Sunday, 27 March 2022

Psalm 110:1 – “The LORD said to my Lord,” or “to my lord”?


The common view of scholars is that the short Hebrew Psalm 110 was originally intended to be recited in a worship setting related to the enthronement of the Israelite king, perhaps a 1,000 years before Christ.[1] It is the default approach to rely on the Masoretic version of the Hebrew text when translating and exegeting it. This article explains why that is so, and where there is legitimate room to open questions about this, and to evaluate some Christian exegesis. 

English readers of Psalm 110 will be familiar with it reading something like this: “The LORD said to my Lord…” If that seems odd to you, you’re not alone. In the ancient Old Greek translation, It says, effectively, “the kurios said to my kurios...” But if you go back another step, to the Hebrew text, it becomes clearer that a differentiation is occurring. It says, effectively, “YHWH said to ADNY…” Hold on, you might say, what is this all about?

There is a tradition in some Christian circles going back a few centuries about Psalm 110:1. It asserts that this phrase, “The LORD said to my Lord,” represents certain Hebrew words, to wit: “YHWH said to Adonai.” This was the view of Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon and others, and a similar sort of idea was taught by John Wesley. They meant that it refers to two of the persons within God - in a Trinitarian sense - to the effect of ‘God the Father said to God the Son.’ Unsurprisingly, something that Wesley and Spurgeon asserted is still in circulation today. They probably weren’t the first to hold this view either. Calvin argued that this figure who is more exalted than King David has to be more than human.[2] Following in that tradition, without checking it, I repeated this view in a footnote half-way though my book God in 3D: Finding the Trinity in the Bible and the Church Fathers. In hindsight, I would have prefaced this in my footnote “According to some Christians…”

This article explains why the view of Spurgeon & co is not generally accepted – if not altogether ignored - in contemporary biblical scholarship. But it does have an even older pedigree. In the second century of the Christian era, Justin Martyr drew a similar meaning from the Greek translation of Psalm 110:1, such that the divinity of both God the Father and Christ the Son is signified by “The Lord said to my Lord.” How much further back does this interpretation go? David Hay’s seminal book on Psalm 110 doesn’t posit this Christian interpretation having any currency before Justin Martyr.[3] But this is definitely worth reviewing for hermeneutical reasons. I will point something more ancient that Justin (and others) was in tune with, an Ancient Near East motif, although whether he was in touch with it intuitively, accidentally, or through some common thread, we may never know. 

But here's the thing. Such a reading would be a rather stark example of Christians reading the Psalms in a way that followers of Judaism don’t. The Christians of the New Testament era had a habit of coming up with innovative readings that gained no currency outside Christian circles, even though they are accepted without question by Christians today. Applying Psalm 110:1 to a crucified man was itself an innovative thing, and if that is a valid Christian hermeneutic then one cannot merely dismiss out of hand Spurgeon & co.’s Christian reading of the same verse which sees a crucified Messiah not only enthroned with God but indeed in some sense God. Is there anything to rule out this sort of Christian interpretation without at the same time invalidating the fundamental Christian reading of the verse: God enthroning at his side a man who was hung to death on a tree in a criminal context (and this being an unearthly enthronement, not in Jerusalem but in heaven)? 

The standard ways to rule out the view of Spurgeon and co. basically comes down to “that’s not how non-Christian believers have ever read it,” and this is on the basis of two things: 1) a certain kind of monotheism; and 2) the way of reading the vowels preserved by the Masoretes which is probably more in tune with Second Temple and rabbinic readings than any Christian reading of the text is. But the fact that something was not a valid interpretation to the scribes of ancient Judaism is not a factor that seems to have been too much of a deterrent for a host of other innovative Christian interpretations found in the New Testament. The letter to the Hebrews is especially notable for this.

To try to settle what is a legitimate reading of Psalm 110:1 just within Christian discourse alone, one of the first things people will do is look for a New Testament interpretation of the matter in question. Okay, the New Testament – see Acts 2 - certainly endorses the idea of a man hung to death on a tree being enthroned with God, referencing precisely Psalm 110:1. But does the New Testament have a glimmer of the idea from the same verse that this man was also in some sense God too? There are many innovative takes on Psalm 110 in the Christian Scriptures but is this found anywhere among them? That is the question.

But to even look at this question, we need to take a step back and look at a larger picture of the journey of an ancient Hebrew text to a controversial Christian interpretation about the divinity of Christ. That’s quite a journey. So this blog, in large part, will be just about describing that journey as an exercise in general knowledge, which will possibly be more useful to my readers than any argument about one verse on its own.

Psalm 110 is very unusual for various reasons, of which these are just a few that are of interest to Christians:

  • ·         In verse 1, after the word YHWH, the Masoretes’ Hebrew text reads the word ADNY as ‘adoni,’ and then in verse 5, it reads ADNY as ‘adonai.’ But the Old Greek takes that sequence “YHWH… adoni… Adonai…” and flattens is out into “kurios… kurios… kurios” which is pretty startling.
  • ·         In ancient times, the ADNY of verse 1 was a king, but by Jesus' day it had come to mean the king who would rescue Israel from its enemies - the anointed one, the Messiah.
  • ·         The Masoretic scribes believed the ADNY of verse 1 to be 'adoni,' although nowhere else in Scripture is adoni a title for the Messiah, but equally it’s not a title for God either.
  • ·         It is the only Old Testament text that explicitly says that someone sits at the right hand of God.
  • ·         Jesus challenges a contemporary interpretation that posited the Messiah as David’s son by using this verse, implying, but not saying, that the Messiah would in some sense be God’s son, according to some Christian commentators.
  • ·         The Hebrew text of verse 3 is terribly difficult to translate, which adds to the mystery around the Psalm. The Old Greek translation of verse 3 makes it about a special birth, but no New Testament author picks up on this. This surprises scholars.


To begin

Let’s just start by noting what you’re probably familiar with as a Bible reader.

1.     1. English translations typically translate Psalm 110:1 from Hebrew as “the LORD said to my Lord/lord” (or “An oracle from my LORD to my Lord/lord,” which it a bit more accurate to the Hebrew).

2.      2. And English translations of when Jesus quotes it (from the Greek) go, “The Lord said to my Lord/lord.”

Okay, let’s start getting into a bit of detail, starting with 1 above: how that’s been translated from Hebrew to English.

The first key word, LORD, is in capitals, which means it refers to Yahweh, God of Israel. The Hebrew letters are the equivalent of the English letters YHWH (‘Yahweh’). No controversy over that.

There is controversy about the second key thing, my Lord/lord. The Hebrew letters can be represented as ADNY (the letters aleph, dalet, nun and yod). Who is that lord, and what does lord mean here? And how do we know? That’s the sort of question this will lead to.

Okay, that sets the scene.

Now, one of the things I want to do in this article is to show that although a text can survive in a stable fashion, interpretations can evolve. And another is to illustrate the perils of trying to decide what meaning a word in Hebrew had using a method of supposing what unwritten vowel sounds were three thousand years ago.[4] As a taster, here is Gary A. Rendsburg on one of the topics that comes up in Hebrew phonology (though not the matter in this article):

“Most scholars have concluded that the use of the vowel letters in the Masoretic text is arbitrary, i.e. they have no phonetic significance. According to this theory, whether a given word is spelled with vowel letter or without indicates nothing about the pronunciation of the word. However, close analysis often reveals a remarkable degree of consistency in spelling variations, and this consistency, it has been argued, indicates that the vowel letters indeed do tell us something about the actual pronunciation of the Hebrew word.”[5] Proceed with caution.



The subjects of textual criticism and linguistics and phonology are each highly specialised and I don’t consider them within my area of expertise, even more so in the case of Hebrew texts. So in that regard, everything I try to sum up here is gleaned from sources that I am sometimes unable to verify for myself, and I am relying heavily on others’ work. (Also the footnotes below are a bit of a mess. One day, I might have time to sort that out…)

I will try to show where there is at least some legitimate space for conversation in the area of Christian interpretation.


The question at hand

An over-simplified question of “what Psalm 110:1 means” actually betrays a heap of assumptions, and it is better broken down, starting with questions relating from the more ancient times and then up to modern times:

·         What did Psalm 110:1 mean at the time of composition?

·         How relevant are questions of pronunciation to 3,000 year old texts?

·         What did it mean to Soferim (scribes) transmitting the text after the time of Ezra?

·         What range of meanings did it have in Second Temple Judaism?

·         What might Jesus have known about it?

·         Did Jesus hear it in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek?

·         What did the earliest Christians think it told them about Jesus?

·         What are the origins of Rabbinic traditions about it?

·         What did the Masoretes think it meant?

·         How does the Masoretic linguistic interpretation connect with the past?

·         How should a modern translator render it?

·         What counts as legitimate exegesis of it today?

Trouble comes when some commentators today talk as if these are all the same question. Worse still is the quest for perfection which leads to this mindset: “what David thought = what Jews of Jesus’ time thought = what Jesus thought = what the early church thought = what my translation says = what I think.”

Apart from dubious methodologies, the fact is that language evolves, pronunciation evolves. It is hard enough to keep track of it in our own day, and it is a very specialised skill to reconstruct linguistics in the past. 

Thus, we need to be wary of two 'overstatements' that you might come across on the internet:

claim 1: when Psalm 110:1 was first written, the text featured the word Adonai

claim 2: when Psalm 110:1 was first written, the text featured the word adoni

Neither of these claims is supported by direct evidence. Where the doubt comes in is over the vowel sounds. There is probably a gap in time of 1,500-2,000 years between when the psalm was composed and when the vowels sounds were written down, Reconstructing what happened in-between times is a difficult art. After all that time, the vowel sounds that were written down make adoni. But it's hazardous to assume a simple linear oral transmission of vowel sounds over the better part of 2,000 years. I'll come back to this a lot.

Interpretations can also evolve. The Christian Scriptures have surprising and innovative interpretations of passages from the Hebrew Scriptures.[6] There are interpretations that are accepted in Christianity but not in Judaism. Some of these interpretations would look controversial if I invented them, but they are accepted by Christians because they are in Scripture. Just how innovative were early Christians, especially with regard to Psalm 110:1?[7] Look at how Hebrews uses it for example!

In the scholarly literature today, other questions abound, including for example: why is Psalm 110 nowhere to be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls? Why are the quotes and allusions in the New Testament not consistently the same as in the Old Greek (“Septuagint” translation)? I could go on and on.

In this article, I’m not going to cover all those questions. I’m just going to dance through some of the perils.


Consonants and vowels: a journey from composition to audiences

The Hebrew Scriptures consist of consonants and not vowels. The consonants always constituted the written text and as such are considered sacred.[8] So how did ancient people know how to pronounce words from a text where the vowels were not written down? Well, in ancient times, when the text needed to be recited, oral tradition provided the vowels. Knowledge of oral tradition was necessary to ensure that scribes copying consonants knew what words they were forming.[9] This knowledge minimises the risk of the wrong consonant being written down by a copyist. Being au fait with oral recitations of the text was part of the make-up of a successful copyist. The stability of the consonantal text is the basis of the integrity of the Hebrew Scriptures, not the vowel markings added to the text later (roughly from 600-1,000 AD/CE) by the Masoretic scribes, but the vowel markings have helped Jewish copyists to preserve the integrity of the consonants.[10] The Masoretes in large part were converting oral tradition into written knowledge by adding the vowel markings to assist copyists. Christian and other translators are of course piggy-backing on their work.

When the Masoretes added vowel markings to the Hebrew text to make it easier for copyists to recognise the consonants correctly, naturally this meant adding vowel markings to the word ADNY in hundreds of places in the Hebrew Scriptures, in some places making Adonai and in others (such as Psalm 110:1) making adoni in the Masoretic text. In doing so they were not correcting the text or corrupting it. The consonantal text remains ADNY. But they were leaving an interpretation to guide copyists. Choosing the singular adoni leaves us with a meaning something like “my human lord.” If they had chosen the plural adonai, it would arguably mean something like “my divine Lord.” I used the word ‘guide’ because expert rabbinic scholars remained and remain free to discuss the possibility of alternative vowels. It is not claimed that the Masoretes’ vowel-pointings are sacred scripture. The consonants are the sacred scripture. 

Now, if you were to ask for direct evidence of Jews pronouncing Adonai in a modern way in centuries before Christ, well technically we don’t have any, and the same goes for adoni. What scholars are doing is reconstructing the past on the best evidence available, and the Masoretic vowel-pointing should be thought of as a representation, not akin to an audio file. Nevertheless, Hebrew is the ancient language subjected to more critical scholarly examination than any other, and specialists don’t throw up their hands in the air in despair. They rather express their conclusions with due caution.

After the Masoretes, you get two kinds of Hebrew texts produced. One without vowel markings to keep to the valuable ancient traditions (this kind of scroll is called Sefer Torah); and the Masoretic codices, which are the texts with vowel markings to aid copyists and readers,[11] and this is what western scholars mostly rely on, as is obvious from Christian commentaries on biblical books.

So, the key word studied in this article appears as ADNY in vowel-less Hebrew script. Before you point out to me that A is a vowel, bear in mind that what you mean is that it is a vowel in English, whereas in more ancient Hebrew, the letter Aleph (the “A”) was pronounced as a glottal stop (a consonant sound) and not like the English A (a vowel sound).[12] Sometimes you see it in English commentaries as ‘DNY instead of ADNY, to convey the idea of the glottal stop. So ADNY is four consonants in the ancient Hebrew script, whereas the word’s vowels were supplied in oral recitations and supported by oral tradition. Of course, using vowels reveals different possible meanings, as illustrated by the Masoretes’ interpretation of the word. Here’s some basic knowledge:

The root word אָדוֹן – adon (ADN plus Masorete vowel) – can cover the range of human and divine masters.[13] So, we see it in English translations as Lord and lord or master or sovereign depending on context.  (Capitalisation can be confusing with Lord/lord. In British English, both divine and human masters can be written ‘Lord’ with a capital L. More on that later.) By the way, whereas adon is singular, adonim is plural, i.e. “lords.” I thought you’d like to know!

Now we find the Hebrew practice of building up a word out of a root like that, typically by adding prefixes and suffixes to apply the root word’s concept to something specific.[14] So, the Masoretes reveal to us, there is אֲדֹנִי – adoni (ADNY plus Masorete vowels) – which means “my” lord/master/sovereign, and it’s in the singular, note. Nowhere is this used of Yahweh by the Masoretes - it usually refers to a human master (or an angel). (Although I’ve seen it argued that an exception is found in the names Adonijah, Adoniram and Adonikam![15]). Translating with a lower-case – i.e. ‘lord’ - is common, although again this can be odd in British English as I will explain later.

Then, the Masoretes reveal to us, there is אֲדֹנָי - Adonai (ADNY plus Masorete vowels) – which means “my lords,” and note that it’s ‘lords’ in the plural. (If you were expecting a plural to have an ‘m’ on the end, just consider it dropped.) This is a case where translation knows to be a bit theological. It’s the good old "plural of majesty", one ‘lord’ being made to sound grander in Hebrew by being called ‘lords.’ (You may already have heard about the Hebrew word Elohim being translated correctly as ‘God’ even though it literally means “gods.”) You get the drift. And you will invariably find translators capitalising this as Lord to guide us to know that Adonai/Lord refers to God. (There is an arguable exception in Genesis 19:2 and 18 where the basis of a plural "my lords" is there in reference to the visitors, but the Masoretes give this a slightly different vowel-pointing, either to preserve a distinction of pronunciation or to create one, as their systematic work was forcing them to think about these things, and they clearly wanted that the divine name Adonai not be the pronunciation used for the visitors.[16]). So Adonai = plural of majesty = God, and is translated ‘Lord’ or “my Lord”[17] with a capital L. Confused? Don’t worry. Bear with me.[18]

If you want a comparison to help understand what the Masoretes crystallised, “my uncle” would be “dodi” and “my uncles” would be “doday” but it isn’t a plural of majesty, so “my uncles” is just right in translation.[19]

So, ADNY plus Masorete vowel-pointing can reveal distinct meanings.

And it’s not pronunciation alone that tells us the difference between adoni and adonai. Interpreters and translators also use theological information to guide them, and the Masoretes were doing so too. The alternate Hebrew words adoni and Adonai are basically singular and plural. But… they are both used as singular. That is, Adonai literally means "my lords" (plural) even though it is used to mean “Lord” (singular) - that is theology in translation.

Thanks to the Masoretes, readers of the Hebrew text today know to vocalise adoni and Adonai with different vowel-sounds. These not only made sense in their mediaeval era but surely went much further back too. However, it is difficult to say that the Masoretes were judging how the words had been pronounced two thousand years earlier. We have no tape recordings or audio files of the first ever performance of the Psalm 3,000 years ago, nor of the scribes’ performance 2,000 years ago, nor of the Masoretes of 1,000 years ago! And I feel confident in saying that pronunciation has not been entirely static throughout that time. In a sense, the question before us is not really how it has been vocalised, but rather what we think of the meanings that the consonants and the vowel-pointings are meant to convey.

Here is where real dispute comes in. Meanings! ADNY can be translated as adoni or Adonai! Should ADNY in Psalm 110:1 be interpreted today on the assumption that it be read as Adonai (signifying divinity) or as adoni (signalling primarily humanity)? Commentators now lean towards adoni, following the Masoretes, even though Spurgeon & co thought it should be Adonai. And obviously it makes a degree of difference. 

Despite what some might think, the idea that ADNY here means Adonai wasn’t started by apologists.[20] The idea has some pedigree, as seen in the work of Spurgeon,[21] William Plumer[22], Alfred Plummer,[23] and accidentally and confusingly by Albert Barnes.[24] Wesley had a variation on the theme.[25] It’s not clear if they were ignorant of the Masoretic understanding or whether they just disagreed with it. Reading ‘Adonai’ was not a unanimous understanding of Christian commentators of their eras. A.F. Kirkpatrick had it as adoni for example.[26] (If you’re confused by this whole thing by now, you won’t be alone![27]) But modern scholarship is almost unanimous in ignoring their claim for “Adonai.” The default assumption of scholars who have studied the text closely is to follow the Masoretic vowel-pointing and not to ask questions about pronunciation at the time of its original composition.[28] If you look in a commentary, you will probably find it saying, without qualification, that the text here reads adoni, taking the Masoretic vowel-sounds for granted. This kind of straightforward reliance on the Masoretic text flows through translations of the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is more or less taken as default by scholars today, except where there are text-critical contra-indicators. If you wonder why a commentary doesn’t say that when telling you that the Hebrew here reads ‘adoni,’ well, it would simply be tiresome for commentators to write "according to the MT" every time they comment on a verse. What they say in such instances presupposes the Masoretic text.

However, it’s not quite so straightforward for the study of very ancient translations. As already mentioned, in the fundamental Hebrew text, the vowels were unwritten. So, for example, the Old Greek translators two thousand years ago were working from a Hebrew text that said neither adonai nor adoni in 110:1. The text they were working from still read only ADNY. Their translation using the Greek word kurios doesn't clearly signal whether the Hebrew in their day was vocalised as Adonai or adoni. Those Greek-speaking translators’ knowledge of the vowels was from oral Hebrew transmission, nevertheless, with frankly the same effect as having the Masoretes’ written-down vowel-pointed version. So the Old Greek translators probably heard ADNY being recited with vocalisations that in some way correspond with the Masoretes texts of a thousand years later.

Indeed, the default assumption of biblical scholars is that the Masoretes usually correctly preserved that oral transmission, and working on that basis enables scholarly conversation to take place on a level playing field. Commentators don't need to keep re-stating that, as their comments are expected to be understood by the scholarly community. So if you see a commentary referring to Adonai or adoni, scholars don’t mean you to think that the written text from 3,000 years ago or 2,000 years ago had vowels in it. They just mean they can rely on the Masoretes preserving the long-understood meanings in putting the right vowels in the right places. 

If we wanted to depart from doing so in this or that case, we would need a valid reason for doing so, and this would typically be contra-indicators in ancient texts. A good example would be in Isaiah 3:12. The Masoretes vowel-pointed a word to read that "women rule my people" - meant as a bad state of affairs. But they very possibly did so wrongly, and very possibly through a cultural bias. We can say that because a thousand years earlier, the Old Greek translated it to mean "creditors rule my people" - again meant as a bad state of affairs. And how do naughty creditors mysteriously change into naughty women? By vowel-pointing, courtesy of the men who vowel-pointed the Hebrew text. Women / creditors - nashim / noshim - spot the difference: the words are identical in Hebrew consonants, but the added vowels make all the difference. The textual contra-indicator needed to justify departing from the Masoretic vowel-pointing is the Old Greek in this instance. Sadly, most translations stick with "women" rather than "creditors." Honourable exceptions include the NET Bible and the Good News Translation.

And I’ll mention a note of caution shortly about early Hebrew. 

So, however they might have pronounced it back in the day, oral reciters faced with a Hebrew text including the vowel-less ADNY would have to know whether to say adoni or Adonai, because of: 1) the sense of the context, as they understood it; and 2) the integrity of their oral tradition. Scribes reciting, copying and translating their Hebrew Scriptures obviously had the advantage over us in being able to read their own texts in their mother tongue. Scribes trained in copying would themselves be part of the oral tradition. They would know the words as they were heard in recitations. This was very important, as in a vowel-less text, a set of consonants could indicate a range of possible words. i.e. If you or I saw an English text that said merely RD, we wouldn't know if it meant road or red or reed etc… unless we already knew the context! i.e. If we knew we were reciting the famous English poetry "Roses are red, violets are blue,” we would correctly interpret RSS R RD as "Roses are red". The Hebrew scribes, thanks to similar and very disciplined oral tradition, could interpret the vowel-less Hebrew text. This oral interpretation was vital as a scribe could easily misread a consonant if he mistook what word it was supposed to represent. They had to know the words orally to be successful copyists. They also had to know the oral tradition to be successful reciters.

This is clear from the historical record. According to rabbinic tradition, from the time of Ezra onwards, the soferim (scribes) were diligently ensuring a stable Hebrew text, clearing up misunderstandings, etc.[29] (And they may be seen as fore-runners of the Pharisees.[30]) This was particularly important as the lettering in manuscripts was changing, from Paleo-Hebrew to the script of the Assyrian alphabet (so a change in calligraphy presumably goes for copies of Psalm 110) but still all consonants, no written vowels.[31] Scholars know a lot about the Paleo-Hebrew text, not least because copies were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which was a great opportunity to compare different scripts. The Assyrian lettering version wasn’t a translation, but different calligraphy – think of it as being like a change in font. This meant that two different languages – Assyrian and Hebrew – were now using the same lettering in documents, which you could think of as being a bit like English and French using the same letters while still being different languages.

While the sacred consonantal text was kept stable in its new calligraphy, there was still potentially some instability in how it was pronounced and understood, hence the need for oral recitations.

I mentioned there would be a note of caution. What connection do the Masoretes’ vowel-markings have with other forms of Hebrew? It’s not simple. Is there a straight line from the most ancient spoken Hebrew to the Masoretes? Not exactly. Ancient Hebrew did not have a unified dialect: there was Judahite Hebrew and Israelian Hebrew and subsets thereof. [32] In later times, there was difference of pronunciation between Palestinian Hebrew, Babylonian Hebrew[33], and Tiberian Hebrew which is the one most influential for the Masoretes, albeit the Masoretic text also reflects mediaeval trends of pronunciation (although in practice this also was subject to regional variations).[34] And of course literary Hebrew and colloquial Hebrew won’t be quite the same, as is true for any language, as is true for example in old-fashioned BBC received pronunciation compared to, say, pronunciation in an English region such as Yorkshire where vowel sounds are quite different.

In general, the Masoretes are perhaps as close as we can get to a consensus on what earlier pronunciations might have been. But an expert opinion on what were the earlier original vowel sounds of Psalm 110:1 when composed will depend somewhat on when and where the expert thinks it was written. I’m not even going to venture a random personal opinion on those phonetic sounds, but take note of the relevance of Standard Literary Judahite Hebrew and the likelihood of standardisation in recitations of sacred texts.[35] But we can’t just assume an exact match between what Psalm 110:1 sounded like when first composed and what it sounded like to Jesus a thousand years later,  or what it sounded like when the Masoretes recited it another thousand years later. There are of course no tape recordings or audio files of any of them to assist scholars. And it is surely a bit different again from modern colloquial Hebrew another thousand years later.

The way that the Masoretes interpreted it, their work of vowel-pointing tidied thing up significantly. For them, our key words from ADNY had these meanings: Adonai = God; adoni = my lord, who is typically human or else a heavenly angel. But there’s a problem. The Masoretes may have tidied things up too much, through no fault of their own. This is where modern textual criticism comes into its own. Because modern textual criticism is not bound to all their assumptions. It is interested in how language evolves. Standard written biblical Hebrew of the pre-exilic period was not immune to evolution (as written languages are wont to evolve too[36]) and is not identical with late biblical Hebrew of the post-exilic period.[37]

Now, we can say that pronunciation evolves so much that we cannot rely on an assumption that our vowellised adonai and adoni sounds even existed on the lips of Israelites 3,000 years ago. But some equivalent sounds must have existed. And also for modern critics, unlike the Masoretes, it is possible to detect that in very ancient times, both singular and plural usage - my lord / my lords - were meek and submissive forms of address towards either a human or a god just the same - an esteemed one could be 'my lord' or ' my lords' whether human or divine, as a plural of majesty. Just as a royal human can use the plural of majesty in British English (think of Queen Victoria's "We are not amused"). (This will shock some Unitarian readers, but bear with me.) Anyway, by the 8th century BCE, the two words – now clearly vocalised differently from each other - had separated in meaning because devout people were feeling the necessity to distinguish between secular uses of the word and the religious use of Adonai. That is, Adonai began to be used as a divine name, whereupon it became taboo to use it towards humans. as more or less a name for God. Thus – using the pronunciation of the Masoretes - Adonai (with an -ay sound) was confined to referring to God, leaving the pronunciation adoni (with an -ee sound) available for speaking about o a superior fellow human. 

Psalm 110 dates from before it was a taboo to use it towards humans as a plural of majesty. Biblical texts composed after the 8th century BCE are where it is more obvious to translate a clear Adonai-divine / adoni-human distinction. The Hebrew script was still the same for both words – ADNY – but pronunciation became more attached to different meanings, and this is betrayed in the way that the words are used in context in the books.[38] It is only with prophets such as Isaiah that Adonai begins to be used like a name.[39]

So Christianity dates from after it became a taboo use the word Adonai towards humans. But did early Christians break this taboo? We simply don't know.

One of the wider problems we face is that, while we can only go on the evidence, and must reconstruct the past on the basis of the evidence, we also know that there are gaping holes in our evidence base. So for example, our knowledge of ancient Hebrew is essentially scribal literate Hebrew. The prophet Isaiah, for instance, was a writer who has left us only a written record, and it is unlikely that this is exactly the same as the vernacular of Hebrew farmers in the fields. It never is like that. In Britain, the pronunciation of words like class or back is not the same in places like Liverpool and Newcastle as it would be in a BBC radio studio, and you would not know such from a book written by the BBC newsreader. So, while our evidence of the shift from Adonai being a title to being treated like a proper name is found in literature, which probably crystallised two pronunciations forking into two paths in scribal literate circles, this doesn’t tell us if farmers in the fields were exhibiting the same pronunciation shifts.

The Masoretes in 600-1,000 AD/CE, as indicated, did not exactly know how linguistic use had evolved and unwittingly perhaps tidied up the text too much, adding (almost everywhere) vowel-pointing that signified the Adonai-divine / adoni-human distinction throughout the Hebrew scriptures, whereas they should perhaps only have made this distinction in the texts belonging to the 8th BCE onwards. To be fair, they were not being entirely innovative in doing this. They were preserving how Jewish people recited the text in their era and probably had been doing for centuries. But they were crystallising a linguistic distinction that was perhaps anachronistic for the earlier texts where adonai could be an address to god or man and adoni could be an address to god or man.[40] Remember, the Masoretes were doing this for copyists and reciters of their own day, not to create a museum exhibit, although they were doing the best possible to have continuity with the past.

So although it is common to see statements along the lines of adoni (“my lord”) being a non-divine subject all 195 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, this should be qualified by saying that it is so after the Masoretes crystallised the Jewish tradition that decisively fixes distinctive pronunciation to two distinctive meanings; but it is a mistake to presume that this was so in the era when the earlier biblical texts were originally composed pre-8th century BCE.[41] This means that when reading older parts of the Bible, scribes through the ages needn’t have been so anxious about their pronunciation of these interchangeable words, given that hearers would usually get the meaning from the context, without pronunciation leading them by the nose.[42] The 195 is a Masoretic 195, not a valid 195 for the era of Paleo-Hebrew.[43] As such, adherence to a view that there are 195 always-consistent instances of a human/angelic adoni contrasted against an (almost) always-consistent divine Adonai is historically accurate to the time of the Masoretes and no doubt long before, but not historically accurate to the time of the psalm’s composition. If Psalm 110:1 dates from early in the Paleo-Hebrew period, it is mistaken to think the determinative factor in reading ADNY is adoni-human versus Adonai-divine pronunciation. Rather, the determinative factors are context (royal enthronement) and theology (an Israelite monotheism, however we want to define it). Pronunciation is a red herring in relation to its original setting. That is, we shouldn't really be harking back to Adonai nor adoni as the correct pronunciation 3,000 years ago where that is irrelevant, or even misleading, for understanding the context of the time of composition. 

Likewise, when rabbis in the Christian era were debating that the lord of Psalm 110:1 was, for example, Abraham, they surely were not being led by the nose by a vowel sound, but rather by what they thought the best explanation to fit the context. And their context was not wholly the same as the context a thousand years before them. Things can get muddy. Let's keep clear in our minds that in the historical record, three key pieces of evidence taken to support an adoni reading in Psalm 110:1 comes to us in this chronological order: the Old Greek and New Testament Greek kurios mou; followed by rabbinic debate about a human at the right hand of God (Abraham, sometimes David); followed by the Masoretic vowel-pointed understanding of pronunciation. One can speculate which might have come first historically out of those three: the Greek interpretation, the Abraham/David tradition, or the standardised pronunciation. But again, this does not take us back to the possible time of composition 3,000 years ago. (By the way, interspersed in-between times, we might mention the translation of the New Testament from Greek into Aramaic which may go back to the 2nd century. It complicates things, because, prior to quoting 110:1 in Matt 22:45 quite conventionally, it has Jesus in Matt 22:44 strikingly asking "Why does David call him MarYah?" That is to mean, "Why does David call the one seated at the right hand Yahweh?" We might ask how this should affect our interpretation of the subsequent quotation in 22:45. But tracing this Christian tradition is beyond the scope of this article.)

Back to our understanding of the Hebrew Psalm 110. There are valid reasons for interpreting ADNY in Psalm 110:1 as referring to a human Israelite king as the default assumption and for relying on the Masoretes’ vowel-pointing to help us to detect the contextual meaning. Vowel-pointing should be used as a guide but... not as a rule for purposes of exegesis of what Psalm 110:1 meant in the days in which it was first writtenNow, I will shortly throw a spanner in the works.

That is, the question of for what purposes we accept the Masoretic vowel-pointing in Psalm 110:1 is potentially a moot point for discerning meaning of the era of first composition. If the Masoretes were correct, and the ancients of the time of composition of Psalm 110 pronounced it adoni, this could still be a reference to the human or the divine. Likewise, if the Masoretes were incorrect, and the ancients of the time of composition of Psalm 110 pronounced it adonai, this could still be a reference to the human or the divine. So we should really stop arguing about Masoretic pronunciation as far as the Psalm was read in its original setting. It is a moot point if we are trying to understand the original meaning of Psalm 110:1 in the time of its composition. It’s also a secondary point if we are trying to understand the earliest Greek-speaking Christian writers.

AS indicated, the determination that ADNY in Psalm 110:1 refers to a human in its original setting can only really be dependent on other grounds, not on the Masoretic vowel-pointing. Fine attention to grammar can help understand many things, but it is not the solution to everything. Context and function confer meaning. If, as most scholars believe, at the time of its composition hearers took ADNY here to refer to a human king, they did so because it made sense in its context, not because of pronunciation.

However, the question of for what purposes we accept the Masoretic vowel-pointing in Psalm 110:1 is not a moot point if we are trying to understand how it was pronounced and understood by scribes in the time of Jesus: they probably had pronunciation understood as two meanings (and understood it to refer to a human king in Psalm 110:1) because that was how language had already evolved. And that gets us closer to what this article is about. If we know how it was understood in the time of Jesus, we are closer to understanding what Jesus made of it. But we have yet to see the innovative function which Jesus and early Christians put the passage to.


Original context

It is generally believed that Psalm 110 is to do with the enthronement of the Israelite king in ancient times, and might even be part of a coronation liturgy. However, history is not unanimous on that. A strong rabbinic tradition is that it depicts Abraham at the right hand of God, and of course Abraham was neither an Israelite king nor the messiah. So the ambiguity in the psalm allowed it to mean different things to different people at different times. We don't know how far back this rabbinic tradition goes, as rabbinic writings date from the 3rd century AD/CE onwards. Some may imagine it goes further back, whereas some suggest it was a response to Christians proclaiming Jesus to be at the right hand. Of course, the rabbinic tradition fits with apparent Masoretic tradition that it is a human at the right hand. Now, if rabbinic interpreters did not all think it was about an Israelite king, is it possible that there was a faint echo of a more ancient tradition here? We should think about that. 

Christians, however, from the first had linked it not with Abraham but with verses such as Psalm 2:7, giving an interpretation based on Israelite kingship and messiahship. And the gospels suggest that some of Jesus' audience shared that view. 

It is traditionally a Psalm of David - it was spoken by David according to the New Testament - whereas rabbis who thought it was about Abraham could not hold to that view so easily. 

But anyway, what could a more ancient tradition be? What did it possibly mean 1,000 years before Christ? Bear in mind that this can't be settled by pronunciation if it dates from before the period before pronunciation forked off in different directions. We must look at function and context.

And here let me throw a further spanner in the works about it being about an Israelite king, because it must be stressed that this is said to be a king enthroned at the right hand of God. Nowhere else in Scripture is an Israelite king or any other king said to be at the right hand of God. This means that Israelite kingship lacks explanatory power for the full force of the statement. There is nothing else in Hebrew Scripture to equate it to. So commentators will naturally look to wider context in the Ancient Near East. And here's the thing. In the Ancient Near East, we see that a figure sat at the right hand of a human king is likewise human. But a figure seated at the right hand of a god is in some sense divine. We have examples of this from ancient Greece and Egypt, such as that of a pharaoh.[44] And astonishingly, Psalm 110 places the Lord at the right hand of his God. So something that occurs once only in Hebrew Scripture finds its ancient match in situations where the one at a God's right hand is in some sense divine. If the Psalmist meant to indicate to contemporaries 3,000 years ago that someone was merely human, this was a funny way of going about it. This means the door on this being a divine Lord next to YHWH in Psalm 110:1 remains ajar. This is what I was referring to when I said Justin Martyr (and others) is somehow in tune with an Ancient Near East motif. And it may also help to explain why the rabbis didn't see it as being about the Israelite king but arrived at a different conclusion.

So, Psalm 110:1 is very much an outlier in Hebrew Scripture, and may need an outlier explanation. 

This is obscured if we obsess about how the Masoretes reveal the way vowels make up Adonai and adoni. We don't even know if either was exactly the way ADNY was ever pronounced 1,000 BC/BCE. Perhaps it would have been better if ADNY had been left vowel-less in the Masoretic codices! 

By the time of the Soferim after Ezra, the idea of a divine king was probably not a traditional view, if pronunciation of adonai and adoni had begun to fork off from each other in a meaningful way. In their wake, the Masoretes indicate that ADNY in Ps 110:1 means a human ‘adoni,’ and so we should know a bit more about their usage of the word. Adoni usually is a meek form of submissive address in direct speech by those who were of lower status, such as in the words of a servant towards his master or a wife towards her husband, a way of the speaker signalling their inferiority to a secular human ‘lord.’ How would be King David inferior in status to another human Israelite king? Well, this idiom may be a matter of custom. David uses it in addressing two kings: Saul and Achish.[45] It has been speculated that in Psalm 110:1, David is referring to Solomon as “my Lord.”[46] To our eyes, it may seem surprising to see it used as a signal of the subjugation of the revered King David to any other human with God’s say-so.[47] So the Masoretic vowel-pointings have a plausible framework. That is, adoni fits king talking to king. However, that doesn't answer to the Ancient Near East problem: what of someone talking about one who is enthroned with God?

Later, we’ll see that Acts 2 justifies Christ's Lordship in light of Psalm 110:1 simply on the basis of God’s say-so, in resurrecting, exalting and enthroning Jesus. So many usages of the verse!


The Old Greek translation

The Old Greek translation (also known as the Septuagint or the LXX) has: Τῷ Δαυιδ ψαλμός. Εἶπεν ὁ κύριος τῷ κυρίῳ μου…[48] This blows wide open the scope for interpretation in the Greek-speaking context. It effectively has this: ‘the Lord said to the Lord of me’ (εἶπεν ὁ κύριος τῷ κυρίῳ μου); and v.5 in the Old Greek also just has ‘Lord’ without ‘the’ (i.e. just κύριος, not ὁ κύριος).[49]

In other words, even though the Masoretic text has YHWH and next adoni (v.1), and next Adonai (v.5), well, the Old Greek completely flattens that out into kurios… kurios… kurios.

That translation, working from the potentially ambiguous consonants of the written ADNY, takes the ambiguity to a new level with its word kurios. Just as on the page, nothing in the fundamental letters of ADNY tells you if it refers to the human or the divine, nothing intrinsically in the word kurios tells you if it refers to the human or divine either. What it takes to a new level of potential ambiguity, is that whereas with ADNY the scribes might use different pronunciations for Adonai and adoni, in this case any such distinction is lost by using the word kurios. Now only cultural and theological understanding could discern whether kurios refers to a divine or human person. And it adds to this potential problem by rendering “YHWH said to ADNY” as “kurios said to kurios.”

However, there are clues in the Old Greek as to how it was understood by its translators. The Old Greek translates ADNY as “my Lord” – kurios mou. Two interesting things here: 1) choosing to render the Y of ADNY with the word "my," rather than leaving out the word "my" as we see done when recognising ADNY as an actual personal name of God. And 2) making it "Lord" singular in the Greek, which is less noteworthy because unless talking about the mysterious visitors in Genesis, it's going to be "Lord" singular in either case, whether it's adoni or adonai.   

The explanation for the "my" could lie in how they heard the Hebrew pronounced in recitations and oral tradition. Of course, "my" Lord could in principle be correct whether the translators heard either the Hebrew adoni or Adonai. But patterns across the Old Greek translation give us more of a clue as to where they heard adoni. We can test whether the Old Greek have put “kurios mou” in the same places where the Masoretes put “adoni.” And they are a very good match. Not a match every time – there are two exceptions that I’ll mention below - but most of the time. This suggests that the Masoretes and the Jewish translators of the Old Greek were thinking the same way. This is uncontroversial.

This is also the Greek tradition that the gospel writers inherit. They don't try to invent a radically new Greek translation but use what was publicly known. There are only slight variations, which suggest that there might be slightly varying Greek textual traditions of Psalm 110:1, and you can see that in my Appendix below.

Remember, it’s the second Lord of v.1 whom we're focussing here on here: “kurios mou.” That is, the Greek reads, the Lord said to “my” Lord. It seems to reveal that the Greek translators were hearing a distinction in pronunciation, given the above pattern, that the Old Greek 'kurios mou' tends to correspond with places where the Masoretes have 'adoni.'. (As I’ve already covered, “adoni” literally means “my Lord (singular)” and is translated into Greek as “my Lord;” and Adonai literally means “my Lords (plural)” and is rendered in English as “Lord” or “my Lord” – whichever flows better in the passage - but which makes the distinction less obvious in English than it is in the Greek pattern of kurios and kurios mou; and the eye-catching correspondence of kurios mou with adoni.) So the best guess, the statistical probability, is that the Old Greek translators were hearing adoni in Psalm 110:1 and so went with their customary pattern of writing kurios mou. It's just a pattern, but it's their pattern, and it meant something

Questions could be asked as to whether the Old Greek is a particularly good translation of the assumed Hebrew text, taking the Masoretic into account.

Two things one could question for example. In verse 1, why use kurios both times at all, in close proximity, when translating two different words from the Hebrew to the Greek: YHWH and ADNY. This translation creates the possibility of equivalence between the two kurios for the Greek-speaking reader who does not know otherwise. Second, while it’s natural that the second kurios is ‘ho kurios’ (‘the Lord’), isn’t it odd that the first kurios also has ‘ho’ if it is translating YHWH said to kurios. The practice of Old Greek translators of absolutizing when translating the word YHWH into kurios – thus, rendering it with the anarthrous ‘kurios,’ avoiding a definite article, thus not ‘ho kurios’ – is a practice conspicuously absent here. That is, one might have expected YHWH to be translated by the absolute kurios, a practice established in the Old Greek of Deuteronomy and Exodus to represent the name YHWH such that kurios is treated as a proper name there.

But the translators of Psalm 110:1 in the Old Greek translate YHWH as ho kurios instead, with the definite article. Which rather illustrates that varying scribal practices caution against putting too much store on consistency!

But in the Greek - ho kurios… to kurios – this reinforces the possibility of equivalence between the two kurios for the reader who does not know otherwise. How important is it that the Old Greek of v.1 misses two opportunities (choice of word and choice of definite article) to signal to the reader the meaning of the difference between the first ‘ho kurios’ and the second ‘ho kurios.’ This is something we cannot afford to run away from. It’s something of an inconsistency of the scribes translating from Hebrew to Greek and a significant one, that the tendency towards absolutizing ho kurios to kurios when referring to YHWH is lacking in a place where it would obviously make more sense to do it. (And indeed, the gospels differ from the Old Greek on this point. All the extant Greek manuscripts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts also read kurios, but most of them omit the definite article.[50]) It is striking that the translators did not avail themselves of it. It’s even more striking because in verse 5 they do avail themselves of it when translating Adonai as just ‘kurios.’ Not ‘ho kurios.’ So, in a strange inconsistency, YHWH in verse 1 becomes ho kurios but Adonai in verse 5 becomes just kurios. Go figure.

One’s default assumption would be that the translators of the Old Greek would be in tune with the scribes and Masoretes and assume the second lord to be a purely human king. (That is, in tune in terms of meaning. Not in tune in terms of pronunciation, obviously, since that's two different languages.) However, what is left here in the Greek blows wide open the scope for others to interpret, and, as said, we know that the first Greek-speaking Christians were not averse to innovative interpretation.

The two exceptions about kurios mou in the Old Greek translation are in Psalm 16:2 and 35:23 (numbered 15:2 and 34:23 in the Old Greek) where kurios mou really does refer to Adonai.[51] (Similar construction, just not in the dative case, whereas it’s dative in Psalm 110:1.) Now, in 110:1 in the Greek, the reason for to kyrio mou is basically because: 1) it has to be in the dative case (“to” my Lord); and 2) the word "my" (mou) is required to translate the Psalm's content (the Lord said to "my" Lord). I’m very wary of doing theology by grammar, but it is right to remember the persuasive pattern wherein the Old Greek and the Masoretes are in tune with each other in matching kurio mou to adoni except for those two instances. So, if we lay aside all Christian theology for this exercise, and simply try to be as faithful as we can to what ADNY meant in Psalm 110:1, it probably meant what the Masoretes represent as adoni. Reading it as Adonai, as Spurgeon did, is very much merely a fringe possibility arrived at only in the light of Christian theology, seeing it with the eyes of faith, if you like, rather than with modern historiographical and text-critical principles. There is no law against it, but it is an outlier at best.

Remember, if the Old Greek translators thought that what they heard was a Hebrew plural that represented the title/name (thus, it’s Adonai), they would just write the Greek word for Lord – kurios, or ho kurios; whereas if they thought what they heard was singular and did not represent the title/name (thus, it’s adoni), they would translate into Greek more literally, thus “my Lord.” As such, the Old Greek translators were making a theological translation: representing a divine name with “Lord” or a human master with “my Lord.” This is how they used Greek theologically to represent what had become theological vocalisation in Hebrew, the distinctive Adonai/adoni distinction as it was heard in the Masoretic era, which was a descendant of whatever pronunciation the Old Greek translators heard.


American translators and British English

I’ll emphasise that the matter of early Christian interpretation can’t be wholly settled by Hebrew grammar, but it also can’t be settled in the way we translate it into English, so a note on that. I have seen it said that it’s crucial that the second lord, whether translating from Hebrew or Greek, should be translated with a small ‘l’ rather than a capital ‘L.’ That is to say, a small ‘l’ to signify that the psalmist is talking about a human, rather than a capital L as if the psalmist were talking about God. This argument about English use does not count for anything in my eyes. Mostly, this point is a hill to die on for some Unitarians, and especially in an American context.

Here’s the thing about English translations. English translators in the past have largely been more relaxed than American translators about this capitalisation: “The LORD said to my Lord [upper case]” rather than “The LORD said to my lord [lower case].” In fact, knowing that it refers to an Israelite king, a lower case ‘l’ is very counter-intuitive to a reader of British English. British English still has formalities, which may be attributed to the fact that Britain still has a monarch and remnants of a class system. Let’s see some continuity across the centuries, to show why this affects reading in English. First example is, aptly, from Shakespeare.

The word lord occurs frequently in Shakespeare’s history plays, but the layout of modern translations differs from those of the past. As an example, In Henry V Act 1 Scene 2, Shakespeare’s text originally capitalised lots of words addressed to and about characters in the play, including the word Lord. Modern editions of the play largely drop the capital L but still keep the capital Lord when it is part of a title, such as “my Lord of Canterbury.”[52] This is characteristic of British English usage to this day.

In Britain today, we still have a class system in the sense of peerages in the House of Lords (some of which are hereditary peerages, a relic of the class system), and the word isn’t used very much anywhere else apart from that context and in the Bible and in Shakespeare. And so, in formal public life, even today, Lord is capitalised when addressing people who own the title, as “my Lords,” and for example “Lord Collins,” etc. This is very evident from contemporary proceedings in the House of Lords.[53] Similarly, outside of the House of Lords, one sees written “Lord Linley” and “Lady Thatcher,” not “lord Linley” and “lady Thatcher.” To an American translator this thought might not occur. But for a British English reader, seeing King David’s “lord” de-capitalised is counterintuitive. It is obvious that the small ‘l’ is theologically driven, placed there so that readers don’t assume it means God. But for British readers, Lord with a capital L does not automatically denote ‘God.’ It is part of the function of language when speaking about royalty and nobility. A British reader would absolutely expect to see written “Lord Kinnock” and “Lord Mandelson” and likewise expect David’s human king to be a ‘Lord’ with a capital L. For this reason, I am comfortable shrugging off the discomfort of those who demand that this king's title be downgraded from Lord to lord on purely theological grounds and cultural assumptions that fit especially in American English. That is a point about contemporary translation. Whether the ADNY of Psalm 110:1 is human royalty or divine being, a capital L is appropriate in British English. (I am not saying that there is a direct analogy to the written Hebrew letters: they didn’t have any capital letters at all!)

So let’s concentrate on meaning as it comes from context and function, not from capitalisation which is just another red herring.


Jesus and the first Greek-speaking Christians

Now, were Jesus and the first Greek-speaking Christians innovative in how they read the Greek?[54] That becomes the key question for interpretation of the New Testament use of the verse. On the one hand, the knowledgeable work of scribes explains why there was a measure of confidence in the Old Greek which appeared piece by piece a couple of centuries either side of Jesus’ days.[55] But it did provide a platform for innovative thinking by Greek-speakers of the Jesus movement.

Of course, one might ask whether they were aware of what the written Hebrew of this verse says, and what the written Greek says. If we suppose, not wholly unreasonably, that they were familiar with a Hebrew text, it would be vowel-less, and knowledge from oral recitation would supply the vowel sounds to complete the words. Psalm 110:1 in a written Hebrew text probably would have effectively given them: ‘YHWH said to ADNY.’ Or, if they knew only a version where pious scribes made a substitution for YHWH, it might have read ‘ADNY said to ADNY.’ What would they have heard recited? Scribes, we think, would have recited something like “Adonai said to adoni.” Remember, the letters of the vowel-less text did not spell out adoni or Adonai, they spelt out ADNY. The fact that they sound similar may have stimulated some minds. It is tempting to try to avoid this by being a purist appealing back to a normative trajectory from Soferim to Masoretes, but the earliest Christians were not theological purists, and nor should we want them to be.

Now, to be clear, I err towards thinking that an early Christian doing a recitation of the Hebrew text would stick to something like “Adonai said to adoni,” and that when an unconventional Christian interpretation happened, it was more likely to have happened when handling the Greek translation of it. But how far did early Christians go in reading Psalm 110:1 in a distinctively Christian way? That vital historiographical question is too easily overlooked if we obsess about doing theology by grammar.


Luke-Acts: Luke 2:11 and Acts 2:36

I often find Luke-Acts a good starting point for discussion of Christian readings. David Hay’s book overlooks Psalm 110:1 as background to Luke 2:11. However, since the King/Lord” of Psalm 110:1, was taken to be the Messiah/Christ in Jesus' day, then it is striking that Jesus is “Christ [Messiah] the Lord” in Luke 2:11 (Χριστὸς Κύριος). That is the only occasion of "Christ'Lord" in the gospels. Daniel Gustafsson, following Voss, makes the clear case that this would be understood in a Greco-Roman first century AD/CE cultural setting to mean a dual title of King-God.[56] (Not a novel idea: Henry Alford saw it similarly.[57]) So King/Christ-Lord would be understood to be a divine king to Luke's broader Greco-Roman audience. The logic of Gustafsson’s broader argument makes it likely that Luke also intends Luke 2:11 to be understood in light of Acts 2:36 and vice versa. So, this potentially confirms that Peter interprets kurios, “Lord,” in the Old Greek version of Psalm 110:1 as a divine title applicable to Jesus.

To paraphrase, in Luke’s interpretation of Psalm 110:1, without any overt reference to the Hebrew, Jesus is that Lord; and in light of Luke 2:11 this is, startlingly, effectively equivalent to the Hebrew word Adonai (that is, I am pointing out what Peter doesn’t). It is then very much a Christian reading of Psalm 110:1 by Luke that the Lord is divine. He blurs lines that had previously been clear, and effectively crosses them. One may make a different interpretation and that’s fine. We are in a whole realm of interpretation here rather than proving one interpretation and disproving another. What this is about is showing where there was room for early Christians to re-interpret their traditions, and making observations.

Of course, it fits nicely in with other things in Peter’s speech that signal a divine Jesus: that he pours out the Holy Spirit, which is a divine prerogative; and that his Name is the Name by which all must be saved, re-appropriating Joel’s words about YHWH to Jesus.[58]



Jesus’ debates over the verse in the gospels illustrate that its meaning was contested, not that its pronunciation was contested. And I want to keep this focussed:[60] are we able to tell how Jesus understood a particular word in it?: not so much ADNY in the Hebrew, but kurios from the Old Greek translation. There is no direct evidence of the first Christians debating Psalm 110:1 on the basis of the Hebrew text YHWH… ADNY…, but only in terms of the Greek word kurios. From the perspective of historical theology, study of what this meant to the first Christians surely starts right there: where, in the Greek, both God and Lord in the same clause are referred to as kurios.[59]

One of the things I need to say is that this question is not asking what these things meant at the time of Psalm 110’s composition, but to explore what they meant to Jesus and his followers a thousand years later. For this, ultimately we have to rely heavily on Christian Scriptures because there is precious little interpretation of Psalm 110 in extant pre-Christian literature.[61]

To emphasise: we have access to Jesus’ debates only through our Greek texts, not directly from Hebrew or Aramaic. Jesus in the gospels only debates a Greek translation. Second, we know that Christians of the New Testament period where apt to take Hebrew Scripture to mean things that are not accepted by mainstream Judaism. Here is a case in point. Jesus was clearly casting doubt upon some interpretation of his own era:

While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” (Mark 12:35-37)

We also know the standard Christian belief that this points to Jesus being enthroned in heaven of all locations! was not a universal belief of Jews of that era. Far from it. It was easily seen as a reference of a king enthroned next to the temple in Jerusalem. But Christians nailed their colours to the mast by saying it’s a throne in heaven. And that the one sitting there was formerly hung on a tree to death in a criminal context. If this isn’t innovative, what is? So, the fact that the first Christians did have an unconventional reading of 110:1 is well established: their belief was a perverse reading to conventional Jewish thinkers, but not perverse to the Christians who believed it. That divide remains to this day. The door was open to unconventional readings, and our minds need to be open to see what they were.

As I like to say often, context and function are at the heart of interpretation. The thing is, Jesus introduces Psalm 110:1 to problematise a first century belief about the Messiah being David’s son (Mark 12:35-37). This is instructive. The word son is frequently used in all the gospels. Even in Mark, the shortest, it is found over 30 times. In it, God the Father twice says Jesus is his son (Mark 1:11; 9:7). He is the Son of Man (2:10, 28; 8:31; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:45; 13:26; 14:21, 41, 62). He is the son of God (3:11; 15:39), son of the Most High God (5:7), son of the Blessed One (14:61-62); son of Mary (6:3); and son of David (10:47-48). He speaks of himself as the son of God the Father (13:32). So a subtext of the gospel is very much, whose son is he? So, when Jesus asks how the Messiah can be David’s son, it is very much within this subtext (12:35-37). When Jesus asks, effectively, how can David’s Lord and master be David’s son, the gospel’s implied answer is that he is rather all of the above: emphatically, the son of God, son of the Most High God, son of the Blessed One; the Son of Man, son of David and Son of Mary. That’s whose son the Messiah is. All of it. This is who is at God’s right hand. In Jesus’ view, it is inadequate to say that he is the son of David as this does not fill out the content of “The Lord said to my Lord” in Psalm 110:1. Jesus asks why would David call his son also his ‘Lord’? And the implied answer is that David would do so because this is the son of God, son of the Most High God, the Blessed One, and all these other things. So, Jesus seems to be implying that he has another claim to sonship, not just Davidic descent. He is not just a junior David. What is this other claim to sonship?[62] (The Book of Acts gives another answer, as mentioned. Acts 2 justifies that David called him Lord simply on the basis of God’s say-so, in resurrecting, exalting and enthroning Jesus.)

As we see there, Mark’s Gospel is potentially loading the kurios of Psalm 110:1 with an awful lot of content, when Jesus uses it to open people’s minds about the question of sonship. Jesus does not think that being the kingly Davidic Messiah is sufficient to explain why David calls him kurios. Therefore, Jesus has to be something more exalted than the kingly Davidic messiah to explain it. The scholarly idea that all the Son of God nomenclature can be explicated as code for the human messianic Jewish king is exploded by Jesus saying that this is not enough – being the messianic Davidic son – is not enough to explain the lordship of Psalm 110:1. Is he exploiting the latent ambiguity of ADNY/kurios which contains in itself the ambiguity and possibility for a dual meaning? We should not see him as an early textual critic constantly referring back to recitations of scribes to check his interpretation of the Greek. We should see his, and early Christian, exegesis as having more of the freedom of midrash and pesher.[63] In fact, according to Jesus in Mark 12:36, David has “by the Spirit” addressed the figure as “Lord.” Why did David need to do this “by the Spirit” if he was just expressing a common view of Israelite kingship. Jesus was alluding to something uncommon. His hearers don’t pick up on that. All is ambiguity.

I find unconvincing the idea that the hat is being tipped merely to a secular kingship. That is only half the story. In an age when the Roman emperor was heralded as divine lord, the gospels seem to go to lengths that we should know that Jesus is worthy of no less a status with all this emphatic material. To ask whether the Hebrew text was always read distinctively as Adonai or adoni by everyone is almost missing the point. It is dubious to think you can fathom Jesus’ mind by grammar. It is easier to say that Jesus is all of the above titles. He is the human adoni and the embodiment of the divine Adonai. Both would be written in Hebrew as ADNY. Again both are expressed in Greek as kurios, where the potential ambiguity in the text is closer to the surface. That ambiguity could have allowed the early Christians to use Psalm 110:1 to anchor either a simply unitarian kind of monotheism or a Christological monotheism which recognises YHWH-kurios in Jesus. That they were led into the complexity of Christological monotheism instead is worthy of note.[64]


The New Testament letter to the Hebrews is particularly innovative in its use of Psalm 110:1, which says the one seated at the right hand of God is the "radiance" of God. That will have to be a separate article!

This is to be continued. I want to explore the arguments of a few commentators.

David M. Hay’s book is widely regarded as the classic on ancient readings of Psalm 110:1. On pages 109-114, he joins the dots of early Christian interpretation, showing that some early Christians saw in the verse that Jesus was God’s divine son, amongst other issues. Hay takes a restrained view, that earlier Christians interpreted the Lord of Psalm 110:1 as a human Messiah-king only.[65] Bauckham takes an opposite view, that the text includes Jesus in the divine identity.[66] More recently, Matthew W. Bates has written brilliantly on how the dramatic parts of Jesus and David and God the Father interact in early Christian readings of the verse, suggesting that they saw Jesus’ pre-existence stretching back to the time of David and beyond. [67] These are important perspectives that I don’t have time to properly cover here, but hope to do so in a further blog.



We don't know exactly what vowel sounds were in use in the iron age 3,000 years ago, and nor can we, especially in regard to vowel-less texts. Arguments entirely dependent on presuppositions of those sounds - making adoni or adonai 3,000 years ago - are therefore a little bit silly. But it is reasonable to say that the meanings "my lord" and "my lords" are in the text. 

As such, we may imagine that when Psalm 110:1 was first recited, the vocalisation had something corresponding to, if not identical in sound to, the Masoretic vowels for adoni and adonai. 

However, when Psalm 110:1 was first recited, such vocalisations may not have stabilised, and also the plural of majesty could probably be used towards a human and a god, just as in some places today. It had not become necessary for speakers to use one as opposed to the other, and that the meaning was understood to the hearer by context; and 2) that a theologically motivated differentiation in vocalisation might have started around the 8th century BCE, when Adonai began to be used as a divine name, whereupon it became a taboo to use it towards humans. Therefore, a difference of vocalisation was probably in effect in Jesus’ time, a vocalisation corresponding to, if not identical to, the differentiation in the Masoretic vowel sounds for adoni and Adonai. This differentiation would have been kept active by the scribes and their recitation of sacred text. It doesn't mean the rest of the population was so careful.

We need not go so far as to say there never were any different vowel sounds before the 8th century BCE. But hearers at recitals and rituals originally did not need different vowel sounds to lead them by the nose to the right meaning, as they probably had no difficulty understanding what they were hearing. And in that era, they may well have meant a human Jewish king. But there is room for doubt, because it is an outlier in the Old Testament context where humans don't sit next to Israel's God. And certainly, the Christian book of Hebrews interprets it in a way that places Jesus on a higher-than-human plane in its interpretation of Psalm 110:1, indicating that - whatever it meant 3,000 years ago - the early Christians 2,000 years ago were not afraid of making innovative interpretations. 

Saying that Psalm 110:1 has one vowel-sound and not another may be sufficient for purposes of exegesis of Scripture, depending on your point of view, but not sufficient for a more nuanced historical and phonological study of the history of the text.

And doing theology by pronunciation is not a direct line to understanding the thoughts of the first Greek-speaking Christians, especially in areas where they were innovative.

A few bullet points:

  • ·         Before Jesus’ era, the distinction in pronunciation between adoni and Adonai had not only happened, but we can imagine a trajectory towards the Masoretic interpretation, with a clear distinction that marks out adoni as a human or angelic referent of the time, and Adonai as a divine referent. But the text still read ADNY – consonants only - when the Old Greek translators saw it, when Jesus’ generation saw it, and when the Masoretes began work on it.
  • ·         Early Greek-speaking Christians exploited the latent ambiguities in kurios innovatively. There are strong arguments that they innovated in combining the capacity of the word to have both human and divine referents.
  • ·         In terms of translating Psalm 110:1, the Masoretes' interpretation is still to be preferred as a faithful crystallisation of pre-Christian Soferim recitation. They added vowel points that make it clear that they knew ADNY as ‘adoni’ there. The Masoretes may have tidied things up a bit too much, not recognising the fluidity of the terms 2,000 years before them, but that is a moot point really for my main subjects, which are about how innovative early Christians were, and about how to alleviate the muddle of so much Christian commentary about it.
  • ·         In terms of the text in English translations of Psalm 110:1 and its quotations in the Christian Scriptures, a capital ‘L’ is sensible for ‘Lord’ in British English.
  •       YHWH said to ADNY in its original context 3,000 years or so ago was YHWH speaking to a king at his enthronement in the Ancient Near East, where the context of being enthroned next to a god was a claim to some kind of divinity (unlike when being enthroned next to a human king).
  • ·         Nevertheless, it is common ground to Unitarians and Trinitarians that Jesus had a human nature. (Trinitarians differ in saying this is one of two natures that Christ had.) So, Trinitarians can reasonably refer back to it being common ground relative to Jesus' human nature instead. (It would only be an issue for any Trinitarians who press the apologetic line that ADNY here is definitively "Adonai" and that this is a "proof" of the Trinity.) But the question is open to a double-meaning in the New Testament: the way the early Christians used it seems semi-detached from the Hebrew. They were comfortable with an innovative approach to the Scripture.

I just don’t think anything here merits a polemical argument between some Unitarians and Trinitarians. Nevertheless, I know that some Christian apologists will adhere to the view that the correct interpretation of vowels in Psalm 110:1 would be ‘Adonai’ and that this would be a proof text for the divinity of Jesus. Against this, Unitarians and other Trinitarians will hold to the accepted Masoretes’ interpretation of the vowels, reading ‘adoni’ as referring to the humanity of Jesus, a common ground belief about Jesus. Trinitarians are in a “heads I win, tails I win” situation here, because they hold to both the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus, so from a theological point of view, New Testament use of Psalm 100:1 happily points to either. Where the conversation seems to me to get a little bit silly is when Trinitarians or Unitarians think that Psalm 110:1 is a perfect proof for or against the Trinitarian doctrine of the incarnation. It simply isn’t.


Appendix 1: the key Greek texts

Psalm 110:1 (109:1 in the Old Greek)

εἶπεν ὁ κύριος τῷ κυρίῳ μου κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἕως ἂν θῶ τοὺς ἐχθρούς σου ὑποπόδιον τῶν ποδῶν σου

Matthew 22:44

εἶπεν κύριος τῷ κυρίῳ μου κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἕως ἂν θῶ τοὺς ἐχθρούς σου ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν σου

Mark 12:36

εἶπεν κύριος τῷ κυρίῳ μου κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἕως ἂν θῶ τοὺς ἐχθρούς σου ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν σου

Luke 20:42-43

εἶπεν κύριος τῷ κυρίῳ μου κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἕως ἂν θῶ τοὺς ἐχθρούς σου ὑποπόδιον τῶν ποδῶν σου


Appendix 2: Did Soferim change Psalm 110?

One bit of bad Christian apologetics I need to deal with next. I need to say something further about the Soferim (scribes). According to rabbinic traditions which were written around the third century CE/AD onwards,[68] there is a small number of passages of Hebrew Scripture where there had been ancient readings that differed from the text they used; and, it seems, differed from the later Masoretic text. The precise number is unclear.[69] E.W. Bullinger cites 18 emendations.[70]

You can see examples in a rather old article.[71] With such changes, "Scripture has used euphemistic language" in order to reduce the impression of human patterns in Hebrew descriptions of God, physical and emotional descriptions;[72] and other changes to do with shielding the divine name YHWH from abuse by putting in substitute language.[73]  The Soferim involved in this editing are held in high esteem in rabbinic tradition, but it is not easy to reconstruct the history of their work.[74] That is if the tradition of Soferim emendations is true at all, which is contested.[75] It must be said that we don't have any pre-Sopherim manuscripts, so all these claims should be handled with caution.[76] Evidence of YHWH and Adonai as variant readings in Psalm 110:5 does however exist.[77]

More to the point here, Bullinger also cites 134 instances where YHWH was changed to Adonai by Soferim,[78] but Bullinger was relying on C. D. Ginzburg[79] and may have made errors mis-reading Ginzburg here.[80] Or Ginzburg made mistakes in the first place.[81] Shades of a house of cards here. Unfortunately, the content of the 134 has been seized on by many. And it includes Psalm 110:5.

What if a different Hebrew text originally said something that Trinitarians would want to hear? I don’t recommend it, but I want to flag up a rather unsavoury speculative argument mounted by some Christian apologists concerning Psalm 110:1 and 5. It is stitching together a thin circumstantial case on these lines:

·         Thus: Psalm 110 verses 1 and 5 originally had ‘YHWH said to ADNY, Sit at My right hand … YHWH is at your right hand…’ As such, one of the potential interpretations of this is that YHWH (v.5) is at the right hand of YHWH (v.1), meaning that YHWH must comprise at least two distinct persons, suiting Trinitarian theology. (A more common interpretation is that “at my right hand” and “at your right hand” here mean different things; such that the one who was enthroned at the right hand of YHWH now turns and finds YHWH metaphorically at his own right hand helping him in battle.[82] But anyway…) Now, the argument goes, if YHWH is seated on the right hand in both verses, then ADNY at the right hand in v.1 should have been vowel-pointed by the Masoretes to read Adonai, whereas the Masoretes crystallised Jewish interpretation in a different direction, vowel-pointing ADNY in v.1 to read adoni. 

·         But v.5 as we know it reads ‘ADNY is at your right hand,’ not ‘YHWH is at your right hand.' Could this be the result of editing? The tradition about the Soferim provides a straw to clutch, about theologically motivated editing in pre-Christian times. That is, if Psalm 110 verses 1 and 5 originally both contain the word YHWH (and the potentially ambiguous ADNY in verse 1), something is lost if YHWH is changed to ADNY in v.5. This change was made, according to E.W. Bullinger – that is, in verse 5 they changed YHWH to ADNY (but changed nothing in verse 1).[83] If the Soferim made the change in v.5 at all, it indicates that they possibly thought there was an interpretative problem: such as the potential interpretation 'YHWH said to YHWH.'

·         But, in this theory, it is because of the Soferim allegedly changing v.5 that now verses 1 and 5 in the consonantal text, as we have it, run as follows: ‘YHWH said to ADNY, Sit at My right hand … ADNY is at Your right hand…’ And if you look in your modern Bibles, you can see that they nearly all follow the reading that is associated with the Soferim. They don’t substitute YHWH/LORD back in: that is, our translations of v.5 don’t normally say ‘LORD’ in capitals signifying YHWH, but ‘Lord.' Some apologists think YHWH/LORD should be substituted back into v.5 but few translations do.[84] And in this conspiracy theory, the suspicion is that the Soferim wanted ADNY in v.5 to be understood as adoni, obscuring a pathway to reading v.1 as 'YHWH said to YHWH.'

·         All of which brings us to the next circumstantial point. As we have seen, when the Masoretes added vowel markings to the Hebrew text to make it easier for copyists to recognise the consonants correctly, naturally this means adding vowel markings to ADNY, in hundreds of places in the Hebrew Scriptures, in some places making Adonai and in others (such as Psalm 110:1) making adoni. And they made it adoni in v.1, further cutting of the interpretation 'YHWH said to YHWH.' It is important not to go from a circumstantial basis to unwarranted suspicion. I have read some Christian apologists disturbingly claiming that the Masoretes added these particular vowel markings to ADNY with the specific intention of steering Jewish people away from Christian interpretations of Psalm 110:1. Thus, reciters and copyists take ADNY in Psalm 110:1 to signify adoni (a principally human address) and consciously to avoid anyone reading it as a Christianised Adonai (which would suggest a divine being). The point being deliberately anti-Christian. People should be dissuaded from such argument. It has rather sinister overtones unreasonably impugning the integrity of the Masoretes and their vowel-markings.[85] It’s rather ad hominem. The question may be asked, is the Masoretic vowel-marking likely to be true to tradition? But not ‘Were the Masoretes cheats?’ It doesn't work very well anyway, because even if the Soferim intended ADNY in verse 5 to be adoni, the Masoretes rendered it as Adonai. Thus, the Masoretes isolate the figure of v.5 from the figure of v.1 a different way: Adonai and adoni.

·         In short, the argument is that the pre-Christian Soferim confounded the meaning in Psalm 110 by changing YHWH to ADNY in v.5 – with the Soferim intending it to mean it’s not YHWH but adoni in v.5, and therefore sealing that it’s adoni in v.1; and the later Masoretes further compounded this by vowel-pointing ADNY in v.1 to mean ‘adoni’ although having it as ‘Adonai’ in v.5. This seems to me a confused line of attack, but without these combined editorial decisions, some apologists say, the text would mean ‘YHWH said to ADNY (meaning Adonai i.e. YHWH], Sit at My right hand … YHWH is at Your right hand…’ Whereas with the editorial changes, it supposedly means ‘YHWH said to human lord, Sit at My right hand … Adonai is at Your right hand…’ Now, that’s not necessarily what it means regardless, but some apologists claim that this was the effect of, more or less, a conspiracy. But it proves nothing. Even if the text should be entirely as these apologists say, it would still be capable of Trinitarian interpretations.[86]

·          I also wonder whether the Masoretes very possibly never even knew that there might be some Christians who would want the vowellised Hebrew to read “YHWH said to Adonai.” That could all be totally from the modern imagination. They were simply faithful to ancient Jewish tradition. And today the default assumption of scholars who have studied the text closely is to follow the Masoretic vowel-pointing.[88] Of course, in some cases, the Masoretes had to make the best judgment call they could if oral transmission didn't provide all the answers. 


[1] Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 2003, 149.

[2] Note Calvin’s round-about reading of the verse: “David spake by the spirit of prophecy, and consequently prophesied of the future reign of Christ. This principle of interpretation being admitted, it is plainly to be inferred that he had a reference to Christ’s future manifestation in the flesh, because he is the sole and supreme Head of the Church. From which it also follows, that there is something in Christ more excellent than his humanity, on account of which he is called the Lord of David his father.” See: An example of a contemporary theologian preferring Adonai can be found in Peter Leithart: Leithart differs from the Masoretes in taking adonai to signify either human or divine figures. 

[3] David Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity. (Atlanta: SBL, 1989).

[4] The dating of the texts is a complicated matter. Forgive me for not exploring it in this article and for over-simplifying the time-frames, which I feel I must do so as not to over-complicate this piece any further.

[5] Gary A. Rendsburg, “Ancient Hebrew Phonology.” In Phonologies of Asia and Africa. Ed. Alan S. Kaye. (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1997) 65-83. See page 80.  file://

[7] The standard text on this is David Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity. (Atlanta: SBL, 1989).

[16] In relation to this section of Genesis, Humberto Casanova illustrates debate over the complexity and reliability of the Masoretic vowel-pointing in note 310 at this link. Humberto Casanova, Imagining God: Myth and Metaphor. (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2020.)

[17] and give two examples where translators opt to make use of the “my” in Adonai where it fits translation better than just “Lord.”

[18] If you want to see more illustrations of how the different word endings can play out in a biblical passage, see:

[20] Actually, some apologists do go with the Masoretic adoni. See

[22] William Plumer, Studies in the Book of Psalms, being a Critical and Expository Commentary, with Doctrinal and Practical Remarks on the Entire Psalter. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1866), 973.

[24] Notes on the Book of Psalms Vol III, Albert Barnes. (London, Gall and Inglis), 151.

[27] You could be even more confused if you rely too much on Strong’s concordance. While it is commonly noticed that where Strong has 136 it refers to God, and 113 refers to humans, you’ll find 113 for God in Psalm 8 verses 1 and 9.

[28] For example, David Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity. (Atlanta: SBL, 1989), 107 n.13. Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. (Grand Rapids: Erdmanns, 2003), 183, 501.

[29] Exactly when is unclear. Here is one view:

[30] From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism, Lawrence H. Schiffman. (Ktav Publishing House, 1991), 106.

[34] see page 68, 76. Also: 

[36] For a very sophisticated analysis of evolution in spoken Hebrew, see: For a fun look at the evolution of spoken Egyptian, see

[37] Yoel Elitzu, “The Interface Between Language and Realia In the Preexilic Books of the Bible.” In Hebrew Studies Vol. 59 (2018), 129-148.

[38] Yoel Elitzur, “The Divine Name ADNY in the Hebrew Bible: Surprising Findings.” In Liber Annuus 65 (2015), 87-106.

[39] Yoel Elitzur, “The Names of God and the Dating of the Biblical Corpus.” In The Believer and the Modern Study of the Bible. Eds. Tova Ganzel, Yehudah Brandes, and Chayuta Deutsch. (Academic Studies Press, 2019), 428-442. See page 437.

[40] Yoel Elitzur, “The Divine Name ADNY in the Hebrew Bible: Surprising Findings.” In Liber Annuus 65 (2015), 87-106.

[41] The 195 non-divine instances in the Masoretic interpretation are where it says specifically “my Lord” (adoni), whereas the simple root (adon – “lord”) is actually used to refer to God. For examples of the latter, see the paragraph at the bottom of this thread:

[42] Now, someone could be tendentious and speculate that there could have been in some circles in Judea a tenacious grip of the more ancient vernacular, as if some still used adonai and adoni interchangeably, but I know no evidence of that, and it seems unlikely that there was a separate stream amongst scribes delivering that in Jesus’ day in Judea. Now, there are no vowel-pointed texts from Jesus’ era. But we are confident that in his era there was a difference in pronunciation corresponding to what the Masoretes represented as ‘adoni’ and ‘adonai.’ These are not facts as such, but they are strong probabilities. And the Masoretes are as close as we can get to what those pronunciations might have been. A similar question: could an early Christian interpreter reciting the Hebrew, if they wanted to, add vowels to “ADNY said to ADNY” to make something like “Adonai said to Adonai”? Nothing to stop him except Jewish oral tradition that probably expressed a theological framework that would prefer “Adonai said to adoni.” Indeed, I err towards thinking that an early Christian doing a recitation of the Hebrew text would stick to something like “Adonai said to adoni,” and that when an unconventional Christian interpretation happened, it was more likely to have happened when handling the Greek translation of it.

[43] Not everyone comes up with the number 195. See page 448 of Herbert W. Bateman IV, "Psalm 110:1 and the New Testament." In Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (1992), 438-453.

[44] David Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity. (Atlanta: SBL, 1989), 52-54Another link to the pharaoahs’ way of thinking is the footstool as Tesh and Zorn explain at this link.

[45] Herbert W. Bateman IV, "Psalm 110:1 and the New Testament." In Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (1992), 438-453. See page 449.

[46] Herbert W. Bateman IV, "Psalm 110:1 and the New Testament." In Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (1992), 438-453. See page 450.

[47] Yoel Elitzur, “The Divine Name ADNY in the Hebrew Bible: Surprising Findings.” In Liber Annuus 65:87-106 (2015), 104.

[49] Chris Keith, Jesus Against the Scribal Elite. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 118. You can see the Greek text at:

[50] It may be interesting to note that the mediaeval Shem-Tov translation of Matthew from Greek to Hebrew merely made Matthew 22:44 conform to the Hebrew of Psalm 110:1:

[51] In two places in the Masoretic text, Psalm 16:1 and Psalm 35:23, where the vowel-pointing is consistent for vocalising ‘Adonai’ to refer to YHWH God, the corresponding places in the Old Greek are a departure: Psalm 35:23 has ho kurios mou; and Psalm 16:2 has kurios mou, The apologist here is correct on this basic data: In these two instances, ADNY/kurios is spoken to, whereas in Psalm 110:1 ADNY/kurios is spoken about. The most this shows is that there will always be patterns and exceptions, but it doesn’t tell us how to translate Psalm 110:1. It does show that it is better to make nuanced statements, so that we don’t overstate things by saying either that “Adonai is never kurios mou in the LXX,” nor that “this proves that ADNY in Psalm 110:1 could be Adonai.” These sorts of over-statements are found in polemics between a small number of Unitarians and Trinitarians, which can be very harsh in tone, for example here which characterises capitalisation as "mistranslation":  

[54] One startling example, unrelated to Psalm 110:1, is that the Greek of Psalm 35:23  - ho theos mou kai ho kurios mou – which refers to YHWH is closely mirrored in John 20:28 - ho kurios mou kai ho theos mou, which refers to Jesus. In both, YHWH and Jesus are being addressed in the vocative. It is a profound Christological moment. It is worth comparing with Revelation 4:11: "You are worthy, our Lord and God (Greek = ho kurios kai ho theos hemon), to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created." But the Greek 'hemon' (our), 'mou' (my), in this verse, so this is not a direct parallel to the Hebrew ADNY. What it does show is similar language being used in Christian Scripture about Jesus and God the Father. In fact, in the New Testament, “our Lord” is much more common than “my Lord” when referring to both Jesus and God the Father, a sign of reverence for both.

[55] Of course, the science of textual criticism is a lifetime's work beyond me, but you'll notice comments in the footnotes of your English Bibles and in commentaries that here or there the LXX agrees or disagrees with the MT, and usually the MT is preferred unless the LXX seems the best solution to a textual problem. The LXX is not the only translation with which translators compare the MT. There is also the Syriac, for example, which would be closer to the Aramaic of Jesus' time. Discerning which indicates the most likely best representation of this or that Hebrew text is a modern science.

[56] Daniel Gustafsson, Aspects of Coherency in Luke's Composite Christology (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2022), 112-14.

[58] Jarl Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord. (Tubingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1985), 293.

[59] Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 2003. 179-80.

[60] There are many other things that are discussed about this verse, of which perhaps the most interesting is, as Fred Sanders puts it, New Testament “eschatology is an extended insight into the "until" of "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” 

[62] An interesting article deduces that the Psalm is read as supporting both human and divine sonship:

[63] Richard N. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period. (London: Paternoster Press, 1995)

[64] Crispin Fletcher-Louis, Jesus Monotheism Vol.1 (Oregon: Cascade, 2015), 138-141.

[65] David Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity. (Atlanta: SBL, 1989).

[66] Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 29-31.

[67] Matthew W. Bates, The Birth of the Trinity: Jesus, God, and Spirit in New Testament & Early Christian Interpretations of the Old Testament. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 47-62.

[77] Yoel Elitzur, “The Divine Name ADNY in the Hebrew Bible: Surprising Findings.” In Liber Annuus 65:87-106 (2015), 104 n.21.

[83] The Companion Bible, E. W. Bullinger. Pg 882 I shouldn't omit that there is a Christian argument that, rather than seeing it as unhelpful, holds that the Adonai of verse 5 interprets the ADNY of verse 1 as Adonai too: 

[85] For instance, implying that Jewish copyists have sabotaged their sacred text, David Hay: “the corruption of the present Hebrew text may have resulted from deliberate efforts by scribes to conceal the meaning.” David Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity. (Atlanta: SBL, 1989), 22. Also, this from Margaret Barker: “Psalm 110 is the most frequently used text in the New Testament, which may account for the unreadable state of the Hebrew.” Margaret Barker, The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God. (London: SPCK, 2007), 67. Elsewhere, the rabbinic idea of Abraham being the human figure of Psalm 110:1 “may have been due to anti-Christian polemic” according to Richard N. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period. (London: Paternoster Press, 1995), 73 n.57. This may have been a contested text, but critics need to be careful how far they go. it can just as easily be argued that the difficult state of the text in Psalm 110 verses 3, 6 and 7 may simply point to it being very ancient indeed.[87] On a different note, independent scholar Al Garza argues that the tradition of placing Abraham at the right hand of God was the original basis for vowel-pointing signalling a human subject, which he traces through rabbinics up to its explicit crystallisation in the Masoretic text. 

[87] Herbert W. Bateman IV, "Psalm 110:1 and the New Testament." In Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (1992), 438-453. See page 440.

[88] For example, David Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity. (Atlanta: SBL, 1989), 107 n.13. Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. (Grand Rapids: Erdmanns, 2003), 183, 501.