I take it to be comparable to addressing a middle manager or Forman and addressing the owner of the company or boss. Relationally how would Peters address be intended and how would it have been received by a common person of the time.

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  • The lexicons are sufficient reputable sources to show the meaning of the word to be chief, commander. BDAG says the same which basic lexicons says. It is used for administrator, technical term, used in inscriptions, papyrus, lxx etc. Mounce says equivalent to didaschale/teacher, rabbi.
    – Michael16
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 10:03

4 Answers 4

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Έπιστάτης appears in the NT only in Luke (5:5; 8:24, 45; 9:33, 49; 17:13). In case except the last, the word appears on the lips of a disciple. Marshall, in this NIGTC calls the make of the last reference a near disciple (203). Marshall agrees with Oepke’s TDNT article (II, 622f.) that the word is a translation of the Palestinian Aramaic, רַבִּי. Marshall also cites Glombitza’s ZNW article, ‘Die Titel διδάσκαλος und ἐπιστάτης für Jesus bei Lukas’, ZNW 49, 1958, 275–278 which demonstrates that ἐπιστάτης also stands in the place of διδάσκαλος in Luke. Marshall concludes the term used here refers to an authority which one would obey. Later, in verse 8, Simon Peter falls before Jesus and call Him κύριος which Marshall admits has a deeper meaning, but he does not think carries the connotation of divinity yet. He does concede that the use of Peter’s full name, falling prostrate, and the deeper title indicate a pitch in the narrative at this point.

I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1978), 203. However, Bock in his BECNT states, “Peter recognizes Jesus’ authority in this action.” (458). Bock at least concedes that Peter recognizes Jesus as a divine agent. Peter recognizes his own sinfulness in the presence of a man of God. “Κύριος is a key term and stands as a stronger term in contrast to the use of ἐπιστάτα (epistata, master) in 5:5.” (459)

Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 1:1–9:50 (vol. 1; Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994). While the text is moving the reader to the conclusion that Κύριος should be understood in the fuller sense of the LXX as a term for YHWH, it is not clear that Peter understands Jesus fully in this sense at the time he speaks these words. It does appear that Luke uses the two differently weighted words for an authority to demonstrate the heightening of the narrative and to show that Peter understands Jesus as someone sent from God.

It seems best to accept TDNT’s conclusion that ἐπιστάτης is Luke’s translation for רַבִּי and to hold off on giving Κύριος its full weight as a direct reference to the divine at this point and allow the text to develop that idea over time.

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The meaning of the term ἐπιστάτης, master, is seen in the LXX where is used 8 times:

And he set over them task-masters, who should afflict them in their works; and they built strong cities for Pharao, both Pitho, and Ramesses, and On, which is Heliopolis. (LXX-Exodus 1:11)

And the accountants of the race of the children of Israel, who were set over them by the masters of Pharao, were scourged, saying, Why have ye not fulfilled your rates of brick-work as yesterday and the third day, to-day also? (LXX-Exodus 5:14)

besides the rulers that were appointed over the works of Solomon, three thousand six hundred masters who wrought in the works. (LXX-1 Kings 5:16)

And they took out of the city one eunuch who was commander of the men of war, and five men that saw the face of the king, that were found in the city, and the secretary of the commander-in-chief, who took account of the people of the land, and sixty men of the people of the land that were found in the city. (LXX-2 Kings 25:19)

And Solomon gathered seventy thousand men that bore burdens, and eighty thousand hewers of stone in the mountain, and three thousand six hundred superintendents over them. (LXX-2 Chronicles 2:2)

and they brought thither the first-fruits and the tithes faithfully: and Chonenias the Levite was superintendent over them, and Semei his brother was next. (2 Chronicles 31:12)

The Lord has made thee priest in the place of Jodae the priest, to be ruler in the house of the Lord over every prophet, and to every madman, and thou shalt put them in prison, and into the dungeon. (LXX-Jeremiah 29:26)

and one eunuch, who was over the men of war, and seven men of renown, who were in the king's presence that were found in the city; and the scribe of the forces, who did the part of a scribe to the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land, who were found in the midst of the city. (LXX-Jeremiah 52:25)

None of the uses are vocative; however, the meaning is straightforward. It describes someone with secondary authority. For example, not Pharaoh, but his task-masters; not the king, Solomon, but one he appointed. What is described is someone with lesser authority.

Therefore, "master" as an vocative translation should be understood as a form of address to someone who is superior but whose authority is limited especially relative to "lord," a title given to the one with the highest authority.

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The Greek word/title ἐπιστάτης occurs just seven times in the NT: Luke 5:5, 8:24 (x2), 45, 9:33, 49, 17:13.

According the BDAG, this title ἐπιστάτης = "master" has the following meaning:

used for various officials in literature [1st cent], inscriptions, papyrus [records etc], the LXX, Josephus (Antiquities 8, 59, C, Ap 2, 177) in Luke six times in the vocative as a title addressed to Jesus, nearly always by the disciples (the synoptic parallels have Διδάσκαλε [= "teacher"] ...

BDAG also quotes numerous examples of Greek students addressing their teacher as ἐπιστάτης such as Aristaeus teacher of Dionysus, Olympus tutor of Zeus, Pherecydes the tutor of Pythagoras, etc.

In the LXX, ἐπιστάτης occurs (in various forms of the noun) as:

  • ἐπιστάτης, 2 Kings 25:19, 2 Chron 31:12, Jer 52:25
  • ἐπιστάται, 1 Kings 5:16, 2 Chron 2:2
  • ἐπιστάτας, Ex 1:11
  • ἐπιστάτην, Jer 29:26
  • ἐπιστατῶν, Ex 5:14

In all of these cases, the word refers to royal officials, taskmasters, or rulers, etc. The word is never used in relation to God. In many instances, the word's meaning significantly overlaps with Kyrios, Rhabbi and Didaskalos.

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The word ἐπιστάτης appears in the verses: Exod. 1:11; 5:14; 1 Ki. 2:35; 5:30; 2 Ki. 25:19; 2 Chr. 2:1; 31:12; 1 Es. 1:8; Jdt. 2:14; 2 Ma. 5:22; Jer. 36:26; 52:25; Lk. 5:5; 8:24, 45; 9:33, 49 and 17:13.

Meaning is broad, ranging from charge, task, charge to a functional position and has a meaning very close to the use of the term Κύριε.

Peter was an experienced fisherman and knew how to discern that that moment was divine. When Peter gets down on his knees, he recognizes the royalty of Jesus, see for example Mark 15:18-19, this is precisely what is meant by the phrase ἔξελθε ἀπ᾽ ἐμοῦ in Luke 5:8, see for example Luke 8:46. Jesus had personal influence on Peter, now Peter feels divine virtue.

In this specific case the word 'Kurios/Kyrie' was not used interchangeably with 'epistates' for Jesus.

Peter puns on the standard construction "adjective normal + εἰμι + κύριε" which exalts the Lord God to express the divinity of Jesus. Vide Exod. 30:10; Lev. 6:22; 10:19; Num. 6:8; Deut. 7:6; 14:2, 21; 1 Chr. 29:10; Est. 4:17; 5:2; Tob. 3:2, 11; Tbs. 3:2; Ps. 88:9; 118:12, 137; Odes 7:26; 8:52; 14:34, 36-38; Isa. 19:21; 24:15; Jer. 12:1; Lam. 1:18; Dan. 3:26, 52; Dat. 3:26, 52; Bel. 1:41; Bet. 1:41;

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