I’ve often heard people claim that Saul of Tarsus confessed the deity of Christ during his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road by calling him “lord.” We read: “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ 5 ‘Who are you, Lord? Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.”  (Acts 9:3-5)

Those who see a confession of Jesus’ deity in this passage assert that as a monotheistic Jew, Saul’s acknowledgement of Jesus as “Lord” would be an explicit affirmation of His deity since Jews used “Lord” as a substitute for God’s name, YHWH. I find this interpretation unlikely for a number of reasons.

First, the Greek word kurios simply means “master.” It is used of both human persons as well as God. The term can be applied to anyone in a position of authority over others. Even Sarah called Abraham lord (1 Peter 3:6). Surely she was not confessing his deity! Saul recognized that any voice coming from heaven was the voice of someone with greater authority than him, and thus addressed the voice using a term that acknowledged his authority.

Second, Saul makes it abundantly clear that he does not know who is speaking to him. He explicitly asks who the speaker is. How could Saul’s use of kurios be a confession of Jesus’ deity if Saul didn’t even know he was speaking to Jesus? It was only after Saul asked the identity of the speaker that Jesus revealed His identity to Saul.

Finally, a similar case involving Cornelius and an angel, reveals that kurios is not an explicit and definite affirmation of deity. An angel appeared to Cornelius to tell him to call for Peter. This is how Cornelius responded: “What is it, Lord?” (Acts 10:4). Cornelius was a God-fearer, meaning he believed in the Jewish God and followed the Torah but was not yet circumcised. As a God-fearer, Cornelius knew that kurios was what Jews called God, but clearly He was not attributing deity to the angel when he called him kurios. He, like Saul, was merely acknowledging the angel’s superior authority.

There are plenty of passages affirming the deity of Christ, but this passage is not in that company.