O Lordy

A few days ago I was reading Psalm 8 during my devotion and contemplating the opening words, “O LORD, our Lord” in the ESV (English Standard Version) I was using. I wondered whether this phrase was used anywhere else, so I did a search in my Bible program, Accordance, and a Pandora’s Box opened up. So hang with me for some statistics (or just go to the conclusion!). The search I did looked for places where YHWH (usually translated LORD) and ‘adon(ai) (Lord/my Lord) occurred right next to one another in the Hebrew Bible. In fact, this combo occurs hundreds of times either as ‘adon(ai) YHWH or YHWH ’adon(ai) or YHWH ’adonenu or the very rare Yah YHWH.

I started looking at how the ESV translated these and I got confused really fast. Then I looked at other translations to see what they did. The result was eye-opening and begged for explanation. 

First let’s look at the evidence from the ESV (look carefully at the variations in English, especially all caps):

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Genesis 15:2, 8 ’adonai YHWH is “O Lord GOD”

Exodus 23:17 ’adon YHWH is “Lord GOD.”

Exodus 34:23 ’adon YHWH is “LORD God.”

Deuteronomy 3:24; 9:26 ’adonai YHWH is “O Lord GOD”

Joshua 3:13 YHWH adon is “LORD, the lord” (followed by “of all the earth”).

Joshua 7:7 ’adonai YHWH is “O Lord GOD”

Judges 6:22; 16:28 ’adonai YHWH is “O Lord GOD”

2 Samual 7:18-20, 28-29 ’adonai YHWH is “O Lord GOD” 6 times.

1 Kings 2:26 ’adonai YHWH is “the Lord GOD”

1 Kings 8:53 ’adonai YHWH is “O Lord GOD”

Nehemiah 10:30 YHWH adonenu is “The LORD, our Lord.”

Psalm 8:1 YHWH adonenu is “O LORD, our Lord.”

68:20 YHWH adonai is “GOD, the lord.”

69:6 ’adonai YHWH tzeva’ot is “O Lord GOD of hosts.”

71:16 ’adonai YHWH is “the Lord GOD”

73:28 ’adonai YHWH is “the Lord GOD”

109:21 YHWH adonai is “O GOD, my lord.”

140:7 YHWH adonai is “O LORD, my lord.”

141:8 YHWH adonai is “O GOD, my lord.”

Isaiah 1:24 hadon YHWH tzeva’ot is “the Lord … the LORD of hosts.”

3:1 hadon YHWH tzeva’ot is “the Lord GOD of hosts,” so also 10:16, 33; 19:4; 22:5, 28:22

 

3:15 ’adonai YHWH tzeva’ot is “the Lord GOD of hosts,” so also 10:23, 24

7:7 ’adonai YHWH is “the Lord GOD,” so also 25:8; 28:16; 30:15; 40:10; 48:16; 49:22; 50:4, 5, 7, 9; 52:4; 56:8; 61:1, 11; 65:13, 15

12:2 Yah YHWH is “the LORD GOD” as well as 26:4

Jeremiah 1:6 ’ahah ’adonai YHWH is “Ah, Lord GOD,” so also 4:10, 14:13, 32:17

2:19 ’adonai YHWH tzeva’ot is “the Lord GOD of hosts,” so also 46:10; 49:5; 50:25, 31

2:22 ’adonai YHWH is “the Lord GOD,” so also 7:20, 44:26

32:25 ’adonai YHWH is “O Lord GOD.”

Ezekiel has ’adonai YHWH as “the Lord GOD” 217 times, Amos 21 times, and Obadiah, Micah, Zephaniah, and Zechariah once each. 

Habakkuk 3:19 YHWH ’adonai is “GOD, the Lord”

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First, some observations on the ESV translations (once again take note of all caps). YHWH (usually pronounced “Yahweh”) is sometimes translated as “LORD” and sometimes as “GOD.” When YHWH follows ‘adon(ai), as it does the vast majority of times, it is always translated “GOD,” except for two times—in Isaiah 1:24, the ESV separates ’adonai from YWHW tzeva’ot in the translation (“Thus the Lord declares, the LORD of hosts”), and in Exodus 34:23 ’adon is translated as “LORD” and YHWH as “God”!!* The translation of YHWH as “GOD” is different from the many times YHWH is on its own or occurs with ’elohim “God,” where it is always translated as “LORD.” When ’adonai following YHWH is “my lord” (which is technically correct) and but when it precedes YHWH it is “the Lord” or “O Lord” (the “O” has no Hebrew equivalent; the translators add it when God is being addressed). So ’adonai in first position (’adonai YHWH) changes YHWH from“LORD” to “GOD” in the ESV.

*This instance in Exodus 34:23 is likely a copy error that the ESV has taken over from the RSV (and also retained in the NRSV and the CEB).

The real variations happen when YHWH is in first position (Nehemiah 10:30; Pss. 8:1, 9; 68:20; 109:21; 140:7; 141:8; Habakkuk 3:19) and in the phrase Yah YHWH in Isaiah. These are bolded above. What is very obvious on close inspection is the variation, especially in the Psalms. The ESV is all over the place. First, when YHWH is followed by ’adonenu “our Lord” (Neh 10:30; Ps 8:1, 9) the ESV translates YHWH with “LORD.” When YHWH is followed by ’adonai “my Lord,” however, ESV sometimes translates YHWH as “LORD” and sometimes as “GOD” with no explanation (Josh 3:13 “LORD;” Ps 68:20 “GOD;” 109:21 “GOD;” 140:7 “LORD;” 141:8 “GOD;” Habakkuk 3:19 “GOD.” What’s more only Joshua 3:3 has ’adon “Lord” without the –ai suffix for “my.” The others have ’adonai “my Lord,” but seem to be arbitrary on maintaining the “my” or not. Finally the rare phrase in Isaiah Yah YHWH is rendered “LORD” for Yah and “GOD” for YHWH.

In the preface to the ESV, the editors make clear that both “LORD” and “GOD” render YHWH, yet they do not give the rationale for when a choice is made, except for ’adonai YHWH as “Lord GOD.” But why “Lord GOD,” instead of “Lord LORD”? No explanation is given. No rationale is given at all for the other instances where YHWH occurs first. Mystery? Well, not after some looking at other translations.

Come to find out, the ESV exactly follows the RSV (Revised Standard Version) and the KJV in virtually every instance. When the RSV is different from KJV, the ESV follows the RSV.  So in Psalm 140:7, KJV has “O GOD the Lord,” but ESV following RSV has “O LORD, my Lord.” The KJV and NKJV both have “Lord GOD” in Exodus 34:23, as does the NASB, but as noted above, the ESV follows the RSV with the erroneous “LORD God,” as does the NRSV and the CEB. So the ESV follows the long-standing tradition of the KJV, followed by so many since, but usually follows the RSV when they differ, without explanation. Yet interestingly when KJV/RSV all have “the Lord, the LORD of hosts” in Isaiah, the ESV deviates with “the Lord GOD of hosts.” The NRSV translates as “the Sovereign LORD of hosts.”

Why did the KJV start the tradition of “Lord GOD” in the first place? Well, the translators of the KJV followed the Latin Vulgate, which normally translated ’adonai YHWH as Domine Deus (“Lord God”). The Vulgate deviated from the Greek Septuagint, which normally doubled the word kyrios for ’adonai YHWH (thus kurios kurios) or dropped to just kurios. Whether the KJV translators modeled their result on previous translations, I don’t know, though it appears they differ from the Great Bible of 1540 which does not use all caps and sometimes transliterates YHWH as “Iehoua.”

 In conclusion, we see that a number of modern translations copy the traditions of previous translators, but not without the consequences of some confusion and certainly a lack of consistency. This is even the case with the Jewish Publication Society translation of the Hebrew Bible (JPS) which follows the KJV and/or NRSV closely. There are modern translations that alleviate the confusion by transliterating YHWH. The American Standard Version of 1901 used “Jehovah,” while the New Jerusalem Bible and the recent Lexham English Bible use “Yahweh.” There may be others. When this choice is made, virtually all confusion disappears. We will see if more translations move in this direction.

 

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