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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Attributes of God That Belong to Him Alone

Don Stewart :: What Does the Hebrew Term Adonai Stand For?

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What Does the Hebrew Term Adonai Stand For?

The Attributes of God That Belong to Him Alone – Question 21

A name that is used for God in the Old Testament is Adonai. What exactly does this term mean? Is it distinct from other names that are used for God?

Adonai Defined: Master or Lord

Adonai is a plural form of Adon which means, “Master” or “Lord.” It conveys the idea of “rulership,” or “dominion.” The Lord said,

Therefore the Lord [Adonai], the LORD of hosts, will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindled, like the burning of fire. (Isaiah 10:16 RSV)

Isaiah also wrote of the Lord.

See, the Lord [Adonai] the LORD Almighty, will lop off the boughs with great power. The lofty trees will be felled, the tall ones will be brought low. (Isaiah 10:33 NIV)

When used in the Old Testament of God, it is spelled with a capital “L” and then lower case letters (Lord). When used of humans, all of the letters are lower case (lord).

There are some other observations which need to be made.

The Term Is Applied to Humans

The term is not only applied to God, it is also used of human beings who master or lord over people. The Bible says,

So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master [Adonai], and swore to him concerning this matter. (Genesis 24:9 NIV)

Here Abraham is called the “master” of a particular servant.

Sarah, the wife of Abraham, called him by this title, master or lord.

Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord [Adonai], being old also?” (Genesis 18:12 NASB)

Thus this term can, at times, refer to humans. When it does, it speaks of someone who is in authority over someone else.

The Term Is Applied to God

The term Adon is also applied to God. We see this in the following ways.

1. Adonai Elohim

Adonai is often joined in Scripture with Elohim. This indicates that God is the one who is Master and Lord and that we human beings are His subjects.

2. Adonai Yahweh

The term is also used with the divine name; Yahweh or Jehovah. For example, we read of this in Genesis.

Abram said, “O Lord [Adonai] GOD, what will you give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:2 NASB)

Therefore, Adon can be connected with the personal name for God.

Conclusion: Adon Is Usually Applied to God but Can Be Used of Humans

The term Adon is usually used of the God of Scripture, but at times can be used of humans. As usual, the context must tell us.

Summary – Question 21
What Does the Hebrew Term Adonai Stand For?

Another Hebrew word for God in the Old Testament is Adonai. It is the plural form of Adon which means Lord or Master. It is a term used of both God and humans.

Abraham was called “master” or “Lord” by one of his servants as well as by his wife Sarah. However, this is used as recognition of his leadership. It has nothing to do with Deity.

On some occasions, it can also refer to false gods. As always, the context must determine the meaning of the term.

When used in English versions in the Old Testament, it is spelled Lord with a capital “L.” When used of humans it is spelled Lord with a lower case letter “l.”

Adonai is indeed an important term. Thus, it is helpful to understand how and why it is used in the Old Testament.

What Does the Hebrew Term Elohim Mean? ← Prior Section
Why Is God Called Yahweh? Next Section →
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