I FOUGHT THE BATTLE of the divine H, and lost.
The battle involves questions like these:
When writing about God, should we talk about Him or him?
Is God a He or a he?
For some readers, the nit-picky tininess of this question might evoke a he-he.
Probably not a He-He. Those folks would not be laughing.
For cap H Christians, what we’re dealing with isn’t grammar. It’s respect.
For them, this is a question about how we show God the respect He deserves.
Here’s the Bible Question of the Week. It comes from Frances Foster, who gets a free book for asking it.
Why when I’m writing about God in my journal or in my notes do I feel compelled to capitalize all pronouns referring to Him, but as I quote scripture I find those same pronouns are not capitalized.
Frances, it may be because you’re brainwashed.
And by the way, some folks would have capitalized Scripture, as a way of showing respect to God’s Word. Or God’s word.
Back to your “why” question.
You’ve probably been told somewhere along the way that God deserves a capital H.
Several years ago I represented other editors in a style committee meeting for a publishing company. We were setting rules of style that all the editors and writers were supposed to follow.
The big question of the day was the divine H.
I lobbied against it.
My arguments, which I felt were invincible to anyone who thought rationally:
- God doesn’t need our divine H. He’s God, with or without it.
- Our publishing company’s default Bible translation did not capitalize the divine H. So if we take the h up, we’ll be confusing our readers when they see us quote the Bible that takes it down.
Reason, I discovered, cannot overpower brainwashing and laziness. That’s what won the day.
Brainwashing. “God doesn’t need a divine H, but he deserves it.” The dude making that argument was an old gent deferring to the tradition he grew up with. I understand that. Brainwashing is hard to get over. I suggested that God deserves a capital E, too: HE. But it would look distracting on a page, I argued. And we didn’t want to distract readers, did we? Yes, we did.
Laziness. “It would help when we have sentences with two ‘he’s,’ in which one refers to God and one refers to a human.” I knew that editor well. I told him he should rewrite the sentence.
In the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, this cap H thing wasn’t a problem.
Hebrew of the Old Testament doesn’t have capital letters. Greek in the New Testament was written in nothing but capital letters—at least in all of the oldest copies of the New Testament.
So the problem is a new one.
Someone with free time dreamed it up.
One soul, well-intended most likely, decided to cap the divine H. And that soul talked others into doing the same.
I wonder if it might have been the same human who said it was wrong to dance. Or maybe the guy or gal who said we couldn’t bowl in a bowling alley that served booze…which was every bowling alley of my childhood, and which is why I took bowling in college.
Some Bible translations cap the divine H:
- “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.“ (NKJV)
- “God saw every thing that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (21st Century KJV)
- “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (KJV)
- “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (ESV)
Here’s my rule.
Whatever the publisher wants, the publisher gets. At least when it comes to the divine H.
When I’m writing in my preferred style, I take the H down because I believe it’s the least distracting read. Old-timey Christians might prefer the big H and might get distracted when they don’t see it. But I write for people new to the faith.
If they saw a big H, I figure they’d be more likely to think it’s a typo than a tip of the typography to Almighty God.
Frances, if you write the big H because you feel it’s a respectful way to write about God, go ahead. Don’t let my talk about brainwashing discourage you.
But you are brainwashed.
That is, if you’re doing this just because someone told you to do it.
If, on the other hand, you’ve thought it through for yourself, and you think the cap H is a fine way to show a little extra respect to God, then ride that capital H to heaven. Or Heaven. Some cap that, too.
Some even cap Hell. They say it’s the right thing to do because it’s a place. After all, we cap places. Chernobyl, Fukushima, East Saint Louis.