Capitalizing LORD

by Oct 18, 2015Linguistics, NTScholarship7 comments

The practice of capitalizing LORD when it translates Yahweh (יהוה) and not capitalizing it (or rather, not all of it) when it translates Adonai (אדני) goes back at least to Luther.

This is from Luther’s Preface to his (German) translation of the Old Testament:

Whoever reads this Bible should also know that I have been careful to write the name of God which the Jews call “Tetragrammaton” in capital letters thus, LORD [HERR], and the other name which they call Adonai only half in capital letters thus, LOrd [HErr].29 For among all the names of God, these two alone are applied in the Scriptures to the real, true God; while the others are often ascribed to angels and saints. I have done this in order that readers can thereby draw the strong conclusion that Christ is true God.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 35 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 248–249.

Does anyone know if this practice, which we still basically use today in English Bibles across the spectrum (from CEB to ESV), was invented by Luther? Or does it go back earlier?

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  1. Ken Casillas

    The HERR/LORD tradition reflects with greater nuance the LXX’s practice of translating YHWH with kurios (which in turn reflects the Masoretic practice of using the vowels of Adonai with Yahweh). So at least in principle Luther’s practice goes way back.

  2. Mark Ward

    I had a memory somewhere in the files at the back of the cranium that some ancient practice lay behind this…

    However… my handy-dandy Logos Bible Word Study feature tells me that both Yahweh and Adon were translated with κύριος, almost exclusively:

    So the LXX actually removes any distinction between the two. Am I missing something?

  3. Ken Casillas

    That’s largely correct, Mark, and it’s what I was referring to by Luther’s “greater nuance.” However, even in the LXX there is some distinction in that Kurios=Yahweh is anarthrous. In addition, it’s debated whether Kurios was the original LXX reading. Some evidence suggests that the LXX translators left the divine name in Hebrew letters. I would prefer using YHWH or Yahweh instead of LORD, but in principle the LORD tradition is acceptable since the NT quotes the LXX to this effect.

  4. Mark Ward

    Thanks, David! I saw Futato’s video this morning and found it quite interesting as well. Particularly interesting was his practice of reading יהוה out loud as adonai. I’ll have to poke through the other articles right away…

  5. David McKay

    I think many Hebrew teachers teach their students to follow the ancient practice of substituting Adonai for YHWH. However, in one of the weekend vids from Daily Dose of Hebrew, the teacher says Yahweh. Just after Dr Futato had told us this is incorrect!

    Thank you for pointing out Luther as the source of LORD. I see that Tyndale adopted this practice, after getting a copy of Luther’s Bible.


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