Question: Why is the word Lord printed in different ways in the Bible? For example, Psalm 38:15 says, “For in thee, O Lord, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord my God.” The first appearance is in capitals and the second starts with a capital letter followed by small letters. What is the reason for this?
The passage in Psalm 38:15 uses two print styles, but the Bible actually distinguishes the English word “lord” in three different ways. Sometimes it is in “small caps” or all capital letters (Lord or LORD).[i] Sometimes only the first letter is capitalized (Lord). Sometimes all letters are lowercase (lord). Isaiah 19:4 is one verse that uses all three. “And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord; and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts.” [bold emphasis mine]
The first “lord” in Isaiah 19:4 is a translation of adon, as well as the second “Lord.” The all lowercase spelling “lord” is used of a human lord/master/ruler. “Lord” beginning with a capital letter denotes the use of adon or adonai in reference to God. The third use of “Lord” in Isaiah 19:4 is a translation of the Hebrew word YHWH/Yahweh/Jehovah. So in Psalm 38:15 we have, “For in thee, O Lord [YHWH], do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord [Adonai] my God [Elohim].”[ii] In Isaiah 19:4 we have “And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord [Adon] ; and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord [Adon], the Lord [YHWH] of hosts.”
This original language name in Isaiah 19:4 can be illustrated with The Names of God Bible (© 2011 by Baker Publishing Group). It transliterates[iii] “the Lord, the Lord of hosts” as “Adonay Yahweh Tsebaoth.”
So the general rule of usage in the Old Testament is:
- lord (all lowercase) – a human master or ruler
- Lord (capital followed by lowercase) – the divine master or ruler, God
- Lord (small caps or uppercase) – God, translating his name Jehovah or Yahweh (or the shortened form Jah or Yah)
The name “Tetragrammaton” (four letters) refers to the four Hebrew letters יהוה name for God,[iv] most commonly transliterated into Latin letters as YHWH. According to Jewish practice the Tetragrammaton was not pronounced but read aloud as Adonai or Elohim. This practice was transferred into translations of the Bible, and hence our English typography Lord was generally used to designate the Tetragrammaton, i.e. YHWH or Jehovah. There are a few exceptions that necessitated its use – in English (usually) as “Jehovah.”[v] The King James Bible has 4 such exceptions (Exodus 6:3, Psalm 83:18, Isaiah 12:2, and Isaiah 26:4).[vi]
According to The KJV Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon[vii] at Bible Study Tools, King James Bible word usage of YHWH totals 6519 – Lord 6510, God 4, JEHOVAH 4,[viii] variant 1.
According to The KJV Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon at Bible Study Tools, King James Bible word usage of Jah/Yah (a shortened form of YHWH/Jehovah) totals 49 – Lord 48, JAH 1.
According to The KJV Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon at Bible Study Tools, King James Bible word usage of adonai totals 434 – Lord 431, lord 2, God 1.
According to The KJV Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon at Bible Study Tools, King James Bible word usage of adon totals 335 – lord 197, master(s) 105, Lord 31, owner 1, sir 1.
The common words in the New Testament are Lord for kurios (κυρίος) and God for theos (θεὸς).
I hope this helps, and I hope the small caps formatting turns out OK on the blog!
[i] This may vary according to the printer – especially for individuals – but the usual print style is what is called “small caps”. Small caps typography (small capitals) is short uppercase/capital letters designed to substitute for and blend with lowercase text. In the practice of spelling Lord in the Bible, this begins with one full uppercase or capital letter (L), followed by three “small caps” (ord). Printers unable to use small caps typography will use all capitals instead (LORD).
[ii] In the Old Testament when “God” is used, it is usually (though not always) a translation of the Hebrew word “Elohim.”
[iv] Jod (י), He (ה), Vau (ו), He (ה) in the King James Bible – see Psalm 119 headings for the transliteration of the letters.
[v] It has been transferred into English as Jehovah, Yahweh, Yehowah, and various other ways.
[vi] Isaiah 26:4 Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord [JAH] JEHOVAH [YHWH] is everlasting strength:
[vii] The Hebrew lexicon is Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon.
[viii] Not counting the cases in Genesis 22:14, Exodus 17:15 and Judges 6:24.