Published: 21 February 2022

Why Is “LORD” Often In All Caps In The Bible?

LORD
The Tetragrammaton

Have you ever noticed that often the letters in the word “LORD” are all capitalized? Other times the Bible only capitalizes the first letter. However, both “the LORD” and “the Lord” refer to God. Why is there a difference?

Yahweh

Bible translators use all capital letters when translating the four-letter Hebrew name for God. Ancient Hebrew had no written vowels. Of course, they did pronounce the vowels, but the written Hebrew alphabet only had consonants. Because of this, God’s name is spelled YHWH in ancient Hebrew. In English, YHWH is often accompanied with the vowels ‘a’ and ‘e’ resulting in Yahweh.

As time passed, the Hebrews forgot how to pronounce God’s name. They considered His name too holy to be spoken out loud. Eventually everyone who knew what vowels belonged in God’s name died. Because their alphabet lacked vowels they lost the knowledge of the correct pronunciation of God’s name.

Translators of the Bible have chosen to respect the Jewish custom of not spelling out God’s name. Therefore, rather than transliterating YHWH into English, they simply use LORD in all capital letters. So, when you see “LORD” in all caps in the Bible, it is referring to God’s proper name: YHWH.

Tetragrammaton

Scholars refer to God’s four-letter name as the “Tetragrammaton.” Just as we do not know the correct pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, its meaning is difficult to nail down precisely also. Scholars believe its meaning is some variation of:

  • I exist because I exist.
  • I will exist because I will exist.
  • I am who I am.
  • I will be who I will be.
  • I am that which exists. 

It is this name that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. He told Moses to tell those who ask His name that it is “I AM.”

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:13–14 ESV)

Jehovah

In the recent past, it was common to hear God’s proper name pronounced as Jehovah by English speakers. This is actually a misnomer. The word Jehovah was first introduced into English Bibles by William Tyndale.[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah#:~:text=Jehovah%20was%20first%20introduced%20by,and%20the%20King%20James%20Version. Jehovah appeared in a few early English translations, most notably the King James version. So, where did the word “Jehovah” come from?

As I mentioned above, the Jews, wishing to respect God’s name, would say “adonai” whenever they encountered the Tetragrammaton in the Old Testament Scriptures. Adonai is the Hebrew word for “Lord.” The Jewish scribes adopted a practice of adding additional letters to YHWH’s name in the Scriptures as a visual reminder to never speak God’s name aloud. 

Whenever they wrote the name YHWH, they placed the vowels from adonai in between the consonants of the Tetragrammaton. The result was YaHoWaH. If you say this word out loud, it’s easy to hear the beginnings of the English word Jehovah. The Jews never pronounced YaHoWaH, it was just a made up word which was used as a visual queue to say “adonai” instead of “YHWH” when reading the Scriptures.[2]https://youtu.be/XOcbR3UdXL8?t=124 

Lord

So, what does “Lord” in mixed case mean? The word Lord refers to someone of higher rank. “Lord” was a term of respect similar to the way we may use “sir” today. The Bible applies the word “Lord” to humans as well as to God. The context of the passage will make it clear who is under consideration.

Now you know the difference between LORD and Lord, and you know where the English word Jehovah came from.