Capitalization of personal pronouns

Discussion in 'Translations and Manuscripts' started by Michael, Mar 4, 2005.

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  1. Michael

    Michael Puritan Board Senior

    (If this has already been discussed, please redirect me)

    What is the history of capitalizing the personal pronouns of God in Scripture and otherwise? What were the reasons and when/why did it cease to be the norm?
  2. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Grammar ain't my strong suit, but I'll take a stab at answering this question.

    First of all, it is my understanding -- someone knowledgeable in Greek and Hebrew (which is probably most folks on this board) please correct me I'm wrong -- that the Hebrew scriptures do not use any capital letters and the Greek scriptures use all capital letters - Nuncial style. So looking to the Biblical manuscripts doesn't seem to tell us anything in particular about capitalizing pronouns for God.

    It's interesting to me that typically, in English translations, the Tetragrammaton is translated in all capital letters.

    Without consulting my hexapla, it is my recollection that Reformation-era translations do not capitalize pronouns for God. Certainly the King James Version does not, and most would agree (even George Bernard Shaw, for example) that this translation is perhaps the greatest 'achievement' in English literature. I think this is a later development. Some people today argue that it is disrespectful to God to fail to capitalize 'his' pronouns. It is referred to as 'Christian capitalization' and it is a big deal to certain folks. I personally feel that this issue is merely one of convention and that standards for capitalization change just as language itself changes over time. If there is a return to not capitalizing such pronouns I don't think it necessarily follows that there is disrespect involved. Just changing conventions.

    My :2cents:
  3. Puritanhead

    Puritanhead Puritan Board Professor


    I was going to say something witty, but then I realize I talk too much about irrelevant stuff.
  4. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Moderator

    It is a modern innovation. I think they do it just to clarify the meaning of the text.
  5. jfschultz

    jfschultz Puritan Board Junior

    This came up just recently in a conversation with a fellow church member. He was asking about modern translations. The one thing he has against the ESV is that it does not capitalize "he" in reference to God. A quick check revealed that this is also the case with the KJV, ASV, and the 1599 Geneva Bible. Both the NKJV and NASB do capitalize "he."

    As Patrick indicated it is a modern innovation.

    I wonder if this practise came in as thee and thou disappeared from common usage. The use of thee and thou continued in relation to God and lost their significance as second person singular and became a sign of honor. Did this also lead to capitalizing "he" as a sign of honor.
  6. Randall Pederson

    Randall Pederson Puritan Board Freshman

    We should clarify that this is a modern American innovation. The Brits do not captalize personal pronouns referring to deity, and rightly so.

    I don't think it was done to clarify meaning (as Patrick proposed) but rather to show reverence. Grammars often refer to such capitalizations as being unique to American style. We kind of screwed up grammar, spelling, and punctuation, not to mention style!


    [Edited on 4-6-2006 by Randall Pederson]
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