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Kyrios or kurios (Ancient Greek: κύριος, romanizedkýrios) is a Greek word which is usually translated as "lord" or "master".[1] It is used in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew scriptures, and it appears in the Koine Greek New Testament about 740 times, usually referring to Jesus.[2][3][4][5]

In Classical Athens, the word kyrios referred to the head of the household (oikos), who was responsible for his wife, children, and any unmarried female relatives.

Classical Greece[edit]

In Classical Athens, the word kyrios referred to the head of the household,[6] who was responsible for his wife, children, and any unmarried female relatives. It was the responsibility of the kyrios to arrange the marriages of his female relatives,[7] provide their dowries, represent them in court, if necessary,[8] and deal with any economic transactions they were involved in worth more than a medimnos of barley.[9] When an Athenian woman married, her husband became her new kyrios.[10] The existence of the system of kurioi elsewhere in ancient Greece is debated, and the evidence is not clear-cut, but Cartledge has argued that in Sparta kurioi existed, although in Gortyn they do not appear to have done.[11]

The term "κύριος" is still in use in the Modern Greek language and is the equivalent to the English terms "mister" (title conferred on an adult male), "master" (someone who has control over something or someone), and "sir" (an address to any male). For example, the English term "Mr. Smith" is translated to "κύριος Σμίθ" (kyrios Smith) in Greek.

New Testament[edit]

Kyrios appears about 700 times in the New Testament, usually referring to Jesus.[12] The use of kyrios in the New Testament has been the subject of debate among modern scholars, and three schools of thought exist on that topic. The first school is that based on the Septuagint usage, the designation is intended to assign to Jesus the Old Testament attributes of God. The reasoning here is that at the time that the Septuagint was written, when reading out loud Jews pronounced Adonai, the Hebrew word for "Lord", when they encountered the name of God, "YHWH", which was thus translated into Greek from 3rd century CE onwards in each instance as kyrios and theos.[13] Also, the early Christians, the majority of whom were speakers of Greek, would have been deeply familiar with the Septuagint. The second school is that as the early Church expanded, Hellenistic influences resulted in the use of the term. The third is that it is a translation of the Aramaic title Mari applied to Jesus.[14] In everyday Aramaic, Mari was a very respectful form of polite address, well above "teacher" and similar to rabbi. In Greek this has at times been translated as kyrios. While the term Mari expressed the relationship between Jesus and his disciples during his life, Christians eventually came to interpret the Greek kyrios as representing lordship over the world.[15]

The Gospel of John seldom uses kyrios to refer to Jesus during his ministry, but does so after the Resurrection, although the vocative kyrie (meaning sir) appears frequently.[16] The Gospel of Mark never applies the term kyrios as a direct reference to Jesus, unlike Paul who uses it 163 times.[17] When Mark uses kyrios (e.g., in 1:3, 11:9, 12:11, etc.) it is in reference to YHWH/God. Mark does, however, use the word in passages where it is unclear whether it applies to God or Jesus, e.g., in 5:19 or 11:3.[17]

Kyrios is a key element of the Christology of Apostle Paul. Most scholars agree that the use of kyrios, and hence the Lordship of Jesus, predated the Pauline Epistles, but that Saint Paul expanded and elaborated on that topic.[14] More than any other title, kyrios defined the relationship between Jesus and those who believed in him as Christ: Jesus was their Lord and Master who was to be served with all their hearts and who would one day judge their actions throughout their lives.[18]

The kyrios title for Jesus is central to the development of New Testament Christology, for the early Christians placed it at the center of their understanding and from that center attempted to understand the other issues related to the Christian mysteries.[19]

In some cases, when reading the Hebrew Bible, the Jews would substitute Adonai (my Lord) for the Tetragrammaton, and they may have also substituted Kurios when reading to a Greek audience. Origen refers to both practices in his commentary on Psalms (2.2). The practice was due to the desire not to overuse the name of God. Examples of this can be seen in Philo.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ κύριος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. ^ The Christology of the New Testament by Oscar Cullmann 1959 ISBN 0-664-24351-7 pages 234-237 [1]
  3. ^ The Bauer lexicon, 1979 edition
  4. ^ Philip Schaff. "LORD". New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. VII: Liutprand - Moralities. p. 21.
  5. ^ Archibald Thomas Robertson. "10". Word Pictures in the New Testament - Romans.
  6. ^ Schaps, D.M. (1998). "What Was Free about a Free Athenian Woman?". Transactions of the American Philological Society. 128: 164.
  7. ^ Pomeroy, Sarah B. (1994). Goddesses, whores, wives and slaves : women in classical antiquity. London: Pimlico. p. 64. ISBN 9780712660549.
  8. ^ Goldhill, Simon. "Representing Democracy: Women at the Great Dionysia". In Osborne, Robin; Hornblower, Simon (eds.). Ritual, Finance, Politics: Athenian Democratic Accounts Presented to David Lewis. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 357.
  9. ^ Foxhall, Lin (1989). "Household, Gender, and Property in Classical Athens". The Classical Quarterly. 39 (1): 22–44. doi:10.1017/S0009838800040465.
  10. ^ Pomeroy, Sarah B. (1994). Goddesses, whores, wives and slaves : women in classical antiquity. London: Pimlico. p. 62. ISBN 9780712660549.
  11. ^ Cartledge, Paul (1981). "Spartan Wives: Liberation or License?". The Classical Quarterly. 31 (1): 100. doi:10.1017/S0009838800021091.
  12. ^ Eugene E. Carpenter; Philip Wesley Comfort (2000). Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew Words Defined and Explained. B&H Publishing Group. p. 326. ISBN 9780805493528.
  13. ^ George Howard. "The Tetragram and the New Testament", included in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 6, Edited by David Noel Freedman Anchor Bible: New York. 1992 ISBN 978-0385261906
  14. ^ a b Mercer dictionary of the Bible by Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard 1998 ISBN 0-86554-373-9 pages 520-525 [2]
  15. ^ The Christology of the New Testament by Oscar Cullmann 1959 ISBN 0-664-24351-7 page 202 [3]
  16. ^ The theology of the Gospel of John by Dwight Moody Smith 1995 ISBN 0-521-35776-4 page 89
  17. ^ a b The Gospel to the Romans: the setting and rhetoric of Mark's Gospel by Brian J. Incigneri 2003 ISBN 90-04-13108-6 pages 168-169
  18. ^ II Corinthians: a commentary by Frank J. Matera 2003 ISBN 0-664-22117-3 pages 11-13
  19. ^ Christology: Biblical And Historical by Mini S. Johnson, 2005 ISBN 81-8324-007-0 pages 229-235 [4]
  20. ^ Encountering the manuscripts: an introduction to New Testament paleography by Philip Comfort 2005 ISBN 0-8054-3145-4 page 209

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