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My friend asked me the other day, why is the word 'Lord' in all capital letters in the Old Testament but not the New Testament?

I tend to lean towards the fact that the OT was written in Hebrew and the word for God in Hebrew is YAHWEH, or rather YHWH, and since they believed His name was so Holy, they only used capital letters.

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3 Answers 3

A convention in many Bibles is to do exactly as you say - convert the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) into LORD. To be sure, you should look at your Bible's preface. In the New Testament, which was composed in Greek, the word Kurios (e.g. Kyrie Elesion) is a title as opposed to a Proper Name.

To be clear: יהוה (Yahweh) = LORD - specific name, אֲדֹנָי (Adonai) = Lord - title, κύριος = Lord - title

Interestingly, the Jews took the notion of protection against blasphemy so far, that they would not pronounce the YHWH. Instead, during readings, they would substitute the proper name of God for Adonai, which translates to "my Lord". When the Masoretes attempted to add the vowels between the 7th and 11th Centuries AD, they did not know the correct vowels to use, because the tradition of Adonai was so long entrenched. As a result, they adopted the vowels of Adonai and added them to the Y-H-W-H to get Yah voh (Yahweh), or as the English wanted to pronounce it: Jeh-hov-ah.

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To be clear: יהוה (Yahweh) = LORD - specific name, אֲדֹנָי (Adonai) = Lord - title, κύριος = Lord - title. –  swasheck Aug 27 '12 at 20:21
The Masoretes didn't change the vowels under the tetragrammaton because they forgot—this is an example of a sort of perpetual ketib–qere due to their sensitivity toward changing the consonants in the text. –  jackweinbender Sep 4 '12 at 19:11
But it's not always a title in the NT, for example when the NT authors quote a passage of the Tanakh which has the Tetragrammaton in it. Why isn't "Lord" capitalized then? –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jan 21 at 23:33
@H3br3wHamm3r81 Because the word used is Kurious rather than YHWH. Plus, as stated, IT IS A CONVENTION ADDED, not in the original manuscripts. Really, that was a downvote? –  Affable Geek Jan 22 at 15:39
After re-reading the OP, I assumed he wanted to know why it wasn't capitalized in NT, but it really seems he was concerned with OT, so you answered his question. I will retract the DV and give you UV. In any case, hopefully you weren't offended by the DV. I assure you it was nothing personal @YuletideGeek. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jan 22 at 15:52

The Hebrew letters roughly corresponding to YHWH are the name of the Jewish god. Literally, this is their god's name, just like my name is Kyralessa and your name is Rachel.

However, in order to avoid using God's name in vain, the Jews did not pronounce this name. Instead, they substituted the Hebrew word adonai, which means "lord".

In the actual Hebrew text of the Old Testament, the consonants YHWH for the name of God are pointed with the vowels for the word adonai. (You can see what Hebrew vowels look like here: Hebrew Nikkudot) This means that whenever you're reading aloud, and you come to the name of God, you instead read the word adonai.

This isn't the only case of this kind of substitution, though it's by far the most common. You can find more qere/ketiv cases here: Qere and Ketiv

Reading the vowels of adonai with the consonants YHWH gives one "Yehovah", or "Jehovah". This isn't the name of God, however. Despite its historical popularity, it's simply a nonsensical mixture of two different words. We don't know what vowels the word YHWH originally had.

Writing the word LORD in the Old Testament is a way of indicating that in that place, the name of God (YHWH) is present in the original Hebrew. adonai translates as "Lord", so this is a way in English of simulating the Hebrew practice of saying "Lord" in place of God's name.

There are a few cases in Hebrew where adonai YHWH occurs. To avoid the awkwardness of "Lord LORD" in the text, Bibles generally render this as "Lord GOD" instead.

Incidentally, the capital letters in English don't have any connection with capital letters in Hebrew, because Hebrew doesn't have capital and lower-case letters.

Now, what about the New Testament? The New Testament doesn't contain the name of God anywhere. The word "Lord" in the New Testament is κύριος kyrios, and the word "God" is θεός theos. It's quite possible that in some cases of the New Testament, kyrios is meant to stand in for the name of God (with the adonai substition). But since it's technically not the name of God, the "Lord"-in-small-caps convention isn't used in the New Testament.

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This is as good an answer as one could hope for here. –  jackweinbender Sep 4 '12 at 19:13

Best bet is to read the introductory notes in your particular Bible. The translators will usually put info in those notes about special features used in the English texts to denote certain things in the original language. For example, my NASB has this note under Principles of Translation, The Proper Name of God in the Old Testament:

One of the titles for God is Lord, a translation of Adonai. There is yet another name which is particularly assigned to God as His special or proper name, that is, the four letters has been consistently translated LORD.

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Downvote w/ no explanation? –  Randy Syring Aug 27 '12 at 15:16
I thought it was a good addition to the other answer, because the introdutory notes are the place to look for a lot of information like that. –  thursdaysgeek Aug 27 '12 at 18:22

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