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Somewhere along the line I picked up the habit of capitalizing He, His, Him, etc. when they are referring to Jesus Christ as a form of respect. Likewise I always capitalize Christ, which is the title of Jesus of Nazareth. My question is if this is an appropriate or common practice among Christians?

Conclusion:

It appears this isn't a formal requirement, but I am not the only one to do it. I intend to continue to do so for now.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by fredsbend, Flimzy, Narnian, David Stratton Aug 29 at 1:18

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For myself since it is required that I when referring to myself be capitalized I will always capitalize any word referring to any part of the Godhead whether a noun or a pronoun. That includes Angels since we are a little bit lower than they. –  Bye Aug 25 at 23:54
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Not even the Bibles are consistent about capitalizing the pronouns. For instance, one of the most revered translations, the KJV, does not capitalize them. –  Steve Aug 26 at 2:40
    
This question appears to be off-topic because it is about the rules of grammar in a particular language. –  Narnian Aug 28 at 20:39
    
@Narnian it's about orthography, not grammar ;) –  curiousdannii Aug 29 at 6:08
    
@curiousdannii Are you my high school English Teacher back to haunt me? Yes, I'm scared. I'm VERY scared! –  Narnian Aug 29 at 12:03

4 Answers 4

up vote 13 down vote accepted

As a Catholic, I capitalize everything remotely concerning Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit out of respect and will always continue to.

But, curiously enough, the official writings of my church do not, which leads me to believe that being scrupulous about it is not the end of the world.

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Glad to hear I am not the only one. I've noticed likewise in other official writings. –  Jim McKeeth Aug 26 '11 at 18:40
    
I also do this as a sign of respect. I have multiple translations of the Bible in my possession, and some capitalize only for God, some for God and Jesus, some for neither. I don't think there's a biblical or doctrinal mandate in any direction, for most. –  asfallows Feb 23 '12 at 0:45

I understand that it is done out of some idea of respect, but personally, I think that for pronouns it is just bad grammar. Capitalizing titles and proper names for God and Christ is, however, correct application of the rules of English grammar.

Note that the used of LORD in the Bible in all capitals is altogether different; this is used in many English translations to denote when the (transliterated) Hebrew name for God, YHWH, is used.

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Letter case is a relatively modern innovation, so we can't go by the original languages. Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek were all written in what we would call uppercase. They also lacked other typographic conventions such the modern system of punctuation. (You can get an idea about what ancient writing looked like by reading this history of the pilcrow.) The primary purpose of case is to aid the reader, so different languages have different conventions. In German, every Noun is capitalized. In Spanish, days of the week and months are not capitalized. In English, personal nouns are capitalized and pronouns are not. This is a matter of language convention.

Where things get interesting when we enter the territory of capitonyms: words that may be capitalized or not depending on the intended meaning. One example of such a word is god, which is usually capitalized when referring to a (or rather, the) monotheistic God. So one might refer to either "the Greek god of war" or "the Hebrew God". Frankly, the capitalization need not signify respect or honor in this case; rather it is a sign of uniqueness. "God" functions like a personal name in this instance.

I have not been able to find out how pronouns referring to God began to be capitalized, but it does aid in the understanding of some Biblical texts:

When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.—Exodus 3:4-6 (ESV)

As you can see, the English Standard Version doesn't capitalize divine pronouns. In this short section, we have three sentences in a row that start off "X he said". Two of the 'he's are God, which is clear enough from what is being said. (Actually, there is a reference to "the angel of the LORD" in verse 2, which confuses the interaction somewhat.) We can see that the exchange is a bit more clear if we use a translation that capitalizes "He":

Exodus 3:4-6 (NASB)
4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.


Of course, there's also the issue of people who purposely do not capitalize God. This is pretty common among atheists. Obviously, they would not bother capitalizing "he" at all. Why would they? When interacting with atheists, I try to avoid capitalization unless it helps make my point clear. That can sometimes mean leaving God lowercase when it might confuse matters. I don't think He minds.


When it comes to Jesus, it probably doesn't pay to overthink it. (But watch me!) One rule might be to switch the case depending on whether his humanity or His deity is in view. But unless that's something you are writing about, you're more likely to confuse your readers than edify them. Better is to pick a convention and stick to it. Don't forget Jesus' warning:

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

  “‘This people honors me with their lips,  
          but their heart is far from me;    
    in vain do they worship me,  
          teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’  

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”—Mark 7:6-8 (ESV)

Summary

Capitalization of pronouns is a convention of language and not intrinsically a sign of honor or respect or divinity. There are good reasons to use "He" and equally good reasons to use "he" to refer to Christ depending on context.

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Atheists don't believe in the existence of any gods, so I often use lower case when I'm not talking about any particular god, but capitalize when talking about the God of Christianity. It has nothing to do with whether he deserves it or not. It is simply a way of distinguishing between the general and specific cases. –  hammar Feb 22 '12 at 23:43
    
@hammar: That's what I had in mind, but not what I wrote. Thanks for the catch! –  Jon Ericson Feb 22 '12 at 23:51
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@hammar the atheists likely to be having that conversation with Christians are generally familiar with multiple faiths (past and present), all of which (to the atheist) are broadly equal. In that context, {g|G}od is still the general - whose {g|G}od[s] should be the specific? Whose should be seen as the unique? However, when talking with Christians I usually capitalise just to avoid it being a distraction (when the capitalisation isn't the primary subject, I mean) –  Marc Gravell Feb 22 '12 at 23:58
    
@MarcGravell: Yes, it depends on the context. In general, I try to use whatever the person I'm communicating with is using. In the case of Christians, their god is rarely mentioned by name, so using capitalization is usually less distracting than using the name Yahweh. –  hammar Feb 23 '12 at 0:15
    
@hammar in your estimation, do atheists care that many Christians and most Jews would not want the name of God to be pronounced or see it written? –  Peter Turner Feb 23 '12 at 14:02

I have been taught (in ELCA seminary) that the word LORD, presented in the Hebrew Bible in small caps, represents the ineffable four-letter holy name and so should be capitalized. I was also taught that God is a proper name, as are Jesus, Christ, and Holy Spirit.

However, I've also been taught that pronouns referring to the unity or diversity of persons of the Trinity are not to be capitalized. @Peter Turner noticed the same in Roman Catholic writings. It's the same for my church body.

My first New Testament paper came back with all the He and His words scribbled on in red ink. Being a good little grade-grubber, I changed my ways.

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