Will The Real Kyrios Please Stand Up?
The word translated “Lord” is the Greek word kyrios. It literally means “lord”, “master”, “supreme in authority”, and “controller”. In more polite language it could be used to call a man “sir”.1 The usage of the word was to refer to the male head of a Greek household. The kyrios had total control over his wife and authority over his entire family.2
There is only one head of household in Scripture and that is Jesus Christ. Jesus replaces the man as the kyrios or the head of household. In doing so God is restoring His ordained order. Correct family structure is Christ as the kyrios not a man. Husbands are never assigned this title by God in the New Testament.
Literally, whenever we call Jesus Lord we are calling Him “master” or “head of household” because He is “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:16). Kyriosis a title only assigned to Him in a Christian’s life. No one else should ever take that position.
There Is Only One Kyrios And Only One Priest
“ one Lord, one faith, one baptism ” -Ephesians 4:5
Ephesians 4:5 clearly states that we have but one Lord or kyrios. This sets the tone for what is said next in Ephesians 5. Christ is called Kyrios several places in the New Testament, but I want to focus on one passage in particular that most in the church are familiar with.
21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. -Ephesians 5:21-24, NIV (emphasis added).
There are many passages that could be covered here, but I think this one is the most crucial to drive the point home.
The place where the word “submit” is bolded does not exist in the original Greek text.
The word “submit” was added by translators. Both instances of “submit” were added to the verses pertaining to wives. Some Bible translations such as NASB italicize them because they know those words were added.
Jesus Is The Head of House
Why does Paul use the kyrios dynamic in Ephesians 5? Because Paul is using cultural methods to describe God concepts. Why was this important for a Roman cultured audience?
All members of a Roman household were subject to patria potestas in Latin or the “power of the father” as the head of household. This gave the father an incredible amount of power over relatives and his children.17 People during the time of Paul were quite accustomed to the concept of a male head of household.
When a woman married she went from being under her father’s control to her husband’s. As time went on this marriage practice died out. No longer was a husband awarded any authority over his wife. By Paul’s time a wife was considered under the control and authority of her father even though she was married. This meant that a married woman was still under the control of her father as long as he lived despite now having a family of her own.18 This implied that a daughter was to do as her father wanted despite her husband’s wishes.
Paternal control was very strong in Roman culture even after marriage. Paul was addressing this issue by placing Christ as the Kyrios of a married couple instead of the father. This is an aspect of the culture of the day that is not understood by modern readers. It was less about the husband having control over his wife and more about the father having control over his entire family regardless of their marital status.
This is why we see God establishing Himself as Father throughout the New Testament. God was establishing Himself as the highest position both culturally and socially to ancient people. God does not say He is a Father to us because He is male. Throughout both the Old and New Testament the Lord shows Himself through female maternal images. The attributes of God are both masculine and feminine.
Jesus Is The Priest Of The Home
The head of a Roman household was also expected to act as the priest of the family. He was responsible to perform the religious rituals for his home.19 The Romans were quite superstitious and believed in many spirits. There was a specific spirit dedicated to the head of the Roman home called genius. The symbol for this spirit was a snake and it represented “the spirit of manhood”. It was believed that genius literally empowered the father and manifested itself in him. Accordingly, genius was honored on the father’s birthday.20 Upon the father’s death genius would be passed on to his successor or the next head of household and continue to be worshipped by the family.21
This ancient idea has implanted itself in the church for centuries and where we get the idea of men being the “priest of the house”. This term exists nowhere in the Bible.
Today, the only priest of the home is Christ Himself.
“25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. […]” -Ephesians 5:25-28 (emphasis added)
Jesus is establishing Himself as priest of the home in Ephesians 5:25-28. He is not establishing the husband or father in this position.
God is simply commanding men to love their wives not to act as a priest towards them. The only things husbands are commanded to do is to love their wives with God’s love for them and treat them as a part of their own bodies. All believers are commanded to love each other with God’s love. The difference is that husbands and wives are to see each other as one within the collective whole of the church body. God has designed husbands and wives to run the race together with Christ as their example, leadership and authority. Period.
No longer were Roman families to honor household gods. No longer were fathers to place themselves as the head of the family and summon the genius. The father had now been replaced by Christ who is the only Priest in a Christian’s life. Only Christ washes and cleanses us with the Word. No one else!
Teaching that the husband or father is the priest of the home is removing Christ from His rightful place. It borders on the blasphemous. It is also another subtle influence of Greek thought entering the church and corrupting our theology. It makes the husband or father a god like figure and it is a form of spiritual bondage. It should not be surprising that there were pagan spirits associated with a Roman man’s position of authority as the head of household. It’s also not a surprise that the spirit was represented by a snake. This role is a position filled by men only after sin entered the scene. In a Christian’s life, only Christ should be their kyrios and priest.
1. “G2962 – kyrios – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV),” Blue Letter Bible, accessed 30 Dec, 2019, https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=g2962&t=kjv.
2. Robert Hancock-Jones, Dan Menashe and James Renshaw, OCR Classical Civilisation GCSE Route 2: Women in the Ancient World (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), 21.
3. “Hupotasso,” The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon, 1999, Bible Study Tools, https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/hupotasso.html.
4. “koine,” Merriam-Webster, accessed 30 Dec, 2019, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/koine.
5. A.-F. Christidis, A History of Ancient Greek: From the Beginnings to Late Antiquity (New York: Cambridge, 2007), 676.
6. Joshua D. Mark, “The Hellenistic World: The World of Alexander the Great,” published November 1, 2018, Ancient History Encyclopedia, https://www.ancient.eu/article/94/the-hellenistic-world-the-world-of-alexander-the-g/.
7. “Hupotasso,” The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon, 1999, Bible Study Tools, https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/hupotasso.html.
9. “Lexicon,” Merriam-Webster, accessed January 5, 2019, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lexicon.
10. Henry George Liddell. Robert Scott, “A Greek-English Lexicon,” Revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940), accessed December 30, 2019, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Dkefalh%2F.
11. “Kephale,” The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon, 1999, Bible Study Tools, https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/kephale.html.
12. Richard S. Cervin, “On the Significance of Kephalē (“Head”): A Study of the Abuse of One Greek Word,” Academia, (Priscilla Papers: 2016), Issue 2, vol. 30: 12;18, https://www.academia.edu/35796732/On_the_Significance_of_Kephal%C4%93_Head_A_Study_of_the_Abuse_of_One_Greek_Word.
13. A. Wolters, “Head as a metaphor in Paul,” published June 21, 2011, Koers Bulletin for Christian Scholarship, vol. 76: No. 1, 143-144 https://www.koersjournal.org.za/index.php/koers/article/view/10. Creative Commons License (CC BY 3.0), https://web.archive.org/web/20180412040548/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/. “758.
14. Archón,” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, Bible Hub, accessed December 30, 2019, https://biblehub.com/greek/758.htm.
15. “Exousia,” The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon, 1999, Bible Study Tools, accessed December 30, 2019, https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/exousia.html.
16. “Aggelos,” The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon, 1999, Bible Study Tools, accessed December 30, 2019, https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/aggelos.html.
17. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Patria Potestas,” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., published March 30, 2016, https://www.britannica.com/topic/patria-potestas.
19. “Worship,” pbs, 2006, accessed December 30, 2019, https://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/worship.html.
20. Joshua J. Mark, “Roman Household Spirits: Manes, Panes and Lares,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, published October 28, 2019, https://www.ancient.eu/article/34/roman-household-spirits-manes-panes-and-lares/.
21. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Genius,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., published January 16, 2012, https://www.britannica.com/topic/genius-Roman-religion.