February 27, 2024


Barry Cooper

The name Adonai refers to God’s absolute sovereignty over creation. Today, Barry Cooper explains the most exalted title used to describe God in the Old Testament.


For reasons best known to themselves, my parents gave me the name Barry. 

Now with all due respect to my parents, I’ve never really liked it. And I don’t think I’m the only one. More often than you’d imagine, people say to me, “You don’t look like a Barry.” When I ask them what “a Barry” is supposed to look like, they always go a bit quiet, which tells you all you need to know about what comes to mind when people hear the name “Barry”.

For a long time, I had a mug with the definition of “Barry” on it, and it said: “Barry. Definition: fair haired.” So not only is the name Barry a bit rubbish, in my case it is also wildly inaccurate. 

By contrast, the names of God in Scripture are very significant and extremely accurate.

We’ve talked in other episodes of Simply Put about some of those names. Check out the episodes on Immanuel, Son of Man, Christ, and Abba.

But here’s another name that’s used to describe God: Adonai. The highest title used by God’s people in the Old Testament. You see it more than four hundred times. Adonai is a Hebrew word that means “Lord.” Someone with power and authority. Someone who rules. 

For example:

Isaiah chapter 25: “He will swallow up death forever; and the [Adonai] GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth.”

Daniel chapter 9: “O [Adonai], hear; O [Adonai], forgive. O [Adonai], pay attention and act.”

Zechariah chapter 9: “The [Adonai] GOD will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.”

The word adonai is also used as a title for human rulers. When David calls Saul “my lord the king” in 1 Samuel, he’s referring to King Saul there as his adonai. The Philistines are said to have five lords (adonai) in Judges chapter 3. And Sarah refers to her husband Abraham as her adonai in Genesis chapter 18.  

You may remember from the episode on Hallelujah that the very specific, personal name of the God of Israel is Yahweh. It’s usually translated in our English Bibles as “LORD”or “GOD” in capital letters. But when you see God described as Lord with lowercase letters, the word being translated is Adonai.

Here’s how it’s used in Psalm chapter 8, for example: 

O LORD [Yahweh], our Lord [Adonai], how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Even today, Jewish readers, out of reverence for God, rather than uttering the name Yahweh will say Adonai instead. 

There’s a particular meaning to Adonai. It refers to God’s absolute sovereignty over creation. 

In the New Testament, the Hebrew adonai becomes the Greek kyrios, but the meaning—Lord—is the same, and it still carries that sense of God’s complete sovereignty over all creation. It’s used of God the Father about one hundred times. But it’s also applied to Jesus—some seven hundred times. In fact, some of those New Testament references are quotations from the Old Testament which include the name Yahweh—the personal name of the God of Israel—except now in the New Testament, those Yahweh quotations are applied to Jesus.

The complete sovereignty of Adonai or Kyrios is all over the New Testament, but perhaps never more clearly than in Philippians chapter 2:

Therefore God has highly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Kyrios [Adonai, Lord], to the glory of God the Father.

One day, every tongue will confess that Jesus is Adonai. The Lord of all, the Master of all, the Owner of all—the One to whom everything belongs.