Why We Should Stop Capitalizing Pronouns Referring to God

capitalize pronouns referring to god

If you want to start a fight, meddle with people’s religion and their grammar at the same time.

Here goes: I think it’s time to drop the practice of capitalizing deity pronouns in Christian writing and in (most) Bible translations.

Shall we take this out back?

I feel the weight behind this tradition because I, too, live to honor God and I, too, want to write good English prose.

But we should still let the custom drop. Not only does it muddy our communication with the uninitiated, a similar tradition has robbed us of the knowledge of how to pronounce God’s name.

A fading scribal tradition

Capitalizing deity pronouns in Scripture creates awkward situations—such as when the Pharisees say to Jesus (in the NASB), “We wish to see a sign from You,” implying that they do in fact regard him as deity. This practice forces us to specify whether a given pronoun refers to God in ambiguous cases; it also shouts interpretations that authors may have preferred to whisper (Isa 53:6). And as the Zondervan style guide wisely points out, capitalization in English doesn’t generally mean respect, but specification (see “Pol Pot” and “Satan”). Also, as this capitalization tradition fades—and it is fading—younger readers may interpret a He in the middle of a sentence as emphasis (or, I’d add, as random, Dickinsonesque orthographic noise). Bible translations, and Christian books generally, ought to avoid distraction by sticking to conventions familiar to the largest number of readers possible.

But not everyone is persuaded that tradition ought to yield to accessibility in this case. After I published a column on this subject, two seminary-trained men wrote me (graciously!) with opposite reasons for their disagreement. One insisted that he capitalized deity pronouns not for respect but for clarity, the other that he capitalized them not for clarity but for respect.

Frankly, it’s kind of fun to have a serious disagreement when the stakes are so low. You can engage in all the Kabuki of outraged argument without actually being angry. But the gentleman who said he capitalized deity pronouns for respect raised an interesting parallel issue that convinced me even more that I was right (a lovely feeling the internet often affords one). This is where the pronunciation of God’s name comes in.

Even older scribal traditions

Writing a letter to the editor in my own denomination’s magazine (where I had written my column), this pastor said,

I appreciate Dr. Ward’s zeal for clear communication… but I disagree with his call to eliminate the capitalizing of deity pronouns and select nouns.

I can think of two ancient conventions intended to convey reverence that lend support to continuing our tradition of capitalization. In the OT there is the qere perpetuum practice of substituting “Adonai” for YHWH. The Jewish reader would say “Lord” when the text read God’s personal name.

In the NT there was the scribal practice of substituting divine nouns with the special abbreviations called nomina sacra. It was a unique practice that people outside of the Christian community would not have readily understood. Similarly, our typographical tradition of capitalization has become standardized among the Christian community.

No rational reader would see a capitalized pronoun referring to Jesus in the reported speech of Pharisees as an indication that the Pharisees respected Him. It simply indicates that we’re making a small effort in our written documents to show Him reverence.

I’m guessing it’s been a while since the words nomina sacra and qere perpetuum have shown up in a letter to the editor of my denominational magazine. When I saw them, I got excited. I had a serious interlocutor with a cogent point, basically that the tradition I was critiquing was far older than I had considered. Time for some serious Kabuki.

Qere perpetuum is the ancient Jewish practice of retaining the consonants of the covenantal name of God, the tetragrammaton (YHWH, “Lord”), but supplying different vowels, the vowels from adonai, “lord.” Qere perpetuum is Latin for “always read”; that is, always read this in place of what was originally intended.

Here is the very first instance of the qere perpetuum in the Leningrad Codex, the eleventh century manuscript that provides the basis for modern editions of the Hebrew Bible, at Genesis 2:4 (YHWH is in yellow):

This practice, however, has left us with an odd situation. As the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary says, “The pronunciation of yhwh as Yahweh is a scholarly guess.” (1011)

The AYBD continues:

Hebrew biblical mss were principally consonantal in spelling until well into the current era. The pronunciation of words was transmitted in a separate oral tradition. . .. Though the consonants [YHWH] remained, the original pronunciation was eventually lost. (1011)

We know the consonants, but we don’t know the vowels. Yes, that’s right: we don’t know for sure how to say the name of our own God (Isa 42:8).

Nomina sacra is the similar Christian practice of abbreviating certain divine names, especially Lord (kurios) but also Jesus, Christ, God, Father, and Spirit—and even cross, crucify, Israel, and Jerusalem. Nomina sacra are visible to this day both in NT manuscripts and in Eastern Orthodox iconography. They show up at the earliest stages of the manuscript tradition. In one of the oldest papyri we have, 𝔓1, there are three nomina sacra in a row in the very first line (ι̅υ̅ χ̅υ̅ υ̅υ̅, Jesus Christ Son):

I’m not aware of any problems caused today by the nomina sacra: we certainly know how to pronounce Jesus (though Larry Hurtado has commented in private correspondence to a friend that the nomina sacra “did amount to a kind of ‘in-house’ convention that outsiders wouldn’t have grasped readily”).

Slicing off the end of the ham

You can look up qere perpetuum and nomina sacra in many resources in Logos, and you should. But if you read a Bible dictionary, you may make the mistake of assuming from the straightforward tone of the article that we know for certain why these scribal practices developed. Philip W. Comfort has a fascinating and detailed discussion of the nomina sacra in his Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism, and he carefully acknowledges that we simply don’t know how they got started.

Comfort’s highly educated guess is that the nomina sacra were developed on the model of the qere perpetuum in the tetragrammaton. The first Christian scribes may previously have been Jewish scribes. It is therefore “very likely that the first of the nomina sacra was ΚΣ for kurios (Lord).” (207)

The origin story for the qere perpetuum is generally thought to relate to the third commandment and the honor the Jews accord to the divine name. “This name was so sacred to them that they refused to utter it or even spell it out in full when they made copies of Scripture.” (207)

But as with the origin of the qere perpetuum, so with the origin of the nomina sacra. Comfort says: “Definitive proof eludes us.”

That’s what happens with traditions. They get encrusted with new associations that obscure the old ones. And pretty soon your great-granddaughter is slicing off the end of the ham. This doesn’t mean we should jettison all traditions, as if we even could. It does mean that the ad fontes, sola scriptura, semper reformanda impulse of Reformation Christianity makes me suspicious when two very smart people who love the Bible give opposite reasons for maintaining the same capitalization tradition (namely clarity and respect). We’ve reached the encrustation stage. If we’re not sure why we’re doing something, perhaps we need to put the end of the ham back on.

Conclusion

When we have two genuinely valuable things that stand in tension—like clear communication to all English speakers vs. a traditional way of according respect to God’s name—I’m open to keeping both if possible. One way to do that is to consign deity pronoun capitalization, and the capitalization of LORD, and the bolding or small-capsification of OT quotes, and italicization of words supplied by translators, and other specialized Bible-codey stuff to a literal Bible translation or two, like the NASB and LEB, whose readers understand what’s going on and who find these traditions to be helpful shorthand.

But if clarity and tradition truly conflict—as I think they now do in most places where deity pronouns have usually been capitalized—you can guess which one this Protestant thinks should win. Maybe the 500th anniversary of the movement which gave us our explosion of vernacular Bibles around the world is a good year to drop the capitalization of deity pronouns.


Mark L. Ward, Jr. received his PhD from Bob Jones University in 2012; he now serves the church as a Logos Pro. He is the author of multiple high school Bible textbooks, including Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption.

 

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Comments

  1. Mike Gallagher says:

    Hi Mark,

    Just my 2 cents worth – way too technical for me, and for most Christians, I believe. I think this is likely an issue with scholars but not with the common folk.

    I would say that using caps in the Bible is one thing – and I will defer to the experts on that. But I think that using caps in a letter to the editor or other correspondence to signify that the pronoun is referring to God is a good thing. If some don’t understand why you did it, it may end up being a point that allows for the beginning of a conversation with them – I’m not sure that it really muddies the water or confuses anyone.

    So, for me, I’ll still use capital letters when referring to Him in general correspondence.

    And, I do think that the 500th anniversary of Luther’s split with the Church, and all the subsequent splits, would be a better time for all of us, as Christians, to re-examine the real issues that divide us and move closer to the unity of Christians as Christ prayed in John 17.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for your comment, Mike.

      And I actually think your stated reason, which boils down to (is this fair?) “It’s not a big deal either way,” may be the best response to my viewpoint. Nerds such as myself can get too excited about the mint, dill, and cumin of the law (Matt 23:23). But I think they do have their place, and a few obscure blog posts read mostly by other Bible nerds may be that place. =)

      As for the unity of the whole church a la John 17 in 2017, that’s a much longer discussion!

      • Dale Buffington says:

        Mark
        I disagree with dropping it. Since the early 1990’s I have been using all caps for deity in my papers. Those included Clinical Pastoral Education and M. Div , work at Oral Roberts. At Bethel Seminary in the my dissertation writing class it was not till I asked the instructor as he was not marking it wrong he said Pick Your Battles. If we are going to do this how about phd or mr. Yes it is oftentimes polemic.
        Think about this are we going to go to shiping like they have done to worshiping? Think we could agree to let our audience pick and choose but in my opinion if you want to use capitals for GOD’d Pronouns do it and if you don’t in my classes you fight the battle.
        Blessings great to discuss topics like these

  2. Wow…!!! As if there is NOT enough quibbling within the “body”; when the major concern should be HOW to answer the question posed by the Philippian jailer — WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED? Wow, just WOW…!!! God help us.

    • Pastor Long, I agree with you that the question of the Philippian jailer is vastly, almost infinitely more important than the capitalization of deity pronouns—just like justice, mercy, and faithfulness are vastly, almost infinitely more important than tithing mint, dill, and cumin (Matt 23:23). And Paul even warns about “quarrels about words” (λογομαχίας; 1 Tim 6:4). But read Matt 23:23c. =) But Christian publishers have got to make a decision, and they might as well think it through!

  3. Gregorio Billikopf says:

    Hi Mark. I knew this article was yours even before I got to the end of it.

    • I’m not sure whether to be flattered or fearful. =)

      • Gregorio Billikopf says:

        Mark, part of it has to do with the types of topics you write about, and your questioning tradition in general. On a separate topic, did you write the article on the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible? I have subscribed to the pre-pub. I am a KJV guy :). Where I would love to have your help is in making sure Logos publishes the related tome, “A Textual History of the King James Bible.” Thanks! It was mentioned by one of the reviewers and it really caught my interest.

        • I plead guilty to occasionally iconoclastic Protestantism. =)

          And, yes, that Norton book, A Textual History of the King James Bible is fantastic! I’ve read it in the past year in preparation for my new book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, the cover for which I just got to see 30 minutes ago… I was actually wondering, too, if we’d be able to get that other Norton book. If customers show they want it, generally we produce it.

    • ** Hi Mark. I knew this article was yours even before I got to the end of it. **

      Me too.

  4. I’d vote (if I were ever polled on it) to drop capitalized deity pronouns.

    There are similar examples of these kinds of traditions that are now explicitly condemned in published style guides. I think this is another example of a place where we lose nothing of consequence by abandoning tradition, all while gaining some clarity.

    For example, “Biblical” vs. “biblical.” The term is an adjectival form that describes something that relates to the Bible. Although we capitalize “Bible,” most style guides and the OED would recommend lowercase “biblical.” Maybe it’s a crazy comparison, but I’ve never seen anyone suggest we should capitalize “abysmal” or “hellish” when it describes a quality that (in context) pertains to “Hell.” However, I used to capitalize “Biblical,” for much the same reason that I might capitalize a deity pronoun.

    I’ve never had anyone ask me why I lowercase “biblical” now. Maybe someday that will happen, but most of my readers don’t interpret the lower case as disrespectful.

  5. Pastor Jim McLain (Ret) says:

    Since we are a long ways away from Old Testament times and on the verge of the Second Coming of Jesus, I would defer to clarity and leave the capitals in place since there is an even bigger misunderstanding of a Triune God. For purists it might be well to publish some popular versions that leave out the capitals but introduce an apparatus that refers readers to good sound translation and interpretation. Since we will never know the true pronunciation of YHWH we might / should establish a standardization that is simple and easy to understand the incorporation of Adonai by the Scribes.

    • You mean replace “LORD” with “YHWH” in Bibles?

      • Gregorio Billikopf says:

        It is most interesting to me that Spanish Bibles, almost uniformly, have YHWH spelled out, rather than LORD.

      • Geoff Johnson says:

        I would vote for replacing LORD with YHWH or Yahweh. The underlying “word” is a proper name, after all. By using the word that the Jews say when reading the text instead of transliterating the proper name that actually appears, the translators have for centuries placed the oral tradition above the written text. That is an odd choice, in my opinion.

        I enjoy using the Lexham English Bible because it does use Yahweh. But as far as I’ve seen, it’s the only one.

        • I’m totally open to this practice; I like it that some translations will use it and others won’t.

          I think the reason most English translations have gone with LORD as a rendering of Yahweh is that the NT renders Yahweh with κύριος (kurios). Most translations are, in other words, following the precedent set by the NT itself.

          • Daniel Garratt says:

            This! If the NT apostles do it, we should. Why? Because it shows the link between the NT and OT – same God, same Lord. It also strengthens the Trinity as YHWH is now rendered Lord, which is what we call Jesus. This, by the way, is why the Jehovah’s Witnesses use YHWH everywhere they can, to obscure the Trinity.
            As to capitalisation. Yes, drop it for clarity. We dropped Latin, let’s drop the capital!

          • Dolores Woodrum says:

            Daniel, I haven’t been able to find any NT source that shows YHWH in the original Greek manuscripts, even when quoting OT passages, so it looks like the NT writers always used Lord when referring either to Jesus or the Father. I agree that this supports the Trinity, but with God giving us his name YHWH nearly seven thousand times in the OT, I’m suspicious as to whether at least some of the NT was written in Hebrew with YHWH’s name in it, and that the NT translators changed it to Lord. I’m not convinced that the original NT writers deliberately replaced YHWH with Lord, but it is possible since the Jewish religious leaders established a tradition of pronouncing Adonai aloud when the text clearly said YHWH.

          • Will Scholten says:

            Mark,
            Does this agree with what is written in the OT?

            Micah 4 is talking about the last days, in verse 5, it uses YHWH and Elohim!! What am I missing??

            5  For all people will walk every one in the name of his god,
            And we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.

            The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Mic 4:5). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

            How about Zec. 9:13

            13  When I have bent Judah for me, filled the bow with Ephraim,
            And raised up thy sons, O Zion, against thy sons, O Greece,
            And made thee as the sword of a mighty man.

            The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Zec 9:13). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

            Do you really think the NT was penned in Greek?
            What happened in 70 AD, the Greeks took al the Hebrew writings, right!!

          • Brian Roden says:

            Will,

            Well, I doubt Paul wrote to Gentile believers in Hebrew/Aramaic. And Luke’s two volumes to Theophilus were most likely written in Greek. Even the letter to the Hebrews was probably written to diaspora Jews whose dominant language was Greek.

            By the way, it would have been the Romans in AD 70.

        • John Lowe says:

          The Jerusalem Bible also ” uses “Yahweh”.

          • Gregorio Billikopf says:

            Will, the expression LORD our GOD,
            יהוה אֱלֹהֵינוּ
            Or YHWH ELOHEINU appears throughout the Hebrew Bible (over 100 times). I understand it as addressing the divine nature of YHWH. In the New Testament, we see YHWH equated with Christ our Savior (especially see when Isaiah 6 is quoted in the NT).

            But I apologize that I may not be addressing the question you were asking Mark.

          • Will Scholten says:

            Brian,
            We have to understand who the scriptures are talking about, when they went to the “gentiles”!! What does Peter tell us?

            1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

            To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

            The New International Version. (2011). (1 Pe 1). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

            They are talking about the exiles who were scattered!

            Jeremiah tells us the same thing;

            27 “Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant;
            do not be dismayed, Israel.
            I will surely save you out of a distant place,
            your descendants from the land of their exile.
            Jacob will again have peace and security,
            and no one will make him afraid.
            28 Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant,
            for I am with you,” declares the LORD.
            “Though I completely destroy all the nations
            among which I scatter you,
            I will not completely destroy you.
            I will discipline you but only in due measure;
            I will not let you go entirely unpunished.

            The New International Version. (2011). (Je 46:27–28). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

            10 “ ‘So do not be afraid, Jacob my servant;
            do not be dismayed, Israel,’
            declares the LORD.
            ‘I will surely save you out of a distant place,
            your descendants from the land of their exile.
            Jacob will again have peace and security,
            and no one will make him afraid.
            11 I am with you and will save you,’
            declares the LORD.
            ‘Though I completely destroy all the nations
            among which I scatter you,
            I will not completely destroy you.
            I will discipline you but only in due measure;
            I will not let you go entirely unpunished.’

            The New International Version. (2011). (Je 30:10–11). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

            He even tells us twice!

            What does Ezekiel tell us?

            One Nation Under One King
            15 The word of the LORD came to me: 16 “Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, ‘Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.’ Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, ‘Belonging to Joseph (that is, to Ephraim) and all the Israelites associated with him.’ 17 Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand.
            18 “When your people ask you, ‘Won’t you tell us what you mean by this?’ 19 say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.’ 20 Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on 21 and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, z and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
            24 “ ‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’ ”

            The New International Version. (2011). (Eze 37:15–28). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

            I think we have been taught wrong, how about you?

  6. Ken Callan says:

    Mark,

    What evidence is there that capitalisation impedes clarity?

    • Dolores Woodrum says:

      Hi Mark. The evidence for me is my own experience. I notice every mark that’s on the page, and unnecessary or incorrect marks are distractions to me. I consider capitalization of pronouns to be both unnecessary and incorrect based on traditional grammatical. I understand that others feel differently, and they are entitled to do so just as I differ with them. I’m in favor of the least amount of punctuation and other text effects; too much if them produces visual clutter which is distracting to those of us who have sharp visual acuity and an ongoing need to analyze, understand and question what we are seeing/reading. As a professional copy editor and proofreader, I support traditional grammatical rules and style guides; individual and arbitrary deviation from these rules invites and introduces visual clutter, which interferes with clarity.

  7. Ron Quarles says:

    I know it is insane to compare a person with a GED with one who has a PHD, but there are many times in the readings of scripture that it would be helpful if the deity was capitalized in order to help the reader determine between God and the person in the narrative. However, this could gender an other problem, Who to believe? Of course, we have the LOGOS BIBLE Program to consult to solve this, so ……I’m in favor of capitalization.

  8. Stephen says:

    Interesting stuff, Mark, and insightful.

    To the others, say what you will, but I don’t think anyone is drawing battle lines over this. The discussion is more a window into where some people work and what they do for a living. If you don’t think discussions like this happen amongst publishers and grammarians dedicated to giving us the best works possible……..

    This is technical stuff and way beyond me in many respects. I will say a huge portion of the Logos library touches on things of this nature, though. If the discussion has no place among thinking Christians of any stripe, then Christians probably no longer belong in libraries.

    • Very good. This is an insightful comment.

      In personal letters to one’s Christian grandmother, it is likely best to maintain this practice.

      And I like your final comment, too. Christians sometimes have to talk about nerdy, technical stuff.

  9. Jeff Moore says:

    The New Testament, when quoting the Old Testament, uses “Lord” whenever “Jehovah” is named. If that is good enough for the Holy Ghost, I say, go with that.

  10. Phil Larson says:

    Grammar rules (including capitalization): descriptive, but not prescriptive

    • Yes, most definitely—but perhaps the reason good Christians disagree over this low-stakes issue is that we’re in between one convention and another. The descriptive testimony of actual usage may be inconclusive.

      • Peter Jensen says:

        Perhaps “we don’t know for sure how to say the name of our own God” left out an important word… “yet.”

        His name will be written on our foreheads, and we’ll probably know how to say it in our worship of God. Questions about capitalization of pronouns and pronunciation of names will have become non-issues in the light of God’s eternal glory.

  11. George Watson says:

    Capitalise the Name of God.
    Capitalise BIBLE
    and keep B.C. and A.D.

    • Fully agreed!

    • Referring to this:
      Qere perpetuum is the ancient Jewish practice of retaining the consonants of the covenantal name of God, the tetragrammaton (YHWH, “Lord”), but supplying different vowels, the vowels from adonai, “lord.” Qere perpetuum is Latin for “always read”; that is, always read this in place of what was originally intended.

      MY COMMENT:
      These vowel markings came LATER.
      The Jews did say “Adonai” rather than “Yahveh.” Yes, the Masoretes changed the vowel markings. Their RESPECT for the name of God refused to let it come out of their unclean lips. [Isaiah 6].
      Yet Psalm 51:15 (NIV84) O Lord, open my lips,
      and my mouth will declare your praise.
      Psalm 18:49 (NIV84)
      49 Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O LORD;
      I will sing praises to your name.
      So Israelites may choose to say “Adonai”
      The spiritual Israel rejoices to proclaim the name, Yahveh! YHVH. the “I AM that I AM” God. Eternal, unchanging God, ELOHIM.
      YHVH ELoHehNou, the LORD our God! JESUS, Yeshuah! The LORD Salvation!

      U may be right! Shorthand is now becoming “texting” with acronyms and abbreviations. BUT….Communicating the Good News of YHVH JESUS LORD is a decision between clarity and tradition [ham]???!!!
      May I suggest it’s more?!?
      The honesty and love for the Truth and for conveying His Truth requires wrestling with feedback, as well setting down what the language of the day both understands or NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND. In other words, also required are effort, research, revisions. Addenda? Notes? Explanations? References?
      Perhaps the Wartburg Project has suggestions?

      https://www.britannica.com/topic/Yahweh#ref54636
      https://www.allacronyms.com/text_messaging/abbreviations
      http://wartburgproject.org/

    • Geoff Johnson says:

      Since you brought up capitalizing God, I was challenged to think about that custom when reading N. T. Wright’s scholarly works, notably “The New Testament and the People of God” and its sequels. Wright uses “god” most of the time because, as he says in the preface, always capitalizing it “amounts to regarding ‘God’ as the proper name of the Deity, rather than as essentially a common noun, [and] implies that all users of the word are monotheists and, within that, that all monotheists believe in the same god.” Rather than capitalize “god,” he uses the proper name YHWH or Yahweh and often clarifies with phrases such as “the creator” or “Israel’s god.”

      Given that the Greek word for “god” is never specially treated by the New Testament writers when it refers to a pagan god or the god of Israel, it seems reasonable to me to treat it as a common noun and use context to provide the necessary reference for YHWH when he is the referent.

      • Good comment.

        Yes, I’ve given some thought to Wright’s spelling practice there. I do not think he’s giving up the faith or intending any disrespect. I believe his capitalization practice is his prerogative—especially in big books in which he gets to explain his reasoning.

        However, as a writer myself I want to use the various tools available to draw people’s attention to my meaning, and I feel that “god,” when referring to the God of Abraham, draws too much attention to itself. I am always asking, “How is this word [or grammatical construction or spelling choice] I’m writing going to register with my intended audience?” Lower-casing “god” seems to me to be sprinkling one’s text with neon signs; I would only do that if it were a deep, deep concern to me to highlight a particular idea.

        This is the way I feel about alternating “he” and “she” as generic markers. Maybe one day it will feel unremarkable to me, but right now it honestly hits me as jarring every time I see “she” as a generic marker. It calls attention to gender, in my perhaps idiosyncratic judgment, more than “he” does. But they both feel non-generic to me nowadays, so I typically opt for recasting my sentences to avoid them. Again, I want the neon signs where I want the neon signs!

        • Geoff Johnson says:

          I agree that alternating “he” and “she” is not really a good solution for gender-neutral discourse, but I prefer that over “they” used in place of a singular pronoun. Ugh.

          Reading Wright’s use of “god” does take some adjustment every time I pick it up after a time away from reading his tomes. And he considers his audience as well, because the “For Everyone” series and his “Tom Wright” books keep the traditional capitalization for God. Keeping the audience in mind and writing so that the intended audience receives the intended message with the least difficulty is arguably the paramount obligation of any writer. In a culture where emoticons are substituting for verbal communication and spelling is too frequently deferred to auto-correct tools, it is important occasionally to remind ourselves that details in writing do matter.

          • A GREAT example. Yes! A fantastic comment.

            And now apply this thinking back to my thesis in this post: who is our audience when we translate the Bible and write Christian books? What spelling practices will get our message across to them with the least difficulty?

    • Dolores Woodrum says:

      George, I agree:

      Capitalize the name of God (but don’t capitalize the word “name”)
      Capitalize the word Bible (but don’t write it in all uppercase letters)
      Keep B.C. and A.D.

  12. Carmen M Gauvin-O'Donnell says:

    I personally will continue to use capitals, but totally agree that a compromise is possible… we could use small letters in certain circumstances because you’re right, that will help the reader understand the context better, as in the Pharisees having no belief at all so why WOULD they bother capitalizing? Whereas I can totally see Peter, though, saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

  13. Mark,
    Thank you for voicing some thoughts I’ve had for several years. Along with using YHWH instead of LORD, this would be a helpful change in vernacular translations, imo.

  14. Roland Smith says:

    Mark – I am surprised that you would spend so much time and energy on a topic such as this. And on whose dime? Is this why Logos is so expensive? I sure hope you were not on the clock when you wrote and posted this. If so, I must object to your using the resources we furnish Logos through our purchases for such a discussion as this. It is not productive, nor furthers the kingdom. In fact, this sort of discussion tends to divide, not unite the body. More importantly, it would seem to point away from giving God the Glory He so rightly deserves! And giving Him Glory is always a good thing! This is the first time I have read your work and it has not left a good impression. It is my prayer that you will give your time to more productive, God-Honoring, Kingdom-Furthering ventures in the future.

    • Stephen says:

      What a scathing comment, Roland! I posted this above, but per adventure you hadn’t seen it, let me quote myself:

      “I will say a huge portion of the Logos library touches on things of this nature, though. If the discussion has no place among thinking Christians of any stripe, then Christians probably no longer belong in libraries.”

      All that to say, I find it incredibly ironic that you get on Mark about wasting Logos’ money talking about topics a percentage of Logos’ library is dedicated to. And having worked at Logos myself, I can say with a fairly high degree of certainty that Mark working there is actually SAVING you money–if only because the number of customers drawn to this topic and what they ultimately spend actually is greater than what Mark “costs” Logos.

      I dare say, a hearty “thank you” would be a much more appropriate response.

  15. Jeff Hillmore says:

    All right, I have another reason, perhaps somewhat facetious. I have read and written to address deity pronouns with caps with such regularity that it feels like sinning to do otherwise. I was aghast when I started reading John Piper years ago, “doesn’t he know…?” While I can get over it, it nearly feels like a violation of conscience to use lower case H. You would not be advocating for someone to violate their conscience, would you?

    • No, a VERY good point I need to go back and include in the post. FULLY agreed.

    • Dolores Woodrum says:

      Hi Jeff. In your own personal writing you can capitalize to your heart’s content. Professional writing is in a different category. If you check the 1611 King James Bible, you will see that pronouns were not capitalized. Do you think the writers/translators/publishers of the KJV were sinning?

      • Dale Buffington says:

        Dolores greetings ,
        Then many of us think that the Bible is personnel and professional papers mostly theses that I have read, studied and written all used and capitalized Divine pronoun. Granted we are talking about decades ago so should theological writings be considered wrong or obsolete for capitalizing?
        Blessings you have great interaction and thoughts

        • Dolores Woodrum says:

          Hi Dale, As I have already indicated, I dislike and disagree with capitalizing anything that violates long-standing English writing rules, including pronouns for God because I consider it wrong (incorrect); but as I have also said, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, especially in non-official contexts. In no way, however, would older theological writings ever be considered obsolete; we simply notice the changes in language which are inevitable. I understand the religious feelings associated with the trend toward capitalizing these pronouns, especially since it has become common even for official/public groups to practice it; but again, as a professional copy editor and proofreader who is acutely sensitive to textual deviations from standard writing practices, it distracts my focus from the context the same way a misspelling or incorrect grammar would, and I feel compelled to correct it. (I hope I answered your question.) Blessings to you too, Dale, and thank you for your kind words!

          • Dale Buffington says:

            Dolores
            You did and I agree it must just be my old age and training that keeps me doing it. I have also found that the younger crowd likes it better.
            Be Blessed

  16. My very popular and old KJV does not capitalize the pronouns referring to deity! To stop doing so now is nothing more than returning to older practice. It did not show a lack of reverence then, nor would it now.

  17. Interesting. But I will continue the practice to capitalize. Can’t help myself…even in my texts. Sign of honor and respect…and a witness to some degree. I’ve been asked amazingly enough. God can use even capitalization!

  18. Dan Hooton says:

    The following represents my thoughts on the subject:
    God is holy which means, among other things, that He is uniquely different and separate from everything else in creation. By capitalizing pronouns referring to Him, that fact is brought to our attention, something I believe is needed more and more today.

  19. Pat Brown says:

    I see your point when you say, “…when the Pharisees say to Jesus (in the NASB), ‘We wish to see a sign from You,’ implying that they do in fact regard him as deity.” I never thought they considered Jesus deity just because the publisher capitalized “You,” but I can see that it might be confusing to some who are unfamiliar with the Pharisees. But when a verse has “he” two times and one refers to God, it clears up which “he” is God and which is man. Often the wording makes this clear but I have run into this confusion from time to time and had wished the “he” referring to God had been capitalized. Also verses such as Ps 8:1 seem to me to require a capital “Y” to balance the scale of what was done with Who did it. Perhaps this is a subject the translators need to consider and decide when caps are needed and when they are not.

  20. Hi Mark!

    I appreciate both sides of the thoughts on this topic, and have in the past thought that a Visual Filter toggle would be an awesome way for Logos to enable EITHER way to be implemented, as per individual taste.

    Blessings!

  21. Both your post, Mark, and the following discussion have been interesting to read. A question I often come across in my own writing is the capitalization of “the Word of God,” when it is clearly referring specifically to Jesus, who is the word incarnate (as in John 1), and the “word of God,” referring generally to the Scriptures (scriptures?). As a lover of the Word and the Bible, and a grammar nerd as well, I have found myself puzzled and would be glad to have your input.

    • Great question. I’ll ask one in return: who’s your primary audience, Barbaranne?

      • I lead a Bible study for women in my church, (and am co-leading through the summer). I follow up each week’s lesson with a blog post to summarize the lesson for those who weren’t present (and to maintain transparency for our session), and also to share the sometimes lengthy (but always edifying) quotes from commentaries which pertain to our study.

        • Would any of them react to your failure to capitalize “word” the way the more passionate commenters in this thread reacted to me? In other words, would they notice? And do you think non-Christian people ever read the posts?

          • Probably “no,” and “no.” :) I just want to keep it consistent and clear, and correct.

          • So… “Correct” means “getting your message across to your audience,” and if they don’t notice or care what you do, my humble (and newly chastened) opinion is still to leave open the opportunity for non-Christian readers not to be distracted.

            Also, I do occasionally want to use caps to make a point (on Word or even Him or Whom or Someone or Author, etc.). I can’t give an example, but I know it has happened. That is a kind of “consistency”: I consistently use caps only in the situations where they’re really useful, where I want to draw attention. Okay, so here’s an artificial example: “Every book of the Bible has an author and an Author.” Something like that.

          • Dale Buffington says:

            Mark,
            Probably a lot more than we think. But Author and author shows the need for caps to make points and clarify.

          • Mark, this was helpful. Thank you for your kind attention to my question.

          • Mark, this was helpful. Thank you for your kind attention to my question.

      • I also post occasionally as a guest at http://www.encourage.pcacdm.org/, which is aimed at the women in our denomination (PCA).

  22. R.Bouman says:

    And here I was thinking “What’s this got to do with capitalism…” :-)
    But a nice thought provoking article nonetheless.

  23. For those that have commented with a view either for or against, I applaud you. For those that have commented with a dismissal of this topic because it does not align with your current list of priorities, then I would ask why you would rather have every Christian disregard the need for attention to detail? Dismissing these discussions erodes the preciseness of Scripture for laity (and sadly for the continually greater numbers of Pastors embracing a non-original language lifestyle). Precision in thought and statement is valuable. Think of the unsaved, especially those taking a standpoint of deliberately criticizing the Bible in defense of their religion (or non-religion as the case may be). Finding inconsistencies in various translations in the pronoun capitalization is enough for them to convince certain wavering non-believers (or believers!) to disregard the inerrancy of the Bible. Why wouldn’t we want to have conformity on this issue? Should all grammarians be told to quit their life’s pursuits and instead we should all simply do as we please, ending with grammatical anarchy. Should anyone that is predisposed to being detail oriented be reprimanded and told to change who God created them to be so that they conform to YOUR standards instead of his/His? The next time you fly in a plane, or press a brake pedal in your vehicle,
    or walk into the basement of a large structure, will you be praying that the avionics engineer, the automobile mechanic, or the structural architect were not detail oriented and just did things “good enough” so that they could press on to other issues in their life? Why would you then ask for people to disrespect the greatest spiritual tool God gave us for understanding our salvation, our tenets, or commission, our purpose for existence, and the hope of eternal life by just glossing over detailed analysis and producing something that’s “kinda ok because it is clear enough in YOUR opinion”? Perhaps we should go back to capitalizing all letters and removing all spaces as some ancient texts had it. Would that suit your needs better so that we can brush the issue under a rug and get back to whatever is on YOUR agenda? No, that would be silly, because then for the purposes of those that require both forms of cases and spacing in English translations would be confused and off put by the result. Not only that, but presuming that your perspective and opinion on this matter is enough to cease all thought on the matter from everyone else reflects quite a self-centered position. Having a subset of passionate Christians tackle answering these types of questions while others tackle other problems seems to conform to the way any diversified team would work. In your line of business, do you only employ managers and have no workers? Would a bank that hired only tellers but no guards, no accountants, no record keepers, etc be effective? Would a computer consisting of only RAM modules hooked together with no processors, no video cards, no IO devices suit your needs to comment on this blog? Should a good church plant strategy be limited to ensure that they only ever staff a worship pastor and no preacher/priest, no deacons, no elders, no youth minister, no support staff? It takes all types of people to make up a fully functioning team. Therefore, a good use of resources, including a diverse set of academic Christians and those that are non-academics, would be to pair the team up to tackle all problems, big and small. In an effort to create a fully functioning team, or dare I say a body, of people all pushing forward God’s kingdom here on Earth, we should have people assigned to tackle all issues from all angles, leaving no room for error.

    I know that I’m glad that highly intellectual and detail-oriented people stepped up throughout history to challenge the church leaders that had reduced the Scripture to only reflect their way of thinking. Thank you John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, etc for dedicating your lives to pouring over every little detail in the Bible and using all that dedicated detailed research and discussion to go against the reduced, eroded, and watered-down perspectives of the church and effect change. No detail was too small for them to study and use to their advantage and for the betterment of us all in our current time.

    • Sorry John…though I always try to capitalize pronouns when they are representing Father, Son, and Holy Spirit I think your refering to an airline mechanic working on a plane and using that to argue we should capitalize pronouns when referring to God is a logical fallacy used to join 2 unrelated issues and use the validity of one to prove the other. Im not arguing that we should not capitalize, just that that particular line of argument should not be used. I also think that as much as I agree with capitalizing these pronouns 1) did the Hebrew have capitalization> 2) we as Christians have to decide (a) How we “argue”…meaning discuss not fight for the sake of the unbelievers…remember if we fight to the death over something that isnt a salvation issue what are we saying to those who don’t yet know Christ? Do we look like the rest of the world (b) Is our argument …more about “winning” the argument or speaking the truth in love? When we say we are concerned about how what we do affects unbelievers, we have to remember that many of the things we Christians attack each other over do not interest them at all…yet. They are still trying to decide if Jesus is who He said He was, if the Bible is reliable and different from any other holy book and if Christianity has anything to offer them for the betterment of their life now and in the future. I hope this is received in they way I mean it and not as some kind of attack. The only one who wins when we attack each other is Satan.

      • Logical fallacy or not, I agree it was an intent to use imagery to depict the severity of the situation and to provide examples of why detail oriented people are good to have around. It was pointed primarily to the validity of diverse people with diverse personality and character traits taking on tasks where their detail-oriented mindsets are put to very good use (just like a grammarian) where precision is not only welcome, but sought after. I did choose these images due to the fact that lives depend on their outcome as I see no difference between the severity of that outcome and the severity of an eroded representation of Scripture because lives do depend on the Scripture. The Scripture is key to saving the lost and keeping the saved informed of what God’s commands are, as well as essential to Apologetics, and it is essential just as any of the examples I provided. Thus, this aspect could be viewed in the fallacy you mention, but as far as placing the correct personalities into the correct tasks, I believe the imagery carries well. No, I don’t view your reply as an attack, unlike Pastor Benjamen S. Long and Roland Smith who I do view as having contributed nasty public attacks against those Christians here simply discussing capitalization issues. Posts with “Wow… quibbling” etc and inappropriate attacks on a private Christian publisher “wasting” funds on someone’s salary are out of line.

  24. Ken Hartung says:

    The Coptic Christians in Egypt or Christians is Syria have more concerns whether God is capitalized or not. The United States is in a fierce battle with principalities and powers and violent persecution of Christians may be ahead. We need to KNOW God and not worry about worry about G or g.

  25. Charlie says:

    This isn’t something for Christians to fight about. Ill admit I didn’t even finish the article. I just wanted to address the point being made about a passage quoting the Pharisees talking about Jesus and the capitalization of His name. The point of capitalizing Jesus’ name isn’t that the Pharisees respected Him, it is signifying that the scribes recording the words of the Pharisees honored and respected Him.

  26. Why capitalize? Neither clarity, respect or whatever.
    How about textual HONESTY in translating?
    Whether or not Pharisees consider Jesus God, YHVH, the X, Messiah, Anointed One or not, God speaking through His “holy men of God,” wants HONESTY, in translating His Word.
    HONESTY, because “His Word is Truth!”
    [Whoops!? I capitalized Truth? Yes, because it’s “not of human origin, nor of the will of men,..” Another issue for some? Let it be!]
    So issue is with translator, not perceptions.
    The gods of the heathen are not the same as OUR GOD, YHVH, JESUS, LORD. Especially reminded of this today, TRINITY SUNDAY.
    CAPS = YELLING! Yep!…. I mean YEP!!!! “Can U hear me now?” {That U is out of respect for YOU, however.}
    Sooooo, OK. HONESTY as a translator as well as respect, AND clarity constrain me [not you? Just be honest with me and Him, your [Ur] God!] to go to the extra trouble, to take extra time, to assure clarity in translation, out of respect, i.e., fear, love and trust, for/in God, to correct where mistaken [accidental oversights], to care about those who gladly hear and learn His Words of eternal life.

  27. Our Western culture is so steeped in self-esteem and autonomy that anything, even pronoun capitalization can help maintain the distinction between the superior Almighty and others and so subtly remind readers and writers of the need for submission and humility.

    Also, it seems that it would be logically consistent if a person wants to eliminate capitalizing the pronouns for God that the pronoun, ‘I’, should be eliminated. Keeping the capital, ‘I’, rather than ‘i’, would seem to elevate the respect for and importance of the self higher than that of God, if His pronouns were changed to lowercase.

    ‘i’ personally find that using capitals for God’s pronouns helpfully clarifies rather than obscures the interpretation of a sentence. This is especially useful in the Bible and in theology where a close reading of complex and abstract concepts demands a lot of concentration on a variety of terms. Having to find antecedents to determine the identity of the pronoun reference just adds to that challenge. Capitalization of the pronouns for deity makes that part easier (depending, of course, on how well the translators determined the antecedent).

    I also like to capitalize the pronouns for deity because He is worthy, and anyway that I can show that is part of a worshipful mindset and lifestyle.

    Yes, this may be a smaller issue, however, if we are faithful in little things, it may help us to be faithful in the larger things, such as being careful to think of God as worthy and superior, (especially if our heart is in it)!

    We are to do all things to the glory of God and if our current culture and writing conventions allow it, why not?

    Just some thoughts.

  28. Wow! I’m surprised at the reaction this post has garnered. Who knew so many people felt so strongly about something they perceive as a non-issue?
    As far as the question of clarity is concerned, it is important to note that the antecedent to the pronoun in a sentence is not always clear. Sometimes there is disagreement about whether a pronoun is actually referring to God.
    When a translation capitalizes pronouns referring to God, it puts the translator in the position of making an interpretive decision rather than a textual or grammatical one. To some degree this is inevitablein any translation work, but it should be minimized rather than encouraged, in my opinion. Leaving all pronouns in the lower case, with the exception of “I” which is capitalized in every instance, allows the reader to look for the antecedent himself without being influenced one way or the other by the translator.
    Another instance where this can be troubling is the word “spirit.” Should it be “spirit” or “Spirit”? Well, that all depends on your particular interpretation in each instance. Isn’t that something we as the readers should be deciding, especially when the context is not crystal clear? I think so.

  29. Dolores Woodrum says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m a professional copy editor and proofreader, and while I appreciate the sentiment behind capitalizing pronouns for God, I totally disagree with the practice, so I applaud your position and decision. I also deeply appreciate your decision to use YHWH or Yahweh instead of LORD, which is not God’s name. The traditional substitution of Adonai may have been done out of reverence, or it may have been done by some “good old boys” (rabbis, etc.) who wanted to keep the secret among themselves. Bravo! Thank you!

    • Dale Buffington says:

      Delores
      While I understand if we are going to use YHWH would it not be correct to make sure that was the name. All Moses was told was that it was I AM. Jesus also used that name.
      Blessings

      • Dolores Woodrum says:

        Hey Dale. It’s Dolores, not Delores. I’m especially sensitive to how my own name is spelled as well as other people’s. God’s name in Hebrew is four consonants: YHWH which means “I am”; and just as Dolores means “pain” and “sorrow”—please don’t call me “pain” or “sorrow” because those words are not my name.

        • Dale Buffington says:

          Greetings Dolores
          Sorry about the mistake in spelling. In your response to Trudy, I thought about the 1970’s trending and it may be a reason. But think about this I have been reading a KJV Bible since 1955 and it had GOD’s name in capitals. I ave a 1946 Good Shepherd Edition and it uses capitals. I think that texting and tweeting are into misspelling for the sake of brevity.
          There seems to me that there is space for both kinds in this world without making either a must.
          Again sorry for the error.
          Blessings

          • And I must weigh in at this point and praise my good commenters for being gracious to each other and—an extreme rarity on the Internet—nicely agreeing to disagree over things they feel strongly about but to which Scripture does not speak directly. Like I said in my post, the stakes are low. I’m convinced that equally God-loving Christians can capitalize and not capitalize. As someone else said in this thread, no one should go against his or her conscience. But if we can’t give each other liberty in capitalization practices, then we truly are guilty of “quarrels about words,” something about which Paul warns twice (1 Tim 6:4; 2 Tim 2:14), and we’ll never achieve the kind of unity and harmony and peace Paul calls for elsewhere.

            My new friend who disagreed with me in our denominational magazine is continuing on his pro-capitalization path with no hard feelings between us! He’s even helping me with volunteer work on a project.

          • Dolores Woodrum says:

            Hi Dale…Thanks for your reply. What verse(s) in the KJV has GOD in all capitals? There is certainly a place for interpersonal texting, tweeting, emailing, etc., in today’s world, and since language is an art form we will inevitably see many variations in grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. However, in formal/professional writing (vs. casual/personal writing), grammatical and style rules are important for maintaining clarity and flow. If no such rules were used, our written language would morph (or decay) much faster than it is doing and the result would be blur and confusion.

          • Dale Buffington says:

            Dolores
            As I was doing my daily reading, I was going through Hosea these are the verses I found.
            Hosea 9:3,4,5,14// 10:3,12// 11:10,11, 12:2, 5 (2X), 9,13//13:4,15//14:1,2,9
            Genesis2:4,5,7,1516,18,21//6:3,6,7// 39:21
            Exodus20:7(2X),11,12
            They were for the most part LORD and LORD GOD
            “If no such rules were used, our written language would morph (or decay) much faster than it is doing and the result would be blur and confusion.” I agree but why I think that each field should be allowed to make the rules without having to check with culture or trending.
            Having dealt with both formal and informal writing and then dealing with many English as a second or third language, there is much more memorization to the English language than others.
            I would like to see GOD honored in theological writings , what they do informally is up to them. Blessings

          • Dolores Woodrum says:

            Hey Dale, thanks again for your reply. What version are you using? I looked in the KJV and the NIV at the first few verses of Genesis and Exodus that you cited, and LORD was there, but God was God, not GOD. As for each field making its own rules, the oldest and most established rule in English is not to capitalize pronouns (except as first words of sentences, etc.) and I agree with, support and prefer that rule. Unfortunately it appears that there will always be disagreement, as there is here with Mark’s article. I would certainly consider him to be in a position to lead the fray in working out biblical “rules” (at least for his organization) but it’s not likely that anyone will ultimately be authorized or allowed to enforce rules across the board for everyone, so we’re back to square one with each of us presenting our own point of view. I don’t see using God instead of GOD as less honoring to him, nor do I see using lower case pronouns as being less honoring to him. Bless you too, my brother!

          • Dale Buffington says:

            Dolores
            Very thoughtful reply. “I don’t see using God instead of GOD as less honoring to him, nor do I see using lower case pronouns as being less honoring to him” I never meant it to be for all just my way of honoring HIM. Much like the earliest copyists all the ritual when they wrote the YHVH.

          • My understanding of capitalization in the KJV is that LORD replaces YHWH, and Lord translates Adonai, and God translates Elohim. When YHWH is coupled with another title, then you might have a variation. For instance, LORD God is used to translate “YHWH Elohim” in Genesis 3:23, and Lord GOD is used in Gen 15:2 to translate “Adonai YHWH.” In each case the name of God is rendered in all caps, and his title is merely capitalized.

          • Dolores Woodrum says:

            Thank you, Paul, that cleared it up for me! I went to Biblehub.com (http://biblehub.com/genesis/15-2.htm) where they have a number of versions showing the verse requested, and evidently some translations used GOD in all caps to designate “Sovereign.” I noticed that in the versions that used GOD instead of Sovereign, they used Lord instead of LORD and vice-versa (where they used Sovereign, they used LORD). The key issue for me is that God’s name is not LORD, and GOD does not mean sovereign, which means that those were substitutions, not translations. Grrrrrrr!

          • Dale Buffington says:

            Dolores
            Granted the compound names of GOD are more descriptive and not the name of GOD which is both unpronounceable and we don’t know how many vowels or in what order. as we only have the consonants. Scripture can be a proper noun when you use it as The Christian Scripture not just scripture. Look at Isaiah 12:2 and the use LORD and even larger caps for JEHOVAH.
            Why capitalize Bible and not Scripture if they both contain the same message?
            I like you enjoy the thoughts and find the points good for thought.
            Blessings

          • Dolores Woodrum says:

            Hey Dale, I appreciate your desire to understand the translation and correct representation of God’s name and titles. I’ve been studying it for years and it isn’t easy getting to the facts! The simplest way I’ve come to understand it is this: God’s name—not his title—is YHWH. Ancient written Hebrew did not have vowels so we can only guess how to pronounce it, but we do not have to guess how to write it—it’s YHWH! I object to LORD being substituted for YHWH because it obscures his name, and since he put his name in the Hebrew scriptures six thousand, eight hundred and twenty-three times. I’d say he wants us to know and use his name, not a substitute word!

            One of his most-used titles is Lord, which is Adonai in Hebrew…but now some of the newer translations are using Lord in place of YHWH! That should never be done because it prevents us from knowing whether the original scriptures had his name or his title.

            Jehovah is not a legitimate name for God because 1) there is no letter J in Hebrew, and 2) the vowels from Adonai were arbitrarily inserted to create a three-syllable word that is probably only two syllables.

            Again, GOD (all upper case) was a word substituted for “sovereign” in Gen. 15:2; Elohim is the Hebrew word for God (capital G, lower case o and d). “Bible” is the traditional name of the scriptures; scripture is a noun but it is not the name of the Bible.

            Again, language, both spoken and written, is an art form and people are going to do it their own way, and will deviate from traditional standards, rules and practices either intentionally or accidentally. Organizations that publish biblical material can and will establish their own guidelines, whether they agree with traditional methods or not. Some of us have more of an interest in being correct in our usage of words than perhaps most people do, and even we may disagree in our preferences and opinions, and I don’t see any final solution. We can just keep on sharing and learning from each other.

  30. While I certainly appreciate your reasoning, but if you intend to eliminate the capital when referring to God, perhaps we should eliminate capitals completely. As someone else mentioned, texting is the new way to write. So I must ask…why is your name capitalized? Couldn’t someone just as easily write mark l. ward, jr.? Would anyone question that this is your name? Of course, they would, because it is your name and capitalizing it is common practice and as far as I know it has been done for a long time. What about the “phd” at the end? Why is it capitalized? Or even the word Doctor or shortened Dr. in front of a name? Because it is common practice, and most importantly out of respect. You earned that PhD., right?

    While attending a secular University for my BA, I was able to point out why I used a capital to refer to God and it provided an opportunity for giving my testimony. I even pointed out the Chicago Manual of Style, uses “lowercases such pronouns, but it’s not wrong to uppercase, especially if you are writing for a religious readership or anyone else who might take lowercasing as a sign of disrespect. In matters of style, in contrast to those of grammar, there are few right or wrong answers. Different houses follow different style guides in order to make their publications consistent.” My professor did not take issue with it and didn’t mark me off because of it. There are some authors I find difficult to read because they do not use the capitals.

    I serve a big God, while there are plenty of false little “gs.”

    • Dolores Woodrum says:

      Hi Dianna. Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization are rules that were established to help us communicate more clearly. I’m the opposite of you. All of the marks (I call them text effects) in written language call my attention to them, and capitalizing pronouns is distracting to me. Names, titles, first words of sentences, main words in headings—capitalizing these has a practical purpose in helping us to understand what has been written. Since language is an art, we will each practice it in our own unique way, and sometimes we will disagree on pronunciations, etc. Sometimes we will be misunderstood. That’s just life, right?

    • Gregorio Billikopf says:

      Wow, Dianna. How beautifully expressed. I feel your testimony all the way down here in Chile. Language is so rich and total elimination of capitals (or of lower cases for that matter) does away with some of what written language can accomplish. The example you gave is perfect, God vs. the no-gods or false gods of the Old Testament (I will limit my comments to the Hebrew Bible). I realize, of course, that the Hebrew does not make any differentiation and when we do we are interpreting. But any time we translate, we have to interpret. It is NOT possible to translate without interpreting. Even LITV and YLT interpret.

      Interestingly, the word interpreter is used for those who orally translate for another person. Whether I translate in writing or interpret orally, in both cases I am interpreting, to the best of my ability, but still interpreting. Anytime we have a red-letter Bible, we are also interpreting.

      I have used both Chicago Manual of Style and the APA in my work, and indeed it helps to have some sort of style manual to use. I would be glad to drop all capitalization except when it refers to God. As I told Mark, I am a traditionalist for the most part, but was not able to put into words my thoughts on this topic as well as you did, Dianna.

      To Geoff Johnson, IF it is something you like, here are some other versions who use either the tetragrammaton, Jehovah or Yaweh, etc.: ASV, LEB, LITV, MKJV, Rotherham, WEB, WEBA, and YLT. TS2009 is written in English but puts this word in Hebrew יהוה. (Spanish: RV60, RV95, RV2009 SUD, RVG, SRV also have Jehová or equivalent).

      Interestingly, some Bibles who moved this direction have announced they are going back to using LORD instead. In the KJV, of course, there are differences between lord, Lord, and LORD (adonay or lord, Adonay when it refers to the Lord, and LORD when it refers to Yaweh). I find this very helpful as the KJV is my first Bible to go to … but one cannot trust it totally as there are cases when the translation into English is incorrect for the names of God.

      So Mark, this has been a very good conversation.

  31. Larry Armstrong says:

    You’re right, Mark. The subject does generate a lot of discussion!
    For my two-pennies…
    Years ago I stopped capitalizing when writing sermons and articles, such as church newsletters but also elsewhere, and I’ve noticed a truism…most people don’t take note of the change! After reading my sermons at home before I go worship, normal English usage became natural. I never thought about the missing capitalization. As others read what I wrote, they never mentioned an adverse reaction. I remember no negative comments, ever. Familiarity, many breed unexpressed contempt, but another of its children is acceptance.

  32. Trudy Albert says:

    I am not a scholar, but I disagree with this. This reminds me of our culture trying to take God out of everything. Like taking In God We Trust off our money and out of our Pledge Allegiance. Why do we have to do this? Is it to please other cultures that have arrived here or is it to please God. No, this is not right. I totally disagree.

    • Dolores Woodrum says:

      Bless your heart, Trudy. I understand how you feel, but if you look at your KJV Bible, you will find that the writers in 1611 did not capitalize pronouns for God. That trend probably got some momentum in the 1970s with the Amplified Bible. In terms of written English, capitalizing pronouns is basically what we call incorrect (with certain exceptions); however, in today’s world with texting, email and self-publishing, everyone can do what they like. You are entitled to dislike this proposed change, just like some of us dislike and object to the trend that began capitalizing pronouns for God.

  33. Dolores Woodrum says:

    I really appreciate this discussion and the opportunity it affords me to share my opinions with people who are interested in the topic. I’m not sure whether it’s my profession (copy editor/proofreader) or my brain, but since every mark on the page means something, when there are too many text effects such as italics, boldface, upper case, underlining, quotation marks, hyphens instead of dashes, etc., the writing looks cluttered to me. I prefer writing that is uncluttered with unnecessary punctuation and text effects because it’s easier (for me) to understand what the writer is saying. Oh, and while I have the opportunity, “the Word of God” is one of Jesus’ titles, not the Bible (Jesus is the main message of the book but he is not the book). The Bible contains the word (message) of God…and the word “scripture” is not a proper noun. (Sigh.)

  34. Dolores Woodrum says:

    Hey Paul, thanks for reiterating the fact that YHWH is God’s name, that the word LORD is commonly (and incorrectly!) substituted for his name, and that God is translated from the Hebrew word Elohim. I researched Genesis 15:2 though, and the word GOD—in all caps—is substituted for the word “sovereign”, not Elohim. You can check it out here: http://biblehub.com/genesis/15-2.htm.
    Bless you!

    L

  35. The WHO of a pronoun, is some times unclear, I guess, I like the Capitals. But, some people are nuts, some time ago I placed a Bible verse on a Power Point slide and left out a cAPITAL. One of the “Church Ladies” come up to me after the service was over and verbally burned me at the stake for Blasphemy. So from now on I will post all BIBLE VERSES in all caps, that way I’ll never miss a Cap again.

  36. Bruce Meyer says:

    Thanks, Mark. Did your article generate the level of heat you expected? I’m a little surprised by the level of emotion over this issue, but perhaps I shouldn’t be. It does seem the respect argument has expanded since I see “godly” capitalized commonly when it would seem that the adverb is certainly not a title and not directly referencing God. I fear it’s easier to show respect through a capital letter than it is through our actual lives. Conversely, I’ve seen some who refused to capitalize “Satan” since they didn’t want to show him respect, even though grammar rules would argue for a capital.

  37. Dolores Woodrum says:

    Geoff, I just read your comment, “…the translators have for centuries placed the oral tradition above the written text.” I didn’t know that, and it explains a lot! OMG! It makes me think of the “telephone game” which clearly demonstrates why we should not tamper with the written text or depend on oral tradition! Thank you for sharing!

  38. If we start this then why not change other things. The Word “church” back to assembly or called out ones, places where the preposition “in” as in “faith in Christ” was changed from “faith of Christ”, the word faith in Galatians 5:22 that was changed to faithfulness, and explain why the great commission “Go” is not a command in the Greek text.

    • Dolores Woodrum says:

      Hi Daniel…There are many different elements to consider in this discussion. For example, if you look at the fact that there have been dozens of English translations of the Bible written over the centuries, and the development of dozens (or more) of Christian denominations, you’ll see that change is an ongoing process. Each one of us has our own perceptions, perspectives and opinions; add to that the fact that translation from one language to another is a subjective process because of the multiple meanings any given word may have to choose from, and you’ll begin to see why there isn’t a simple answer to your question. Rules (in this case, linguistic) are established to provide coherence and stability, but individual people interpret rules differently, or they may ignore the rules altogether.

  39. Many people knew the original languages, but deserted Paul the apostle. Im just curious why not teach the original languages so believers can be equipped to know the differences of the texts.

    • Dolores Woodrum says:

      Hi Daniel. The choice of whether to study and learn the original languages of the biblical text is readily available to most of us in our culture today, but I seriously doubt that most people are even remotely interested in pursuing that course…are you?

  40. James Sewell says:

    Mark,

    As a fellow graduate of BJU (Ph.D., 1972) I would take the other side of the issue.

    First of all we all speak a “living” language that is constantly changing. To respectfully follow your advise would we then consider no periods because there are none in the manuscripts? How about spaces between the words (not in the OT). In translation we follow linguistic principles that are culturally correct.

    Why have updated translations of the Bible? Is it not because of how language changes?

    Yes, I am speaking somewhat facetiously – but with a purpose. Because of our living languages we are constantly making changes to Bible passages to make truth more evident.

    Capitalizations is a part of that evolution. And part and parcel with that change comes the capitalization of the names and pronouns of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And yes, you are correct when you state the pronouns the unbelievers used in the Bible should not be capitalized because they did not recognize Jesus as Divine. Statements can be placed in the footnotes to explain this to the reader.

    If the titles of words like, President, King, Prime Minister, etc. are capitalized to recognize certain rulers, what greater way to recognize the name of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in like manner?

    • Nice to hear from you, Dr. Sewell. I’m not quite sure I follow your initial questions, however. I didn’t argue any particular parallels between Greek MSS and English capitalization conventions. In particular I did *not* say, “Because there is no capitalization in the earliest papyri, we shouldn’t capitalize in English either.” I think we should capitalize whatever contemporary English customarily capitalizes, and leave uncapitalized whatever it doesn’t. Was I unclear somewhere?

      Periods and spaces are good examples of conventions—and that’s all they are, agreed-upon conventions—that contemporary English requires and ancient Greek did not. Likewise, there are conventions in contemporary English—like capitalization practices—that I am arguing we should follow in contemporary Bible translations. It just so happens that a capitalized pronoun in the middle of a sentence, by my best lights and those of the AP and Chicago style manuals, feels odd to a majority of contemporary readers. It’s like an in-group code for Christians. So I’m recommending that we drop it in Bible translations and other writing that may reach non-Christian eyes. Have I misunderstood you?

      The proper parallel to capitalizing “President,” “King,” and “Prime Minister” is what we in fact already do: we capitalize “Lord,” “King of Kings,” and “God.” These are titles; in English we capitalize titles in certain circumstances (and only in certain circumstances). But we don’t capitalize *pronouns* referring to queens, presidents, and prime ministers. We don’t write, “The queen has informed us that She desires more tea.”

      • James Sewell says:

        My perspective is that we follow a little different track that the world. You said, “… feels odd to a majority of contemporary readers.” Those in that group who are not saved should feel “odd” from the perspective that the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are beyond this world and more than this world. To me the capitalization of the first letter is another way of referring to and reminding the reader who God is.

        I have a saying about Baptists, “When you get two Baptists together, you will have at least three opinions.” I understand none of us will never in this life be in agreement on everything. My motive for the capitalization is not to worry about perfect grammar. I desire in every way possible exalt our God above the norm of this life. (And, by the way, when has unsaved and backslidden Christians ever been comfortable with the Word of God anyway?)

        I am not mad. I am not a fighter. I just seek to exalt Him.

        Enjoyed our talk.

    • Dolores Woodrum says:

      Hi James. Capitalizing titles is one thing; capitalizing pronouns is another, which is the main issue in this article. As for capitalizing President, king, prime minister, etc., they are only capitalized when they are used as a direct address or as specific person’s title, e.g., President Trump, King Hussein, Prime Minister Trudeau, but we would not capitalize them when using them without the person’s name: the president of India, the king of Jordan, the prime minister of Canada. I agree with you that language is constantly changing, but not all changes are necessarily good, and I would definitely not encourage that we purposely try to change it faster!

  41. Thanks, Mark;
    I am glad you brought this up God/god sounds the same, no matter how you read it.
    Lets look at Isaiah 65: 11, really should “god” even be in the believer vocabulary?

    /www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6IaIIfHFzM
    Listen how in Isaiah 65 verse 11 Fortune or Gad is pronounced in Hebrew

    WOW!!!

  42. Brian Roden says:

    On a similar note, when was the decision made, and who made it, to change the possessive from Jesus’ to Jesus’s? I think I first encountered this new convention (or at least took notice of it) three years ago in Greg Beale’s “New Testament Biblical Theology.”

  43. John Inglis says:

    If capitalizers really want to be consistently “respectful”, they should dispense altogether with pronouns for Yahweh. I’m with N.T. Wright, lower case all the way. And don’t get me started on those christians who don’t put in vowels (G-d).

    • Dolores Woodrum says:

      Yay, John! That G-d thing drives me crazy too! (The problem is, we have no power to make other people do things our way!) ;o)

  44. Wilko van der Jagt says:

    It is difficult to understand why Mark Ward and those who agree with his opinion wrote their own names with capitals. Even more strange that when they express their own opinion they start their opinion with a big capital ‘I’ as if they are so important.
    It is an expression of honouring the holy and almighty God who is so much more exalted than we creatures are to capitalize the references to Him in Scripture. It gives also much more clarity to those who are and those who are not used to reading God’s Word.

    • Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood you, but I think you’ve missed his point entirely. The issue isn’t respect for God or his word, it is the proper use of English grammar to facilitate effective communication. No one objects to capitalizing proper names or the first word in a sentence, because these are conventions of the English language. The issue is the selective capitalization of pronouns referring to God, which is a novelty in English, and therefore, confusing.

    • Dolores Woodrum says:

      Hi Wilko. Capitalizing names of people and the personal pronoun “I” are long-standing English writing/grammar rules, not expressions of pride or ego. We disagree on the relatively new trend of capitalizing pronouns referring to God and scripture because some people feel it honors him more than not capitalizing them, but it’s really a matter of the same long-standing English writing/grammar rules. I do not feel it is necessary to capitalize those words in order to honor God, and in fact, seeing all of those unnecessary (and technically incorrect) capital letters is distracting to me. We differ, and there is no need to vilify those who disagree with us. Bless you.

    • James Sewell says:

      Excellent observation and comment.