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Chapter 14: The Indistinct Meaning of Kyrios

    We have completed an extensive study asking whether the original Greek Scripture writers used the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) or the word Kyrios (Κύριος) in 237 specific instances within the Christian Greek Scriptures. This search was primarily confined to textual and historical data. Particular emphasis was drawn to the new light available today which was unavailable to the translators of the New World Translation in the late 1940's.

    From the accumulative textual and historical evidences reported in the previous chapters, we conclude that the Tetragrammaton was never used in the Greek text by the inspired Christian writers.

    Since the Tetragrammaton was not used, we are forced to recognize that the word Kyrios carries indistinct meaning by design. In this chapter, we will examine the Greek Scripture writers' apparent use of Kyrios to refer to both Jehovah and the Lord Jesus.

Defining indistinct meaning

    We must explain why we are using the words indistinct meaning to describe the use of Kyrios in many Greek Scripture passages. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines indistinct in part as "Not sharply outlined or separable: Uncertain."

    Because God's Word is inspired, it always contains the exact meaning which Jehovah intended. Generally, precise wording is readily apparent when the text is being read. However, there are exceptions. (We will consider an exception regarding the word witness in a moment.) Yet, we are all familiar with details in prophesy which were shrouded in "uncertainty" until their fulfillment. For example, many of the events regarding Jesus' death and subsequent incidents in the life of the early Christian congregation are now recognized to have been prophetic statements from the Hebrew Scriptures. Yet, in spite of the clarity of their meaning today, the meaning of these same verses was less certain to a devout Jew living prior to Jesus' birth. Compare the prophesy of Zechariah [see NWT Reference Edition footnote regarding Jeremiah] concerning the 30 pieces of silver and the price of the potter's field at Zechariah 11:13 with its fulfillment at Matthew 27:9-10. Or the statement of Jesus saying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" at Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 with the quotation source at Psalm 22:1. Of particular interest is Peter's declaration at Acts 1:20-21 that Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 were fulfilled in Judas when Peter said, "'Let his lodging place become desolate…' and 'His office of oversight let someone else take.'" Yet, before Peter explained their fulfillment, the fuller meaning of these passages was certainly indistinct to the Jews of Christ's day. No Jews living prior to Jesus' death applied these verses to this reprobate disciple.

    Jesus himself stated that his illustrations allowed some to see and others not to see.

    The disciples…said to him: "Why is it you speak to them by the use of illustrations?" In reply he said "To YOU it is granted to understand the sacred secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, but to those people it is not granted…This is why I speak to them by the use of illustrations, because looking, they look in vain, and hearing, they hear in vain, neither do they get the sense of it." (Matthew 13:10-11, 13.)

    All languages—including Koine Greek—use indistinct meanings to broaden the sense of certain words.[1] There is an interesting illustration of an indistinct word used in the Christian Greek Scriptures which gives added meaning because of its "uncertain…indistinctness."[2] We have purposely chosen this illustration because it is outside our present discussion of Kyrios.

[1] We are somewhat arbitrarily making a distinction between words which are indistinct and words which have multiple meanings. The description of Kyrios under the heading The meaning of Kyrios during apostolic times on the following pages describes multiple meanings. The distinction we are attributing to Kyrios as indistinct may merely be one of degree in which this latter usage has a specialized meaning. If the reader prefers, our category of indistinct may be regarded as the extreme within a single category multiple meanings. Nonetheless, we will retain the definition as indistinct because of the specialized sense in which Kyrios is identified with the divine name.

[2] The reader will realize that this was clearer to the Greek reader of the day than it is to an English reader in translation. The Greek reader understood the breadth of meaning and allowed the context to define the appropriate sense. In translation, the English reader must be pointed in the direction of understanding the word as either witness or martyr.

    The single Greek word martyreo (marturevw) is assigned two quite different English meanings. Its primary meaning was always "[To] bear witness, or [to] be a witness." But it had a second meaning, and was used accordingly in the Greek Scriptures. It also meant, "[To] testify, [to] be a witness (unto death), [to] be martyred."[3]

[3] A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Arndt and Gingrich, pp. 492-493.

    This word was used in its noun form at Acts 22:20. Most English Bibles translate the passage with the same English sense as found in the New World Translation:

    And when the blood of Stephen your witness (martyros [mavrtutov"]) was being spilled, I myself was also standing by and approving and guarding the outer garments of those doing away with him.

    A few versions translate the word as martyr. The King James version says,

    And when the blood of thy martyr (martyros [mavrtutov"]) Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.

    Finally, the Amplified Bible, which gives shades of meaning when a Greek word includes a broader sense than can be conveyed by a single English word, translates the verse,

    And when the blood of Your (martyr) witness Stephen was shed, I also was personally standing by and consenting and approving, and guarding the garments of those who slew him.

    By using this broader word martyreo (marturevw), the inspired Greek Scriptures convey something deeper than merely the English word witness. In the same chapter, Ananias says to Saul who is fasting and praying,

    …'The God of our forefathers has chosen you to come to know his will and to see the righteous One and to hear the voice of his mouth, because you are to be a witness (martys [mavrtu"]) for him to all men of things you have seen and heard.' (Acts 20:14-15.)

    An understanding of the meaning of martyreo gives added insight into the message conveyed to Saul by Ananias at Acts 9:15-16.

    But the Lord said to [Ananias] "Be on your way, because this man [Saul] is a chosen vessel to me to bear my name to the nations as well as to kings and the sons of Israel. For I shall show him plainly how many things he must suffer for my name." (Italics added.)

    Paul understood the cost of his apostleship. He understood from the very beginning that he was not merely to tell others of Jesus the Messiah, but that his testimony could cost him his life. When Paul later described his ministry to the Ephesians (Acts 20:17-24), or when he stated his willingness to die in Jerusalem (Acts 21:10-13), or expressed his desire to know and suffer for Christ (Philippians 3:10), we realize that he fully understood the meaning of the Greek word martyreo (marturevw) at the time Ananias first prayed for restoration of his sight.

    Through this same indistinct meaning in the word witness-martyr, we also gain an insight into Jesus' words at Acts 1:8 when he said,

    "But YOU will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon YOU , and YOU will be witnesses (martyres [mavrture"]) of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth."

    Thus, by example, we can see that an indistinct word may be used to give language a broader meaning. At the same time, greater breadth may also obscure precise meaning. This characteristic of all languages wherein indistinct meaning gives greater breadth with obscured precision is equally true within the inspired Scriptures. This was Paul's experience with the word martyreo (marturevw). He was not told specifically that he would be a witness or a martyr. With less precision, he was told that he might be one, or the other, or both.

    We must add, however, that all languages have a means of restoring precision lost in indistinct meaning. Generally speaking, the context of the word—or in some cases, grammatical structure—can be used to reinstate precision. The reader will realize that this option of either restoring or withholding precision is a useful tool in communication. At times, a speaker or writer may wish to convey a precise meaning with a word which is inherently indistinct. In this case, he may qualify it with the context or grammatical function so that the word will be understood with a single meaning. On the other hand, there are times when a dual meaning serves a useful function because the broader sense is exactly that which is intended. The meaning becomes all-inclusive.

    It is precisely this intentional all-inclusive meaning of the word Kyrios which catches our attention in the Christian Greek Scriptures.

The meaning of Kyrios during apostolic times

    The word Kyrios was a common secular word in the Koine Greek language of the day. It is translated as Sir [Mark 7:28], owner [Matthew 21:40], master [Matthew 25:26], a protocol form of address for an emperor [Acts 25:26], and slave master [Ephesians 6:5]. Jesus also used the word when he was directly quoting the Hebrew Scriptures [Luke 4:8 and 12]. Kyrios is used 714 times from Matthew to Revelation. The New World Translation uses it 406 times of Jesus.[4] Disallowing, as we now must, the presumed presence of the Tetragrammaton in the Christian Greek Scriptures, Kyrios is translated as Lord with the function of a proper noun 651 times[5] within the Kingdom Interlinear Translation.

[4] This total includes all occurrences of Lord spelled with an upper case "L," indicating its use as a proper noun. Lord may be capitalized at the beginning of a quotation in the Greek text, and, in rare instances, may not identify Jesus. We did not verify each reference as directly identifying Jesus. See the summary at the end of Appendix C.

[5] This total comes from the Lord entries in Appendix C which used an upper-case "L." (See the qualification in the footnote above.)

    The title Kyrios is also (though infrequently) used of the Father. Jesus prayed in Luke 10:21 saying:

    I publicly praise you, Father, Lord (Kyrios [kuvrie]) of heaven and earth, because you have carefully hidden these things from wise and intellectual ones…

    As a designated title, however, Kyrios (Lord) is customarily used for Jesus in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Just as Jehovah called himself by name in the Hebrew Scriptures, so he gave Jesus two titles in the Christian Greek Scriptures.

    Therefore let all the house of Israel know for a certainty that God made him both Lord (Kyrios) and Christ, this Jesus whom YOU impaled. (Acts 2:36)

    1 Corinthians 8:6 says that in the same way there is only one God, there is one Kyrios (Lord).

    There is actually to us one God the Father…and there is one Lord (Kyrios), Jesus Christ…

    Also consider two other passages, both of which refer to Jesus as being "our only…Lord (Kyrios)" (Jude 4) or, just as there is but "one Lord (Kyrios)," there is but "one God"[6] (Ephesians 4:5).

[6] 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Jude 4 have been used purposefully because they include the phrase "one God." In spite of the fact that Watch Tower publications make the biblical teaching of one God and Jesus' full identification with God seem to be far-fetched, the opposite is actually the case. (See, for example, the publication Should You Believe in the Trinity? Though in some cases there are knowledgeable quotations from outside sources, the reader frequently encounters attempts by the Watch Tower writers to reduce the subject to ludicrous and confusing proportions.) However, because this book is focusing on the Tetragrammaton, we have avoided numerous areas where a study of the person of God could appropriately be included. Nonetheless, for a complete understanding of the Scriptures, this truth must be resolved. We would encourage the reader to personally study this important subject using only the Scriptures.

    The importance of the discovery that the Tetragrammaton was not used by the apostolic authors should be clear. In many passages, the presence of Kyrios (when the context is referring to Jesus) identifies Jesus with Jehovah as we have already seen at Revelation 1:8.

    "I am the Alpha and the Omega" says Kyrios God, "the One who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty."

Instances which refer to Jehovah

    Under this subheading, we are looking for citations in the Christian Scriptures which refer exclusively to Jehovah. This is best done by finding examples of verses where Kyrios is clearly used by a Scripture writer in reference to a divine being other than Jesus. Our first example comes from Luke 5:17. (In the following illustrations, we will insert the critical phrase from the Kingdom Interlinear Translation, including both the Greek and English wording. The New World Translation entry is placed in brackets.) Luke 5:17 says:

    In the course of one of the days [Jesus] was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law who had come out of every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem were sitting there; [and Jehovah's power—NWT]

was there for him to do healing.

    Clearly, this verse is not saying that Jesus' own power was there in order that he could heal. That would be an unlikely statement inasmuch as Jesus' power (whatever its extent in his human existence) was always present with him.[7] Luke is drawing our attention to the presence of Jehovah's power. Luke intended to convey exactly the meaning of the New World Translation which says, "...and Jehovah's power was there for him [Jesus] to do healing."

[7] We need to leave this as a simple statement of logic. We are not discussing Jesus' attributes.

    There are many references throughout the Christian Greek Scriptures which fall into this category in which Jehovah is the intended subject.[8] We will quote just two additional verses in which this is the case. Matthew 1:22-23a (with an identifiable quotation from Isaiah 7:14 attributable to Jehovah) says:

[8] The reader understands that we are not excluding the person of Jesus from this statement. As will be shown, the dual meaning of Kyrios identifies Jesus with Jehovah.

    All this actually came about for that to be fulfilled which was [spoken by Jehovah-NWT]

through his prophet, saying: "Look! The virgin will become pregnant and will give birth to a son..."

    Again, the sense of the New World Translation which says, "which was spoken by Jehovah..." was certainly Matthew's intent.

    The third illustration of a Kyrios reference clearly referring to Jehovah also comes from Luke. When the angel Gabriel was sent to Mary with the announcement of the birth of Jesus, she responded affirmatively according to Luke 1:38:

    Then Mary said; "Look! [Jehovah's slave girl-NWT]!

    May it take place with me according to your declaration."

    There is every reason to believe that Luke was reporting Mary as addressing Jehovah with her statement of servitude as his obedient child. It would be most unusual to explain this passage by saying that Mary was addressing her yet unborn son.

    These verses show us that in certain instances, Christian Greek Scripture writers used Kyrios to refer to Jehovah. That is, since there is no historical or biblical record that they used the Tetragrammaton in the inspired writings, we know that they used the Greek word Κύριος rather than the Hebrew word יהוהi[9] when referring to Jehovah.

[9] Again, at this point we must make a strong statement affirming the inspiration of Scripture. As we have seen, there is no evidence that the original manuscripts contained the Tetragrammaton. Therefore, unless we deny the inerrancy and inspiration of the Greek Scriptures, we are left only with the alternative that God directed the apostolic writers to use the Greek word Κύριος rather than the Hebrew word יהוה. If—in our desire to protect a theological position—we still must insist that the Tetragrammaton from Hebrew versions will have precedence, then we must be willing to dismiss our claim that the Scriptures we have today are "inspired of God."

Instances which contextually equate Jesus with deity

    We are now confronted with the full import of the original Greek Scripture writers' indistinct meaning for the word Kyrios. Frequently within the Greek Scriptures, there are instances in which the writer was referring to Jesus as Lord, but was ascribing to him attributes or actions reserved for deity.

    The few examples we have used from the book of Revelation are by no means the only examples found in the Christian Greek Scriptures. We will give only two additional illustrations at this point. The reader should be aware, however, that many more could be cited. At Romans 14:3 9, Paul was teaching regarding the Roman believers' error in judging each other for what they were eating. Paul said:

    Let the one eating not look down on the one not eating, and let the one not eating not judge the one eating, for God has welcomed that one. Who are you to judge the house servant of another? To his own master (kurivw/) he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for [Jehovah can make him stand-NWT].

...He who observes the day [observes it to Jehovah-NWT].

Also, he who eats, [eats to Jehovah-NWT],

for he gives thanks to God; and he who does not eat [does not eat to Jehovah-NWT],

and yet gives thanks to God. None of us, in fact, lives with regard to himself only, and no one dies with regard to himself only; for both if we live, [we live to Jehovah-NWT],

and if we die, [we die to Jehovah-NWT].

Therefore both if we live and if we die, [we belong to Jehovah-NWT].

For to this end Christ died and came to life again, that [he might be Lord-NWT]

over both the dead and the living.

    This lengthy passage illustrates several important issues we must confront. First, as we readily observe, the context alternates between Kyrios and God as being synonymous.[10] The context is not alternating between יהוה and God. Look at the following alternating phrases:

[10] The translators of the New World Translation would not disagree that this passage is alternating between synonyms for God. Their agreement is evident in its present reading as Jehovah.

    Whomever Paul was acknowledging, the subject[11] of this passage was most certainly identified as possessing the attributes of God. Yet the subject is Kyrios and not יהוה.i[12] No translator is justified in altering the inspired wording of the text in order to preserve a doctrinal viewpoint. In this passage, Paul clearly wrote Kyrios in its various cognate forms.

[11] Grammatically, Kyrios can be either a subject or an object. In this passage: 1. Kyrio (kurivw/) is an indirect object; 2. Kyrios (Κύριος) is a subject; 3. Kyriou (kurivou) is possessive; and 4. Kyriuse (kurieuvsh) is a subjunctive verb.

[12] The reader should study the Kingdom Interlinear Translation footnotes for these verses. He would be surprised at the limited number of Hebrew translations found to support Jehovah. Verse 4 cites only one footnote reference (J18). Verse 6 cites four for the first occurrence (J7,8,13,18) and three for the second occurrence (J7,8,13). Both instances in verse 8 cite the same six (J7,8,13-15,18). In review, the reader should also evaluate the contrasting dates of the earliest Greek manuscripts and those of the later Hebrew versions.

    When we consider the broader context starting with the statement that we are to "put on the Lord (kuvrion) Jesus Christ, and do not be planning ahead for the desires of the flesh" (13:14), and finishing with the summary that "Christ died and rose that he might be Lord Kyrieose (kurieuvsh/) over both the dead and the living" (14:9), we understand that Paul was dealing with Christ in this passage. At the very least, Paul failed to make a precise distinction between Kyrios and God.[13]

[13] We are referring to an indistinct meaning within the Greek text which uses Kyrios. Obviously, when the word Jehovah is inserted into the passage, the distinction is well defined, though it is imposed on the text from the outside.

    We can now look at a second illustration which contextually equates Jesus with deity. At Romans 11:34-35, Paul quoted Isaiah 40:13, saying:

    Or, "Who has come to [know Jehovah's mind-NWT],

or who has become his counselor?" Or, "Who has first given to him, so that it must be repaid to him?"

    In the passage above, Paul was quoting a Hebrew Scripture verse, and yet he was using Kyrios. Clearly Isaiah 40:13 used the divine name in the Hebrew Scriptures. Yet, as Paul quoted the passage at Romans 11, he used the word Kyrios, which he most frequently used to refer to Lord. Again we encounter a difficulty with this passage in that Paul did not give us a clear indication of whether he was referring to Lord or Jehovah. This ambiguity indicates to us that the Apostle Paul did not make a distinction of eternal standing between them. Rather, he indicated by the lack of precision that what was true of Jehovah in Isaiah was true of Jesus in the Christian Greek Scriptures.

    A significant number of the 237 Jehovah passages found in the New World Translation fall directly into this last category wherein Jesus was contextually equated with deity. That is, the writer (or speaker) often introduces an indistinct meaning by failing to establish a clear demarcation between the Lord (in reference to Jesus) and Jehovah. This becomes a fact of great significance when the word Kyrios is studied in the Christian Greek Scriptures. God does not make a precise distinction between Jesus and Jehovah in terms of their eternal status.

    This indistinct meaning has an important practical application for Bible translation. Inasmuch as the Tetragrammaton is not used in the Greek Scriptures, all passages which were translated as Jehovah in the New World Translation must rightfully now be translated as Lord where Kyrios is found in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation. (We must reiterate our earlier statement. No translator is free to change the wording of inspired Scripture simply because it does not fit a preconceived theological notion. If certain verses were written as Kyrios (Κύριος), then a translator must render that as Lord and not Jehovah. From the textual information available today, we know the inspired writers intended to say Κύριος; they did not intend to say יהוהi.[14]

[14] It is important that we not be misunderstood. The Tetragrammaton is incontestably verifiable in the Hebrew Scriptures. The author holds in high regard those translators who have made the effort to use a proper translation of יהוה rather than LORD. However, inasmuch as the Tetragrammaton is not found in any existing manuscripts of the Greek Scriptures, it is a violation of inspiration to insert the name where there is no evidence that the original writers used it.

An inescapable conclusion

    In our discussion of the word choice given to the original writers of the Greek Scriptures in Chapter 11, we listed three options they could have exercised. In that chapter, we suggested that only two valid options were available to them. They either used quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures and copied the Tetragrammaton, or else they used Kyrios in place of the divine name. Because the focus of this book has been the use of the Tetragrammaton, to this point we have basically let the explanation stand which says that the original writers used Kyrios in place of the divine name.

    By this point in the book, we understand that the Tetragrammaton was not used by the original writers. (We understand, however, that not all will accept the textual and historical information given in this book as correct.) Therefore, we must consider purposeful indistinct meaning as the writing method used by the apostolic writers in these instances.

    We now need to reach a final conclusion regarding the actions of the inspired Christian Scripture writers, not only when they were quoting Hebrew Scripture, but in their general use of the term Kyrios and their intended meaning.

    We are faced with the inescapable conclusion that the Greek Scripture writers, under inspiration, purposely allowed Kyrios to have a broader meaning. In certain places, they used Kyrios to refer to Jehovah. In other instances, they used the same word to refer to a title of Jesus. Sometimes the context makes its intended meaning clear. Many times it could include either. Most often the title was applied specifically to Jesus.

    No inspired Christian Scripture writer ever explained this indistinct meaning within the Scriptures. We do not have a chapter-and-verse reference saying that this is what they did. We simply have a Greek manuscript (which we believe to be inerrant and inspired) which uses the word Kyrios to refer to both Jehovah and Jesus. Only if that indistinct meaning was acceptable to the divine author could it be allowed to exist. As we now know, God did not have the original writers insert the Tetragrammaton in order to distinguish between the persons of Jesus and the Father.

    Every indication is that the Christian Greek Scripture writers saw no conflict in using Kyrios to represent both the divine name and to identify Jesus. We are left with the conclusion that they did so because they understood Jesus himself to share Jehovah's eternal attributes.

    This does not mean that the inspired Christian writers understood Jehovah and Jesus to be a single entity.[15] It means that the inspired Christian writers could say of Jesus regarding his eternal characteristics that which they also understood to be true of Jehovah.

[15] There was a heresy called Modalism from the third century which made exactly this assertion claiming that the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit were merely separate modes of manifestations representing a single being.

Chapter Summary. The findings of previous chapters established that the Christian Greek Scripture writers did not use the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) in their Greek writings. That finding leaves us with the reality that the word Kyrios was used by the Greek Scripture writers to refer to both Jesus and Jehovah.

  1. In some instances, the word Kyrios was clearly used in reference to Jehovah. Passages such as Luke 5:17 set Jesus apart from Kyrios.

  2. In other cases, Jesus was contextually equated with Jehovah. In Romans 14:3-9, the early and late context talks about Christ. However, in the main body of the verses, within the context of teaching about Christ, Paul used Kyrios and God as functional synonyms. In these passages, Kyrios was often given attributes belonging only to God.

  3. In the absence of a distinctive contrast between Kyrios and the Tetragrammaton (יהוה), we are left with the inescapable conclusion that the inspired Christian Scripture writers, under inspiration of God, used the word Kyrios with a dual meaning. They allowed the word to represent either the person of Kyrios (Jesus) or the one identified as יהוה (God). They did not differentiate between the attributes or prerogatives of one or the other in such indistinct cases.

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