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What is the Difference Between
“Lord,” “lord” and “LORD”?
by Anthony Buzzard
The following information is vital for clear understanding of Scripture and the all-important issue about who God is and who Jesus is in relation to God. The divine name YHWH (probably pronounced Yahweh) is commonly referred to as the tetragrammaton (four-letter word). Bible translators adopted the practice used in most English versions of rendering that name as “LORD” in all capital letters (nearly 7,000 times in our Old Testament). This was to distinguish it from Adonai, another Hebrew word rendered “Lord” (capital L and lower-case letters o-r-d). Adonai means “Lord God,” “the supreme Lord,” and is a synonym for the divine name YHVH. Wherever the two names stand together in the Old Testament as a compound name for God, they can be rendered “Sovereign Lord,” i.e. Lord God, Adonai YHVH (occasionally YHVH Adonai).
The name YHVH was introduced, it appears, to Moses, but was not known to Abraham and others living before Moses: “As God the Almighty [El Shaddai] I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but my name, LORD (YHVH), I did not make known to them” (Exod. 6:3).
For those reading the Greek, the LXX (= Septuagint, translation by Jews from 300 BC of the Hebrew into Greek):
“And I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as their God, and my name LORD I did not reveal to them.”
Some of our readers will enjoy the Hebrew of the same verse:
Now notice the Latin translation, the Vulgate, and observe carefully how Jerome the translator knew about the word Adonai (the supreme Lord) in the 4th century: “Qui apparui Abraham Isaac et Iacob in Deo omnipotente et nomen meum Adonai non indicavi eis.’
The essential lesson to be remembered is that the Son of God, Jesus is not YHVH! He is YHVH’s uniquely fathered, generated Son, brought into existence by miracle in Mary (Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:18, 20: Note, “begotten, fathered in her”). God became the Father of Jesus, the Son at that moment.
Paul summarized, late in his ministry, the essential Christian creed. This verse should be conscientiously memorized by all believers: “There is one mediator between God and human beings, a human, the Messiah Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). All translations are correct here.
The God of the Hebrew Bible is the same God of the New Testament. He is both the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and also the God and Father of Jesus Christ:
“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile: The same Lord is Lord of all” (Rom. 10:12).
“God is the God of Jews and Gentiles” (Rom. 3:29).
Now the story becomes very fascinating, as we investigate the Bible as a sort of “crime scene.” The rules of capitalization agreed to by most English translations have been violated in one highly significant verse, Psalm 110:1, more often quoted in the New Testament than any other verse and cited by Jesus to silence all argument (Matt. 22:41-46). We introduce the subject with this title:
What Is in a Vowel Point? The Difference Between God and Man
We want now to introduce you to the all-important word adoni (pronounced “adonee”) (not Adonai, Lord God, but lord, master). Professor Larry Hurtado, celebrated author of a classic on Christology: “There is no question but that the terms ADONAI and adoni function differently. The one (ADONAI) a reverent way of avoiding pronouncing the word YHVH and the other (ADONI), the use of the same word [but a different vowel at the end] for non-divine (=non-Deity) figures.”
Hard Facts on the Title for Christ (adoni, my lord, not Adonai, Lord God) in Psalm 110:1
[My explanation for English readers is in square brackets. See further the appendix in our Who is Jesus? booklet, free in various languages at our site restorationfellowship.org]
Here is the truth about Psalm 110:1, the NT’s master key text, from the entry “Lord” in Whittaker Revised Brown Driver Briggs (standard lexicon of biblical Hebrew used by all scholars). Strong’s Concordance will not show you this critically important distinction.
[Psalm 110:1: “The LORD (YHVH) says to my lord (adoni)…” pronounced “adonee” = my lord, never a divine title.]
Here we have the biblical usage of the all important title adoni. It has these meanings:
1. singular. lord, master
With suffix of 1st person singular [adoni, my lord, Ps. 110:1, 195 times in OT]
(1) ref. to men: my lord, my master
The Hebrew adoni (“my lord”) is wrongly capitalized in Psalm 110:1 in many versions but not in RSV, NRSV, NEB, JPS, etc. In other words most translations put a capital L on the second lord in Psalm 110:1. This misleads the reader into believing that the second lord is Adonai, the title for the supreme Lord God! In fact the word is adoni(“adonee”), a title which in all 195 occurrences never refers to God, but always to a human superior, occasionally a created angel.
Jesus the Son is the supreme human lord, not God.
This title (adoni, my lord) is the Messianic title par excellence for Jesus as the lord Messiah (Luke 2:11). Luke also calls Jesus the Lord’s Messiah (Yahweh’s Messiah: Luke 2:26). Elizabeth was visited by Mary, the mother of “my lord” (Luke 1:43). She was not visited by God, but by the lord Messiah (Luke 2:11).
“Our lord David” (1 Kings 1:11, etc.) provides the model for the final David’s title, as “our/my lord Jesus Christ” (hundreds of times the proper title for Jesus, the lord Messiah). Jesus is the lord King Messiah. Our/ my lord Jesus Christ.
A professor at Dallas Theological Seminary kindly agreed to change the confusing misinformation in their Bible Knowledge Commentary which reported wrongly the second lord of Psalm 110:1 as Adonai! The word there is adoni.
Paula Frederiksen, Professor of Religious Studies at Boston University, mistakenly and inadvertently reported the second lord of Psalm 110:1 as Adonai, and I suggested that the mistake be changed. She graciously wrote, “Thanks so much for pointing out the error in my reference to Adonai in Ps. 110:1. I grabbed my Tanach [OT] and you are right — the word is adoni, not adonai. We all need each other!”
The supreme importance of Psalm 110:1 has been noted by today’s leading scholar on Christology, Dr. James Dunn:
“The affirmation of Jesus’ lordship is one which we can trace back at least to the earliest days of Christian reflection on Christ’s resurrection. One of the Scriptures which quickly became luminous for the first believers was evidently Ps. 110:1. The first Christians now knew who ‘my lord’ was who was thus addressed by the Lord God. It could only be Messiah Jesus. The text was clearly in mind in several Pauline passages.”
Dunn on 1 Corinthians 8:4-6: “In direct opposition to the tolerant pluralism of Hellenism, Paul affirms, ‘But for us there is one lord Jesus Christ.’ For Paul the risen Christ was simply ‘the Lord’ and he was personally convinced that eventually his lordship would be acknowledged by all. As 1 Cor. 8:5-6 itself implies this was an expression not so much of intolerance as of belief in the uniqueness of Christ, and a corollary of the equivalent uncompromising Jewish monotheism. Jesus is the one Lord just as, and indeed because, God is the one God” (p. 248).
James Dunn:“Should we then say that Jesus was confessed as GOD from the earliest days in Hellenistic Christianity? That would be to claim too much.
“1. The emergence of a confession of Jesus in terms of divinity was largely facilitated by the emergence of Ps. 110:1 from very early on (most clearly in Mark 12:36; Acts 2:34; 1 Cor. 15:25; Heb. 1:13). ‘The Lord says to my lord…’ Its importance lies here in the double use of kurios [lord]. The one is clearly Yahweh, but who is the other? [Note two subjects, two individuals.] Clearly not Yahweh, but an exalted being whom the Psalmist calls kurios [lord].
“2. Paul calls Jesus kurios, but he seems to have marked reservations about actually calling him ‘God.’ (Rom. 9:5 is the only candidate within the main Pauline corpus, and even there the text is unclear.) Similarly he refrains from praying to Jesus. More typical of his attitude is that he prays to GOD through Jesus (Rom. 1:8; 7:25; 2 Cor. 1:20; Col. 3:17). [Paul does give thanks to Jesus, too (I Tim. 1:12)]
“3. ‘Jesus is Lord’ is only part of a fuller confession for Paul. For at the same time as he affirms Jesus as ‘Lord,’ he also affirms ‘God is one’ (1 Cor. 8:5-6; Eph. 4:5-6). Here Christianity shows itself as a developed form of Judaism, with its monotheistic confession as one of the most important parts of its Jewish inheritance; for in Judaism the most fundamental confession is ‘God is one.’ ‘There is only one God’ (Deut. 6:4). Hence also Rom. 3:30; Gal. 3:20; 1 Tim. 2:5 (cp. James 2:19). Within Palestine and the Jewish mission such an affirmation would have been unnecessary — Jews and Christians shared a belief in God’s oneness [not a Trinity!]. But in the Gentile mission this Jewish presupposition within Christianity would have emerged into prominence, in face of the wider belief in ‘gods many.’ The point for us to note is that Paul can hail Jesus as Lord not in order to identify him with God, but rather if anything to distinguish him from the One God (cp. particularly 1 Cor. 15:24-28). So too Jesus’ Lordship could be expressed in cosmic dimensions without posing too many problems to monotheism, since Wisdom speculations provided a ready and appropriate terminology (particularly 1 Cor. 8:6, Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:3ff).”
 From personal correspondence, June 24th, 2000.
 The Theology of Paul, Eerdmans, 1998, p. 246.
 Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, SCM Press, 1990, p. 53, emphasis his.
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