In the Old Testament. The term 'ādôn, a common Hebrew word parallel to ba’al (see baal) and signifying lord or master, is often used of persons having some kind of superiority, e.g., a king (1 Sm 24.11), a husband (Gn 18.12), or a tribal patriarch (Gn 24.10), sometimes as a polite form of address (2 Sm 1.10), but most importantly for this article as a divine epithet. In Israelite tradition there are two distinct usages, namely, as one of God's honorific titles and as a substitute for God's sacred proper name yahweh.
As an Honorific Title for God. The word 'ādôn entered into many theophoric names, e.g., Adonisedec and Adoniram (Jos 10.3; 1 Kgs 4.6), but was not used as a proper name of Israel's God, Yahweh. As a divine epithet it expressed the sovereign power and dominion of God and was often used with the definite article to mean the ultimate Lord [Ex 23.17; 34.23; Is 1.24; Mal 3.1; Ps 113 (114).7], Lord of all the earth [Jos 3.11, 13; Mi 4.13], and Lord of lords [Dt 10.17; Ps 135 (136).3]; 'ādôn was preferred to ba’al to express God's lordship since the latter was used as the proper name of many Canaanite gods.
In the period of the writing of Prophets, the title was frequently linked to the holy name of Yahweh, e.g., in Amos 19 times and in Ezechiel no less than 122 times. The Prophets thereby emphasized God's supreme authority and the subjection of Israel to God as His servant.
Substitution of the Lord for Yahweh. Because of the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple (586 b.c.), the Exile in Babylon, and the continued dispersal of the Jews throughout the Near East, a new place of worship and instruction, the synagogue, emerged where Jews faithfully recited their Psalms and had the Scriptures read and explained to them. In this environment the sacred name Yahweh was treated with growing reverence and respect, so that eventually it became too sacred even to be pronounced. When it appeared in the Sacred Text, 'ădōnāy, the Lord (plural form of 'ādôn with the first person singular possessive suffix, meaning literally my Lord), was usually substituted. This reverence for the sacred tetragrammaton was so carefully fostered during the postexilic period that Yahweh does not occur at all in Job, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Chronicles, or the second and third collections of the Psalms. The usual substitute, Adonai, itself became so revered that it acquired substitutes of its own, Heaven, Father of Heaven, the name, etc.
Because of this habitual substitution, the pronunciation of Yahweh was gradually lost. In the seventh century a.d. when a complete system of vowel signs was added to the mainly consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, the vowel signs for the word 'ădōnāy (a long "ā" to distinguish the sacred word from the profane 'ădōnay, my lords) were placed under the consonants of Yahweh in accordance with the Masora and eventually led to the erroneous transcription of Yahweh as jehovah.
A profound theological relationship between the terms Lord and Yahweh was thus established by the reverent usage of the synagogue. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, published during the second century b.c. and known as the Septuagint (LXX), bears witness to this tradition by never transcribing the sacred name but rather writing for it κύριος, the Greek translation of 'ădōnāy. The usage later led to the frequent Dominus for Yahweh in Latin versions and the Lord (usually printed in small capitals) for Yahweh in English Bibles. The substitution's most important result, however, is found in the meaning given to κύριος when it refers to Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
In the New Testament. The authors of the Gospels and Epistles whose Bible was mainly the Greek LXX continued to refer to God as "the Lord" or "Lord" and to substitute κύριος for Yahweh, but they more frequently applied the title in a specific way to Jesus Christ.
Lord Used for God. Jesus Himself and Paul called the Father Creator, "Lord of heaven and earth" (Mt 11.25; Lk 10.21; Acts 17.24), and also "the Lord of lords" (1 Tm 6.15). The title's most frequent usage for God, however, is found in its substitution for Yahweh, either with the definite article, the Lord (Mk 5.19; Lk 1.6; etc.), or without it, as God's name, Lord (Mk 13.20; Lk1.17, 58; Acts 7.49; etc.). It also substitutes for Yahweh in such expressions as the "angel of the lord" (Mt1.20; 2.13; 28.2; Lk 1.11; Acts 5.19; etc.), the "glory of Lord" (Lk 2.9), and the "Lord's handmaid" (Lk 1.38). Of course, κύριος appears in place of Yahweh also in citations from the Greek Old Testament (cf. Mt 4.7 with Dt6.16).
Lord Used for Jesus Christ. In Mark and Matthew Jesus is called "the Lord" only once (Mk 11.3, parallel to Mt 21.3; see Mk 16.19–20, a non-Marcan but inspired appendix). The vocative form κύριε is frequently applied to Him in all four Gospels but may originally have meant only "Sir." Luke refers to Him as "the Lord" (ὁ κύριος) 15 times, but this usage is commonly recognized as coming from a later stage in the Gospel tradition, when Christians began to speak of Jesus while He was on earth with the understanding that they had of Him long after Pentecost. In the fourth Gospel Jesus is called "the Lord" mainly in texts describing post-Resurrection events (Jn 20.2, etc.; "the Lord" of 6.23 and 11.2 appear to follow the Lucan usage mentioned above). Thomas's cry, "My Lord and my God" is intended as a doctrinal climax to John's Gospel, affirming the Lordship of the victorious and glorified Son of Man (Jn 20.28). It is improbable, then, that "the Lord" in its theological connotation was predicated of Jesus before His Resurrection. Until then He was called rabbi, Master, or Sir; "the Lord" was reserved for the risen Jesus.
Jesus is called Lord more than 20 times in the Acts and more than 130 times in the Pauline Epistles. Even in its earliest application there is no hint of any doctrinal innovation in the title. That Jesus is "the Lord" represents the belief of the earliest Christian communities of Jerusalem, Damascus, and Antioch. The Aramaic communities of Palestine used, of course, the title mārānā’, Our Lord (1 Cor 16.22; see maranatha). Jesus received this Lordship, according to St. Paul, because He humbled Himself by becoming obedient even to death on the cross, and therefore God exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is "Lord" for the glory of God the Father (Phil 2.8–11). In this text the name that transcends any other name is not Jesus, which He received at His circumcision, but κύριος, the substitute for the name Yahweh; and thus this ancient hymn affirms Christ's equal rank with the Father.
The Resurrection revealed Jesus to be the victor over death and sin, and to be the Prince of this world (Rom1.4), and as a result the terms by which He had formerly been designated (son of man, messiah, Master, Prophet, etc.) were now inadequate to express the new dimension that was manifested by His exaltation. "The Lord," however, was adequate to express Jesus' exaltation to the glory He had with the Father before He became flesh. It recalled Jesus' prediction that He would come with His Father's glory to judge all men (Mt 16.27; 25.31), His conundrum about the Messiah's being David's Lord (Mt 22.41–45), and His confession that He was the mysterious Son of Man who would establish God's final kingdom (Mt 26.64; cf. Dn 7.13). Jesus thus suggested even before His exaltation that His Messiahship was more than that of the awaited Davidic king and that He was Himself the divine judge, the Lord. In the light of the Resurrection His followers understood that He was really the Lord and applied to Him other passages of the Old Testament that they previously referred only to Yahweh [cf. Acts2.34–36 with Ps 109 (110); See Also 1 Cor 10.9, where "Neither tempt the Christ" may well have been the original reading, and cf. Nm 21.5–6; See Also the illation made in Acts 2.14–41, Peter's sermon at Pentecost, between vv. 21 and W. 36–39].
Unlike θεός, κύριος does not express Jesus' divine nature as much as His divine Lordship. A Christian must acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord (1 Cor 12.3) and must recognize that there is only one Lord (1 Cor 8.6). In Paul's doctrine, God the Father and the Lord Jesus are on the same level; both are divine, and the Father acts through the Lord, His Mediator.
The New Testament writers agree on the doctrine of Jesus' Lordship. Unless He was worshiped by them as the divine Lord, at the right hand of the Father, it is impossible to explain how these ardent Israelite monotheists could have attributed to Him the incommunicable name and the functions of the Lord God Yahweh.
Bibliography: p. van imschoot, Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 1369–74. l. cerfaux, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928–) 5:200–228; Christ in the Theology of St. Paul, tr. g. webb and a. walker (New York 1959). w. eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, tr. j. a. baker (Philadelphia 1961–). v. taylor, The Names of Jesus (New York 1953).
[r. t. a. murphy]
"Lord, The." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 22, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lord
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