Of Style and Substance

The following will enable those who haven’t placed me in the category of fundamentalist or uneducated to do so now.

If you speak to the editor of a Christian periodical or publishing house, he will tell you that it is a matter of style that pronouns referring to God and/or Christ aren’t capitalized.  They use to be, but the manuals of style that dictate such matters have changed.  It is a style change not a substantive one. Tell that to poet e.e. cummings who didn’t usually capitalize the pronoun “I.”  This wasn’t merely a decision about style but substance.  Read his poems and see.  Better yet type a letter or an email, then find and replace every “I” with “i.”  See how it changes?

When I was a child, I well remember my Lutheran elementary school teacher explaining the rule that pronouns referring to God or Christ were always to be capitalized.  She emphasized how doing this recognized that God was holier, superior to us.  This is the Christians version of the tetragrammon, the sacred four Hebrew letters YHWH.  YHWH (Yahweh) is the name of God that the Old Testament Church wouldn’t pronounce.  In fact they took the vowel pointing of Adonai, and applied it to the sacred four letters.  When the Jewish reader saw them, he read Adonai (“the Lord” or “my Lord”) rather than saying the holy name Yahweh.  Christian translators, however, took this combination as another word giving us the name Jehovah.

The New Testament Church didn’t understand what the Old Testament Church was trying to preserve.  It was a matter of substance not style.  Latter day Christians giving in to new styles are really giving up substance.  C.S. Lewis observed that when a later generation has difficulty with the words their forefathers used it is an indication that they don’t feel the same way about things as their ancestors did.  Our forefathers wanted every reference to their God marked, noted, highlighted.  Surely you have noticed that Bibles which continue this practice help us to understand what a given text is saying.  You know when the “He” refers to the Lord or someone else.  Luther said that virtually every heresy can be traced back to not paying attention to who is speaking or to whom is being spoken.  Capitalizing pronouns referring to God helps us pay attention.

Read older Lutheran dogmatic books.  They will capitalize the Body and Blood of Jesus.  This too highlights, as is fitting and theologically accurate, His Body and Blood from the body and blood of all others.  Read the sermons or blogs of pastors on line.  I’m willing to bet that most capitalize the pronouns referring to God.  Yet when their books or articles are published they won’t be.  The manuals of style used by publishers trump the substance of their theology.

Yes, yes I know early Greek manuscripts capitalized everything and latter ones not at all.  Yes, yes, I know that the reader of the Greek now has to make those decisions.  But in our own writings we know when we’re referring to our Lord, our God, and our Savior.  Is it really nothing but style? If it matters whether i say something or I do, I and i think it matters whether He or he says something.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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One Response to Of Style and Substance

  1. Carl Roth says:

    I sympathize with what you are saying here, and I also try to capitalize divine “He,” “Him,” “You,” and me “Me.” In addition to the respect it conveys, sometimes it is just plain helpful for clarity’s sake.

    However, I have always wondered why we do not do the same with the relative pronouns, “Who” and “Whom.” I have come across a couple of pastors who do capitalize the relative pronouns, and it does seem that that would be most consistent, but I’m not sure I could develop such a habit this late in the game. Even harder for you. =)

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