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Who is Elizabeth’s Lord?
Posted By Eric Sammons On December 21, 2010 @ 8:00 am In Apologetics,Jesus Christ | Comments Disabled
In today’s Gospel we read about the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. When Mary arrives, “the infant leaped in [Elizabeth's] womb” and Elizabeth proclaims,
Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:42-43)
What does Elizabeth mean by “the mother of my Lord?” We cannot automatically assume that she means “God” when she says “Lord”, for the word “Lord” had multiple meanings in the 1st century. As I wrote in Who is Jesus Christ? :
In the Greek-speaking Roman Empire, one term — “kyrios,” translated “Lord” — was used to address anyone of superior status. The term could have a variety of meanings: from the equivalent of the English word “sir” to the title a slave used to address his master or a woman her husband. It was also a term used to address the emperor, and as Caesar-worship developed throughout the Empire, the term “Lord” began to have divine connotations as well. Fundamentally, “Lord” means one “having power,” and more specifically, it was used of those who had power over others.
Greek-speaking Jews of the Empire used the term “Lord” as well, often in the same fashion as their Gentile neighbors. But there was one exception. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, the word “Lord” was used in place of the divine name, which was unutterable. No Jew would say the name of God, so “Lord” was used as a substitute for that name. Thus, because they assigned the term “Lord” to the Almighty, Jews would never use it to refer to the emperor. (pp. 117-118)
Although Elizabeth was most likely Aramaic-speaking, the same general rules applied to her use of the term “Lord” – so Elizabeth could have used “Lord” to refer to anyone who ranked above her in society (such as her husband) or she could have used it to refer to the one true God of the Jews. So which did she mean in the context of Mary’s Visitation?
There can only be one possibility. In no way would the unborn child of her younger cousin rank above Elizabeth in society – who would call their cousin once removed “sir” or “master” before he is even born? And in the context of Elizabeth calling Mary the most blessed among women and declaring that Mary’s very womb was blessed, the only meaning that Elizabeth could have meant by “Lord” was that in some mysterious fashion (which I’m sure Elizabeth herself could not comprehend), Mary was carrying God Himself. As the Council of Ephesus would solemnly declare over 400 years later, Mary truly is theotokos – the Mother of God.
As we prepare for the coming of God made man this Christmas, let us join in Elizabeth’s praise of the mother of her Lord and ours.
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