The use of the term Lord in Paul.

The Lord as Yahweh or as Jesus.


The following is a raw chart of instances of the term Lord (κυριος) in the Pauline epistles. I have divided these instances into five classes:

  • The first class contains instances in which the term Lord unambiguously refers to Yahweh (the father), and the ambiguity is eliminated by the attachment of the term to (one of) the name(s) of Yahweh.
  • The second class contains instances in which the term Lord unambiguously refers to Yahweh (the father), and the ambiguity is eliminated by the immediate context.
  • The third class contains instances in which the term Lord is ambiguous in its application; its referent is not explicitly identified either in context or by name.
  • The fourth class contains instances in which the term Lord unambiguously refers to Jesus (the son), and the ambiguity is eliminated by the immediate context.
  • The fifth class contains instances in which the term Lord unambiguously refers to Jesus (the son), and the ambiguity is eliminated by the attachment of the term to (one of) the name(s) of Jesus.

I have aggressively erred on the side of ambiguity. Even instances that most students of the text would unswervingly identify either with Yahweh or with Jesus based on Pauline or New Testament theology, or on other concerns, I have placed in the ambiguous category if it is neither the immediate context nor the presence of a concrete name that clears up the ambiguity.

Sometimes, however, the contextual clue that identifies the term Lord as applying to Yahweh, not to Jesus, is simply the fact that the text in question is a quotation from the LXX, in which the indisputable original referent is Yahweh (יהוה). I have classified all such references as pointing unambiguously to Yahweh, even if there may be some grounds for suspicion that Paul actually has Jesus in mind. At any rate, I have marked all instances in which the identification of the Lord with Yahweh rests upon a quotation from the LXX by placing the Roman numeral LXX in parentheses after the reference (LXX).

A complication that arises among these instances is that sometimes the term itself, Lord, is not part of the word for word LXX quotation; rather, the term comes from somewhere in the original Old Testament context.* These cases I have marked as unambiguous because of the quotation from the LXX, but with a tilde ~ to indicate the inexact and contextual nature of the quotation (~LXX).

* In Romans 11.3, for example, Paul quotes Elijah as addressing Yahweh directly as Lord. The original LXX quotation in 3 Kingdoms (1 Kings) 19.14 lacks the term Lord in direct address, but contains it in the immediate context, in which Elijah in the same verse claims that he has been very zealous for the Lord (ζηλων εζηλωκα τω κυριω; קנא קנאתי ליהוה).

Additionally, an asterisk * indicates that the definite article is attached to the term Lord; instances of the term, of course, that lack the definite article also lack the asterisk.

Genuine Pauline epistles.

I should note that Paul occasionally uses the term κυριος to refer, not to Yahweh or to Jesus, but rather to a human master. These few instances do not appear on the chart. They are Romans 14.4 (first instance); 1 Corinthians 8.5; Galatians 4.1.

As is my custom, I have classed 2 Thessalonians with the genuine Pauline epistles:

Unambiguously
Yahweh
(by name).
Unambiguously
Yahweh
(in context).


Ambiguous.
Unambiguously
Jesus
(in context).
Unambiguously
Jesus
(by name).
Romans.
 
9.29 (LXX).
Romans.
 
4.8 (LXX).
9.28 (LXX).
10.16 (LXX).
11.3 (~LXX).
11.34 (LXX).
12.19 (~LXX).
14.11 (~LXX).
15.11 (LXX).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1 Corinthians.
 
1.31 (~LXX).
2.16 (LXX).
3.20 (LXX).
10.26 (LXX).
14.21 (~LXX).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
2 Corinthians.
 
6.17 (~LXX).*
6.18 (~LXX).*
10.17 (~LXX).
Romans.
 
12.11.*
14.4. *
14.6 (3).
14.8 (3).* 
16.2.
16.8.
16.11.
16.12 (2).
16.13.
16.22.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1 Corinthians.
 
3.5.*
4.4.
4.17.
4.19.*
5.5.*
6.13 (2).*
6.17.*
7.10.*
7.12.*
7.17.* 
7.22 (2).
7.25 (2).
7.32 (2).*
7.34.*
7.35.
7.39.
9.1.
9.2.
9.5.*
9.14.*
10.21 (2).
10.22.*
11.11.
11.23.*
11.27.*
11.32.*
12.5.* 
14.37.
15.58.
15.58.*
16.7.*
16.10.
16.19.
16.22.*
 
2 Corinthians.
 
2.12.
3.16.
3.17.*
3.17.
3.18 (2).
5.6.*
5.8.*
5.11.*
8.5.*
8.19.*
8.21.
10.8.*
10.18.*
11.17.
12.1.
12.8.*
13.10.*
 
Galatians.
 
1.19.*
5.10
 
 
Philippians.
 
1.14.
2.24.
2.29.
3.1.
4.1.
4.2.
4.4.
4.5.*
4.10.
 
1 Thessalonians.
 
1.6.*
1.8.*
3.8.
3.12.*
4.6.
4.15.
4.17.
5.2.
5.12.
5.27.*
 
 
2 Thessalonians.
 
1.9.*
2.2.*
2.8.*
2.13.
3.1.*
3.3.*
3.4.
3.5.*
3.16 (2).*
 
 
 
 
Philemon.
 
1.16.
1.20.
Romans.
 
10.12.*
10.13 (LXX).*
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1 Corinthians
 
2.8.*
4.5.* 
6.14.*
11.26.*
11.27.*
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1 Thessalonians.
 
4.15.* 
4.16.*
4.17.*
Romans.
 
1.4.*
1.7.
4.24.*
5.1.*
5.11.*
5.21.*
6.23.*
7.25.*
8.39.*
10.9.
13.14.*
14.14.
15.6.*
15.30.*
16.18.*
16.20.*
16.24.*
 
1 Corinthians.
 
1.2.*
1.3.
1.7.*
1.8.*
1.9.*
1.10.*
5.4.*
6.11.*
8.6. 
9.1.*
11.23.*
12.3.
15.31.*
15.57.*
16.23.*
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
2 Corinthians.
 
1.2.
1.3.*
1.14.*
4.5.
4.14.*
8.9.*
11.31.*
13.14.*
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Galatians.
 
1.3.
6.14.*
6.18.*
 
Philippians.
 
1.2.
2.11.
2.19.
3.8.*
3.20.
4.23.*
 
 
 
 
1 Thessalonians.
 
1.1.
1.3.*
2.15.*
2.19.*
3.11.*
3.13.*
4.1.
4.2.*
5.9.*
5.23.*
5.28.*
 
2 Thessalonians.
 
1.1.
1.2.
1.7.*
1.8.*
1.12.*
1.12.
2.1.*
2.14.*
2.16.*
3.6.*
3.12.
3.18.*
 
Philemon.
 
1.3.
1.5.*
1.25.*

Several of these references call for comment.

Romans 10.12-13, though deriving from the LXX in verse 13, seems clearly to refer to Jesus as the one upon whose name one is to call for salvation. Confer 10.9.

Romans 14.8 I have placed in the ambiguous category, but the structure of verses 7-9 seems to make Jesus the more likely referent:

For not one of us lives for himself, and none dies for himself; for if we live we live for the Lord [τω κυριω], or if we die we die for the Lord [τω κυριω]. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are of the Lord [του κυριου]. For [γαρ] to this end Christ died and lived, so that he might be Lord [κυριευση] both of the dead and of the living.

The idea of living or dying for the Lord appears to parallel that of Christ being Lord of the living and of the dead. Moreover, the causal conjunction for [γαρ] appears almost to demand that Christ be the Lord referred to in verse 8, the idea being that we belong to (Christ) the Lord, whether we live or die, precisely because Christ is Lord of the living and of the dead.

Nevertheless, it is hypothetically possible that Paul is thinking of the Lord in verse 8 as Yahweh, and is saying that we belong to Yahweh, whether we live or die, because of the lordship of Christ over both life and death, Christ serving as agent for Yahweh. This notion is not expressed in the text, but the possibility exists, and I have already noted that, if I err, I have erred on the side of ambiguity.

1 Corinthians 4.5 I have placed in the category of references to Jesus that are unambiguous from context. In this case the context is that the Lord will come. The verse reads:

Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, until the Lord comes [εως αν ελθη ο κυριος], who will both bring to light the hidden things of the darkness and make apparent the motives of the wishes of hearts; and then there will be praise for each man from God.

The fact that the Lord is said to be coming unambiguously identifies him as Jesus; confer 1 Corinthians 11.26-27:

For, as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.

Jesus is the one who died, according to Paul (refer for example to Romans 8.34: Christ Jesus is he who died), and thus Jesus is the one who is going to come.

This principle, that it is Jesus who died and Jesus who will come, is also what forces 1 Corinthians 2.8 (about crucifying the Lord of glory), 1 Corinthians 6.14 (about God raising the Lord), and 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17 (about the advent [παρουσια] of the Lord) into the category of references to Jesus that are unambiguous from context.

With regard to the advent of the Lord, confer 1 Corinthians 15.23; 1 Thessalonians 1.9-10; 2.19; 3.13; 5.23:

But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, and after that those who are of Christ at his advent [παρουσια]....

For they themselves proclaim about us what kind of reception we had with you, and how you turned to God away from idols to serve a living and true God,and to await his son from the heavens, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, the one who rescues us from the wrath to come.

For who is our hope or joy or crown of boasting? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his advent [παρουσια]?

...so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and father at the advent [παρουσια] of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved whole, blameless, at the advent [παρουσια] of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Refer also to 2 Thessalonians 2.1, 8.

1 Corinthians 7.17 I have placed in the ambiguous category because it is possible that Paul is using two different names for Yahweh, but I really think that the apostle is distinguishing God from Jesus:

Only, as the Lord [ο κυριος] has apportioned to each one, as God [ο θεος] has called each one, thus let him walk. And thus I order in all the churches.

1 Corinthians 12.5 I have placed in the ambiguous category, but it seems to me that the reference is to Jesus, not to Yahweh. Verses 4-6 read as follows:

And there are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit. And there are different kinds of services, and the same Lord. And there are different kinds of workings, but the same God who works all things in all persons.

It makes better poetic parallelism if three different entities are in view: God the father, Jesus the son (and Lord), and the spirit. 1 Corinthians 8.6 would seem to confirm this idea:

But for us there is one God, the father, from whom are all things, and we exist for him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we exist through him.

This verse, much like 1 Corinthians 6.14, distinguishes sharply between God and the Lord, and is, I think, an important clue as to how Paul normally tends to use the term Lord (κυριος) in free composition. It ought to be noticed that every single instance in which the term unambiguously refers to Yahweh (or God) is conditioned by the LXX, even and especially the instance in 1 Corinthians 2.16, in which Paul appears to distinguish between Jesus and the Lord; the term κυριος in this case comes from Isaiah 40.13 LXX.

Spurious Pauline epistles.

I have also divided up the instances of Lord in the pseudo-Paulines:

Unambiguously Yahweh (by name): None.
Unambiguously Yahweh (in context): 1 Timothy 6.15.
Ambiguous: Ephesians 2.21; 4.1, 5, 17; 5.8, 10,* 17,* 19,* 22;* 6.1, 4, 7,* 8, 9,* 10, 21; Colossians 1.10;* 3.13,* 18, 20, 22,* 23,* 24; 4.1, 7, 17; 1 Timothy 1.14;* 2 Timothy 1.8,* 16,* 18,* 18; 2.7,* 19 (2), 22,* 24; 3.11;* 4.8,* 14,* 17,* 18,* 22.*
Unambiguously Jesus (in context): None.
Unambiguously Jesus (by name): Ephesians 1.2, 3,* 15,* 17;* 3.11;* 5.20;* 6.23,* 24;* Colossians 1.3;* 2.6;* 3.17,* 24;* 1 Timothy 1.2,* 12;* 6.3,* 14;* 2 Timothy 1.2.*

Uses of the term for human masters occur at Ephesians 6.5, 9; Colossians 3.22; 4.1.