1 O Lord, our Sovereign,
   how majestic is your name in all the earth!

(warning: lengthy discursive following in two parts)

Part One

The NRSV translation is a bit of an outlier here. Following The New English Bible, the NRSV is one of the few translations that, in the first half of Psalm 8:1, gives the translation, “O Lord, our Sovereign…” With only a few exceptions, every other translation has HP say at this point, “O Lord, our Lord…” (cf. KJV, NASB, RSV, NIV, ESV, GNB) 

Is there any difference between “Lord” and “Sovereign”?

The Merriam Webster online dictionary suggests a number of definitions for “sovereign”:

one possessing or held to possess supreme political power or sovereignty, one that exercises supreme authority within a limited sphere, an acknowledged leader.

“Lord” is defined as:

one having power and authority over others, a ruler by hereditary right or pre-eminence to whom service and obedience are due, an owner of land or other real property, one that has achieved mastery or that exercises leadership or great power in some area, obsolete : the male head of a household.

It is possible the NRSV translators chose “sovereign” over “lord” to avoid any possible connotations of the “obsolete: the male head of a household” that may still linger around the word “lord.” Perhaps it was simply a literary choice to avoid the repetition of “lord,” reflecting the fact that HP did use two different Hebrew words here.

The first word for God in Psalm 8:1 is “Jehovah” which is an English transliteration of the distinctive Hebrew name for “God.” It is also at times represented by the four letters YHWH which with vowels added becomes Yahweh. This is the choice made by the translators of the Jerusalem Bible, but has not been commonly utilized in most translations.

The second word HP used in Psalm 8:1 to refer to “God” is “adon.” The precise translation is unclear; but it does carry connotations of strength and power. To complicate matters, adon is also commonly used to refer to worldly leaders, as for example in Genesis 40:1 where it refers to the Egyptian Pharaoh and may therefore carry implications we might hesitate to apply to our understanding of God.

This may all seem like a tangent; but, in any attempt to deal honestly with the biblical text, it is important to face the question of how we, or the biblical writers, name God. What we discover early in this discussion is that there is no adequate “name” to indicate this concept that in English we have come to know most commonly as “God.”  We are dealing here with a vast incomprehensible mystery. Some concepts, images or metaphors for pointing to this profound mystery may be better and more life-giving than others. However, as Augustine wrote “If we understand, it is not God we have understood.”