Lord (Adon/Adonai)

Now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.

Psalm 39:7

The word ‘Lord’ is a translation of the Hebrew word adon (אדן – H0113), meaning ‘sovereign’ or ‘controller’. The more emphatic form is adonai (אדני – H0136), meaning ‘master’, but used almost exclusively in Scripture to refer to God:

Gen 18:[27] Abraham answered, “See now, I have taken it on myself to speak to the Lord {adonai}, who am but dust and ashes.

Deu 10:[17] For Yahweh your God, he is God of gods, and Lord {adonai} of lords {adonai}, the great God, the mighty, and the awesome, who doesn’t respect persons, nor takes reward.

1Ki 3:[10] The speech pleased the Lord {adonai}, that Solomon had asked this thing.

Psa 16:[2] My soul, you have said to Yahweh, “You are my Lord {adonai}. Apart from you I have no good thing.”

Isa 6:[1] In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple.

In the Septuagint, the words adon and adonai are translated by the word kurios (κύριος – G2962), meaning “supreme”, or “[one who is] supreme [in] power”. But kurios is also used in the Septuagint to translate God’s proper name, Yahweh, so it appears over six thousand times in that translation. This is evidence that the Jewish practice of pronouncing God’s name as adonai actually predates the Septuagint, and is the reason that the name never appears in the New Testament. Instead, the Greek New Testament uses the word kurios over seven hundred times to refer to God:

Act 3:[19] “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, so that there may come times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,

Eph 2:[21] in whom the whole building, fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord;

1Pe 2:[3] if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious:

This is even true in verses where the New Testament writer is quoting a verse of the Hebrew Scriptures where the name Yahweh appears:

Isa 40:[3] The voice of one who calls out, “Prepare the way of Yahweh in the wilderness! Make a level highway in the desert for our God.

Mat 3:[3] For this is he who was spoken of by Isaiah the prophet, saying, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight.”

The fact that God is a ‘master’, ‘sovereign’, or ‘controller’, shows that he has the right to command whatever he wishes, and all people are obliged to obey.

1Sa 15:[22] And Samuel said, Does Jehovah delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice! To give attention is better than the fat of rams.

Psa 24:[3] Who may ascend to Yahweh’s hill? Who may stand in his holy place? [4] He who has clean hands and a pure heart; who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood, and has not sworn deceitfully.

Mat 5:[48] Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Of course, this by no means indicates that unregenerate people are always capable of obeying God’s commands:

Yet all men are responsible to obey the commands of God, because God, as the sovereign King of creation, has the right to command obedience from His creatures, regardless of their ability to obey. [Deu 10:16; Mat 12:13; Mat 28:18; Joh 11:43; Act 17:30-31; Rom 2:12-16; 2Th 1:8]

Christian Confession of Faith, III.B.4

The old Arminian motto that “responsibility implies ability” simply isn’t logical. The dry bones of Ezekiel 38 had no ability to obey the command “Dry bones, live!”, yet they had a responsibility to obey. Lazarus had no ability to obey the command “Lazarus, come forth!”, yet he had a responsibility to obey. Their responsibility to obey did not come from their ability to obey (for they had none); rather, it came from the authority of the One giving the command. Lazarus and the ‘dry bones’ were both dead, and obviously couldn’t obey the commands they were given. It was simply beyond their ability; yet they both had a responsibility to obey. So it is with the natural man:

The truth of total depravity does not mean that all men are as outwardly immoral as they possibly could be. It means that every faculty of the soul of every natural (that is, unregenerate) descendant of Adam is completely polluted with hatred of the true and living God, and all of the natural man’s thoughts, words, and deeds (even his kindness, morality, and religion) are dead works, evil deeds, and fruit unto death. It means that every natural descendent of Adam owes a debt to God’s law and justice that he cannot pay. It means that every natural descendent of Adam is spiritually dead, having no spiritual understanding, a lover of darkness rather than light, a slave of sin, unable and unwilling to obey God and come to Jesus Christ for salvation. This truth is contrary to the damnable poison known as “free will,” which seeks to make the creature independent of the Creator and seeks to make the Potter depend on the clay, according to the devil’s lie, “You shall be as God.” [Gen 3:5; Psa 14:2-3; Pro 12:10; Pro 15:8; Isa 45:20; Isa 64:6; Jer 13:23; Jer 17:9; Mat 7:18; Joh 3:19-20; Joh 6:44-45; Rom 1:20-23; Rom 3:9-12,20; Rom 5:12; Rom 6:16-23; Rom 7:5; Rom 8:5-8; Rom 10:2-3; 1Co 2:14; 2Co 4:3-4; Eph 2:5; Eph 4:18; Col 1:21; Col 2:13; Heb 9:14; Heb 11:6]

Christian Confession of Faith, III.B.3

When God commands us to repent and believe the Gospel, we have a responsibility to do so, but this by no means implies the ability to obey that command. The natural man is unable to obey the command to repent and believe, yet God, as the sovereign, and controller, can still hold him accountable. God has every right to command us to do that which pleases him, even if the natural man has no power to obey that command.

The use of the English word ‘Lord’ as a translation of both adonai and Yahweh (God’s revealed name) can sometimes be confusing, because occasionally both words occur in the same sentence (cf. Num 36:2, 1Sa 25:28, 1Ki 1:36, Neh 10:29, etc. This is mitigated a little when the translation for Yahweh is printed in all capitals, ie. ‘LORD’, as is done in the King James translation). The most important instance of this is in Psalm 110:

Psa 110:[1] The LORD {Yahweh} said unto my Lord {adonai}, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. (KJV)

This is the verse that Jesus famously referred to when refuting the Pharisees:

Mat 22:[43] He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying, [44] ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?’ [45] “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

This shows that the coming Messiah would be both David’s lord, and David’s son; meaning that he would have to be equal to God, but would also have to be born, and therefore a human being as well. The Pharisees had no answer against this argument. As the Christian Confession of Faith teaches:

Jesus of Nazareth is really and truly God as well as really and truly human. He is the only descendant of Adam with two natures, human and divine. These two natures are continually without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation. Scripture rejects the lie that Jesus Christ was merely human and not fully divine. It likewise rejects the lie that Jesus Christ was a supernatural being but not fully human. [Deu 18:15; Psa 2:7; Psa 110:1; Isa 9:6; Luk 2:7; Joh 1:1,14,18; Joh 3:16,18; Joh 5:18; Joh 8:58; Joh 10:30-33; Act 20:28; Rom 1:3; 1Co 15:47; Gal 4:4; Phi 2:6-8; Col 1:15; 1Ti 3:16; Tit 2:13; Heb 1:1-5; Heb 5:5; 1Jo 4:9,15; Rev 1:17-18]

Christian Confession of Faith, IV.A.2

God is a ‘sovereign’ and ‘master’, who is owed perfect obedience by all his people. He is also the one who sent his Son to live among his people, die the death of a sinner, be resurrected to eternal life, and exalted to sit upon the throne of heaven to all eternity. Hallelujah!

1 Jehovah said unto my Lord,
Sit Thou at my right hand,
Until I make thy foes a stool,
Whereon Thy feet may stand.
(Psalm 110, The Psalter With Music, 1890)

See Also:

The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility

A Christian View of the Messiah

Response to a Critique of “A Christian View of the Messiah”