Why Do We Capitalize Pronouns for Gods?

We’re taught in grade school that there are certain times we capitalize words and certain times we don’t. In short, words are capitalized:

1.) When they begin a sentence.
2.) When they are a proper name of something or someone (including names of Gods).
3.) When the word “I” is used.
4.) When a pronoun refers to a God.

grammar

I’ve always wondered if you didn’t believe in a God, why you had to show them respect by capitalizing their name? If you’re a Christian, and you’re talking about Mohammed, you have to reference Him with a capital “H.” Them’s the rules — even though your God thinks it’s silly. But trust me God, would be PISSED if you didn’t capitalize words referring to him. According to the Holy Observer, a satirical site who lays out rules for treating God right through grammar:

As a general rule, when in doubt, Capitalize! Writing about God is serious business, and it would be better to capitalize a word that does not refer to God than to miss out on blessings by not capitalizing.

Or, according to this real article:

Since God is the King of Kings,
it only made sense to capitalize pronouns referring to God.

Gotcha, so things that refer to Kings of Kings are capitalized. Got it.

But wait, most Bibles don’t adhere to the rule. What gives? It was a later invention to start capitalizing holy pronouns (Wait, do I have to capitalize the phrase “Holy Pronouns”?)?

Here’s an interesting essay on the subject.

So the Bible itself doesn’t capitalize divine pronouns, though some translations do. This itself creates a problem, though. What if a passage is ambiguous about whether it’s referring to God or a mere human being? This isn’t common, but the lack of capitalization in the original creates this possibility, and it does occur. More common in when a passage about kingship in the Old Testament refers first of all to a human king (or other type of Christ) or ideal kingship and then in an extended sense to the Messiah. Should you then capitalize the pronoun?

Some people try resolve this by not capitalizing pronouns when it’s unclear but doing so when it’s clear, but this makes an interpretation already, since the reader will take it as a mere human reference. Another try is to capitalize pronouns for God the Father but not for Christ, since most of the references are those fuzzy Messianic references. This creates two problems. One is the fact that some passages are hard to tell whether the references is to God or to a mere human (and some are hard to tell whether God the Father or Jesus Christ). The second problem is that this starts to make Jesus look less deserving of reverence, since the point of capitalizing was to convey reverence.

So I say we should do what the biblical authors did. We should follow ordinary capitalization conventions for our language. We should capitalize at the beginning of sentences, since that’s what we do in English, and we should capitalize proper names. Other letters are lower case for the most part.

Here, Here, ParableMan. That’s an excellent idea.

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10 Responses to Why Do We Capitalize Pronouns for Gods?

  1. vjack says:

    Good post. Interesting that the whole capitalization insanity is a recent invention. I don’t offer any special capitalization to gods because I interpret it as a sign of respect. Respect is one thing I tend not to have for imaginary things.

  2. Jim says:

    http://www.holyobserver.com/ is a satirical site, perhaps not the best one to quote…

  3. magikent says:

    Jim,
    Thanks for your comment. I’ve amended the article to reflect it as such. The article is somewhat tongue-in-cheek to begin with, so I’m not concerned about the linked article being satire, but I should mention that it is. Thanks again,

    Magikent

  4. G’morning!

    As an author, I choose to capitalize anything to do with The Creator, including such terms as Divine Decree, God, Yahweh, Yeshua, Yod Heh Vav Heh, The Holy Spirit, and the attributes of God, such as Love, Grace, and Mercy, etcetera, when they apply to Him.

    I also capitalize the name Mohammed, and the word Allah, which simply means ‘the God,’ and it doesn’t offend my conscience to do so.

    All other so-called dieties, I refer to as gods (small ‘g’), as does the Bible, as in the expression of my faith, we are instructed not to mention them, so if I must, I mention them in context.

    I also capitalize Heaven, Hell, the Earth, and the Universe, as they are actual places (Hell, or Sheol (Hebrew) and Hades (Greek) = the common grave of all mankind).

    Blessings to all,

    J.

    • Breeann says:

      We would not capitalize “him” in reference to Mohammed. He never claimed to be God – However, to fail to capitalize “him” in reference to Allah would be wrong.

  5. free adult passes…

    [...]Why Do We Capitalize Pronouns for Gods? « The Great Realization[...]…

  6. Ron the Convert Muslim says:

    It’s funny how your ignorance is made clear with something as simple as a majorly flawed understanding of a simple/basic concept of one of the major world religions. Muhammad (peace be upon him) is never thought of as God (glorified and exalted be He) or anything near God in any way shape or form. Any Muslim child can tell you that he (notice no capitalization) is nothing more than a prophet and messenger of God – just as was Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and many others (peace be upon them all). In fact, the basis/foundation of Islam is declaration of faith that “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah (Arabic name for God the Creator, Sustainer, Omnipotent), and Muhammad is His servant and messenger.” In Arabic “Ash hadu an la illaha ila Allah, wa ash hadu anna Muhammad abduhu wa rasulAllah” Oh, and there is no “capitalization” in Arabic script, since there are no capital vs. lower-case letters. For Muslim’s, the pronoun capitalization is more for clarification purpose than respect. A more appropriate respect is given when God’s name is mentioned and is followed by “glorified and exalted be He,” just as when Muhammad or ANY of the prophet’s name is mentioned and followed by “peace be upon them” But nevertheless we still follow the English norm as a standard of practice.

  7. [...] Why Do We Capitalize Pronouns for Gods? « The Great RealizationJun 22, 2007 … So the Bible itself doesn’t capitalize divine pronouns, though some translations do. This itself creates a problem, though. What if a passage is … [...]

  8. Jessie Colubra says:

    That makes perfect sense.
    I still like capitalizing Him when talking about God, though.
    Hang on a second! You didn’t say anything about the Holy Spirit! He’s God too, you know!
    Just kidding.

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