Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Not Capitalizing a Capital Offense?

Many Jewish writers will drop the vowel when referring to G-d for fear of violating the Third Commandment. They believe this practice prevents someone from taking the Lord's name in vain even accidentally. It also stems from the belief that allowing God's name to appear in a medium that may at some point be erased or deleted could be considered irreverent.

I'm sure many Christians find that strange. After all, we speak about God all the time, and there really isn't any verbal equivalent for "G-d." But when most Christians write about God, they have a tendency to show reverence by capitalizing divine pronoun references such as He, His, and Him. I used to do that, but eventually discontinued the practice. I did so for a few reasons.

First of all, it's easier not to capitalize. Yes, that sounds like a lazy excuse, but consistency makes proof-reading less difficult.

It also makes sense from a grammatical standpoint. Pronouns like he, his, and him aren't proper nouns, so it's only logical that they aren't capitalized.

Historically, the original Hebrew and Greek scripture texts didn't distinguish between capital and lower case letters. Early English Bibles, including the 1611 King James and the 1557 Geneva, didn't capitalize divine pronouns, and most modern translations, such as the NIV and ESV (the one I use), follow the same style.

Bottom line: I think it's a matter of personal preference. If you want to capitalize divine pronouns, go ahead. If not, fine. When it comes to showing reverence for God, I think our main focus should be on the context in which God's name is used.


Stan said...

I have no real axe to grind when people choose to not capitalize pronouns referring to God, but I always do it myself. It's not so much as a matter of reverence -- that's a very small part -- but as a matter of communication. When I put one of those pronouns in a sentence, there is no doubt to whom I'm referring. There are cases in Scripture, for instance, where there are pronouns for a man and for God in the same sentence, and the capital letters make it much easier to see who is who. So I do it more as a matter of communication.

(I haven't figured out the Jewish "G-d" concept at all. His name is not "God"; that's His title.)

Shep Shepherd said...

I like to do it as a personal preference; I wouldn't demand that others do it. Though God has defined Himself using personal pronouns before - I AM. I wrote an article on that recently on my blog.

For me, it simply makes it easier to distinguish in some sentences semantically and grammatically that the He we are talking about is God and not some man or other person.

Anonymous said...

The "G-d" thing jumps the fence into the realm of superstition.

Bill in STL

Shep Shepherd said...

Anonymous - the ancient Hebrews had such a respect for the name of God that they would not even write out "curse God and die" in Job 2:9... they actually wrote "bless God and die" in the original Hebrew and had a sort of footnote to explain the real meaning because they did not want to risk blaspheming God in any way. It does seem a bit over the top and silly, but their reverence for God and awe at His name are admirable in a way as well.

James said...

I personally capitalize personal pronouns with God's name, but for me it helps me keep the context of whose talking and to who when I am reading the scripture. Our minds have a way of wandering and it is for me just one more way to keep things straight, after all I am 65 and need all the clarity I can get. lol.

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