Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 30, 1964

How Shall We Address Jehovah?

Wm. E. Fain

In the last few years I have seen no fewer than a dozen articles in papers and bulletins (and heard two sermons) condemning the use of "you" in a prayer, some even branding those who use the word as "disrespectful," "modernist," etc. I have not replied publicly in the past, because I believe it to be merely a matter of opinion, but I believe a recent article in the Gospel Guardian (December 5, 1963) has gone beyond the expression of an opinion, even to the point of judging the hearts of those who disagree, and virtually pronouncing upon them eternal doom. The writer leaves no doubt as to his feelings about the expression and those who use it: "almost careless and flippant familiarity," "this questionable practice of undue familiarity with God," "I think it clearly must have come along with the catalogue of evil 1 Tim. 4:1-4," "Improper salutation," "most disgusting," "this public, flagrant show of disrespect for God." Now, there can be no doubt as to his opinion about the use of "you" instead of "thee" in prayer, but what proof did he offer?

First, the author says Jesus used "Thy," "Thee," "Thine" fifty three times in His prayer in John 17. This, I must deny! Jesus did not use "Thee" (Seventeenth century English) or "You" (Twentieth century English). In fact, can any man state positively what language He used in the prayer? The New Testament was Inspired to be written in Greek, NOT the English of 1611, or 1963. Some foreign languages have no distinction between "Thee" and "You" — do all who speak such languages therefore show disrespect for God? Even a casual reading of the New Testament in English or Greek will show that Jesus used the same pronouns whether addressing God, men, or Satan and his demon. Reverence, therefore, was not shown in His choice of pronouns, but by His very Spirit and obedience. It seems that the only reason for the use of "Thee" and "Thou" in the King James version is because that was the form of the pronouns in 1611 (the KJV is not the inspired version). That form has been retained in later translations because of custom; it has even been retained in many instances — because of tradition — by the modernist Revised Standard version (and who will claim it proves they had great reverence for God?).

Second, it is asserted that "Thee" sounds more respectful (or, "reverent," as other articles have stated). This, I must also challenge. It may be true that it seems more reverent to some men, but there is nothing in God's Word to indicate that it is more acceptable, or reverent to God. Are we bound and judged by the opinions of men, or the Word of God?

Third, our brother ventured the assertion, "Not a single one of these brethren who address God as 'You' would for one moment think of addressing some judge as 'You'!" That is correct — but I would also not for one moment think of addressing some judge as "Thy Honor!" — He might want to have me committed. I also do not think he would cite me for contempt if I should say "Your Honor, I ask you . .." instead of "Thy Honor, I ask thee ... . " Our brother would be better off to find some Bible to back his assertions, instead of human illustrations, which teach nothing.

Next, I note that our brother speaks of "my own home congregation." Since a congregation is, of necessity, a church, would it be all right to say "my own church"? Have we ever condemned or corrected those in denominations for saying "my church" and "your church"? Lately I have received more and more literature, even from "sound" brethren, speaking of "your congregation." In the brother's words, we should "correct the practice if it is in error, or commend it if it is proper."

Finally, may I assure you that I am not a hobbyist on the use of any particular pronoun or language (tongue) in a prayer; I have never before preached or written an article on this subject, though I have given it a lot of study. A man should pray from his heart and use the language which is most natural to him, whether Greek, Old English, Modern English, French, or German. Do I show disrespect for God? In writing of the Godhead, I always capitalize when using "You," "He," "His," "Their"; I never abbreviate for Holy Spirit, Christ, or Jehovah. I do not criticize or belittle those who might disagree with me on this; nor do I condemn them or try to force them to change; it is a matter of personal preference. Even if one chooses to use a "preacher tone" in his prayer, that is still not my business. If we are not to "pray to be heard of men," then neither are we to judge the prayers of others according to our opinions. Whether one chooses to use "Thee" or "You" matters not to me, as long as his prayer is otherwise scriptural. And, may I assure my brother that all who use "You" in prayer are not "large of statue," "strong of voice," nor do they give it "special emphasis." May we not be found "teaching for doctrine the traditions of men." May we all seek to be more "familiar" with God through righteousness. May all who read this accept it in the spirit of love in which it is intended.

— Portland, Oregon