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The word אדֹנִי is used several times in the Hebrew Bible, such as Psalms 110:

נְאֻם יְהֹוָה  לַאדֹנִי

Genesis 24:54:

וַיֹּאמֶר שַׁלְּחֻנִי לַאדֹנִי

Genesis 32:5:

לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו

What is the historical/critical understanding of the word אדֹנִי? Does the form with a final vowel of chirik contrast from the form with a final kamatz (אֲדֹנָי )?

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Hebrew is a highly-complex language that uses an exceedingly complicated word-construction grammatical system, where words can have a number of different affixes (including prefixes, suffixes, and even a few infixes) that add specific meanings to the root/stem of each word.

The word adonai or adonay is an emphatic form of the root adon (both are masculine singular nouns) with some additional vowel pointings to show its pronunciation, and both the original and the emphatic forms mean simply "lord" or "master."

Adding affixes to the root provide more specific meanings to the basic stem. For some examples:

  • the suffix "-îm" is the masculine plural, so adonîm translates to "lords"
  • the prefix "ha-" adds definiteness to the word, so ha-adon translates to "the lord"
  • the suffix "-î" adds the meaning of possession, specifically first-person singular, so adoni translates to "my lord"

These can also be combined to mix the additional specificities, so ha-adonim translates to "the lords." And, as used in Genesis 24:54, Genesis 32:5, and Psalm 110:1, l'adoni (using the first-person singular possessive suffix and the prefix "le" which means "to") translates to "to my lord."

Deuteronomy 10:17 uses wa-adone ha-adonim: wa- is the conjunction "and"; -e is the suffix denoting the masculine singular construct "of"; ha- is the definite article prefix "the"; and -im is the masculine plural. Together, these words translate to "{and lord of} {the lords}." (Because this clearly refers to God the Creator, English translations typically capitalize the first "lord" and render the phrase as "and Lord of lords.")

Hebrew does not have any affixes that denote divinity or humanity, so every instance of "ADN" with any of its grammatical attachments must be viewed within its usage context to decide whether it refers to God, the Creator of everything, or some other (human or otherwise) ruler or master.

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  • +1 @Jed Schaaf, Thank you. This is very informative! In consideration of context as you pointed out, does the lowercase interpretation of l'adoni as "to my lord" in Psalm 110 mean that King David referred to an earthly lord over him? The ESV translates it as "The LORD says to my Lord . . ."
    – Dieter
    Commented May 23 at 18:39
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    @Dieter I believe that Psalm 110 does refer to the Messiah as Lord over David, because that's how Jesus referenced it in Matthew 22:44, and none of the Pharisees challenged Him on His interpretation of Psalm 110:1; and I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, as well as God, the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity (based on this and many other passages).
    – Jed Schaaf
    Commented May 23 at 19:33
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Response [Further to the responses provided by Dottard and Alex Balilo]

As is obvious from the OP, the issue of “Adonai” and “adoni” revolves around Psalms 110:1. Let us analyze a few issues before jumping hastily to any conclusion.

Explanation

Point 1:-

Both “Adonai” and “adoni” looked the same in ancient Hebrew until the entrance of Masoretic Jews as the scribes in the Middle Ages.

Until then Hebrew was written only in consonants without any vowels. Vowels were used only orally when the OT was read.

Both “Adonai” and “adoni” look the same when written in Hebrew consonants. For example, if we remove the vowels from both “Adonai” and “adoni” in English itself, they will look “DN” and “DN”.

So, we have two historical considerations to make:

When was the vowels added in written form permanently in the OT?

In the Middle Ages when the Christians were stating that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.

Who added the vowels permanently in the OT?

The Masoretic Jews who were familiar with the Christians who stated that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.

So, chances are there they added the vowels of “adoni” instead of “Adonai”.

Point 2:-

Who was David’s Lord?

David was a powerful king. He had no one above him except Yahweh. So let us see who was his Lord?

“Oh my soul you have said to Jehovah, You are my Lord” (Psalms 16:2).

“But my eyes are on You, O Jehovah, my Lord; in You I take refuge; do not make my soul naked” (Psalms 141:8).

“You have seen, O Jehovah; do not keep silence, O Lord, do not be far from me. Stir Yourself and awaken to my judgment, to my cause, my God and my Lord” (Psalms 35:22-23).

[Reminiscent of Apostle Thomas declaring his faith in Jesus as “my Lord and my God” in John 20:28]

It is very clear that Yahweh alone was David’s “my Lord”. There was no other real “my Lord” to David.

So, when David speaks “my Lord” in Psalms 110:1, it definitely is “my Adonai” not adoni.

Point 3:-

The right hand of a person in the Scripture is a very important place to be at.

This is all the more important when somebody is asked to “sit” at the right hand. Let us look at an example from the Scripture:

“And Bathsheba came in to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her, and bowed to her, and sat on his throne, and placed a throne for the king's mother. And she sat at his right hand” 1 King 2:19).

Bathsheba is no ordinary human to Solomon and Israel. She was the mother of the King. No king will allow any ordinary person to sit on a throne at his right hand unless that person is unique and special.

Then how could we ever think that the very God Almighty, Yahweh, will allow an angel (even an arch-angel) or any person to “sit” at His right hand?

No way!

Why?

Because, Yahweh’s “right hand is high” (Psalms 89:13) and “exalted” (Psalms 118:16) and no one can “sit” there, unless the Person is special or unique!

If anyone has still doubt, see Whom King David has “set” at his right hand:

“I have set Jehovah always before me; for He is at my right hand: I shall not be shaken” (Psalms 16:8).

So, the Scripture is very clear. A “lord” cannot sit at the right hand of Yahweh. So it has to be “Adonai”.

Point 4:-

The Greek translation of the OT is known as Septuagint which was translated around 250 years before Christ.

It is significant that the Greek translators used the same Greek word for both Yahweh and Adonai/adoni which is “KURIOS”!

“Kurios said to my Kurios”.

Unless they are crazy, no sensible persons would use the same word for the Almighty Yahweh and an ordinary person in the same sentence. They would have differentiated them.

The fact that they did not differentiate the terms confirms the truth that the second Hebrew word was “Adonai” in fact.

Point 5:-

“The Lord (Adonai) at your right hand” Psalms (110:5).

Who is this?

Verse 1 clearly “defines” and “introduces” the Messiah as the Lord/lord at the right hand of Yahweh. (This is the right hermeneutics, right?)

This cannot be anyone else because IF the Messiah is at the right hand of Yahweh, then Yahweh canNOT be at the right hand of the Messiah. Yahweh will be at the left hand of the Messiah!

So this Messiah who is the “my Lord/lord” of David IS the Adonai or the Lord at the right hand of Yahweh.

A likely objection:-

Some may argue that verse 5 is talking about Yahweh at “your” (that is, David’s) right hand.

But then there is a problem. Verse 7 talks about this same Adonai “shall drink out of the torrent on the way”!

This is talking about a triumphant Messiah who conquers kings and judges them.

If I am not wrong, Yahweh is never depicted as drinking from any torrent. (Objections are welcome).

So the “Adonai” in verse 5 and the supposed “adoni” in verse 1 are the same Person and the same Person is at the same right hand.

And this strongly points to “Adonai” to be the correct word in verse 1.

Conclusion

Adoni is used for human beings and Adonai is used for Yahweh. But in Psalms 110:1, strong chances are there, “Adonai” was used originally.

(Unless someone can disprove my above 5 points, I will stand vindicated).

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    > So, chances are there they added the vowels of “adoni” instead of “Adonai”. This conspiracy theory was repeated about Isaiah 7, accusing meddlesome Jews of changing the words up until the discovery of the DSS 1QIsa. Do you have any sources who also claim Jewish tampering of the nikkudot in any of the verses using the word אדֹנִי? Commented May 22 at 12:45
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    I do not close my eyes to the possibility of conspiracy theories and I do acknowledge the exemplary work done by the Masoretic Jews. My only point is, they are not perfect as God is perfect. So, mistakes are possible here and there. I am thinking about possibilities and I will change my conviction if someone can refute my other 3 points. Commented May 22 at 15:35
  • As for evidence, I have seen Hebrew Bible (without vowel additions) using the same consonants “ADNY” in verse 1 (construed as Adoni) and “ADNY” in verse 5 (given as Adonai). Besides, if things were as clear, there would not have been confusion over how to pronounce the Tetragrammaton; Yahweh? Yehovah/Jehovah? Commented May 22 at 15:36
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    @NepheshRoi They are not perfect but it is more likely that they are right than that you are right. The were scholars attempting to preserve their tradition that had previously been oral for thousands of years. You are just guessing. Jew are forbidden from pronouncing the Tetragrammaton. It was only said once a year in the Temple. Easy to forget. But ADNY was pronounced daily by everyone. Hard to forget. Commented May 23 at 18:10
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    So you’re interpreting Psalm 110 as God said to God? Psalm 110 is a poem to be sung for king David, not a poem that king David himself sung
    – user64483
    Commented May 23 at 22:13
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It is well-known (see BDB) that the Hebrew word אָדוֹן ("Adon") has two important forms:

  • אדֹנִֽי (Adoni) meaning a term of respect, "Lord", "Master", etc, eg, Gen 23:6, 23:11, etc.
  • אֲדֹנָי (Adonay) used only when addressing יְהוָ֖ה (YHWH), eg, Gen 15:2, 8, 18:27, 30, etc.

On the second form, BDB suggests (without evidence):

Adonay proper name of God, parallel with Yahweh, substitution for it often by scribal error, & eventually supplanting it.

and -

apparently proper name Adonay Yahweh Isaiah 25:8; Jeremiah 44:26, etc

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    Note that the consonants are the same, so some readers may consider the vowel differences to be the interpretations of a later editor, and possibly not inspired. But on the other hand, it's almost always clear if it's referring to God or not, so it's not likely such editors made many mistakes with this particular vowel distinction.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 22 at 3:16
  • The two forms are the normal "adon" (Strong's number 113) and the emphatic "adonai" (Strong's number 136).
    – Jed Schaaf
    Commented May 22 at 23:29
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The word adoni means ( my lord). The term [adoni] has never been used to refer to God in the bible. God is never addressed as adoni. The title adoni is for someone who is explicitly not God as the other verses cited in the question shows. The capital on the second lord [adoni] in Psalm 110:1 can be characterized as an interpretation. Thus, the lucidity and accuracy of the text is corrupted by capitalizing it selectively.

If by writing "lord" to translate [adoni] in the Old Testament is meant to show that the person chosen is not God, then there is obvious inconsistency when it comes to Psalm 110:1.

The Hebrew bible's wording shows its deep concern with distinguishing God from man. It seems that the Jews took with the greatest seriousness that "they were entrusted with the oracles of God." The second lord in Psalm 110:1 is not Adonai, but adoni, the capitalization of it [Lord] breaks translation rules.

There is no earlier pattern in the bible in the Old Testament for the only true God to speak to another who is equally the only true God. The capitalization on the second lord of Psalm 110:1 is misleading.

Most appearances of the word "adoni" in the Old Testament has been use to refer to a human superior, husband, king or master. It has never ever been used to refer to God.

Peter affirmed the fulfillment of this verse in Acts 2:32-36. If we assume that Peter believed that both the Father and Jesus are God, then God permitted God to die. Then God resurrected God and God sat God at God's right hand.

Acts 2:32-36 YLT

This Jesus did God raise up, of which we are all witnesses; at the right hand then of God having been exalted -- also the promise of the Holy Spirit having received from the Father -- he was shedding forth this, which now ye see and hear; for David did not go up to the heavens, and he saith himself: The Lord saith to my lord, Sit thou at my right hand, till I make thy foes thy footstool; assuredly, therefore, let all the house of Israel know, that both Lord and Christ did God make him -- this Jesus whom ye did crucify.'

It would have bewildered the Jews to explain the assumption that the Messiah, the (adoni) second lord of Psalm 110:1 is really the one God of Israel who is also enigmatically two.

"Adonai and adoni are variations of Masoretic pointing to distinguish divine reference from human. Adonai is referred to God but adoni to human superiors. Adoni-refers to men: my lord, my master [zee Ps.110:1]. Adonai --ref.to God...Lord." "Adon (lord), Brown, Driver, Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament.

"Lord" The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans, 1986, 3:157. Adonai with a short vowel is the rare plural of adoni and appears as a title for the angels in Gen. 19:2 Uncertainty as to the pointing as a divine or human title is very rare.

"The form 'to my lord,' l'adoni is never used in the Old Testament as a divine reference...The generally accepted fact[is] that the Masoretic pointing distinguishes divine references(adonai) from human references(adoni) George Wigram, The Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament, cited in Herbert Bateman, "Psalm 110:1 and the New Testament," Biblioteca Sacra, Oct.-Dec.,1992, 438.

The consistent translation of Hebrew l'adoni to "to my lord" to the Greek "kurios mou" shows that the Greek translation consistently finds the Hebrew adoni as my lord.

Please see the following verses to examine if the Greek translation of l'adoni to "kurios mou" is complicated or corrupted.

Gen.24:35,54,56,; Gen.32:4,5,18; Gen.44:9,16,33

1 Sam.24:6; 25:27,28,30,31

2 Sam.4:8; 19:28

1 Kings1:2; 18:13; 20:9

1 Chronicles 21:3

Psalm 110:1

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    Commented May 23 at 23:33
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    @curiousdannii – May I have a suggestion? Could you move the comments to the chat after the discussion is over? Comments can be part of our learning process. So removing them to the chat right in the middle of a discussion would take out the spirit of learning. So, in my opinion, the comments could be moved after the discussion is over. As the moderator, the decision is yours. Thank you. Commented May 24 at 18:20
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