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Is there any difference between “The Lord is my shepherd” and “The God is my shepherd”?

Are Lord and God interchangeable?

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AFAIK, people use "God" (not "the God") for the Abrahamic deity –  Fitri Apr 15 '12 at 7:35
    
I presume you mean only in liturgical contexts? Lord has many meanings other than those concerning a deity. –  Alex Feinman Oct 2 '12 at 16:45

5 Answers 5

What do you mean by “is there any difference?”?

As others have noted, “Lord” is a title of respect; “God” is a description, like calling someone a “plumber” (no intent to be disrepectful with that analogy); and “YHWH” or “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” – all attempts to represent the same Hebrew word in English – is God’s proper name. (The Judeo-Christian god’s proper name, if you prefer.) (As others note, “LORD” in all caps is often used by those who, for various reasons, think it is inappropriate to write or say God’s proper name.)

So it’s like the difference between referring to the queen of England as “Your/Her Majesty”, “the queen”, and “Elizabeth”. Do they all refer to the same person? Yes. Are they the same word? Obviously not. Do they mean the same thing? Well ... in what sense?

If you’re quoting a Bible verse, I think it would simply be wrong to swap such words around. It would be like quoting Lincoln’s Gettysburg address as “87 years ago our ancestors ...” The meaning might be the same, but it wouldn’t be an accurate quote.

If you’re just speaking generally, if you said, “Psalm 23 says that God is our shepherd ...”, I don’t think that would be inaccurate.

Whether the Bible intentionally uses different words to convey subtle differences in meaning or some such is a much bigger subject. I’d be cautious about second-guessing the choices of Moses, Isaiah, Paul, etc for how to refer to God, never mind the choices of God himself. (And I’m not going to get into debating the Documentary Hypothesis here.)

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Background of the Ineffable Name

The Jewish section of the Bible (due to religious affinity, I cannot call it "old testament" - because for us it is the new and current testament) has origins in Hebrew and a little Aramaic.

There are many places in the Jewish section of the Bible where the ineffable name of the Almighty is written. It is transliterated in Latin characters as "YHWH".

It is mistakenly verbalized by Christians as "Yahweh". Christians accuse Jews of having "forgotten" how to pronounce the Name. However, many of us believe that we have not "forgotten" how to pronounce the Name, because any attempts to pronounce the Name can only be done by the way we live our lives.

To attempt to pronounce the Name as "Yahweh" or any other verbal form is a pejorative (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/pejorative). To attempt to verbally pronounce the Name is to reduce the significance and the infinite spectrum of the Name to two dimensional form. Being unable to tell the whole story, to tell part of a story is extremely disrespectful and dishonest. That would violate the commandment against taking the Name of the LORD in vain.

How is the ineffable Name written and verbally pronounced then?

The ineffable Name and many other names of the Almighty has to be written in alternative representation. In Hebrew we "verbally represent" the ineffable Name as "Adonai" (אדני), which means "Master" or in older English "Lord". In computer-programming speak, we would call this an "escape sequence" to represent non-printable characters. One has to be clear that it is not a replacement, but a representation, a reference to allow us to invoke the entity represented by the "escape sequence".

However, Bible translators needed a way to differentiate between instances where "Adonai" is the actual word to be translated versus translating the ineffable Name. Therefore, Bible translators instituted the tradition where

  • LORD is the "escape sequence" representing the ineffable Name
  • Lord is the translation used when "Adonai" is actual word to be translated.

You might also notice, for various reasons, that some of us would even write "G-d" or "G*d" as everyday reference to the Almighty.

In the Hebrew origins of the Jewish section of the Bible, G-d is also a word in Hebrew. Which is not the same as "master"/"lord"/"adonai".

Language-wise, you also would not say,

The G-d is my shepherd

because "G-d" besides being a descriptive noun, is also a proper name. It would be like saying,

The Harry is my friend.

Therefore, the English Bible prints the 2nd line of the 23rd psalm as

The LORD is my shepherd.

The literal translation of 23rd Psalm
I believe the Bible should be literally translated rather than interpretatively translated. To reflect that variance and disagreement with most Jewish and Christian view of the translation, this is the literal translation of the 23rd Psalm.

A Psalm of David
The LORD is my shepherd
I shall not be in want
He makes to relax in verdant pastures
He leads me besides calm waters
He restores my soul
He constrains me within the circle/realm of righteousness for His Name's sake

Yes, even when I traverse the valley of the shadow of death
I shall not fear evil
For you are with me
Your sceptre and your shepherding staff
They comfort me

You prepare-arrange a table before me in affront against my enemies
You massage my head with oil
My cup overruns
Surely goodness and mercy shall *pursue me
All the days of my life
And the days that I stay in the house of the LORD will be prolonged.

*Pursue

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The bible was written/compiled by different sources at different times. These sources use different words/names for the Christian god, which are translated into English variously as God and the Lord among others. (See, for example, here.)

In the English translations, typically God, with a capital g is taken to be name of the Christian god, and thus a proper noun. Proper nouns do not generally allow articles like the. In contrast, Lord is a title, not a name but a common noun. It is usually used with an article but can also be used without as a vocative, similar to how children use teacher in sentences like teacher, can you help me.

Consequently, The God is my shepherd would not be standard English. God is my shepherd and the god is my shepherd are both grammatical though. Whether they would be used by English-speaking Christians is another issue.

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The book of Psalms, the book which contains the phrase "The Lord is my shepherd", predates Christianity. It seems very odd to say it's using a name "for the Christian god" when it was written by non-Christians. –  David Schwartz Apr 15 '12 at 12:39
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Perhaps "The Abrahamic god" would have been a better choice? Still, it does refer to the christian god. –  Brett Reynolds Apr 15 '12 at 12:50
    
I corrected the capitalization of "Christian". I don't believe it's the correct word here, but that's a matter of content, not presentation, and therefore not something anyone other than the original author ought to change. –  Marthaª Apr 15 '12 at 13:32
    
Hmm, is it insulting to Jews or generally inaccurate to refer to the God of the Hebrew Bible as "the Christian God"? I don't think so. As a Christian, when studying the Hebrew Bible we often refer to him as "the God of the Jews". Calling him "the Abrahamic God" is even narrower than calling him "the Christian God": if leaving out Jews is inaccurate, surely leaving out everyone in the world other than Abraham is even more so! :-) –  Jay Oct 2 '12 at 16:40
    
Since both Christians and Jews believe in the 10 commandments, "There are no other gods before me", it really wouldn't be a stretch to call Him "the God of Jews and Christians." (since that god must be the same person). Of course, both groups would say He is everyone's God. (However, it's better to not write "the Jewish/Christian God." ) –  Xantix Oct 2 '12 at 17:05

It does change the meaning to swap them around. In the KJV OT:

  • Lord usually translates adonai, which is the equivalent of ruler or master (as in English today).
  • LORD usually translates Yahweh (Jehovah), the sacred covenant name of God.
  • God usually translates elohim, which appears to mean something like "the mighty one."

Also, in terms of articles:

  • God seems to be taken in English as the name for God, and so you do not write the God. You do write the god(s) if you are talking about other gods than Him.
  • Lord and LORD both take articles, because in English they are titles, just like king and president. As @BrettReynolds notes, however, they can be used without articles in vocatives, just as you would say, "Teacher, will you . . ."
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I think "Lord" is often taken as meaning the incarnation of Yahweh in the form of Jesus, rather than as an intangible being; it was usually translated this way in the King James Bible.

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Lord is used a number of times in the Hebrew Bible with no indication that it is referring to the messiah. –  Jay Oct 2 '12 at 16:34

protected by RegDwigнt Apr 15 '12 at 12:27

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