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Two debatable traditions

February 2018 | by Alec Taylor

We all observe certain traditions, some good and others open to question. I wish to address two of these traditions, observed by some, but not by others.

Pronouns used in relation to God

I have been asked why it is that so many evangelicals no longer begin pronouns referring to God, the Lord Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit with a capital (upper case) letter (e.g. ‘You’, ‘His’, ‘Thee’, ‘Thou’), especially as I am guilty of the same practice.

My response is that the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures carry no such distinctions, neither does, for example, the Authorised Version of the Bible.

The practice of using capitals to begin the pronouns of deity was started by the Victorians in the 1840s-1850s. My three-volume set of Matthew Henry’s Commentary, printed in 1836, does not have the upper case for the first letter of these pronouns, nor does my copy of Olney Hymns, printed in 1830.

John Angell James in his great book, An earnest ministry, the want of the times, published in 1847 and reprinted by Banner of Truth, does not use the upper case, nor does Spurgeon’s printed sermons. Gadsby’s Hymns also uses the lower case to begin pronouns referring to deity.

The Victorians, who introduced the upper case for pronouns for deity, may have done so from the honourable motive of reverence for God, but, equally, we are not being disrespectful to the Lord if we continue the practice found in the Authorised Version of the Bible or Christian publications prior to the 1840s.

Bibles with words of Christ printed in red

Most copies of the New King James Version not only use a capital letter to begin pronouns referring to deity, but also print the quoted words of Christ in red letters. This practice seems to have originated in the USA, and some American publishers do not confine the practice to NKJV Bibles.

I believe that all Scripture is equally inspired by God (and so, in an important sense, is equally the Word of Christ), and that it is not helpful to print Christ’s words in red.

Another minor practical problem comes with this, especially for the elderly, when personally reading the Gospels in these versions where the red print may fail to give sufficient clarity. Sometimes too, preachers reading from the pulpit may have the same problem if the lighting is not clear.

Some traditions are good, but these two traditions, at least, should not be considered a mark of orthodoxy.

Alec Taylor was for many years pastor of Chelmsley Wood Reformed Baptist Church, Birmingham. This article is edited from an introductory letter to the author’s Pilgrim Bible Notes, for January 2018.