What’s in a name? (Adonai)

The names given to God in the Bible reveal something of his character and attributes to us. In this article, we turn to one of the most common names for God: ‘Adonai’, which translates to mean ‘Lord’.*

At a basic level, a lord is simply someone who has power and authority over another person or thing (think Lord of the Rings, or Lord of the Flies). This is how the word is commonly used in the New Testament when people come to Jesus and appeal to him for help:

A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Matt 8:2)

Here the leper simply uses the title ‘lord’ out of respect for Jesus, acknowledging his power.

Of course, as Christians, we know that Jesus is not just a lord, he is the Lord of Lords and King of Kings (Rev 19:6). He is the Lord God incarnate, the one the psalmist praises for creating the entire world, from the cosmic (the moon and the stars) to the earthly (animals and humans):

Yahweh, our Lord,
            how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Ps 8:1)

Our God, revealed in the person of Jesus, is Lord. This truth is central to the Bible, and it’s a truth that every human will one day acknowledge, whether in this life a means of salvation (Rom 10:9), or when Jesus returns and every tongue whether in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:11).

To call God ‘Lord’ is a big deal. It recognises that he is the chief ruler—the creator of everything and the one to whom we must submit.

That our God is Lord is a truth almost universally acknowledged by Christians, and yet it can be challenging to translate this fact about God into our daily lives. As Christians, it can be easy to give God control over the ‘big’ things and yet deny his sovereignty in moment-to-moment as westruggle to submit to his rule in the ‘little’ things. For example, havedoes your bank account reflect that Jesus is Lord? After all, Jesus tells his followers that they cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6:24) and Paul says that loving money will lead us away from God going so far to call it the “root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10). Does the reality of God’s lordship shape how you spend (or save!) your money?

Or what about your entertainment habits? God exhorts us through his word to fill our minds with whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). Does your Netflix account history, or your radio station of choice, or conversation with friends, reflect Jesus’ lordship?

Looking at my own life, I can think of lots of examples of where my thoughts, words or actions don’t point to Jesus as Lord. As followers of the living God, let me encourage you—as I encourage myself—to marvel afresh at the sovereignty of our God, praying that Jesus really would be Lord of every part of our lives.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom 10:9)

  • Fun fact: In a previous article we saw that when ‘Lord’ (capitalised) appears in our Bibles, it is usually translating the Hebrew letters YHWH. As Jewish people will not pronounce these letters, they substitute the word ‘Adonai’ for YHWH when reading aloud, which is why this word is used in English translations. Where ‘Lord’ is not capitalised in the Old Testament, the original word is simply ‘Adonai’; in the New Testament where Greek is used, the word is ‘Kurios’.