“The Lord said to my Lord.” This is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36, and Luke 20:42-43. The Hebrew text reads, “Yahweh said to adōni [translated “my lord], “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
This is a very important verse showing that Jesus Christ is not God, but a fully human servant of God. To see that, however, we must understand the use of “Lord” in this verse. Trinitarian commentators sometimes argue that “my Lord” in this verse is another name for God, and is, therefore, proof of the divinity of the Messiah. However, that is incorrect. Actually, this verse is one of the great proofs of the complete humanity of the promised Messiah.
In all languages, words are built from root words, and the meaning of the inflected word can sometimes be quite different from the meaning of the root. Psalm 110:1 is an example of the root word, which means “lord,” taking on a more specific meaning when it is inflected, and we need to understand that meaning to understand this verse.
The root word of the word “lord” in Psalm 110:1 is adōn, which means “Lord or lord,” and can refer to a human lord or God (#0113 אָדוֹן pronounced ah-'dōn, and sometimes shortened to אָדֹן). When the root word adōn is inflected to adōnay, it refers to God. (#0136 אֲדֹנָי, usually spelled out as adōnay or adōnai and usually pronounced either ah-doe-nay or ah-doe-nigh).
In stark contrast, however, when the root word adōn is inflected to adōni, it refers to a human or angelic lord (#0113 אֲדֹנִי, pronounced ah-doe-nee). The “i” ending is possessive in Hebrew, and thus is usually translated “my.” Some examples will help us understand this: El is a name of God, so Eli (pronounced El-'ee) is “my God” (cp. Matt. 27:46). Ab or abba is “Father,” so abi (ab-eeˈ) is “my father.” The name Abimelech (pronounced Ab-ee-'mel-ek) is a compound word from abi, “my father” and melek, king, and meant, “my father is king” (cp. Judg. 8:31). Similarly then, adōn is “Lord,” and adōni is “my Lord,” and that designation was never used of God, instead, the Hebrew uses adōnay for God.
What people who study the Bible must understand is that most Hebrew-English concordances and lexicons, for example, Young’s Concordance or Strong’s Concordance, give only root words, not the word that actually occurs in the Hebrew text. Even most computer-based research programs give the root word when you mouse over “lord” in Psalm 110:1. The roots can be confusing, and we have sometimes discovered that even the same research tools assign different Strong’s numbers for these words, making exacting study using English resources sometimes quite difficult. This is one reason why biblical research done by people using only tools such as a Strong’s Concordance is limited, and people who genuinely want to do serious research into the text of Scripture must understand, not just the root words, but the inflected forms of the words and the impact those infections have on the translation of the Bible.
Adōni is always used in Scripture to describe human masters and lords, but never God. Buzzard and Hunting write:
Psalm 110:1 provides a major key to understanding who Jesus is. The Hebrew Bible carefully distinguishes the divine title, adōnai, the Supreme Lord, from adōni, the form of address appropriate to human and angelic superiors. Adōni, “my lord,” “my master,” on no occasion refers to the deity. Adonai, on the other hand is the special form of adōn, lord, reserved for address to the One God only.a
The difference between adōn (the root word), adōni (“lord,” always used of men or angels) and adōnai (which is almost always used of God) is critical to the understanding of Psalm 110:1. The Dictionary of Old Testament Words by Aaron Pick makes a difference between adōnay and adōni, saying that adōni was “applied to man.” The Hebrew Lexicon by Brown, Driver and Briggs (BDB), considered by many to be the best available, makes the distinction between these words, and says that adōni “refers to human superiors.” The BDB lexicon points out that the following people were among those called “lord.” A master (Exod. 21:5); a husband (Gen. 18:12); a prophet (1 Kings 18:7 and 18:13); a prince (Gen. 42:10; 43:20); a king (1 Sam. 22:12); a father (Gen. 31:5); Moses (Num. 11:28; 12:11); a priest (1 Sam. 1:15 and 1:26); a theophanic angel (i.e., an angel representing God; Josh. 5:14; Judg. 6:13); a captain (2 Sam. 11:11); and adōni was used for general recognition of superiority: Genesis 24:18; Ruth 2:13.
The fact that the Hebrew text uses the word adōni of the Messiah in Psalm 110 is very strong proof that he is not God. If the Messiah was to be God, then the word adōnai would have been used. This distinction between adōni (a lord) and adōnai (the Lord, God) holds even when God shows up in human form. In Genesis 18:3, Abraham addresses God who was “disguised” as a human, but the text uses adōnai, not adōni.
Many scholars recognize that there is a distinction between the words adōni and adōnai, and that these distinctions are important. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia notes:
The form ADŌNI (“my lord”), a royal title (1 Sam. 29:8), is to be carefully distinguished from the divine title ADŌNAI (“my Lord”) used of Yahweh.b
There are several uses of adōnai that refer to angels or men, giving them an elevated status, but that does not indicate that the speaker believed they were God. This is in keeping with the language as a whole. Studies of words like Elohim show that it is also occasionally used of humans who have elevated status. Examples of adōnai referring to humans include Genesis 19:18 and 24:9, 39:2. In contrast to adōnai being used occasionally of men, there is no time when adōni is used of God. Men may be elevated and represent God, but God is never lowered.
So that students can study the uses of adōni (אֲדֹנִי) for themselves (since most sources only give the root words), we list below its occurrences in the Old Testament. Our Hebrew text is the WTT or BHS Hebrew Old Testament, edited by K. Elliger and W. Rudolph of Deutsche Bibelgesellschoft, Stuttgart, fourth corrected edition, copyright © 1990 by the German Bible Society.
The following 148 verses contain 166 uses. Every one of them either refers to a human lord or an angel. None refers to God: Gen. 23:6, 11, 15; 24:12(2x); Gen 24:14, 18, 27(3x); Gen 24:35, 36, 37, 39, 42, 44, 48(2x); Gen 24:49, 65; 31:35; 33:8, 13, 14(2x); Gen 33:15; 39:8; 42:10; 43:20; 44:5, 7, 18(2x); Gen 44:19, 20, 22, 24; 47:18(2x); Gen 47:25; Exod. 21:5; 32:22; Num. 11:28; 12:11; 32:25, 27; 36:2; Josh. 5:14; 10:1, 3; Judg. 1:5, 6, 7; 4:18; 6:13; Ruth 2:13; 1 Sam. 1:15, 26(2x); 1 Sam 22:12; 24:8; 25:24, 25(2x); 1 Sam 25:26(2x); 1 Sam 25:27, 28, 29, 31, 41; 26:17, 18, 19; 29:8; 30:13, 15; 2 Sam. 1:10; 3:21; 9:11; 11:11; 13:32, 33; 14:9, 12, 15, 17(2x); 2 Sam 14:18, 19(2x); 2 Sam 14:22; 15:15, 21(2x); 2 Sam 16:4, 9; 18:31, 32; 19:19(2x); 2 Sam 19:20, 26, 27, 30, 35, 37; 24:3, 21, 22; 1 Kings 1:13, 17, 18, 20(2x); 1 Kings 1:21, 24, 27(2x); 1 Kings 1:31, 36, 37(2x); 1 Kings 2:38; 3:17, 26; 18:7,10; 20:4; 2 Kings 2:19; 4:16, 28; 5:3, 18, 20, 22; 6:5, 12, 15, 26; 8:5, 12; 10:9; 18:23, 24, 27; 1 Chron. 21:3(2x); 1 Chron. 21:23; 2 Chron. 2:14, 15; Isa. 36:8, 9, 12; Jer. 37:20; 38:9; Dan. 1:10; 10:16, 17(2x); Dan. 10:19; 12:8; Zech. 1:9; 4:4, 5, 13; 6:4.
The following 24 uses “to my Lord” (l’adōni; לַאדֹנִי). While we in English separate the preposition from the noun or verb following, in Hebrew the preposition is attached directly to the word. Genesis 24:3, 54, 56; 32:5, 6, 19; 44:9, 16, 33; 1 Samuel 24:7; 25:27, 28, 30, 31; 2 Samuel 4:8; 19:29; 1 Kings 1:2; 18:13; 20:9; 1 Chronicles 21:3; Psalm 110:1.
The following 6 uses can be found under (v’adōni; וַאדֹנִי), which would generally mean, “and” lord: Genesis 18:12; Numbers 36:2; 2 Samuel 11:11; 14:20; 19:28; 24:3.
The following use can be found under (m_adōni; מֵאֲדֹנִי): Genesis 47:18.
Students of Hebrew know that the original text was written in an “unpointed” form, i.e., without the dots, dashes, and marks that are now the written vowels. Thus some people may point out that since the vowel points of the Hebrew text were added later, the rabbis could have been mistaken. It should be pointed out, however, that the two Hebrew words, adōnai and adōni, even though written the same in unpointed Hebrew, sound different when pronounced. This is not unusual in a language. “Read” and “read” are spelled the same, but one can be pronounced “red,” as in “I read the book yesterday,” while the other is pronounced “reed,” as in “Please read the book to me.” The correct way to place the vowels in the text would have been preserved in the oral tradition of the Jews. Thus when the text was finally written with the vowels it would have been written as it had always been pronounced.
Further evidence that the Jews always thought that the word in Psalm 110:1 referred to a human Messiah and not God is given in the Greek text, both in the Septuagint and in quotations of the Old Testament that appear in the New Testament. It is important to remember that the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, was made about 250 BC, long before the Trinitarian debates started. Yet the Septuagint translation is clearly supportive of Psalm 110:1 referring to a human lord, not God. It translates adōni as ho kurios mou, “my lord.”c
When Psalm 110:1 is quoted in the New Testament the same truth about the human lordship of the Messiah is preserved. Anthony Buzzard writes:
The New Testament, when it quotes Psalm 110:1, renders l’adōni as “to my lord” (to kurio mou). But it renders adōnai ([Psalm 110] v. 5 and very often elsewhere) as “the Lord” (kurios). This proves that the difference between adōnai and adōni was recognized and reported in Greek long before the Masoretic vowel points fixed the ancient, oral tradition permanently in writing.d
Sadly, many scholars have not paid close attention to the Hebrew text of Psalm 110:1, and incorrectly say that the second “Lord” in the verse is the Hebrew word adōnai (or adōnay) and thus means “God,” not recognizing that adōnai is not the actual Hebrew word in the verse. One such source is The Bible Knowledge Commentary edited by Walvoord and Zuck, Victor Books, 1985, p. 873. Another is Herbert Lockyer, All the Divine Names and Titles in the Bible, Zondervan, 1975, p. 15. A third is Alfred Plummer, Gospel According to S. Luke [ICC]; Edinburgh; T&T Clark, 1913, p. 472.
The well-known Smith’s Bible Dictionary contains an
Accordingly we find that, after the Ascension, the Apostles labored to bring the Jews to acknowledge that Jesus was not only the Christ, but was also a Divine Person, even the Lord Jehovah.e
We believe Abbot’s conclusion is faulty because he did not pay attention to the exact wording of the Hebrew text. Even scholars who contributed to Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible apparently agree, because there is a footnote after the above quotation that corrects it. The footnote states:
In ascribing to St. Peter the remarkable proposition that “God has made Jesus Jehovah,” the writer of this article appears to have overlooked the fact that kurion (“Lord”) refers to to kurio mou (“my Lord”) in verse 34, quoted from Psalm 110:1, where the Hebrew correspondent is not Jehovah but adōn, the common word for “lord.”
The footnote is quite correct, for the word in Psalm 110 is the word for a “lord” or “master” and not God. Thus Psalm 110:1 gives us very clear evidence that the expected Messiah of God was not going to be God himself, but a created being. The Jews listening to Peter on the Day of Pentecost would clearly see the correlation in Peter’s teaching that Jesus was a “man approved of God” (v. 22 - KJV), the “my lord” of Psalm 110:1 which Peter quoted just shortly thereafter (v. 34). The use of adōni in the first verse of Psalm 110:1 makes it very clear that the Jews were not expecting their Messiah to be God, but were expecting a human “lord.”
The misinformation given about the Hebrew text of Psalm 110:1 in these respected and generally very helpful resource tools is very unfortunate, because it propounds the teaching that Jesus is God, which is actually exactly the opposite of what the Psalm itself is saying. There is a reason that in the Psalm David writes that God is “Yahweh” while the Messiah is his “lord.”
One of the clearest proofs that there is no Trinity is that neither Jesus nor the apostles ever taught it. Psalm 110:1 is just one of many verses that were reasons the Jews were expecting a human Messiah. The ancient Jews had a lot of expectations about their Messiah that were based on Scripture. The Jews worshiped one God (Deut. 6:4), and never considered there to be a Trinity. Similarly, the Messiah the Jews were expecting was to be a real human, not a God-man. He was to be a descendant of Eve (Gen. 3:15), a descendant of Abraham (Gen. 22:18), from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10); and a descendant of David (2 Sam. 7:12, 13; Isa. 11:1). He was to be a “lord” under Yahweh (Ps. 110:1) and a servant of Yahweh (Isa. 42:1-7), but he was to be able to draw near to Yahweh (Jer. 30:21). He was to be a Jew, “one of their own” (Jer. 30:21), and he was to be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2).
Since the Jews were expecting a human Messiah and did not think of “the Holy Spirit” as a “Person,” if the doctrine of the Trinity was true and was to be believed, someone, ostensibly the Messiah himself, had to teach it. But he never did. While there are a few verses where Jesus said things that modern Trinitarians say mean he was God, each of those can also be interpreted from the perspective that Jesus was not God, and many biblical Unitarian scholars have demonstrated that in their writings. Meanwhile, the vast preponderance of New Testament verses are Jesus or the New Testament authors showing that Jesus was sent by God and did God’s will, not his own. Jesus quoted the Shema (Deut. 6:4), that there was only one God, to Jews who would have taken what he said at face value. Jesus did not take the opportunity—ever!—to teach what modern Trinitarians say is the foundation of the Christian Faith: that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and together the three Persons make One God. Why not? The most logical explanation is that there is no Trinity
[For more information see, One God & One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith, by Graeser, Lynn, and Schoenheit.]
Psalm 110 is a Messianic and prophetic psalm in which God gave David a vision of the future, when God and the Messiah speak about what the Messiah will accomplish. The fact that David does not call both God and the Messiah his “Lord,” but carefully words what he says such that Yahweh maintains His elevated position while the Messiah, God’s “right-hand man,” is seen as David’s “lord.” If God and Christ were both God and were co-equal and co-eternal, as the Trinity states, then Psalm 110:1 fails to recognize that equality, or even that Yahweh and the Messiah are both God. Quite the opposite! The Messiah, David’s adōni, is seen to be distinct from, and lesser than, Yahweh.
“Yahweh.” “Yahweh” is the personal name of God, and a rabbinic abbreviation for it appears in the Hebrew manuscript of Matthew as well as in the verses of the Old Testament that Matthew quoted. There is evidence that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew and used the name Yahweh, so we have put it in the REV (see commentary on Matt. 3:3).