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What’s in a Vowel Point?

The Difference between God and Man in Psalm 110:1

Anthony Buzzard

Anthony Buzzard"The form ADONI (‘my lord’), a royal title (I Sam 29:8), is to be carefully distinguished from the divine title ADONAI ("my Lord") used of Yahweh" (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, "Lord," p. 157).

"Lord in the OT is used to translate ADONAI when applied to the Divine Being. The [Hebrew] word…has a suffix [with special pointing] presumably for the sake of distinction" (Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, "Lord", Vol. 3, p. 137).

"Adonai and Adoni are variations of pointing to distinguish divine reference from human"
(Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, Brown, Driver, Briggs, under adon).

The Two Forms of Adon - Adonai Versus Adoni

Please consider how language works. In English you have no difficulty in recognizing the difference between HE and SHE. One letter S makes a big difference. You recognize also a big difference between god (small g) and God (big g). What about "employer" and "employee"? One letter makes all the difference. In Hebrew the words for he and she contain only a difference in the vowel sound — hoo (he) and hee (she).

Few questions could be of greater importance than knowing who in the Bible is entitled to be called God (capital G).

In Hebrew there is a word for "lord." It is ADON. This word refers 300 times to human lords (superiors) and 30 times to THE Lord, i.e. God Himself.

There are two very special forms of this word ADON. Sometimes the letters -AI are added to the end, giving you the word ADONAI (sometimes written ADONAY). This word is known to the public because it rhymes with El Shaddai in the well-known song. El Shaddai is another name for the One God. ADONAI means "the Supreme Lord" and is reserved for God. The word ADON may also have the letter -I added to it, giving the form ADONI (pronounced Adonee) and is used for human superiors – never for God.

Psalm 110:1 in the New Testament

Now in Psalm 110:1 we have a unique verse. This verse appears in the NT 23 times. (Ps 110:4 is quoted or alluded to another 10 times.) The importance of these verses is shown by the fact that no other verses come near to that number of allusions/quotations in the NT. Many verses are cited once or twice in the NT. But these verses — Ps. 110:1, 4 — are mentioned 33 times! Ps 110:1 is a key to the identity of God and Jesus, and to the coming Kingdom (the heart of the Gospel, Luke 4:43; Acts 8:12, etc.)

Jesus himself quoted Ps. 110:1 (as reported in Matt., Mark and Luke) as the verse which put an end to the counter-arguments of the religious authorities of his day, the Pharisees (see Matt. 22:41-46). Psalm 110:1 is quoted in the NT as follows:

Jesus: Matt. 22:44; Matt. 26:64; Mark 12:36; Mark 14:62; Mark 16:19; Luke 20:42, 43; Luke 22:69.

Peter: (Luke) Acts 2:33; Acts 2:34-36 (in this verse Peter introduces Christianity   to the crowd at Pentecost and tells us that Jesus has been made "Lord" on the basis of Ps. 110:1); Acts 5:31; Acts 7:55-56.

Paul: Rom. 8:34; I Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:20; Eph. 2:6 Col 3:1; Heb. 1:3; Heb. 1:13 Heb. 8:1; Heb. 10:12-13; Heb. 12:2.

Peter: I Pet. 3:22.

Jesus: (John) Rev. 3:21.

This Psalm covers the whole range of the NT and Jesus is recorded as quoting it no less than 8 times. It is a favorite "proof-text" of the NT Christians.

The Psalm is a special divine oracle. The text reads (Ps 110:1): "The oracle of YAHWEH (LORD) to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’"

The first "lord" is the word YAHWEH which appears in many English versions as LORD (all capitals).

The second lord is ADONI (my lord). We have already noted that the Hebrew word ADON (lord) has a special ending on it when it refers to the One God — ADONAI (449 times in the OT). But when the word has the ending ‘I’, i.e. ADONI (adonee), it never refers to God but always to a human superior (occasionally an angel). So we know that the Messiah is not ADONAI (God) but the human superior of David, David’s lord, Adoni.

This Psalm was believed to be a Messianic oracle both by Jesus and by the rabbis of his day. Jesus knew that he, the Messiah, was David’s lord as well as David’s son. The Pharisees were not prepared to recognize Jesus as the lord of David, though they knew he was a descendant of David.

The Hebrew language is precise and the rabbis always held the name of the One God in the highest reverence. That is why they reserved the form ADONAI for God alone. (Jews to this day read the word ADONAI when they come to the personal name for God — Yahweh. No one knows exactly how that word is to be pronounced. The Jews gave up saying it about 300 BC.)

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