Why do Christians call God “Lord”?

Last updated on April 27, 2022

The word “lord” is not used often in everyday life, so let’s start with a short definition. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a lord is “one having power and authority over others” or “a man of rank or high position”. These descriptions fit perfectly to God! He is almighty, and being the Creator of the universe gives Him the authority over every living being. He has the highest position, “above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:21) “There is no one like the Lord our God.” (Exodus 8:10)

We honor God by addressing Him as Lord

Addressing God as “Lord” acknowledges His authority over our lives. That does not come naturally for most people. We actually prefer to be our own boss and to decide for ourselves how we want to live. Adam and Eve, the first human couple, did exactly the same: they disobeyed their Creator and ate from the fruit He had forbidden them to eat.

When we come to faith, we must repent from our disobedience and acknowledge that God is Lord over our lives. And if we really get to know and love Him, we will do so wholeheartedly. Using the word “Lord” can be an expression of our loving devotion and surrender.

Jesus is also called Lord since He is fully God

When people were addressing Jesus, they frequently used the word “lord”. For some, this was just a polite form of address, comparable to our use of “sir”. But others used this word to express their faith that Jesus was not an ordinary human. He was the Son of God, and therefore should be addressed with the same title as God. This becomes very clear after Jesus’ resurrection when the apostle Thomas addresses Him as: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

This use of “Lord” for Jesus has become common practice for later Christians. New Testament letters provide countless examples, sometimes combined with other titles, e.g. “Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21) or “Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:4). Romans 10:9 and 1 Corinthians 12:3 even mention the confession that “Jesus is Lord” as the distinguishing mark of a true, Spirit-filled Christian since no one else would recognize Jesus as God.

Lord, lord, or Lord?

In many English Bibles, you will find “Lord” written with four capitals, and in other verses it has just a capital L or no capitals at all. Sometimes you will even find phrases like “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:9). This difference in writing style goes back to two different Hebrew words.

  • The normal word for “lord” in Hebrew is אֲדוֹן (adon). This word is used for people who have authority over another. Sometimes this word refers to God. In this case, many translations choose to write a capital “L” as a sign of respect. The most frequent use of the word אֲדוֹן for God is אֲדוֹנָי (Adonai)[1]. See for example Nehemiah 1:11, “O Lord, let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant.
  • A completely different Hebrew word is יְהוִ֗ה (YHWH). This is God’s personal name, which was probably pronounced as Yahweh. However, people had such a high view of God’s name and were so cautious not to “take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7), that they decided not to pronounce it at all. Every time they read YHWH, they said “Adonai” instead. Translators have copied this approach and translated God’s personal name with “Lord”. In order to distinguish between the two different words, they write four capitals where the Hebrew text has the word YHWH and lower case letters where the Hebrew text has Adonai.

[1] In Hebrew, words can be singular or plural. Moreover, one can attach a possessive pronoun to a word. אֲדוֹנָי is a plural word with a first person possessive, literally meaning “my lords”. At first sight, it might seem strange to use a plural for God. But the word we translate with “God” is also plural in Hebrew.

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