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Adonai is an Old Testament name for the God of Israel that translators converted to Lord in most English Bibles. The letters after the capital L are in lower case to differentiate the word Adonai from the word Yahweh, written as LORD in English Bibles. Yahweh is God’s personal Name and only refers to God:
‘Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “[g]I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘[I]I AM has sent me to you (Exodus 3:14-15).’”
Elohim is another Hebrew word commonly used to refer to God. It’s basic meaning is mighty one. This word, like Adonai, can also refer to men or angels. The Bible writer used Elohim to refer to God in the first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
The basic thought behind the word Adonai is that of ruler or master.
This word denotes God but can also refer to humans. In Genesis 18:12 Sarah applies it to her husband Abraham when she’s told she’ll give birth to a son, Isaac, at the age of ninety: “Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
Abraham’s slave also used Adonai to refer to his master: “So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter (Genesis 24:9).”
In the New Testament the Greek word Kurios is the word translated Lord. It means someone who has control over someone. In the Old Testament translated into Greek, the LXX (the Old Testament translated into Greek circa 200 BC), Kurios translated both the words Adonai and Yahweh.
What Does Adonai Mean?
So, Adonai is the Hebrew word used sometimes of God and sometimes to refer to humans who are in some way their ruler or master.