Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an
idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one." 1
Corinthians 8:4 (ESV)
Paul was comparing the one God (eis theos) with the idols, false gods. Paul said that this gods existed in heaven and on earth. He them goes to identify the gods in heaven as many gods and the gods in the earth as many lords. In the Greco-Roman world, gods were usually in heaven yet Paul seemed to be aware of Imperial Cult wherein Emperors were regarded as gods on earth.
For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as
indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"-- (ibid. 5).
gods in heaven (''many gods'')
gods on earth (''many lords'')
The ordinary sense of kurios is ''lord/master'' which does not carry any connotation of the title referring to being divine. However, the context in which Paul applied this Greek word necessitate this understanding since in ancient Rome "the lords are gods".
The Many Lords
In ancient Rome, the emperors hold the title dominus ('lord'). (source). In the first century, there was an Imperial Cult wherein emperors were deified. Thus, the lords in ancient Rome were demeed as gods in the earth.
According to Donald L. Wasson (Roman Religion, 2013) ''there was the Imperial Cult. The idea of deification of the emperor came during the time of Emperor Augustus. He resisted the Senate’s attempts to name him a god during his reign as he thought himself the son of a god, not a god. Upon his death, the Roman Senate rewarded him with deification which was an honor that would be bestowed upon many of his successors.''
A deceased emperor held worthy of the honor could be voted a state
divinity (divus, plural divi) by the Senate and elevated as such in an
act of apotheosis. (Source).
Also, Emperor worship existed in first century Rome.
''Emperor worship first appeared in Palestine during the reign of
Herod the Great.'' (Source).
Such an instance is recorded by Luke in Acts 12.
1 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat
upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people
were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Acts
The one Lord
In Hebrew, the God of Israel is commonly referred to as Adonai (''Lord'').
Adonai ( אֲדֹנָי, lit. "My Lords") is the plural form of adon ("Lord")
along with the first-person singular pronoun enclitic. As with Elohim,
Adonai's grammatical form is usually explained as a plural of majesty.
In the Hebrew Bible, it is nearly always used to refer to God
(approximately 450 occurrences).(Source)
The Jews substituted this word for the Tetragram.
According to Jewish Law, Jews are forbidden to say the name of God
(YAHWEH). Instead of saying it as it is written, Jews are commanded
to replace it with the word adonai which means "Lord". To indicate
this, the Hebrew text shows the letters of Yahweh, but with the vowel
pointing of Adonai. (Source).
It is well known that the exilic Jews had "Kyrios" (Lord) as the substitute for the Sacred Name in Greek.
The Dead Sea Scrolls contain one Greek copy of Leviticus where YHWH is
replaced with the Greek letters IAO. In the vast majority of
Septuagint manuscripts, the name YHWH is absent entirely, with the
word "Lord" in its place. (Source).
The NT having been written in Greek, followed the Septuagint in its traditional use of substituting kurios for the divine name.
According to a New Testament Scholar and Historian of Early Christianity Larry Hurtado, the name that was given to Jesus Christ in Philippians 2:9 was the Sacred Name.
Mr. Carr’s question (what is “the name above every name” given to
Jesus in Philip. 2:9-11) is one that every commentator on the passage
engages, and there are several proposals. In the main, however,
scholars judge that the title given is specifically “Kyrios” (in
ordinary Greek: “lord/master”), particularly because the acclamation
in v. 11 is “Kyrios Iesous Christos” (“Lord Jesus Christ”, or perhaps
“Jesus Christ [is] Lord”).
A slightly variant form of the acclamation (“Kyrios Iesous”) is
reflected elsewhere (Rom. 10:9-10; 1 Cor 12:3). Moreover, most judge
that the Aramaic liturgical formula in 1 Cor 16:22 (“Maran atha” =
“O/our Lord, come!”) is an artifact of Aramaic-speaking Jewish circles
of believers in which Jesus was acclaimed and/or invoked as “Lord”.
It is widely held that “Kyrios Iesous (Christos)” may represent the
earliest identifiably Christian confession/creed. Note that in 1 Cor
1:2 Paul refers to believers universally in the simple descriptive as
“all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus
Christ”, alluding to the ritual practice of collective
“confession/invocation” of Jesus, which was done as part of the rite
of baptism, and likely also collectively to constitute the worship
The “calling upon” Jesus’ name in baptism seems to have been a
response to what earliest believers believed was God’s action in
installing Jesus as “Kyrios”, the one in whom now salvation is
bestowed. Considerable research on the rite in its ancient Roman
setting suggests that it included the idea of the baptized being now
made the religious property of Jesus.
Hebrews 1:1-4 refers also to Jesus “having inherited a name superior
(to the angels)”, and in this passage too commentators explore what
the author meant. For in Heb 1 there is a strong emphasis on Jesus’
divine sonship, leading some to wonder if “Son” is the name/title
here. My own educated guess is that the author (writing as he/she was
to fellow long-time Christians) alludes to the established view of
Jesus as given the “Kyrios/Maryah” title at his
The further question is what the title connoted. That too is a subject
of considerable discussion/investigation. I have learned from modern
semantics theory that words are to be understood in sentences, which
means that the meaning of “kyrios” should be decided on a
sentence-by-sentence basis. I see varying connotations in varying
sentences in the NT. In some cases, Philip 2:9-11 one of them,
“Kyrios” seems to = the divine name (“the name above every name”), in
this passage Jesus made to share in it (with God “the Father”).
In 1 Corinthians 8:6, we see also a clear allusion being made by Paul from the Shema.
Here Paul was identifying Jesus to share in the Sacred Name "Kyrios" which is evidently a High Christology. Paul was putting Jesus Christ on equal level with the Father (who is known as the only true God) against idols (gods and lords of contemporary Rome). The Father and Jesus are of the same nature (most expressly in English: "con substantial") since elsewhere Paul explicitly talked about gods who were not gods by nature (Greek: physis). (Source). Both the Father and Jesus were eternal as they were separated by Paul against "all things".
Eis Kyrios/eis theos = equally monotheistic divine names
Jesus Christ sharing the divine name of the Shema with the Father is Paul's own way to share to his readers that he believed that Jesus was a monotheistic deity by being ontologically equal to the Father. John himself had his own way of evincing Christ's deity by utilising the Logos teaching of his day without resorting to polytheism. See Philo of Alexandria's concept of the Logos as a 'second God'' (Greek: deuteros theos). (Source).
IPaul calls Jesus "one Lord" and the Father "one God". He had no problem equally identifying the two distinct persons ("selves") as fully divine by addressing them with sacred names. He just carefully ascribed monotheism to both by calling them with truly divine names. This is clearly proto-orthodox high Christology. In the later centuries, the language (not the concept) of consubstantiality (Gree: homoousios) was utilised in order to succinctly explain how they were not two different gods.
Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240 AD) held to this same stance.
I shall follow the apostle [Paul], so that if the Father and the Son are alike to be invoked, I shall call the Father "God" and invoke
Jesus Christ as "Lord."
But when Christ alone [is invoked], I shall be able to call him
"God." As the same apostle says, "Of whom is Christ, who is over all,
God blessed forever" [Rom. 9:5].
For I should give the name of "sun" even to a sunbeam, considered
by itself. But if I were mentioning the sun from which the ray
emanates, I would certainly withdraw the name of sun from the mere
beam. For although I do not make two suns, still I shall reckon both
the sun and its ray to be as much two things—and two forms of one
undivided substance—as God and his Word, as the Father and the Son.
(Against Praxeas Chapter 13).
Notice also that this tradition existed until the Nicene Council of 325 A.D. (''We believe in one God, the Father ...and in one Lord, Jesus Christ...'').
The Many Gods in Heaven: Who were they?
It is also helpful to touch on the gods in heaven part of 1 Cor. 8 since it would help us to have comparative analysis with the gods on earth which we already had substantiated as the emperors.
Since Paul had explicitly addressed that the idols were receiving offerings (ie. worship) from people, these gods in heaven couldn't refer to the angels in Hebrew tradition which was also named 'gods' in the Septuagint (Deu 32:8 and Psalm 82 & 89) since cult of the angels in ancient Israel didn't probably exist.
In Intertestamental Judaism, worship of angels is not found, but a developed angelology, angelic hierarchies, and the invocation of
angels is found. For example, the Maccabean fighters invoked the
unnamed angel that earlier in the days of Hezekiah had destroyed the
army of Sennacherib.(Source).
The heavenly gods in 1 Cor 8 could only be those who were in the Greco-Roman pantheon. We see an instance of this in Acts.
8 Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He
was crippled from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul
speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had
faith to be made well,[b] 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on
your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 11 And when the crowds
saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in
Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!”
12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the
chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the
entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and
wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles
Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out
into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things?
We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news,
that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made
the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In
past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.
17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by
giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your
hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely
restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. Acts