Addressing God In Prayers & Worship
By: T. Ernest Wilson
One of the features of our modern permissive society, is the tendency to familiarity in addressing the aged or those in positions of authority. It is becoming quite common for children and young people to call old people by their first name. It is one of the results of modern revolt and the break- down of law and order and authority, to drop the old terms of honor and respect in addressing their elders. Conditions in the world usually have a way of manifesting themselves in the church. It is becoming increasingly common to hear God addressed with the familiar "you" instead of the reverential "thou." The argument is that the reverential form is archaic, it was used in Shakespeare' s day, and was the common form of speech when the King James version of the Bible was translated in 1611. We no longer use it today in addressing each other, therefore let us drop it in addressing God! It is regarded as a mark of superior education and sophistication to avoid the old forms and use modern language in praying to the Deity. Those who do it, insist that it is not a lack of reverence, but using language that everyone understands. This is very plausible, but is it true?
THE QUESTION OF ENGLISH GRAMMAR
We are told that the old form of the second person "thou", and its use in everyday speech has been dropped. Admittedly, when the King James Version was translated, "thou, thee" etc. were simply singular forms of the pronouns, while "you" was the plural form. The translators followed this rule whether God or man was being addressed. But today the plural form "you" is commonly used as a singular. While this is true, yet the old form of the second person and its reverential use, is a part of our language. We learn it in school in our verb conjugations: I am, thou art, he is, etc. In most languages, reverential forms of speech are used in addressing the Deity. For example, in the Latin languages, such as Spanish and Portuguese, the second person "tu" (thou) is used in a three-fold way:
(1) Endearment and intimacy, between husband and wife, to a child or intimate friend.
(2) It is used in disparagement to one regarded as an inferior.
(3) Always in a reverential way in addressing the Deity.
In Bantu languages used in Africa, and among so-called primitive people generally, God is addressed in majestic terms and titles. No African child would think of addressing his parent or an elder by the familiar form, and to speak to Almighty God in this way would be unthinkable!
THE NEED FOR REVERENCE
In addressing a king or the president, or a cabinet minister or a judge on the bench when a law court is in session, it is customary to use respectful terms which we do not ordinarily use; your majesty, your honor, etc. The New Testament sanctions and gives examples of such usages. We read there of an honorable counsellor and of honorable women. Luke addresses his Gospel to the "Most ExcelIent Theophilus," and Paul, addressing Festus the Governor, uses the term "Most Noble." It is a part of the present day decline in respect, to despise dignities and authority. But if one were to use the language of the street or the market place in ad- dressing a judge while he is presiding in a law court, he would be held in contempt of court, how much more the need for reverence and respect in addressing the Creator and Redeemer of the universe!
Another important point is consideration for the feelings of others. From time immemorial it has been the custom to follow the examples in Scripture in addressing Almighty God. But this is not just mere custom or tradition. God said to the wicked in Ps. 50:21, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself." It is both the direct teaching and example of Holy Scripture. To hear anyone publicly address God in familiar language, calling Him "you," shocks the feelings of older and sensitive, spiritual people, who are characterized by the fear of God in their lives and speech. It is altogether wrong to hurt and shock the feelings of the saints in this way.
One would make a distinction between a young person recently saved, who is not familiar with the teaching and language of Holy Scripture, and the mature person who uses this kind of language deliberately. There is a difference between ignorance and arrogance. The first needs teaching, the second, rebuke. much used and abused word today is "communication." Some have the idea that in speaking to the young and immature, we have to use the language and vocabulary of the street corner or the high school. The only way to raise the level of respect and the dignity of personality, is to use simple but dignified language in speaking to them.
MODERN BIBLE TRANSLATIONS
One very serious contributing factor, that has helped along this tendency of disrespect in addressing God, has been some of the modern revisions and paraphrases of Scripture Two of the chief offenders in this respect are the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, authorized in 1951 by the National Council of Churches and the New English Bible, the New Testament of which was published in 1961.Some of the men on the committees for translation of both of these versions are notorious liberals who do not believe in the deity of Christ, His virgin birth and other fundamentals of the faith. This decided bias comes out in their translation of vital passages. Sometimes in the RSV, the formal address of "thee", "thou" and "thine" is used, while at other titles the familiar "you" and "yours" is used. Dean Weigle, the chairman of the revision committee, on page 56 of "An Introduction to the RSV" explains their use in this way: "After two years of debate and experiment, it was decided to abandon these forms, and to follow the modern usage, except in language addressed to God." Note carefully the distinction; the formal address is used in addressing God, and the informal is used in speaking to man. Let us look at one or two examples which illustrate this rule of translation:
The AV of Matt. 16: 16 reads: Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God.
The KSV reads: "You are the Christ, the son of the living God. Does this mean that Christ is only a man and not God? According to Dean Weigle's explanation, this is the only conclusion we can reach.
The AV of Acts 9: 5 reads: Who are thou, Lord?
The RSV reads: Who are you, Lord?
Did Saul of 'Tarsus believe that the one who spoke to him from heaven was only a man?
The New English translation follows the same rule. In this version the reverential "thee" or "thou" is never used in the Gospels in addressing our Lord Jesus Christ. This distinction of pronouns has a subtle doctrinal implication, and gives the impression that the translators are trying to separate our Lord and Saviour from God and so undermine the doctrine of His deity. Unfortunately many of the teachers in academic theological circles have adopted the use of the familiar "you" in addressing both God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. This has helped to popularize the trend. Young people take their cue from their teachers. They can do no wrong and it sounds educated to imitate them. Leaders and teachers today have a tremendous responsibility to show an example of reverence and becoming humility in speaking to a Holy God.
We would lovingly appeal to all who know and love, Worship and serve our Lord Jesus Christ, and who confess Him, not only as the unique Son of God, but as God the Son manifest in flesh, to avoid any semblance of disrespectful or slang language, either in speaking to Him In prayer and praise, or speaking about Him in the preaching of the Gospel, or in the ministry of the Word. "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom and strength, and honor and glory and blessing." Amen. Rev. 5:12.