De Moor IV:5: Hebrew Names for God: אֲדֺנָי/Adonai

Lord: אָדוֹן/Adon/Lord, from His preservation of all things, on earth and in the Church, whence flows the just dominion of God over all things; indeed, it is commonly derived from אֶדֶן/base/foundation: and so God, as the base and pedestal of all things, which are subject to His rule, in a similar manner is called Lord, as to the Greeks the king is called βασιλεὺς, the βάσις τοῦ λαοῦ, base/foundation of the people, as it were, although the rationale for this denomination with such emphasis falls to no human king, as indeed to the Lord God.


In this most acquiesce at this point, says the Most Illustrious VRIEMOET. At the same time, in his Adnotationibus ad Dicta classica Veteris Testamenti, tome 1, chapter III, pages 126, 127, he himself supplies a new conjecture, according to which אָדוֹן/Adon is from the Arabic root اذن (which is the Hebrew אזן; with the lisped ذ/dhsal, which is the Hebrew ד/dh, and the ז/z exchanged, as often elsewhere), to obey; likewise to comply with, to yield to. Whence the form of אָדוֹן/Adon, which is properly the Qal Infinitive, would be He to whom obedience is yielded, or ought to be yielded. But I would wish my reader to consider which Etymology appears closer; and to deliberate whether or not, if the Arabic word اذن be expressed in Hebrew by אזן, the name thence derived in Hebrew also ought to have the ז/z, rather than the ד/dh, so that in the place of אָדוֹן/Adon אָזוֹן/Azon might be used. The opinion of others, that derive אָדוֹן/Adon from דּוּן, to judge, with an heemantic א prefixed,[1] would appear preferable, so that it might denote the highest Judge of all.


That Name אָדוֹן/Adon, with the suffix, אֲדוֹנִי, my Lord, in the singular is common to both God and men; although by epithets added God is sufficiently distinguished from men; thus God is calledאֲד֖וֹן כָּל־הָאָ֑רֶץ, the Lord of all the earth, Joshua 3:11; thus David speaks of his Lord in the singular, Psalm 110:1, נְאֻ֤ם יְהוָ֙ה׀ לַֽאדֹנִ֗י, Jehovah said to my Lord. In the plural, אֲדוֹנִים and אֲדוֹנֵי are also used both of God and of creatures: thus you read of God in Malachi 1:6, וְאִם־אֲדוֹנִ֣ים אָנִי֩, and if I be a lord, and in Psalm 136:3, ה֭וֹדוּ לַאֲדֹנֵ֣י הָאֲדֹנִ֑ים, give thanks to the Lord of lords.


But אֲדֺנָי/Adonai, with the Qametz (ָ) before the Yod (י) of itself, that is, when the Qametz is not because of an accent, is proper to God alone; just as the Masoretes[2] note that אֲדֺנָי/Adonai was written of God in one hundred and thirty-four places, among which there are seven in which is לַאדֺנָי, to my Lord, and ten in which is וַאדֺנָי, and my Lord. Whether now that אֲדֺנָי/Adonai be plural with a Suffix of the first person, with Qametz (ָ) written in the place of Patach (ַ), so that it might be distinguished from אֲדֺנַי, my lord, used of those other than God, as Lot speaks to the Angels in the plural, Genesis 19:2, אֲדֹנַ֗י ס֣וּרוּ נָ֠א, my lord, turn in, I pray you, as GUSSETIUS contends in his Commentario Linguæ Hebraicæ, page 17: or it even be a plural of a Termination irregular, at least more peculiar, but which nevertheless is also observed in חַלּוֹנַי/windows, שָׂרַי/princes, הָרַי/mountains, גּוֹבַי/locusts, etc.; and this is preferred by LEUSDEN, Philologo Hebræo-Græco, Dissertation XXXI, § 11, than that ָי be considered as a suffix. Now, that plural Termination will likewise have the Qametz (ָ) in the place of the Patach (ַ) in ַי, so that this Name, used of God, might be distinguished from the same Name in the plural used of creatures with the suffix.


At least, that the suffix of the first person in the Name אֲדֺנָי/ Adonai attributed to God, is not able everywhere to be acknowledged: for example, when God is introduced as speaking of Himself, with the Name אֲדֺנָי/Adonai employed, in Job 28:28;[3] or when many speak, or speech is appointed in the name of many, as in Psalm 90:17, where is found אֲדֹנָ֥י אֱלֹהֵ֗ינוּ, Adonai our God, which you would not aptly render, my Lord, our God. But that irregular termination of the plural number in ַי, which some Grammarians acknowledge, is called into controversy by others; who have examples alleged either for plurals with the suffix of the first person, or for singulars ending in ַי: which sort of singulars they additionally judge, both from their use, and from the י as the ordinary indication of plurality, to be collective, and thus to embrace something plural; which, following the Most Illustrious VERBRUGGE,[4] is the opinion of the Celebrated VRIEMOET, Adnotationibus ad Dicta classica Veteris Testamenti, tome 1, chapter III, pages 127-130, which he thus applies to the Name אֲדֺנָי/Adonai used of God, so that from this name, no less than from אֱלֹהִים/Elohim, he might mine evidence of the plurality of Persons in the one divine Essence: so that the singular form of the Name might indicate the Unity; but the plurality of Persons might be gathered from the indication of the collective Name, which the termination of this Name supplies. It is not suitable in this place painstakingly to compose these quarrels. At the same time, the Most Illustrious OTHO VERBRUGGE’S Observationes philologicæ de Nominum Hebræorum plurali Numero are altogether worthy of reading upon this matter; where, in the second Observation, he asserts, “In the Hebrew language names are not given, as it is commonly believed, that are terminated in ַי/ai in the absolute or construct state of the dual or plural number:” which he busies himself to prove by an examination undertaken of all the examples wont to be adduced upon this matter, pages 103-203; and among other things he contends that אָדוֹן and אֲדֺנַי are two forms of the singular number, which would both denote lord; and that in the same way the situation stands in the case of חַלּוֹן and חַלּוֹנַי, in both which would be denoted a window, § 79, page 181, and § 95, page 197: consult also ANTONIUS HULSIUS’[5] Nucleum Prophetiæ, on Genesis 1:1, § XIII, pages 8, 9, who also holds אֲדֺנָי/Adonai as a singular from אָדוֹן/Adon, to which an heemantic י/yod is added on the end.


But concerning the Signification of this singular Name, even if it be taken as a plural, or it occur with a plural termination concerning the true God, there has already been discussion in the explication of the Name אֱלֹהִים/Elohim. Concerning the Name אֲדֺנָי/Adonai, and its conjunction with the Name יְהוָה/Jehovah, see BUXTORF’S Dissertationem de Nominibus Dei Hebraicis, § 51-54. Concerning the Etymology of the Name אָדוֹן/Adon, and its form אֲדֺנָי/Adonai, VAN ALPHEN also deserves to be consulted, Commentario on Daniel 9:3, pages 100-106.

[1] Heemantic nouns are formed by prefixing or adding one or more servile letters.


[2] The Masoretes were mediæval Jewish scribes (laboring from the fifth to the tenth centuries AD), responsible for the preservation and propagation of the traditional text of the Hebrew Scriptures.


[3] Job 28:28: “And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord (אֲ֭דֹנָי), that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”


[4] Otho Verbrugge (1670-1745) was a Hebraist and Professor of Theology at Groningen (1717-1745).


[5] Antonius Hulsius (1615-1685) was a Dutch Reformed philologist and theologian.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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