For the Christian author, every divine pronoun presents a theological conundrum of English-language proportions. Should you capitalize pronouns (or even adjectives!) that refer to God? Is it “his name” or “His name” or even “His Name”?
Each divine pronoun is a transcendent dilemma: which is more important? God’s transcendence (ostensibly emphasized by the capitalized pronouns), or his imminence?
I personally reject capitalized divine pronouns, and encourage other writers to do the same. I find the caps practice silly, inconsistent, and odious. I file it under the rubric of translating Yahweh as “LORD” with all CAPS, as if the use of CAPS conveys a secret message about the seriousness with which we take God—as in “I love God so much, I only use capitals in referring to Him.”
The Hebrew language does not have capital letters, so Moses did not use capitalized divine pronouns (nor did he use all CAPS in writing God’s name, but that is for a different post). The Greek language does have CAPS, but the New Testament authors dodge this pressing issue by writing everything in CAPS. Apparently to them, it was all equally important.
English translations are mixed bag when it comes to this issue. Based simply on translation philosophy, you would expect the NAS to eschew the CAPS, but instead they embrace them (to the point that for me, the Psalms especially are distracting—CAPS are everywhere). The Holman, which of any translation I expected would ditch the CAPS, strangely enough does use them. The NIV bails on them for pronouns, but (like the KJV) uses them for other words that refer to God, such as “Anointed One.”
The main argument defenders of Pronouns give is that the CAPS help with ambiguity. In the sentence “Jason hit Josh because he was mad” it is unclear who exactly was mad. But in this sentence, “God healed Saul because He was kind,” it is obvious that the kindness is God’s.
Yet the reality is in the Biblical text confusion over antecedents is often intentionally ambiguous. Declaring that divine pronouns must be capitalized for the sake of clarity only serves to muddy the waters. For example, Psalms 110:7 says God will exalt the Messiah: “Therefore, he will lift up his head.” This presents the classic antecedent dilemma; who is lifting up whom (or Whom)? This verse shows the limits of CAPS to solve such riddles, because the Messiah is divine (see the rest of Psalms 110), so capitalizing both doesn’t help. But failure to capitalize the second pronoun makes it seem like the translators are actually denying the deity of Messiah. Regardless, some translations capitalize both he and his (NAS, Holman), despite not capitalizing Messiah pronouns elsewhere (cf. 2 Samuel 7:13). Apparently some Messiah pronouns are more divine than others.
Instead, I appeal to writers and translators alike: pronouns are meant to translated, and capitalization is meant to show the start of a sentence and a proper name. God is not glorified more through capital letters, and pronouns were never meant to bear such weight. Instead, write with clarity and exalt God in your heart rather than in your He and His. Or, to paraphrase the Apostle Paul:
Acts 17:24-25: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in pronouns made by man, nor is he served by CAPS, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”
Article originally published on The Cripplegate. Used with permission.
Jesse Johnson is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master’s Seminary Washington DC location.
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