ON ADDRESSING THE ALMIGHTY DEITY
A disturbing practice is creeping into ecclesial gatherings, engendered by reading modern versions of the Scriptures, and fostered by the feeling that previously accepted reverential forms of address to the Deity are archaic and inappropriate for these times.
It is becoming increasingly common to hear brethren use the modern plural words, You, Your, Yours, in prayer when addressing the Deity, instead of the singular words, Thou, Thee, Thine. Since it is important to ensure that we maintain our separation from the churches in doctrine and practice, we should not be seen incorporating their modern trends into our own forms of worship. We worship an entirely different God from the one worshipped by the churches. The two Gods are as far apart as Yahweh and Baal.
Let us make it clear that absolutely no opprobrium is intended towards individual brethren who use these terms. They may have no intention of being disrespectful, for mostly their prayers are sincere, thoughtful, and helpful. On the other hand, there are certain principles involved which should be understood by brethren offering ecclesial prayer, and which should not be forgotten in the euphoria of discovering a freedom of expression through the use of modern terms. Some say they feel more “comfortable’’ using everyday speech when addressing the Father (cp. Ecc. 5:17; Isa. 58:13). They feel less insincere, and can “be themselves” before God. Unfortunately, these are not valid reasons, and fall into a similar category as those in the days of the Judges when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
The Difference Between Heaven and Earth
We must remember that “all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). Yahweh is the eternal, immortal, invisible, only wise God (1 Tim. 1:17), whilst we remain creatures of dust. He says, “My thoughts are higher than your thoughts” for He dwells in heave n, and we on earth, therefore “our words should be few.’
David often referred to God as “the great and terrible El” — the One who shook Sinai and caused the whole mount to be on a smoke when the commandments were given. He is the Deity who caused the destruction of mighty Babylon and made Egypt dwindle from a world power into a base nation.
The same great and terrible El is revealed in the New Testament, as Paul testifies: “We know Him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith Yahweh. And again, Yahweh shall judge His people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:3031).
The churches consider the God of the New Testament to be different from the God of the Old Testament — and this philosophy is creeping into Ecclesias. There is a tendency to think that the New Testament Deity is loving, kind, and merciful; whereas the Old Testament God was harsh and vengeful. Yet Yahweh does not change, nor clear the guilty today any more than He did of old. He was just as kind and merciful as He is now.
Suppose we were to address the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, actually before His throne? In the presence of the Great and Terrible El, would not our attitude be one of great awe and reverence? Would we feel “more comfortable” by standing up before Him and talking to Him like a brother or sister — or would we feel inclined to be prostrate and struggle to find words appropriate to His majesty — if indeed, we could find any words at all?
We cannot just “have a chat” with the creator of Heaven and Earth. We have to approach Him in humility and reverence. We have to acknowledge His supremacy and holiness, and our own weakness and iniquity. This is what we try to do when approaching Him in prayer, and why it is important which personal pronoun we use to address Him.
How the Language is Formed
Because English grammar has not been taught properly in most schools for many years, there may be some who do not know what is a personal pronoun?
It is used when a person speaks on behalf of himself or herself, or a group of people, or when speaking directly to or about those people or about things which belong to them.
The first-person singular is: I, me, my, mine.
The second person singular is: thou, thee, thy, thine.
The third person singular is: he, she, it, his, hers, its.
The first-person plural is: we, us, our, ours.
The second person plural is: ye, you, your, yours.
The third person plural is: they, them, their, theirs.
The English language, as it has been spoken correctly for a long time, including in the days of Brother John Thomas, never uses the second person singular unless there is a special reason for so doing. Almost always (except in the case of the Quakers and people speaking in local north England county dialects, who sometimes use the second person singular even today), the plural word “You” is used instead. It is used commonly in the singular and in the plural senses, as will be confirmed by any English dictionary. We say “you” when talking to each other as an individual or in groups. It is a plural word, but we use it in a singular connotation as well.
While it is true to say that the words, thou, thee, thy and thine are not normally used today, it is also true to say that they were also not normally used in the time of Bro. Thomas over a century ago. Bro. Thomas would not have addressed a brother or sister in the words “How art thou?” He would have given a firm handshake with the greeting, “How are you?” or more probably, “How do you do?” If the words are archaic in our day, they were also archaic in his day!
Not only were those words not used in normal conversation in the time of Bro. Thomas, they were on their way “out of fashion” when they were written by the scholars who put together the Authorised Version of the Scriptures. These scholars modelled their translation on the beautiful formalised prose style of William Tyndale, who had translated the whole of the New Testament, and the Old Testament as far as 2Chronicles, before he was murdered by the Church in October 1536. This style of prose has remained unchanged for many years and is still the style most often quoted and remembered today. We should see the hand of Yahweh in this, because no other writers in the English language have been able to crystallize the deep and wonderful principles of God into such a superbly beautiful economy of words with shades of meaning so fine that they approach the Hebrew Scriptures in scope. The AV has remained the recognized version in communal worship. We do not change the pronouns when we read the AV Scriptures, so why should we do so when offering prayer?
A Distinctive Character
It is significant that the Scriptures have been translated more often into English than into any other language in the world. Certainly, the English language is unique in that it reserves the second person singular of the personal pronoun for formal and reverential use only.
Nearly all other languages in the world still use the second person singular and plural in everyday speech. Some, such as Spanish and Italian, have formal words for use with respect to their elders (Spanish: ud, singular; uds, plural. Italian: lei, singular; voi, plural), but in any case are seldom used today. It would be true to say, however, that some languages do not differentiate between singular and plural at all, but none of them have a reverential personal pronoun in the second person singular only, as we have. Nor do we use our familiar second person plural pronoun in the way used by many languages.
If a Frenchman says intimately to his wife, “I love you,” he does not use the formal singular/plural ‘vous,’ but the familiar second person singular: ‘tu’. Thus: “Je t’aime.” An Englishman or Australian would say, “I love you,” using the dual word for singular or plural. If he said “I love thee” to his wife he would get a very strange look.
But when applied to the Almighty Deity, the reverential second person singular sets our Heavenly Father apart. It is a form of acknowledgment that He is the one Yahweh — He who will be — the Supreme Creator of heaven and earth, the only one who will be manifested in a multitude of mighty ones when the earth is ruled by His Son. It acknowledges His Holiness in a reverential way — in a humility of approach, and elevates Him to a level above our common, normal, human conversation.
The Terms Not Obsolete
It is important to realise that the words thee, thy, thine, etc., are not obsolete. No modern words have replaced them. There is no other way of using the personal pronoun in the second person singular. They are therefore current words — even in our day.
And, in any case, what would it matter if the expressions were archaic? The whole of Scripture is “archaic” (a word borrowed from the Greek). “En archaii,” says the Septuagint in Genesis 1:1; “In the beginning…” The Word of God was from the beginning, and does not change. It is archaic!
We need to consider the feelings of brethren and sisters who are upset when ecclesial prayers to our heavenly Father employ the familiar pronoun “you” and “yours”. The manner in which brethren and sisters pray in private is their own affair, but the feelings of those who are disturbed by this approach should be considered in communal prayer. Most brethren and sisters of our acquaintance, who prefer the modern pronoun have no problem in listening to prayers using the reverential terms. They only have difficulty expressing them!
In view of the specialist jargon heard today in the fields of science, medicine, law, engineering, economics, politics, computer programming, and modern slang — so easily picked up at school, university, or places of work or recreation, it is not really valid to claim that any will have insuperable difficulty understanding those few reverential expressions used only when addressing the Creator in prayer.
Imitating the Churches
We referred earlier to the churches which are busily replacing “Thou” with “You” in all their forms of ser vice, including their hymns. This is largely because that is the way the word is translated in the modern NIV version, which some brethren use as an every day Bible. It is a dangerous practice to depend on the NIV which contains other errors not always obvious. It is fine to use such works for reference, or for explaining things where the AV version is obscure; but it is very unwise to use it as a standard Bible. The same caution should be applied to all mode rn translations.
The NIV translators know that the word “You” is plural, and they use it on purpose, believing in a triune God! Believers in the Trinity use it when they think they are talking to Christ, to God, or to the Holy Spirit — because they believe that they are part of the triune God. People who come to our public lectures and who hear prayers expressed in this manner will perceive no difference between us and the churches — unless, of course, we are specifically giving a lecture against the Trinity!
It has been said that Hebrew and Greek do not have a special pronoun for use when addressing the Deity, and therefore we do not need to differentiate in our own language. But, we pray in English — not in Hebrew and Greek, and in our language the differentiation is there and should be used.
It is also claimed that the churches have used the words “Thee” and “Thou” for many years, knowing that they were addressing a Trinity. That is so, but it has nothing to do with the fact that they are now using the more suit able pronoun for a Trinity — one which incorporates the singular and plural. Why should brethren want to change a beautiful and reverential term for a common and familiar one — the more so because it brings us into line with the churches of the world which have nothing in common with us.
A Matter of Teaching
We emphasise to all who love the Truth that if any continue to follow the practice of the modern churches, it is likely that a few years will not only see the reverential approach to the Deity vanish from our platforms and homes, but the clear Scriptural doctrines so ably presented by our pioneer brethren will become so watered down, that even our own members will be unable to distinguish them from the humanistic teaching of the Apostasy. The evangelical movement is a threat which cannot be overemphasised, especially to our young people.
Although this article is not critical of brethren who genuinely find it difficult to use the reverential forms of address, it is critical of any who are making strong moves to bring in the new. We should remember that it has always been a tenet of the Christadelphian stand for the Truth that our principles and doctrines do not and will never change, because Truth does not change. Let us not change anything — unless, of course, we have been doing something wrong, in which case it should be changed as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, humans are susceptible to change, which the Deity is not. So what if this attempt to change succeeds? What are those of us to do, who deplore it and are upset by it, to the extent of finding it difficult to say “Amen” to such prayers?
What Can Be Done?
It seems that the only thing to do is to “strengthen the things which remain.” We cannot legislate for this issue — we can only educate. It is wise to avoid disputation and divisions, providing our ecclesia is doctrinally sound.
If we have opportunity, let us teach our children the reasons for addressing the Deity with proper humility and reverence, and we will lay a good foundation for the future, with a generation that may arise to maintain that attitude.
Meanwhile we should be thankful that we can approach our heavenly Father in the way appointed, with deference and humility, and can still refer to Him personally with due reverence at all times, whatever the current ecclesial trend may be.