A Closer Look:
3 Lord

By Joel Heller

What Does “Lord” Mean?

Americans rarely use the word “lord” outside of a religious context. The exception is when we refer to a landlord, the person or corporate entity to whom we pay rent for our houses. At its root, the English word lord describes a landowner, usually superior in rank to the person calling him “my lord.”

Words in other languages commonly translated lord have a broader definition than the English. Adon in Hebrew, kyrios in Greek, Herr in German, monsieur in French, and Señor in Spanish all carry the meanings divided in English among lord, mister, or sir. Informally, they can also mean boss. For example, Jesu Cristo es el Señor; Señor Gonzalez teaches Spanish at the high school; when your boss gives an instruction, you answer,¡Si, Señor!” While God can be addressed as Lord, nobody thinks that Mr. Gonzalez is God.

In Acts 9, Saul of Tarsus is knocked off his horse by a bright light and he hears a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” He answers, “Who art thou, Lord?” Some have argued that he Knew that it was “The Lord” talking to him, because he addressed the voice as Lord. But as the Commentary on this verse at biblestudytools.com says, “The term "Lord" here is an indefinite term of respect for some unknown but august speaker.” While most versions translate kyrios here as Lord, the CJB says “Sir,” the Message renders it as “Master,” and Tyndale has “lorde,” (sic) with a lower-case L.

High ranking humans are commonly addressed as “my lord” by those who owe deference. Sarah called Abraham “my lord,” (Gen 18:12) as did Ephron, from whom he bought the cave at Machpelah (Gen 23:11). Rebekah addressed Abraham’s emissary as “my lord,” while he was yet a perfect stranger. The brothers called Joseph “my lord” when all they knew of him was that he was Vizier of Egypt. There are many more occurrences of humans addressed as “my lord,” and in none of these cases is there any suggestion that the “lord” addressed is God.

When we confess that “Jesus is lord,” (Rom 10:9) all we are saying is that Yeshua is our boss. There is nothing specifically “divine” inherent in the title. If he is our boss, then we are obligated to obey his orders, instructions, commandments. His word, instruction, commandments are not his, but the Father’s Who sent him. (Jn 5:30) And his commandments are not a burden. (1 Jn 5:3) His yoke is easy and his burden is light. (Mt 11:30)

Joel Heller Profile Picture

Joel Heller is the author of Neither Yavne nor Antioch: Recovering Nazarean Judaism. He is a retired member of the Kansas Bar. In place of traditional Protestant presuppositions, he brings the common-law principles of legal interpretation to the interpretation of God’s Law, called the Torah or Nomos. You can reach him by email.