The Lord Said to My LORD, Lord and lord? Hunh?

The Lord Said to My LORD and Lord and lord? Hunh?
Acts 2:34-36; Psalm 110.1

When it comes to referencing our Jewish and Christian God, the writers of the Hebrew and Greek versions of Bible manuscripts leave much for English translators to unpack and decide. The name of God, title of God, description of God, and attributes of God involve a variety of words in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek plus borrowed words from other source languages. If you follow what is called source-critical theory, it seems that various writers (or compilers? editors?) of the Old Testament used different Hebrew words to refer to the same God of the Hebrews. Furthermore, words used for our true God can also be used (properly) to refer to other (lowercase) gods of the ancient near east. Furthermore again, one of the words for God is also used in everyday speech as a polite term of respect for any man. And this thicket of Hebrew and Greek is compounded when translating all these Hebrew and Greek words into suitable English equivalents. And some of this movement to English is influenced by intervening translation into Latin.

Fortunately, this is Bible Bits, and not Bible Thickets, so we will not attempt to explain all this. There are good starting point references which tackle the thicket of names (etc.) of God and gods, such as our old 1962 Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible. Here is their outline of their entry on “names of God:”

Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible entry on “names of God” (1962)

We will instead take a quick look at two examples of original Hebrew and Greek, follow them into English, and see how a variety of English translations handle the interpretation and printing of the several words referencing our God in his person and in his role as Lord.

Or is it lord? Is it Lord or LORD or lord? Even the case of a word is part of the thicket of confusion.

We will examine Acts 2:34-36 and Psalm 110:1.

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In the Christian book of Acts, in chapter 2, the promised person of the Holy Spirit enters the disciples in an event we Christians call Pentecost. Here, the normally impulsive and somewhat slow-to-catch-on Peter now expresses a maturity and “getting it” we have not seen before. The promised Holy Spirit (fancy words: paraclete and hagios pneuma) has arrived and stirred things up in a fiery whirlwind. The Christ-followers are speaking in tongues (fancy word: glossolalia) and making others in the crowd look at them funny, yet those in the crowd hear these words in their own, foreign languages. There is confusion in the crowd, and a threat of disruption. So Peter stands up and delivers an eloquent address to calm the mob.

In Acts 2:34-36, Peter quotes his friend and master (i.e., lord) Jesus who in turn has quoted king David, who hundreds of years before Christianity’s beginning expresses an essential thought of Christian doctrine. In doing so, David / Jesus / Peter uses one of those head-scratching phrases we find occasionally in our English Bibles: “the lord said to my lord.”

Here, in the 1899 Douay-Rheims:

For David ascended not into heaven; but he himself said: The Lord said to my Lord, sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy enemies thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know most certainly, that God hath made both Lord and Christ, this same Jesus, whom you have crucified. (Acts 2:34-36, Douay-Rheims)

In the King James:

For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:34-36, KJV)

In the New American Standard:

For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET.”’ Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:34-36, NASB)

Now let’s move this curious “lord said to my lord” phrase in the Old Testament.

In Peter’s speech, he quotes his ancestor David. The song-writer, harpist to Saul, giant-killer, slayer of tens of thousands, and long-time king of unified Israel is the original writer of these words. David’s verse of music and song is found in Psalm 100:1:

The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand: Until I make thy enemies thy footstool. (Psalm 109:1 in the Douay-Rheims 1899)

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” (Psalm 110.1, NASB)

The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. (Psalm 110.1, KJV)

Hunh? “The LORD said to my Lord?” Hunh? What does this mean?

And why the varied capitalization of LORD and Lord. What’s up with this?

This confusing phrase of Acts 2 and Psalm 110 is found additionally in three of the gospels, with Christ himself quoting David. We’ll show you these three in three different English translations:

He said to them, “How then does David by the Spirit call him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? (Matt 22:43-43, NET)

For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’ (Mark 12:36, NKJV)

For David himself says in the book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ (Luke 20:42-43, Lexham)

Note above how the NET, NKJV, and Lexham translations handle the capitalization and case (upper/lower) of the word LORD / Lord / lord.

In the Greek of Acts 2:34-36, the “lord said to my lord” phrase is as follows:

34 οὐ γὰρ Δαυὶδ ἀνέβη εἰς τοὺς οὐρανούς, λέγει δὲ αὐτός· εἶπεν [ὁ] κύριος τῷ κυρίῳ μου· κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου, (NA-28)

In the Greek, the two “lords” are rooted in the same word, but are slightly different. κύριος τῷ κυρίῳ. kyrios and kyrio. Note that the “official,” standard reference Greek of the Nestle-Aland 28th edition does not carry capitalization of any letter or word. This is consistent with the hand lettering scripts of ancient manuscripts.

As an aside regarding the lack of upper/lower case distinctions in the ancient hand-written manuscripts, here is an image of a relatively large papyrus fragment holding portions of Acts 2:17. (We could not find an image of Acts 2:34-36.) This object is dated to the 7th century, and is held by the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. For our purposes, note that all letters are in Greek lower case, and the lack of word divisions and punctuation:

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Next, the source Hebrew.

Here is the reference standard Hebrew of Psalm 110:1, from its keepers in Germany at the Deutsche Bibel Geselleschaft. Reading right-to-left:

לְדָוִ֗ד מִ֫זְמֹ֥ור נְאֻ֤ם יְהוָ֨ה׀ לַֽאדֹנִ֗י שֵׁ֥ב לִֽימִינִ֑י עַד־אָשִׁ֥ית אֹ֝יְבֶ֗יךָ הֲדֹ֣ם לְרַגְלֶֽיךָ׃

From right-to-left, יְהוָ֨ה׀ לַֽאדֹנִ֗י is “YHWH (Yahweh) my Lord/Master.”

Next, a very early Greek version of the Hebrew.

The pre-Christian version of the Old Testament / Hebrew scriptures written in Greek — the Septuagint — offers perspective on how translators and readers in Christ’s time interpreted Hebrew words. The Septuagint reads Psalm 110:1 — actually, in the Septuagint this is Psalm 109 — in its Greek as:

ΕΙΠΕΝ ὁ Κύριος τῷ Κυρίῳ μου· κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου, ἕως ἂν θῶ τοὺς ἐχθρούς σου ὑποπόδιον τῶν ποδῶν σου.
(from septuagint.bible, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Hellenic Bible Society)

The recent New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) publication translates this as:

The Lord said to my lord, “Sit on my right until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (NETS, Psalm 109:1)

Here’s a “side-by-side” illustration of Acts 2:34 / Psalm 110:1 phrasing, pulled from the excellent Greek and Hebrew Interlinears at Scripture4All:

The Greek and Hebrew Interlinears from the excellet Scripture4All.

Confused yet?

As a final illustration of all this, we will show a large number of English translations and their choices on how to handle the words and the printing of Psalm 110:1.

Remember, the source Hebrew of the two words of interest is pronounced something like “Yahweh Adonai”, with the raw meaning something like “true Hebrew God name my lord and anointed Lord boss master.” More or less. Here:

לְדָוִ֗ד מִ֫זְמֹ֥ור נְאֻ֤ם יְהוָ֨ה׀ לַֽאדֹנִ֗י שֵׁ֥ב לִֽימִינִ֑י עַד־אָשִׁ֥ית אֹ֝יְבֶ֗יךָ הֲדֹ֣ם לְרַגְלֶֽיךָ׃

As you review these below, note the English wording and typesetting conventions:

  • of using all-uppercase when referring to the true Hebrew God as LORD
  • of using all-lowercase lord when the desired meaning is “master” or “boss” (even where that master is Jesus himself)
  • of using leading capitalization Lord when referring to Jesus
  • the historic use of Jehovah by those early English translations which followed ancient Latin translations
  • the borrowing of Hebrew transliteration of the tegragrammaton YHWH or perhaps YHVH (none of the samples below show this)
  • the use of the Hebrew substitution word HaShem (“the Name”) for the personal name of God (YHWH, Yahweh, and see the Orthodox Jewish Bible)
  • the use of Hebrew-based substitution word Adonai (=”Lord”) in place of the personal name of God (YHWH, Yahweh)

From Psalm 100:1:

AMP: The Lord (Father) says to my Lord (the Messiah, His Son), …
AMPC: The Lord (God) says to my Lord (the Messiah), …
Aramaic PE: Lord Jehovah said to my Lord, …
ASV: Jehovah saith unto my Lord, …
Brenton LXX: The Lord said to my Lord, …
NETS LXX: The Lord said to my lord,
BRG: The Lord said unto my Lord, …
CEB: What the Lord says to my master: …
CJB: Adonai says to my Lord, …
CSB: This is the declaration of the LORD to my Lord: …
Darby: Jehovah said unto my Lord, …
Douay-Rheims: The Lord said to my Lord: …
EHV: The decree of the Lord to my lord: …ESV: The LORD says to my Lord: …
ESVUK: The Lord says to my Lord: …
EXB: The Lord said [Utterance/Oracle of the Lord] to my Lord, …
GNT: The LORD said to my lord, …
GNV: The Lord said unto my Lord, …
GWT: The LORD said to my Lord, …
HCSB : This is the declaration of the LORD to my Lord: …
ICB: The Lord said to my Master, …
ISV: A declaration from the LORD to my Lord: …
JPS Tanakh 1917: The LORD saith unto my lord: …
KJ2000: The LORD said unto my Lord, …
KJ21: The Lord said unto my Lord, …
KJV: The LORD said unto my Lord, …
LEB: A declaration of Yahweh to my lord, …
MEV: The Lord said to my lord, …
MSG: The word of God to my Lord: …
NABRE: The Lord says to my lord: …
NASB: The LORD says to my Lord: …
NCV: The Lord said to my Lord, …
NEB: The LORD said to my lord, …
NET: Here is the LORD’s proclamation to my lord: …
New Heart: The LORD says to my Lord, …
NIRV: The Lord says to my lord, …
NIV: The LORD says to my lord: …
NIVUK: The Lord says to my lord: …
NJB: Yahweh declared to my Lord, …
NKJV: The LORD said to my Lord, …
NLT: The LORD said to my Lord, …
NLV: The Lord says to my Lord, …
NOG: Yahweh said to my Lord, …
NRSV: The Lord says to my lord, …
OJB: Hashem said unto Adoni [i.e., Moshiach Adoneinu; …
RSV: The Lord says to my lord: …
RSVCE: The Lord says to my lord: …
TLB: Jehovah said to my Lord the Messiah, …
TLV: Adonai declares to my Lord: …
TPT: Yahweh said to my Lord, the Messiah: …
VOICE: The Eternal said to my lord, …
WEB: Yahweh says to my Lord, …
Webster: The LORD said to my Lord, …
WYC: The Lord said to my Lord; …
YLT: The affirmation of Jehovah to my Lord: …

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If you’d like to comment to our post, please reference a good commentary and provide scripture.

May God bless you while you read the actual Bible for yourself!

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