by Mark D. Taylor, NLT Bible Translation Committee
Greek: κύριος (kyrios)
English: master, sir, Lord, Lord
The word kyrios is used more than 700 times in the New Testament.
In the ancient Greek world, kyrios was used to describe a master or a slave owner or a ruler. We see this meaning reflected in Matthew 10:24-25, which reads this way in the NLT: “Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master. Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master.” (Emphasis has been added in each Scripture quotation in this article.)
Sometimes the term was used simply as a title of respect. In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, we read, “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’” (Matthew 13:27)
In the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament—kyrios is primarily used to translate YHWH, the personal covenant name of the God of Israel. Thus kyrios as a name for God was very familiar to the Jewish people in the New Testament era. So kyrios is often translated “Lord” in the New Testament. For instance, we read in the account of the Annunciation: “As he [Joseph] considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David,’ the angel said, ‘do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. . . .’ When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.” (Matthew 1:20, 24)
Throughout the New Testament, kyrios is also used in reference to Jesus. A typical passage is Matthew 14:28: “Then Peter called to him, ‘Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” Or Acts 1:21-22: “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus—from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us.” Or this greeting from Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:2: “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.”
In the Old Testament, the NLT uses the term “Lord” (upper- and lowercase letters) as the translation of the Hebrew term adonai. And the term Lord (note the small caps) is used in translating the Hebrew term YHWH. When the New Testament text is explicitly quoting an Old Testament passage, the NLT uses the spelling from the Old Testament passage. For instance, see these examples:
In Matthew 3:3, kyrios is rendered Lord (small caps) since Matthew is quoting Isaiah 40:3, where the English text uses Lord as the translation of YHWH:
The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness
‘Prepare the way for the Lord‘s coming!
Clear the road for him.’”
In Matthew 22:44, Mark 12:36, and Luke 20:42, we see both Lord and “Lord” in the quotation from Psalm 110:1, where the Hebrew text uses both YHWH and adonai (in Greek, it’s kyrios for both):
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies beneath your feet.’
[Luke reads: . . .until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.]
So in the New Testament, the NLT uses “Lord” (upper- and lowercase letters) in references to Jesus and Lord (small caps) when the New Testament text is quoting an Old Testament passage that refers to YHWH.
But we need to remember that kyrios also means “master.” Today that word is often seen in a negative light because of its connection with slavery. But it is entirely appropriate for followers of Jesus to refer to him as “master” or “Lord,” as he is the Creator of the entire universe!