This term comes from the Canaanite and Hebrew word 'ādôn, which means lord. The word is a plural form to which the personal suffix "my" has been added. In order to distinguish this form, which means "my lords," from the same word used in speaking of the one Lord, a special plural form featuring a long "a" before the "i" was evolved. (For an example of these different forms cf. Gn 18.3 with 19.2, Hebrew text.) The suffix "my" gradually lost its significance, as happened also in the case of the word "Rabbi" (my Master). (For Adonai as a substitute for Yahweh, see elohim; jehovah; yahweh.)
Bibliography: b. w. anderson, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, ed. g. a. buttrick, 4 v. (Nashville 1962) 2:414. h. junker, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 1:152. p. van imschoot, Théologie de l'Ancien Testament, 2 v. (Tournai 1954–56).
[r. t. a. murphy]
A Hebrew word signifying "the Lord" and used by Jews when speaking or writing of "YHWH," or Yahweh, the ineffable name of God. The Jews entertained the deepest awe for this incommunicable and mysterious name, and this feeling led them to avoid pronouncing it and to substitute the word Adonai for "Jehovah" in their sacred text. The ancients attributed great power to names; to know and pronounce someone's name was to have power over them. Obviously one could not, like the Pagans, suggest that mere creatures had power over God.
This custom in Jewish prayers still prevails, especially among Hasidic Jews, who follow the Kabala and believe that the Holy Name of God, associated with miraculous powers, should not be profaned. Yahweh is their invisible protector and king, and no image of him is made. He is worshiped according to his commandments, with an observance of the ritual instituted through Moses. The term "YHWH" means the revealed Absolute Deity, the Manifest, Only, Personal, Holy Creator and Redeemer.