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ADONAI AND KURIOS
Adonai is the Hebrew word translated “Lord” and is used most often in Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Amos (note that the last three letters of the word are always lower case in English translations). When reading the Hebrew text, Adonai is the word that was substituted by the Hebrews for YHWH when YHWH appeared in the text (see: YAHWH).
Adonai is from the Hebrew word Adon, meaning “lord” or “master” and is used over 350 times in the Old Testament. The root concept is “to judge” or “to rule,” conveying the idea of a ruler, a master. To call one “Lord” meant that the caller was to submit and be obedient, bringing honor to the “Lord.” Adonai could be used of deity or of individuals.
In reference to God the word speaks of God who is over all—God is the Ruler to whom everyone is subject. God is the One who is sovereign. In other words, God is the Lord and man is the servant of the Master, and man’s responsibility is to please the Master. The word always refers to the one who is the superior.
Adonai is used of the relationship of a master to his slave (Gen. 24:9, 10, 12, 14, 27; Ex. 21:4, 5, 6) and of a husband to his wife (Gen. 18:12; Jud. 19:27; Ps. 45:11). It speaks of lordship, possession, submission, obedience, and faithfulness.
To God the believer willingly says: “Lord.” To say Lord is to confess His exalted position and our subservient position. It is to understand and acknowledge our proper relationship to Him. “O LORD, our Lord [Adonai], how excellent is Your name in all the earth” (Ps. 8:1, 9).
Psalms 38:15 is an example of a passage where each of the three Hebrew words studied thus far appear together: YHWH, Adonai, and Elohim. David used all three words in speaking of the One he was petitioning: “For in You, O LORD [YHWH], I hope; you will hear, O Lord [Adonai] my God [Elohim].” At times in the Old Testament Adonai and YHWH appear not only in the same verse but next to each other. When this occurs the NIV translates the combination as “Sovereign LORD” (Ps. 140:7; 141:8).
Kurios is the Greek word translated “Lord” in the New Testament. It is derived from a root, kuros, meaning “power” or “might.” In reference to a person it speaks of one who has control or authority; it carries the concept of legality, conveying the idea of ownership. Kurios is the one who is the possessor and disposer of a thing, the master—the Lord.
In the New Testament Kurios is used of God (Lu. 1:32; 2:9; Acts 5:19) and also of Jesus (Rom. 10:9; I Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11; Rev. 19:15). The dual use of the word in this way teaches the Deity of Jesus; the inescapable conclusion is that Jesus is God.
The Hebrew word Adonai is translated in the Septuagint by the Greek word Kurios. But Kurios is also used to translate the Hebrew tetragrammaton YHWH, the name of God revealed to Moses by God (see: YHWH); the interchangeableness of these words (Kurios and YHWH) teaches the Deity of Jesus. As has already been indicated the Hebrews refused to even pronounce the word less they break the third commandment. And it is this word—the name of the covenant-making God of Israel—that is translated in the Greek Old Testament by the word Kurios which is used of Jesus in the New Testament. In other words, Jesus is Kurios and Kurios is YHWH—Jesus is God!