The Lordship of Jesus the Messiah

In keeping with my emphasis on the titles given to Jesus of Nazareth in the NT, I now want to look at the title of Jesus which is predominant in the NT, that of Lord. It has been and is now assumed, by the vast majority of Christians, that this designation given to Jesus the Messiah connotes that he is God himself. In this study I will show the fallaciousness of this reasoning.

The main argument used by apologists for the deity of Christ, regarding the application of the title Lord to Jesus in the NT, is that the Greek word for Lord, as applied to Jesus in the NT, kurios, is the word used in the Septuagint (LXX) to translate the Tetragrammaton, the divine name Yahweh. It is said that this was a common practice among the Jews of that time and so when the NT writers used kurios of Jesus, they were identifying him as Yahweh. Let’s take a look at this assertion to see if it holds water.

Kurios & Adonai

The main problem with this argument (that basically the Greek word kurios is equivalent to Yahweh) is that it assumes that kurios is a translation of Yahweh or a special way of referring to Yahweh, but it is not. Kurios is actually the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew adon. According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon, adon means ‘lord’ or ‘master.’ It has reference to both God and men. With reference to men the word is used:

  • of husbands – Gen. 18:12; Judges 19:28
  •  of a father – Gen. 31:35
  • of the owner of property – 1 Kings 16:24
  • of prophets – 1 Kings 18:7; 2 Kings 2:3; 4:16
  • of a priest – 1 Sam. 1:15
  • of kings – 1Sam.24:6; 26:15-16; 2 Sam. 9:11
  • of visiting strangers – Gen. 19:1-2; Gen. 24:18
  • of Abraham, as a mighty chief (by the Hittites in Canaan) – Gen. 23:6
  • of Abraham, by Eliezer his servant – Gen. 24:35
  • of Joseph, as Pharaoh’s vice-regent – Gen. 45:8-9
  • of slave owners – Exodus 21:1-6
  • of Moses, by Joshua – Numbers 11:28

These are just some of the applications of adon to men, and as you can see there is a wide range of usage. It seems to be used when one addresses or speaks about someone who has some level of authority over them, or someone of superior rank, to show recognition of and/or submission to that authority. The only exception would be when it is used as a polite address, as with visiting strangers above. The main ways that English versions translate the word is ‘lord’, ‘master’, and as a polite address, ‘sir’.

Now this word is used of God in it’s emphatic form adonai some 435 times in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. Adonai is the plural of adoni (my lord), but like the plural Elohim, when used of Yahweh, it is not a numerical plural but an intensive plural, signifying supremacy, i.e. Yahweh is the supreme Lord. It must be understood that the original Hebrew text had no vowels, just consonants. It was the Masoretes who added the vowel points sometime around 900 CE. The difference in the vowel pointing of adonai and adoni was meant to distinguish between divine and human references of adon. The divine references were given the plural form adonai, again, denoting supremacy not number. In the original Hebrew text there would have been no distinction between adoni and adonai. Appearing with just consonants they would have looked the same. There is good evidence to suggest that the form adonai was simply a scribal invention, not only to distinguish divine references, but also as a substitute for the divine name, the Tetragrammaton. In fact, the Masoretic manuscripts contain a list of 134 verses in which adonai was substituted for the Tetragrammaton .

Let’s look now at the Greek word kurios. The Lidell-Scott-Jones lexicon gives as the primary definition, ” of persons, having power or authority over.” This word has essentially the same range of use as does the Hebrew adon, which is why it was used by the LXX translators to translate adon and it’s cognates. As with adon, kurios is used of both God and men. In the New Testament it is used:

  • of husbands – 1 Peter 3:6
  • of a father – Matt. 21:29-30
  • of the owner of property – Matt. 21:40; Mark 13:35
  • of kings – Matt. 18:23,25,32; Acts 25:26
  • of strangers –  (as a polite address) – John 4:11; 9:36; 12:21; 20:15; Acts 16:30
  • of Pontius Pilate (by the chief priests and Pharisees) – Matt. 27:62-63
  • of slave owners – Matt. 25:19,21; Acts 16:16,19; Eph.6:5; Col.4:1
  • of one of the 24 elders around the throne – Rev. 7:14
  • of Jesus the Messiah – Matt. 8:2,6,8; Lk. 10:1; John 11:3; Phil. 2:11 and numerous other passages
  • of God, the Father (Yahweh) – Matt. 2:15; 11:25; Luke 1:28,32,58; 5:17; Acts 4:26,29; Rom. 4:8 and numerous other passages
  • as a substitute for Yahweh when OT passages are cited – Rom. 9:29; 11:34; 1 Cor. 3:20 and many other passages

In the Septuagint kurios is used to translate adon/adoni in all of the OT passages cited above, and indeed in every occurrence of those words. It was also used as a substitute for the Tetragrammaton (YHWH), although it should be noted that the earliest copies of the LXX contain the Hebrew characters of the Tetragrammaton. So we can see that the word kurios, as used in the NT and the LXX, is not simply a designation for Yahweh but has a wide range of usage .

But why was it used as a substitute for Yahweh in the NT? This stems from the practice among the Jews, when reading the Scriptures out loud, to substitute the word adonai where the Scripture reads Yahweh. This practice then further developed into not even writing the divine name, hence the substitution in later manuscripts of the LXX. The writers of the NT apparently simply followed this practice. But this in no way implies that every use of kurios in the NT is a reference to God, as the above examples prove. In other words, the word kurios does not simply mean God. We cannot just assume that because Jesus is called kurios i.e. lord, in the NT, that he is therefore being identified as Yahweh himself. We must look carefully at this title as it is applied to Jesus to determine which of the many meanings could apply. In fact, I do not believe that every time Jesus is designated ‘Lord‘ in the NT, that it has the same meaning in each case.

Jesus as Lord in the Gospels

I am sure that most Christians, of the orthodox, evangelical kind, just assume that when they see Jesus being called ‘Lord’ in the Gospels, and then see him called ‘Lord’ in the epistles, that there is no distinction in meaning. I myself saw it that way all of my Christian life until just recently, having taken a closer look at how the title was applied to Jesus in the Gospels. Many different people in the Gospels address Jesus by this title; his apostles, those from among the larger group of disciples, those seeking healing, those to whom he was a stranger, and of course Jesus refers to himself by this title.

The first thing I want to point out is the use of ‘Lord‘ applied to Jesus as a Rabbi or Teacher. There are two incidents in the gospels which illustrate this point. First, the incident when Jesus calms the storm, found in Matt. 8:23-27, Mark 4:36-41, and Luke 8:22-25. Jesus and the Twelve are on the lake in a boat. Jesus is asleep when a furious storm comes upon them. In Matthews account the disciples cry out, Lord save us! We’re going to drown.” Mark’s account has the disciples say, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown.” And then in Luke  we have, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown.” Here we have parallel passages where each of the authors use a different title by which the disciples were said to address Jesus. This shows that these terms were interchangeable.  The word in Matthew’s account is kurios; in Mark’s account the word is didaskalos which simply means ‘teacher‘; and in Luke’s the word is epistates which originally referred to one who was set over, but in NT usage was equivalent to ‘teacher‘ or ‘rabbi.’ This becomes even more obvious when we compare Luke 9:49 with Mark 9:38, where again these words are used interchangeable.

The second incident is the transfiguration, found in Matt. 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8 , and Luke 9:28-36. After Jesus is transfigured, Peter addresses Jesus. Again each of the authors of the gospels use a different word in Peter’s address — Matthew once again uses kurios, Luke again uses epistates, but Mark uses rhabbi, which means Rabbi, a title used of respected Jewish teachers. So from these two incidents we can see that among the Jews of Jesus’ day, a teacher could be addressed by their disciples as Lord, Teacher, Master, or Rabbi. What this shows us is that at least some of the times, if not most, when the disciples and others address Jesus as ‘Lord‘ it was a way of showing respect to him as a Rabbi. Besides the passage in Mark 9, Jesus is addressed as Rabbi 11 other times in the gospels; as Teacher some 40 other times; as Master a total of 7 times. It is only reasonable to conclude from this that most of the times, in the gospels, when Jesus is called ‘Lord‘, it is done so with respect to him being a Rabbi/Teacher. One last passage to drive home this point:

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet.”   John 13:13-14

Another use of ‘Lord‘ with reference to Jesus, in the gospels, is as an address of respect and honor as a prophet, the man of God, God’s spokesman. We saw this usage with adon in the OT, where both Elijah and Elisha were addressed as ‘lord.’ This is no doubt the sense which the word bears on the lips of many who came to Jesus seeking healing for themselves or someone else. We know that Jesus was considered to be a prophet by the people who came out to see and hear him {Matt. 21:11,46; Lk. 7:16; 24:19; John 6:14; 7:40; 9:17}. So some who came to Jesus and addressed him as ‘lord’, did so with this understanding; they most certainly would not have thought him to be Yahweh himself. In this category I would place the following:

  • the centurion – Matt. 8:5-13
  • the leper – Luke 5:12-13
  • the father with the demon-possessed boy – Matt. 17:14-18
  • the royal official – John 4:46-53

The next use of the title ‘Lord‘ with reference to Jesus is as a form of respectful address to a stranger. In these cases most versions do not translate kurios as ‘Lord‘ but as ‘Sir‘, because the translators understand that in these cases the people speaking do not even know who Jesus is. Examples of this usage are found in:

  • John 4, in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan women – Jn. 4:11,15,19
  • John 5, in the story of the healing of the paralytic man – Jn. 5:7
  • John 9, in the story of the healing of the man born blind – Jn. 9:36

The final use of the title ‘Lord’ with reference to Jesus is as a title of honor and acknowledgement of his authority as the ‘son of David’, the LORD’s anointed one, the rightful heir to the throne of Israel. This is coincident with the usage of the Hebrew adon/adoni, as noted above, with reference to the kings of Israel.

* In fact, we must remember, that the manuscripts of the gospels that we have are written in Greek, but this does not mean that Jesus and his disciples and the people in general were speaking Greek. Many Jews at that time would probably have known enough Greek to get by in commerce with the many Gentiles they would have had contact with, but among themselves they most assuredly spoke Hebrew or, at least, Aramaic. Therefore when we see the word kurios on the lips of a Jew, whether Jesus, his disciples or those in the crowds who came to Jesus, we should recognize behind it the Hebrew adon , or perhaps the Aramaic marya’. *

In this category I would place:

  • the two blind men – Matt. 9:27-31
  • the Canaanite woman – Matt. 15:21-28
  • the blind man outside of Jericho – Lk. 18:35-43 {compare with Matt. 20:29-34}

Notice that in each of these cases, they not only call Jesus ‘Lord,’ but also ‘son of David,’ which is a Messianic title. This shows a recognition on their part that Jesus was more than just a Rabbi or even a prophet, but was indeed the LORD’s anointed one, the Messiah.

In this category also, would be some of the occurrences of the disciples’ use of ‘Lord’ with reference to Jesus. We have already seen their use of the title with reference to Jesus as a Rabbi/Teacher, and how they certainly regarded him as such. But it is also certain that at some point in Jesus’ ministry they came to see him as more than that — as the Messiah, the one chosen to sit on David’s throne and rule over the house of Israel. Examples of this would be:

  • Matt. 16:22 – just after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah
  • John 11:21,27 – Martha acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah in this context
  • probably any use of the title for Jesus after his resurrection.

Of course there is no way to be absolutely certain, in each occurrence, of how they used the designation. It seems that they fluctuated back and forth; at high points, where Jesus’ Messiahship was clear to them , they used the title to denote that. But it seems that even after moments like that, they reverted back to simply using the title to denote his authority as a Rabbi /Teacher.

The point of this collation of data from the gospels is to show that we cannot just presume that every time Jesus is addressed as ‘Lord‘ by people in the gospel accounts, that they intended it as an acknowledgement that he was Yahweh in human form. In fact, I contend that the title is never once used of Jesus with that thought in mind. It is doubtful that any Jew encountering Jesus during his ministry would have ever thought such a thing. Again, he was certainly regarded as a great Teacher, as a great prophet, and even as the promised Messiah, but never as God himself.

Messiah, David’s Lord

Before we leave the gospels, I want to look at a passage which is often claimed by apologists to be a clear statement of Jesus’ supposed deity. The passage is found in the three synoptic gospels at Matthew 22:41-46, Mark 12:35-37 and Luke 20:41-44. It is posited that in this pericope Jesus is asserting his deity through the title ‘Lord‘, drawn from Psalm 110:1. The psalm was definitely considered Messianic by the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who also held to the Scriptural truth that Messiah was to be the ‘son of David.’ But Jesus points out to them that David calls the Messiah ‘Lord‘ (Heb. adoni) and then asks how this can be if he is David’s son. The assumption of the Trinitarians is that the only way that David’s son could also be his Lord, is if this son existed before David as deity. But this is simply reading one’s presupposition into the text. So you apologists are telling us that there is no other possible way for David’s son to also be his Lord except by being God? How absurd! This is what an uncritical acceptance of tradition does — it stifles thought.

First off, the Hebrew of Psalm 110:1 reads, YHWH says to my adon … ” This is not one person in God speaking to another person in God. That would be eisegesis, plain and simple. The text is simply saying, “YHWH says to my lord (Messiah) … ” ; nothing hard to understand about that; no mystery to unravel!

But what was Jesus’ point when he said, “… how then can he be his son?” It almost sounds as if Jesus is denying that Messiah is David’s son. But this is impossible, for everywhere in the NT it is asserted that he is David’s son { Matt. 1:1; 21:9,15-16; Lk. 1:31-33; 3:23-38; Acts 2:29-30; 13:22-23; Rom.1:3; 1Tim. 2:8; Rev. 5:5; 22:16}. What Jesus is simply asking, I believe, is how can David call his son ‘Lord.’ In that culture a son could call his father lord, but a father would never call his son lord. The fact that David calls the Messiah ‘Lord‘ implies a superior status, a supremacy of role, not a higher ontological nature. This is something, apparently, the teachers of the law never considered. Perhaps in their mind David, in the resurrection, would not be inferior to the Messiah, and that Messiah might even bow down in reverence and honor to his great and notable ancestor. We do not know everything that these people believed concerning the Messiah, but it seems clear that Jesus is challenging some misconception of theirs. Now Trinitarians think that misconception is that the Messiah would be merely a descendant of David, when in fact he would be eternal God. But actually all that is demanded by what Jesus asked is a supremacy of status or role, not a superior nature. That is just assumed by the Trinitarian.

Can we think of anything in the NT which would point to how it is that this ‘son of David’ would be superior to his ancestor? How about the fact that he has the privilege of being the first to be raised from among the dead ,i.e. made immortal. Paul tells us in Colossians 1:18, ” … he (Messiah) is the beginning , the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he should be preeminent.” Now the Jews probably believed that the Messiah, when he came, would remain with them forever. In fact, this is what John reports them as saying in John 12:32-34. So they would not have understood that Messiah would even die, much less be raised from the dead. And even if some of them did envision a death for the Messiah, they most assuredly would not have thought that he would be raised from the dead separate from and prior to all the righteous. So Jesus, being the first to be raised immortal, becomes the prototype of the new humanity, so that when the rest of the righteous are raised they will be fashioned like him {see Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:21,45-49; 1 John 3:2}. In this way the Messiah holds the first place, the highest position in God’s household. Certainly this accounts for how David could address his descendant as Lord.

Jesus as Lord in the Book of Acts

I will not look at every occurrence of the title ‘Lord’ as applied to Jesus, but only those that are relevant to a correct understanding of what the title is meant to signify. In this vein most assuredly is 2:36, which reads:

“Therefore let all the house of Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

Now this passage should be definitive for ascertaining in what sense Jesus is designated ‘Lord.’ If the title, applied to Jesus, is supposed to tell us he is Yahweh (based on the apologists argument that because kurios is used in place of ‘Yahweh‘ in the NT and Jesus is called kurios), then how can Peter say that God i.e.Yahweh, made Jesus Lord. Pardon me, maybe I,m just not seeing it, but if ‘Lord‘ is designating Jesus as Yahweh, then he would have been Lord from all eternity. But Peter is clearly telling his audience that this Jesus was made Lord by another, i.e. God. Think with me for a moment on this. Can you think of any passage in the Scripture that depicts God the Father as being made Lord. No, I can’t either. In fact you would not even expect to find such a thing said about God our Creator. By virtue of who he is, he just is Lord and no one would have to make him or appoint him as such. If someone were to make him Lord then that one would have to be greater than him. But when it comes to Jesus, who according to Trinitarians is eternal God, some just throw reason out the window, insisting that because Jesus is called ‘Lord‘ we must believe he is God, ignoring the truth that Jesus was made ‘Lord’ by one greater than he.

Now let’s look at the context. Peter says, “God has made this Jesus … ” What Jesus? The one he has been presenting to the crowd, starting back at verse 22, where he says,

“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.”

*Note what Peter does not say but what Trinitarians do say. He did not say, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, a man who proved himself to be God to you by miracles … which he did among you.’ *

He then goes on to tell of how they put him to death but how God (someone other than Jesus) raised him from the dead {23-24, 31-32}. He also tells them in verses 29-30 that this man is a descendant of David. And finally he tells them that this man was exalted to the right hand of God (a subordinate position to God) in verses 33-35.

Notice that Peter never says anything to that crowd that would lead them to believe that this Jesus is in some way Yahweh himself. All of the language of Peter about Jesus in this message, clearly presents him as someone distinct from God, in fact, a man; a man accredited by God, whom God did miraculous things through, whom God raised from the dead; a man who God exalted to his right hand, who God made ‘Lord.’ If we did not have any other passage in the Bible to teach us in what sense Jesus is Lord, this message of Peter would be sufficient for us to know that his lordship is not connected to any supposed deity within himself.

Having perused through the book of Acts I did not see any other significant passages, where Jesus is called ‘Lord,’ that would throw light upon the nature of that lordship, except in chapter 10, in Peter’s message to the household of Cornelius. All other uses of kurios with reference to Jesus are just simple designations of him as “the Lord” or “the Lord Jesus,” and do not help to define what that means. But what I want to do is look at other things that are said about Jesus which do throw light upon the sense in which he is called ‘Lord.’ As we saw in Peter’s message in chapter 2, the positive statements made about Jesus, as well as the things that were not said about him are instructive. So let’s look at some of the other apostolic testimony in Acts.

Acts 3

In chapter three Peter and John are going to the temple when they encounter a crippled man whom they heal in the name of Jesus. This attracts a crowd to them and Peter addresses the people. The first thing of note that he says is this:

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.   v.13

In Exodus 3:16 God instructed Moses, “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers — the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — appeared to me …’ ” So we know that Peter is speaking of Yahweh. Yahweh has glorified his servant Jesus. In Trinitarianism who is Yahweh? Is Yahweh the Triune God? If so, then we have “the Triune God has glorified his servant Jesus.” But that makes no sense if Jesus is part of the Triune God. Is Yahweh Jesus himself? This, of course, is what the apologists are asserting, is the significance of Jesus being called ‘Lord.’ So then we would have,”Jesus has glorified his servant Jesus.” That doesn’t work. So Yahweh must be the Father, and only the Father (this becomes conclusive when we compare Eph.1:17 with Micah 5:4); and if so then Jesus’ being called ‘Lord‘ cannot equate to him being Yahweh. Clearly in this passage there are two distinct beings, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and his servant Jesus. Note also how Peter speaks of Jesus as the servant of Yahweh, not as Yahweh himself, like the apologists do.

In verse 14 he says:

“You disowned the Holy and Righteous one …”

Now because Trinitarian apologists seem to see evidence of the deity of Jesus where it is not in the text, I will presume that they would make something out of this verse, probably claiming that such a designation as this could only be applied to God. But I see this as simply another way of saying that Jesus is the Messiah, not that he is God. Jesus is the Holy One in the sense of being set apart for God. As the Messiah he was the LORD’s anointed, signifying his being set apart by God for a particular task. All believers are also called holy ones, though most versions obscure this by translating this same word used of Jesus as “saints,” when used of believers. For example, 1 Corinthians 1:2 reads in the ESV:

” … to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints … “

The Greek literally reads, “called holy (ones),” using the plural form of the same word used in Acts 3:14. So this is not a designation reserved only for Deity, and the mere use of this title for Jesus in no way indicates that he is such. Yes, Yahweh is called the ‘Holy One’ many times in the OT, but again, so are his chosen people called ‘holy ones,’ as in Deut. 33:3, Psalm 16:3 and 89:5. That Messiah could be called the “Holy One” without it signifying that he is God should be obvious

Peter also calls him the “Righteous One,” , and once again, although this title is applied to Yahweh {Prov. 21:12; Is. 24:16}, it is also applied to men {Is. 26:7; Hab. 2:4}. This appellation is given to Jesus two other times in the book of Acts, at 7:52 and 22:14. It also appears in 1 John 2:1. John’s use is significant because later at 3:7 he says:

” … the one practicing righteousness is a righteous one, just as he (Jesus) is a righteous one.”

But how could we be a righteous one like him, if his being a righteous one means he is God?

Next, in verse 15, Peter says:

“You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.”

What does Peter mean by referring to Jesus as the ‘author of life?’ It sounds as if he means to say that Jesus is the source of all life i.e. the Creator of life. It is because this translation of the Greek word archegos can lead the reader to this wrong conclusion, that a better translation should be sought. This misleading translation is found in the NIV, ESV and the BLB. The ASV, KJV, NASB, and the YLT all say “Prince of life.” But this does not capture the true meaning of the word either. The CSB, ISV, and HCSB have “source of life,” which, if understood correctly, might be okay. Let’s take a look at archegos. Thayer gives this meaning, “ furnishing the first cause or occasion” and “one that takes the lead in anything and thus affords an example, a predecessor in a matter, pioneer.” The HELPS Word-studies gives this definition: “properly, the first in a long procession; a file-leader who pioneers the way for many others to follow.” They also give this: “a person who is the originator or founder of a movement … i.e. pioneer leader, founding leader.” While the word is used in the LXX in the sense of head, chief or captain, none of these ideas fit well in our text. For example, what would ‘chief of life’ or ‘captain of life’ mean? One of the problems for translators is trying to find a word-for-word translation. Some Greek words cannot be adequately expressed in English with just one word, archegos being one of them. I found two versions, the NET and Darby’s translation, which both have ‘originator,‘ which is fine as long as it is understood in the sense of  ‘pioneer’ or ‘founder,’ and not as ‘creator.’

It should also be understood that the ‘life’, of which Jesus is the archegos, is not referring to original life given by God to all living creatures, but to everlasting life or immortality. Thus Jesus is the “archegos of immortality,” i.e. he is the first human being to obtain immortality by virtue of being the first human being to be raised from the dead. All who obtain the resurrection of the righteous subsequent to him will be patterned after him {see Rom.8:29; 1 Cor. 15:48-49}. Now this has direct bearing on the nature of Jesus’ lordship, for the apostle Paul tells us:

” … this one is the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, in order that he should have the preeminence in all things.”  Col. 1:18

What better definition of lordship could be given than that one would have the preeminence i.e. the first place in everything. But let us observe that his lordship is predicated not upon his being God, but upon his being the first to be raised from the dead immortal.

Acts 4

Here is a prayer offered by the believers to God in vv.24-30 which is instructive regarding our study. God is addressed as despotes once (v.24), and as kurios twice (vv.26 & 29); despotes seems to be a synonym for kurios, also meaning lord or master. On the other hand, Jesus is called God’s anointed one (vv.26-27) and God’s holy servant (vv.27 & 30). It should be obvious that the one who is the servant of another is lesser than and inferior to the one he serves, and the one who is anointed is subject to him who anoints him {see John 13:16}. Thus Jesus’ lordship is on a different level than that of God’s. I will also point out that the word used to describe Jesus as God’s servant, pais, is also used of David in verse 25.

Acts 10

In this chapter we read of Peter’s divine appointment with Cornelius, the centurion. Let’s see what we can mine out of his message to Cornelius’ household with regard to the nature of Jesus’ lordship. At the beginning of his message he says:

” … the message that (God) sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus the Messiah; this one is Lord of all.”    v.36

Peter starts off proclaiming that Jesus is “Lord of all,” so what he says about Jesus (and even what he doesn’t say about Jesus) from here on should throw light upon the nature of his lordship. I mean ‘lord of all’ could certainly denote to some people that Jesus is the highest authority there is in the universe. But if that is what Peter meant by that statement then the rest of what he says should confirm that idea.

The first thing I want to note is the distinction made, throughout his message, between God and Jesus, who are clearly presumed to be different individuals. When the NT authors want to denote Yahweh, the true God, they do so by the Greek words ho theos, which means ‘the God.’ Peter says a number of things that distinguish Jesus from “the God.’

  • the God anointed Jesus of Nazareth  v.38
  • the God was the source of Jesus’ miraculous power   v.38
  • the God raised Jesus from the dead   v.40
  • the God appointed Jesus as judge of the living and the dead   v.42

Notice that Peter never says that ‘the God‘ became a man, or took on human flesh, or was incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth, yet this is exactly what Trinitarian apologists say all the time. Why do the apostles never speak of Jesus the way that ‘orthodox’ Christians do? Peter presents his audience with two characters, the God, who we know is Yahweh, the God of Israel, and the man Jesus of Nazareth. Peter never confuses the two but keeps them distinct. Now if it was Peter’s intention to convey to his hearers this greatest of all truths of the Christian faith, that Jesus of Nazareth was in reality Yahweh himself, don’t you think he could have done so simply by telling them that he was ho theos.

As to Jesus’ lordship, I must again emphasize, that the language of Peter puts Jesus in a subordinate position to the God — Jesus is raised up by God (4:26), sent by God (4:26), is the servant of God (3:13, 4:27,30), is anointed by God (4:27, 10:38), is raised from the dead by God, and is appointed by God as judge. Now all of this definitely has bearing on Jesus’ lordship and squarely puts it under the lordship of Yahweh, Jesus’ God and Father. If Jesus’ lordship is subordinate to that of Yahweh, then we can know conclusively that when the NT authors call him ‘Lord’ they are not identifying him as Yahweh.

Acts 13

Luke records Paul’s visit to Pisidian Antioch, where on the Sabbath day he went to the synagogue and delivered a message to the Jews of that city, along with Gentile God-fearers who were present. Does Paul say anything in this message that has bearing on the nature of Jesus’ lordship? Well, he does not even use the title ‘Lord’ of Jesus at all, but again what he does say, or more importantly, what he fails to say, does help illuminate our subject.

After speaking of God’s choosing of David as king, Paul says this:

“From this man’s (David) seed, God has brought a Savior to Israel, Jesus, according to a promise.”   v.23

Here Paul identifies Jesus as a direct descendant of David. No mention is made by Paul of an incarnation of Yahweh; the clear connotation of his words are that Jesus is a member of the human race just like everyone else.

Paul then goes on to tell of Jesus’ rejection by the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem and his subsequent death. Then from vv.30-37 the focus is on God’s raising Jesus from the dead. I think that it can be said, without contradiction, that the predominate theme in all of the recorded apostolic testimony in the book of Acts, is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, by God. Yet, for the Trinitarian apologists, even this great truth plays second fiddle to the deity of Jesus; yet everywhere in the apostolic testimony in Acts, the deity of Jesus is wanting. Where is Paul shown to be reasoning from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that Jesus is Yahweh come in the flesh? No such text exists.

Acts 17 

One final text in our search of Acts for clarification of the nature of Jesus’ lordship. Here we find Paul’s message to the men of Athens gathered at the Areopagus, a completely gentile audience. In what is recorded of this message, the name of Jesus never appears, and only one thing is said about him:

“For he (God) has set a day when he (God) will judge the world with justice by the man whom he (God) appointed. He (God) has given assurance of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”   v.31

Once again, I hope it is plain for all to see, that no one hearing Paul’s words here would have inferred that this man was in fact the God who, “set the day” and “appointed” the man and who gave “assurance … to all men by raising him from the dead.”

Recap

We saw that the Hebrew word adon and the Greek word kurios are equivalent, both referring to one who has some level of power or authority over another. We saw that both words have a wide range of use relating to men and are used of Yahweh in the OT and of both the Father and Jesus in the NT. We saw that the word kurios, when applied to Jesus should not be presumed to be identifying  him as Yahweh. In fact we saw that in the Gospels and the Acts this title never even implies, much less demands, that Jesus be thought of as Yahweh.

Stay tuned for part 2, where we will examine key texts in the epistles to help us ascertain the real nature of Messiah’s lordship.

 

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Author: Troy Salinger

I am 55 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 32 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 36 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

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