This very day in King David’s hometown a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11, CEV)

This sentence announcing the birth of Jesus is very familiar to many, although the version is a little different. I am using it to introduce that final word, “Lord”. This word is an example of one which requires translators and publishers to interpret for us.

An interaction from the last days of Jesus’ time on earth contains the same word used twice but with a difference.
Then, surrounded by the Pharisees, Jesus asked them a question: “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
They replied, “He is the son of David.”
Jesus responded, “Then why does David, speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit, call the Messiah ‘my Lord’? For David said,
‘The LORD said to my Lord,
Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
    until I humble your enemies beneath your feet.’[a]
Since David called the Messiah ‘my Lord,’ how can the Messiah be his son?”
No one could answer him. And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Matthew 22:41-46 (NLT)
Almost word for word, all three synoptic Gospels include Jesus quoting the Psalm (110), as part of a conversation between himself and Pharisees in Jerusalem during that final week. In that moment at least, that particular quotation, as Jesus used it, was a conversation stopper! Nothing more to be said! Surely that was an unforgettable and loaded moment.

The three Gospels also have Jesus publicly introducing the inflammatory “Christ” word at that time. (The NLT translators have rendered that word, and pronouns, as “Messiah” - on which, see previous post re “Christ”).

I suppose then the moment was one in which you could “hear a pin drop”. Did they “hold their breath” waiting for what Jesus would say next about their “Messiah”? Was he hinting at a claim? This was Jerusalem at the time of the festival. How much would it take to get the people roused against the Romans (and the Jewish elite)? Did the governor (Pontius Pilate) have ears listening and reporting? (Very likely - how could he not?) Was there a sigh of relief as the “Christ” topic lapsed for a while until Jesus’ trial? (Then, at that juncture, despite the brevity of the account, does not Pilate appear informed on the political?)

The Psalm quotation brings up the “lord” word. The Greek Old Testament (OT) of the Psalm, known as the Septuagint (LXX), uses in both instances the one Greek word, “kurios/kyrios”. The Hebrew Psalm 110 text has different words. The first Hebrew word may be transliterated and perhaps represented by the unpronounced (see footnote) consonants “YHWH” (no vowels). The second word is the Hebrew equivalent of “lord”.

Two (at least) issues now come up. In over 6,000 places the translators of the old King James Bible represented the YHWH by “LORD”. (For example, Jeremiah includes the word over 600 times; Deuteronomy 438 times.) It is true that Exodus 6:4 says that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not know God by God’s special name (“YHWH”) - see chapters 3-6 of Exodus. However, starting from 2:4, Genesis has the “YHWH” word 141 times; note especially 12:8. Superficially at least there is a conundrum here which can yield a fertile field for exploration and theorising.

In the NT quote from the Psalm above, the NLT, like the King James Version, retains the approach of representing the Hebrew Psalm’s word, “YHWH”, by LORD, even though the Greek (LXX and NT) uses the one and the same “kyrios” word (twice). We know this Greek word as “lord”. The “lord” word is used in differing ways, as for sir/Sir in English.

Here are two simple examples of words sharing the notion of subservience but used differently: “Yes, sir”, and, “Sir Dick Jones”. The word “lord” (“kyrios”) is similarly used differently and it requires thought as applied to Jesus. Leaving aside the matter of doing full justice to the OT "LORD", notice that the use (or not) of capitalisation (Lord/lord) is interpretative - no help there in the original.

Jesus' contemporary, the powerful Roman "General" we know as Augustus reportedly would not allow the (Latin) word for "Lord" to be addressed to him.  He preferred "Caesar". This was in keeping with the public picture of his "first citizen" role being by "consent of the governed", or even desire of the citizens. (Despite expert opinion, I actually think it unlikely Augustus discouraged that word from slaves.) Jesus brought up the word "Lord": Was there a tension at that time due also to that word?

Another well-known if unrecognised example of the use of the Greek “kyrios” to represent the OT’s “YHWH” had come in the quotation on the start of Jesus’ final week. Matthew 21, verse 9 includes words from Psalm 118:
 Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
“Praise God[a] for the Son of David!
    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!
    Praise God in highest heaven!”[b] (NLT)
Once again translations take different approaches to the “kyrios”. NLT retains their Psalm rendition, though the Matthew text does not (can not) make the distinction.

Consider also this extract from the resurrection scene:
As soon as Mary said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there. But she did not know who he was. Jesus asked her, “Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener and said, “Sir, if you have taken his body away, please tell me, so I can go and get him.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him, “Rabboni.” The Aramaic word “Rabboni” means “Teacher.”
Jesus told her, “Don’t hold on to me! I have not yet gone to the Father. But tell my disciples that I am going to the one who is my Father and my God, as well as your Father and your God.” Mary Magdalene then went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord. She also told them what he had said to her. (John 20: 14-18, CEV)
The same “kyrios” (lord) word is translated as “sir” (to the supposed “gardener”) and as “Lord” - whom she had seen. Now look a little further on:
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:28-29, NRSV)
That same “kyrios” word is given greater weight in the speech of the convinced Thomas. A title for Jesus - yes - but Thomas is making a personal commitment. This same commitment with Jesus’ blessing is open to you today.

Like in the case of “Christ”, the word “Lord” was closely identified with the person of the (risen) Jesus. The newly convinced Cleopas rushed back to Jerusalem with his friend to share their news.
And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.[e] (Luke 24: 33-34, NLT)
A report from the day of Jesus’ resurrection gives one clear New Testament (NT) use of “Lord” meaning “Almighty God”, or “The God of Heaven”. In Matthew 28: 2 we have:
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. (NIV)
There was a time (or period) of ambivalence about the meaning of “Lord”, as addressed to Jesus. Here is a report from a highly significant moment:
From then on, Jesus began telling his disciples what would happen to him. He said, “I must go to Jerusalem. There the nation’s leaders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law of Moses will make me suffer terribly. I will be killed, but three days later I will rise to life.”
Peter took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that. He said, “God would never let this happen to you, Lord!”
Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Satan, get away from me! You’re in my way because you think like everyone else and not like God.” (Matthew 16: 21-23, CEV)
Peter is using the title “lord” (or, “Lord”) but - he rejects what Jesus has said and corrects him!

After the resurrection it is impossible to imagine Peter taking such an attitude. The truth about Jesus was plain to see - if one had eyes to see, that is. Still today, those with eyes to see can know him.

Here is Peter speaking for himself (post resurrection and post Pentecost):
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah,[a] this Jesus whom you crucified.Acts 2:36 (NRSV).
The book of Acts contains similar statements of conviction, as do almost all the other NT writings.

A convinced, dedicated, energetic and able man (Saul) was sincerely wrong and determined to overthrow any idea that Jesus was Lord, or Messiah, or Saviour.  He experienced an astonishing confrontation (Acts 9) and later as Paul was able to write of Jesus that he had been truly Servant and is indeed truly Lord (LORD) - see following. By reading the Gospels you may understand Jesus as the Servant of the Lord and the Lamb of God, humbly giving his life for your redemption and mine. I see the contrast between Jesus and the late Augustus' political "humility" and final end (still dominant). I wonder if Paul did not know of the Caesar's ways.

... Jesus Christ, who
though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father
Philippians 2:6-11 (NRSV)


Here now are two reports in which Jesus has severe words for community service under his “brand”, however intentioned, or even lip-service, and he has no time for trading on his title. (The same word “Lord” occurs in both places.) First see this grim warning contains a more central issue than questions about titles actually uttered…
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’  (Matthew 7:21-23, NRSV)
And we may compare Luke’s brief question:
Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? (Luke 6:46, NRSV)
Luke’s passage has similar context to Matthew's (preceeding) but is clearly not identical. We can hardly miss the similarity. (Do you know any substantial reason to exclude the possibility of Jesus saying similar things at different points in the chronology?)

The name you or I use for Jesus fades into insignificance beside what you or I do with him, what you or I do about what he said, what relationship you or I have with him (e.g., my Saviour, or the Saviour?).

The Unpronounced Name of God
The old translations understood JHVH to represent the Hebrew. Vowels (pointings) of another substituted Hebrew word (for "Lord") were attached (in the text) to the consonants. (This indicated the word to be pronounced.) Using those vowels and the consonants our translators later created our word “Jehovah”, though they included the word sparingly. More recently the representation is YHWH and the researchers believe the vowels needed are provided by rendering the name as “Yahweh”. Wld Mss rcgns tht wrd f prnncd b n f s d nt knw nd dbt thr s n wy t tll. = Would Moses recognise that word if pronounced by one of us? I do not know and doubt there is any way to tell.

Language is a multi-faceted phenomenon and other language direct equivalence and correct pronunciation are difficult. Even for those with English as their first language spoken English can be hard - ever heard someone with an impenetrable “accent”? A Scot speaking may be hard for me to understand, but if the same words are sung (eg, in a hymn) - no problem.

I find no hint in the NT that Jesus or his followers spent any time on the (puzzle of the) unpronounced name. As shown above, in their translated form, words which originally were of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are used of Jesus. 
Do not misuse my name. I am the LORD your God, and I will punish anyone who misuses my name. (Exodus 20:7, CEV)
How and when did the “unique” name of Exodus 3 become unpronounced? A puzzle indeed, to which answers are given. But, would ceasing to pronounce “God” or “Lord”, and instead using another substitute word, enable the sanction to be avoided? Is there more to it?

God is wanting those who will give their trust to communicate directly.

Scripture quotations marked (CEV) are from the Contemporary English Version Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NRSV) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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