Why We Should Stop Capitalizing Pronouns Referring to God

capitalize pronouns referring to god

If you want to start a fight, meddle with people’s religion and their grammar at the same time.

Here goes: I think it’s time to drop the practice of capitalizing deity pronouns in Christian writing and in (most) Bible translations.

Shall we take this out back?

I feel the weight behind this tradition because I, too, live to honor God and I, too, want to write good English prose.

But we should still let the custom drop. Not only does it muddy our communication with the uninitiated, a similar tradition has robbed us of the knowledge of how to pronounce God’s name.

A fading scribal tradition

Capitalizing deity pronouns in Scripture creates awkward situations—such as when the Pharisees say to Jesus (in the NASB), “We wish to see a sign from You,” implying that they do in fact regard him as deity. This practice forces us to specify whether a given pronoun refers to God in ambiguous cases; it also shouts interpretations that authors may have preferred to whisper (Isa 53:6). And as the Zondervan style guide wisely points out, capitalization in English doesn’t generally mean respect, but specification (see “Pol Pot” and “Satan”). Also, as this capitalization tradition fades—and it is fading—younger readers may interpret a He in the middle of a sentence as emphasis (or, I’d add, as random, Dickinsonesque orthographic noise). Bible translations, and Christian books generally, ought to avoid distraction by sticking to conventions familiar to the largest number of readers possible.

But not everyone is persuaded that tradition ought to yield to accessibility in this case. After I published a column on this subject, two seminary-trained men wrote me (graciously!) with opposite reasons for their disagreement. One insisted that he capitalized deity pronouns not for respect but for clarity, the other that he capitalized them not for clarity but for respect.

Frankly, it’s kind of fun to have a serious disagreement when the stakes are so low. You can engage in all the Kabuki of outraged argument without actually being angry. But the gentleman who said he capitalized deity pronouns for respect raised an interesting parallel issue that convinced me even more that I was right (a lovely feeling the internet often affords one). This is where the pronunciation of God’s name comes in.

Continue: https://blog.logos.com/2017/06/stop-capitalizing-pronouns-referring-god/

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