Why does the Bible emphasize the spelling of God’s name in various ways?
If you have read the Bible, at some point you may have noticed that the spelling of God’s name is emphasized in different ways through lowercase and uppercase letters. For example you may see God’s name spelled as LORD or Lord, God and GOD, or even He and he…Why?
The answer to this question is most likely one of two reasons: #1 The spelling of God’s name varies in the use of Uppercase and lowercase letters because of the various names of God used in biblical manuscripts, and #2 Biblical Translators must determine how they will accurately convey God’s name as they translate between the biblical language and the English language.
#1– It can be very confusing to understand how the different titles used for God are used in the Bible. Part of the problem is that different Bible translations use the terms somewhat differently. The primary reason for the use of LORD in place of God’s Hebrew name is to follow the tradition of the Israelites in not pronouncing or spelling out God’s name. So, when God’s Hebrew name “YHWH” is used in the Old Testament, English translations usually use “LORD” in all caps or small caps.
This is fairly consistent throughout all the different English translations of the Bible. When “Lord” occurs in the Old Testament, referring to God, it is usually a rendering of “Adonai,” a name/title of God that emphasizes His lordship. LORD/YHWH and Lord/Adonai are by far the two most consistent renderings throughout all the different English Bible translations. (Example: Genesis 2:4)
In the Old Testament, when “God” is used, it is usually a rendering of the general Hebrew word for God, “Elohim.” When “LORD GOD” or “Lord GOD” occurs, it is usually a rendering of a dual name for God “Adonai YHWH.” The Hebrew term “YHWH Sabaoth” is usually rendered “Lord of Hosts.” The Hebrew term “YHWH Shaddai” is usually rendered “LORD Almighty.” The Old Testament uses many different names and titles to refer God, to emphasize certain aspects of His person and attributes. This can result in confusion in translation, but in the original Hebrew, it was done entirely in an effort to glorify and magnify God’s name.
#2 Depending on what translation of the Bible you use, you may find that translators choose to translate the name of God in third person as “He” rather than “he” or vice versa . The reason some translators like to capitalize “He” is to show reverence for God in the English language based on our rules of grammar. For example the NASB choose to start third person names for God in uppercase letters out of reverence to God while the NIV chooses lowercase letters for third person words. The NIV permits the reader to determine who the word “he” or “him” is in reference to based on the context of the passage, while the NASB clarifies God by capitalizing the “H”.
NIV: Luke 19:28b “he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem
NASB: Luke 19:28b “He was going on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.”
Conclusion: The original biblical manuscripts permit translators the freedom to translate God’s name in a way that is #1 accurate to the original biblical manuscripts and #2 the translation communicates the biblical manuscript message clearly in the English language. The decision is up to the translator as he or she chooses to say LORD/Lord, or He/ he. Maybe it would be good to ask, “How would you choose to translate a text when God’s name is in the third person of “HE or Him”? What if you were translating God’s specific name YAHWEH or ADONAI? Would you make a distinction in the English translation and spelling to indicate what name of God is being used in the original language? Whatever decision you make stay true to the original biblical manuscripts and the message it wants to share.