You or Thou?

A reader asks: "Is it disrespectful to use You instead of Thee and Thou when addressing the Lord in prayer?"

-Editor, Review and Herald, at the time this artice was written

A reader asks: "Is it disrespectful to use You instead of Thee and Thou when addressing the Lord in prayer?" Inasmuch as this question has been asked by others, we assume that a brief discussion of the matter in these columns may be of general interest.

As a starting point, let us remind our selves that God is infinitely holy and great. In heaven the angels veil their faces when they repeat His name. He is omnipotent. He is omniscient. He is glory personified. Moreover, He is our Creator, our Sustainer, our King. He is Ruler; we are subjects. The very thought of entering into the presence of One so great in authority, power, and majesty should solemnize our hearts and produce within our souls an attitude of reverence.

Second, we need to remember that prayer is not a mere verbal exercise; it is an audience with this Being. In prayer we commune with Him; we open our hearts to Him. What a privilege—not one to be entered into carelessly or with minimum reverence. If a solemn style of language is available, or if there is a more polite form than the usual familiar form of address for the second person, surely the sincere worshiper will wish to use it.

Some languages have two forms of the second-person pronoun—one for addressing intimates, the other for addressing acquaintances and dignitaries. But in modern English only one form is available: you. Formerly the forms thee, thy, and thou were used, but today few people other than Quakers retain these forms. And with the exception of the King James Version, few Bible translations use the solemn forms when equals are addressing -one another, or in ordinary conversation between Christ, His disciples, and others.

Solemn Form in Scripture

But — and we think this is both interesting and significant — most translations have preserved the solemn form in passages where God is being addressed. In the Lord's Prayer, for example, the overwhelming majority of translations that we have examined use Thy in the passage, "Hallowed be thy name." This seems to indicate that even translators whose avowed aim is to put the Bible in modern language have felt reluctant to do anything that might lessen reverence for God, anything that might encourage disrespect.

Now, we are all well aware that some people consider Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine merely as archaic forms. They consider them vestiges of a bygone era. They feel that if religion is to appear relevant to today's "beat" generation, the words You and Your must be used in addressing Deity. We do not doubt the sincerity of these people. Nor do we deny that their arguments have some validity. We have no doubt that God hears and answers the prayers of those who with a contrite and humble heart address Him as You.

We think, however, that in a world where little distinction is made between the sacred and profane; in a world where proud man is reluctant to acknowledge God, much less humble himself before Him; in a world where reverence for God and holy things is fast disappearing; the use of the solemn form of addressing Deity has certain advantages. For one thing, it emphasizes the distinction between the worshiper and the One being worshiped. It places God on a plane above ourselves. It suggests subtly that God is not to be treated merely as a human being, not as a mere equal. Further, it tends to encourage reverence merely by the fact that a special language is used in communing with God. Mixing the Forms

While we are discussing this topic, we should like to say a word about the practice of switching back and forth from the solemn form Thou to the common form You, during public prayer. It is understandable that people newly come to the faith, who have had little time to learn correct usage, might mix their Thou's and You's, but surely long-time Adventists— ministers especially—should be consistent and use one form exclusively in a public prayer. Mixing the forms is not only poor literary usage, it disturbs listeners. Each You after a Thou sounds harsh and irreverent. It derails the listener's train of thought, setting it off in the direction of problems relating to language usage, education, public speaking, et cetera.

We cannot cite chapter and verse in the Bible to support our position on the use of Thou versus You, but we reason as follows: Earnest Christians will desire to show awe and reverence in their approach to God; the use of conservative language seems to aid this endeavor; hence its use is preferable to common, familiar forms. To us this argument is persuasive. To many others it is also.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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-Editor, Review and Herald, at the time this artice was written

January 1968

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