Lord

The New Testament is clear on Jesus being God. Obviously, certain groups, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, will attempt to deny this, but it is a hopeless task. The most obvious problem with the attempt to deny the deity of Jesus comes not from individual “proof” texts, any more than the idea of monotheism is dependent on single, individual proof texts.

Rather, it becomes obvious simply from watching how the New Testament treats and describes Jesus. Though never losing sight of his humanity, he is also treated in ways that no human being would ever be treated in a Jewish context.

The most obvious of these is the use of the word “Lord.” For moderns, we tend to equate the term with the word “boss” or perhaps we will think in terms of the British honorific used for men who have been knighted, or the “ten lords a-leaping” of the song, The Seven Days of Christmas. Likewise, the phrase “lords and ladies” easily comes to mind.

But none of the modern, English concepts for the word “lord” is the equivalent of the Jewish understanding of it at the time the New Testament was written. For Jewish people of that time, the word “Lord” was the same as saying “God.” And in fact, to a large extent, in Judaism, it remains that way.

In the Ten Commandments, God told his people not to take his name in vain. Following the Babylonian captivity of the sixth century BC, the Jewish people understood that they had been taken from their land because of their failure to abide by the Law. Therefore, they wanted to ensure that they would never, ever violate any of God’s commandments. As they thought about it, the decided that if they could make up some added rules that were easy to abide by, more strict even than the rules that God had established, then they would never have to worry about disobeying God. So, they built “hedges” around the Law. So, since God said not to take his name in vain, that is, to never speak it in a way that was dishonoring, how better to ensure that the Law was followed than by simply never speaking his name at all, under any circumstances.

Thus, it became customary to never speak God’s name “Yah-weh,” what in some English translations shows up as “Jehovah.” Whenever they came upon God’s name in the Bible, instead of speak-ing it, they instead would use a Hebrew or Aramaic word which we translate into English with the word “Lord”: Adonai. In fact, this tradition is so strong, that even today, almost all translations of the Old Testament in English use the word “Lord” written all in capital letters, whenever the name of God appears in the text.

Therefore, the word “Lord” in Jewish thinking is equivalent to “God.” In fact, in the Roman Empire, people were expected to affirm on an annual basis that “Caesar was Lord.” Jewish people and Christians both refused to do this and some died as a consequence.

The fact that Jesus is regularly referred to as “Lord” in the New Testament, therefore, makes abundantly clear that in the minds of the New Testament’s authors, Jesus was believed to be God.

On a side note: there is a movement among some Christians known as “Lordship salvation.” It rather obviously is nonsensical, given that it is at least partially derived from a misunderstanding of the word “Lord” in the New Testament–let alone its problems with a severe legalism that borders on salvation by works rather than by grace.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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