In the Old Testament, sometimes one of the titles for God is set in type with all capitals, “LORD.” At other times, there are both the upper and lower case, “Lord.” Why does this difference exist?
This type-setting format is found in most of the English translations that have been produced over the past several centuries. The notable exception is the American Standard Version (1901), which uses the term “Jehovah” rather than “LORD.”
In these common versions, the translators are attempting to provide a clue to the English reader that different Hebrew words were found in the original text.
LORD (all caps or small caps) reflects the original term
yhwh (found 6,823 times), while Lord (standard capitalization) is the English rendition of the Hebrew
adonai (used some 300 times).
As suggested above, one of the names for God, as conveyed in Hebrew, was
yhwh (four consonants). Because the Jews considered this title to be very sacred, they did not pronounce it.
Eventually, the scribes borrowed vowels from the name
adonai based upon a point system, which reflected the way the language was spoken. Vowels were thus inserted into the sacred four-letter name (called the
tetragrammaton—“four letters”). This eventually evolved into the hybrid word “Jehovah” around the beginning of the twelfth century A.D.
The Hebrew term
yhwh is believed to derive from the root
hwy, meaning “to be.” The name suggests that God simply is, i.e., he possesses an underived existence; he is the eternal “I AM” (cf. Exodus 3:14—especially see the footnote in the ASV; cf. also John 8:58).
Also, this name became a special designation which emphasized God’s relationship to the nation of Israel.
yhwh dramatically depicts one of the prime attributes of the Creator—his eternal existence. In addition, it stresses his enduring presence with Israel in their redemptive history.
The other term, “Lord” (standard capitalization), as indicated earlier, is from
adonai. This word literally means “my Lord,” and it derives from a root which suggests “sovereign, strength, power.”
It is a word particularly emphasizing the authority of the Deity. It expresses the relationship of the Creator to his creatures and the responsibility they have to the one who made them and who owns them (cf. Romans 9:21).
Is the word “Jehovah” unscriptural?
Some object to the use of “Jehovah” because it is an artificially constructed word and thus does not reflect the original precisely.
But neither does “LORD” accurately represent the original term. The best approximation of
yhwh would be
yahweh. But since that term is mostly alien to the vocabulary and understanding of the average person today, some prefer to maintain at least some distinction between
adonai. They therefore retain the American Standard Version’s “Jehovah.”
Incidentally, the use of varying names for God in the Old Testament does not hint of different authors, as commonly claimed by radical, destructive critics. (See Destructive Criticism and the Old Testament.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A word that is invented in English to convey the meaning or thought of a Hebrew word when there is no available equivalent is as legitimate as any other word that has developed in language to convey thought. An exact transliteration of all Hebrew words into English would be impossible and impractical.