Master: A Word Study

By: C. Knapp

The word "Master" occurs some eighty-six times in the Authorized Version of the New Testament. This one English word does duty for eight different words in the Greek original, and we believe it will prove at once an interesting and an instructive study to note carefully the use made by the Holy Spirit in the selection of these various words to convey to the mind of the saints the thoughts of God.

- The word translated most frequently "master" is didaskalos, meaning an instructor, or teacher; it is, in fact, translated ten times "teacher" elsewhere in the Word.

It is used by the four Evangelists with about equal frequency-in all, about forty-seven times; and outside the Gospels it occurs (as "master") but once (James3:1).

It is translated "teacher" in John 3:2, and "master" in verse 10 of the same chapter. Once it is rendered "doctor" (Luke 2:46). There is a remarkable use made of this word in John 13. In verse 13 Christ says, "Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am." Here we learn that the disciples in addressing Him used the term, "Master," didaskalos, first; they gave His title, "Lord," kurios, a secondary place-teaching, to them, was above lordship. But He corrects this mistake in what He says immediately following-albeit, with the rarest delicacy; "If I then, your Lord and Master." He reverses the order used by them, as if to teach that obedience is above all learning and intelligence, even in the things of Scripture.

It reminds us of that word of the prophet to the disobedient Saul, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice; and to hearken than the fat of rams." To learn is well, but to put diligently into practice what we already know is still better.

- The above word, kurios, is translated fourteen times "master" it is from kuros (supremacy), and means supreme, in authority, i.e. controller. It is elsewhere translated, sixteen times, "Lord," and "Sir" twelve times; once it is, strangely enough, translated "God" (Acts 19:11). It is used there, we suppose, as we should say "the Supreme." But the most accurate translation of J. N. Darby corrects. this, using "the Lord" instead. This is the word translated "Sir" always in the New Testament.

- Eight times "master" is the rendering of the Hebrew word Rhabbi, rabbi, "an official title of honour." These are: Matthew 26:25, 49; Mark 9:5; 11:21; 14:45; John 4:31; 9:2; 11:8. Elsewhere the word is left untranslated, "rabbi."

This is the word invariably used by Judas, the traitor. He never once addressed the Son of God as Lord; the other apostles, at the supper, gave Him His proper title, Lord, kurios (Matthew26:22); but Judas, in verse 25, says Master, rhabbi. And in John 14:22 the Spirit of God is quick to inform us that it was not the traitor who addressed Him as "Lord", "Judas saith unto Him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it," etc. (see also 1 Corinthians12:3). He "had a demon," and could not, therefore, call Messiah, Lord. But the time is coming, and coming soon, we believe, when every knee shall bow and every tongue-Judas’s among them-shall confess that "Jesus Christ is LORD," kurios (Phillippians2:11).

- This same word "Master" is the sole rendering of the word "epistates," "an appointee over," i.e. commander (or teacher). It is found only six times in Scripture, and always in Luke-5:5; 8:24, 45; 9:33, 49; 17:13. It is used by the disciples exclusively, excepting once, where it is the appelative applied to the Lord by the ten lepers.

- Another word rendered by the English "master" is despotes, "an absolute ruler" (despot). It is only four times translated "master"-1 Timothy 6:1, 2; 2 Timothy 2:21; Titus 2:9, and 1 Peter 2:18. It is elsewhere translated "lord"-four times-Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24; 2 Peter 2:1, and Revelation 6:10. It is the word frequently used for a master of slaves; but it is a remarkable fact that, though it is used by the apostles in reference to earthly masters, when they remind these masters that they also have a master in heaven, they do not use this term, but the milder and more dignified title of kurios, Lord (Ephesians6:9; Colossians 4:1; also Romans 14:4). Christ’s bondmen are under a "perfect law of liberty," "His commandments are not grievous," and He is to them no "despot," but a loving, gracious "Lord and Master." And He rules by love, not force.

- Another word translated "master" is kathegetes, a guide, i.e. a teacher. It is found only three times in Scripture-Matthew 23:8-10-and then used only by the Lord Himself.

- Oikodespotes is another word translated "master." It means "the head of the family," and is found in Luke 13:25 and 14:21. It is elsewhere translated "goodman (of the house)" and "householder."

- The one remaining word is kubernetes, "helmsman," i.e. captain, or (ship) master, and is used but once-Acts 27:11.

Our study is finished. One thing we have learned if nothing more, and that is the wonderful fullness there is in the Word of God, of which our English Bible gives us but a faint idea. And as this fullness relates chiefly to Christ, it is to the Christian’s advantage, and for God’s glory, that he use all the helps available-translations, concordances, lexicons, dictionaries, and every other means available to assist him in gaining access to these treasures, hid from the slothful and indolent, but discoverable to those who will "search for them as for hid treasures," with the one object before them-the soul’s profit and blessing-"through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord" (2 Peter1:2). Amen!

NOTE.-The writer is indebted for his information in this paper wholly to the "Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible," by James Strong, a work of incalculable value to the English student of the Scriptures.

Other Resources