Many Will Call Him lord . . . Lord . . . LORD
Which one, Lord?
Do you remember the story in Genesis when three men, one being God in the flesh, appeared to the elderly Abraham and told him his wife would have a son within the year? Although Sarah was a decade younger than Abraham, she was equally elderly and had been barren all her life. Sarah overheard the pronouncement and laughed at the prospect.
Genesis 18:12–14 says:
Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son (KJV, emphasis added).
Regardless of the 500 years between now and the time this was translated—and aside from the phrases such as “waxed old,” “of a surety,” and “unto thee”—this passage is fairly easy to understand.
But why are some occasions of the word Lord capped and others not? This small difference points to a huge distinction.
Do All Lords Lead to God?
You may have noticed in your own Bible reading (and in the italic words in the passage above), that the simple four-letter word lord is capitalized differently throughout the Bible. If a person doesn’t understand the purpose of these differences, he may think all instances of this word point to God. And because the capitalized L and “small caps” ord (LORD) looks “formal,” it must simply be a symbol of honor. Formal means honor, right?
This capitalization style, though, has great meaning. The use of no caps versus small caps (or all caps) means the difference between an earthly master or a husband and the God of the universe. That’s a big difference.
Without the differentiation between a man and a specific name for God, this passage could be misunderstood to mean:
After I am waxed old . . . God being old also? And the man of the house said to Abraham . . . is anything too hard for the master?
Not only does this sound strange, but it is extremely inaccurate. By getting the lords mixed up, we would be calling God old and relegating him to the man of the house. But we know God is both ageless and the Creator of all men . . . and houses. It is imperative that we get this right.
So what does it all mean, and how can we be sure that the Bibles we produce are accurate?
In most English Bibles, when the word lord appears in small caps (Lord) or all caps (LORD), it refers to the Hebrew word YHWH, a most holy name for God that originally contained no vowels and meant “to be.” You will recognize this meaning when recalling the voice of God coming from the burning bush and telling Moses that his name was “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). In English Bibles, it is sometimes translated as Jehovah or Yahweh.
When other names for God are used, such as the Hebrew word Adonai, the English word Lord is represented with uppercase and lowercase letters just as any name would be.
Over 6,000 Chances for Error
Consider this: there are over 6,000 occurrences of the small cap Lord in English and Spanish Bibles. Getting the lords wrong can change the meaning tremendously. Sometimes inexperienced editors or typesetters see that the word Lord is most often represented with small caps and, to save time, may make the mistake of doing a global “fix,” changing all instances of the word to small caps.
This global change represents a huge problem for the typesetter, as each wrong instance must be changed back. And while our Scripture Integrity Team rarely sees this type of global problem in a Bible project, it’s not unusual to find several stray capitalization mistakes. Of course, finding that one stray mistake—one that easily slips through spell-check—means staying vigilant over the thousands of occasions of the word.
Getting these titles and names right matters. Mistakes in how these four little letters are capitalized could be the equivalent of removing God from a verse entirely. Ensure the proofreading team you entrust your Bible project to knows how to spot the correct formatting of each Lord.
The difference between lord and LORD couldn’t possibly be larger.