Monday, May 05, 2008

Thou & You in KJV (1611) and BCP (1549-1662)

In 2008 in the varied forms of the Anglican Way in the U.S.A., not more than five percent consistently use in liturgy the traditional form of the second person singular for God, Thou, Thee, Thy, & Thine.

For this percentage to grow, the following “facts” need to be not only known but appreciated and understood, which is a major Christian education outreach.

In what is known as the Liturgical Movement of the second half of the twentieth century in the C. of E. and Anglicanism, the question of traditional language versus contemporary language for God is to be separated clearly from other aspects of this Movement—from e.g. (a) the call to make the Parish Communion the central Sunday service; and (b) the criticism of the Prayer Book Rite for H.C. and its “shape” by Gregory Dix et al; neither of these required a change of language for God.

The move to adopt contemporary language for God was related primarily to responding to social, cultural and religious (including movements flowing from Vatican II) factors.

The new Bible of 1611 and the BCP edition of 1604 were both authorized by King James. Both are totally consistent in their use of the traditional SECOND PERSON SINGULAR, thou/thee, for the Lord God and for Jesus Christ. Neither the Father nor the Son nor the Holy Ghost is ever addressed as You.

Both the KJV and the BCP are also wholly and totally consistent in the use of the traditional SECOND PERSON PLURAL, ye/you, for two or more human beings.

The KJV is always and everywhere consistent in using thou/thee of the individual person, male or female. This is because the translation is following the specific grammar of the Hebrew and Greek texts and rendering the singular one way (thou) and the plural another way (you).

The BCP (1549-1662) nearly always and everywhere uses thou/thee of the individual person (always so in Bible passages), but here and there uses “you” as the singular form—see the Catechism, the Churching of Women, and the Consecration of a Bishop. This latter use arises from the use of English in the sixteenth century where the king and courtiers along with others of high class or calling were addressed as “you.” This convention may also be observed in Shakespeare’s plays and other writings of the time.

A lot of people have been confused or misinformed since the 1960s in speaking of the language of the KJV and BCP. First of all, many have assumed that the BCP follows the same rules as the KJV with a strict division between thou and you. This is only partially true and can be misleading. Secondly, many have thought that the addressing of God as Thou is merely and only a grammatical matter—that God is singular; therefore, Thou in old English becomes You in contemporary English. This approach misses the doctrinal and devotional connections of Thou.
From the seventeenth century, the use of “you” as second person singular grew, moving out from its previous restriction as conveying respect (thus usually only to the higher classes and authorities). At the same time, the use of “thou” was gradually restricted to specific close relations between members of families, lovers, in dialects and by the Society of Friends. It has now virtually totally disappeared.

However—and this is most important—the “you” never, ever, anywhere, was used of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. “Thou” alone for God had been used since English began centuries before, and it remained in universal use, even as the use of “you” as singular for ordinary people much increased.

Thus in and after the seventeenth and until the twentieth century, God is always Thou in hymnody, devotional book, liturgy, ex tempore prayer and family devotions. The English Language of Prayer is constant in knowing the LORD God and Jesus Christ as “Thou/Thee.”
Using Thou of God (a) affirms unmistakably his singular identity as the One God; but (b) it also very importantly allows for a sense of intimacy by grace with him as the personal Lord.

The great change from Thou to You for God came in the 1960s fuelled by both ignorance and by cultural and social revolution in society and church. The vast selection of modern versions of the Bible using “you” began to appear from the 1960s. & Liturgies, hymns, songs and choruses followed. They continue to flow! Except when saying the Lord’s Prayer and singing an old hymn, we totally ignore the absolute dominance of Thou for God from the early medieval period through to the 1960s!

--Peter Toon

1 comment:

Pastor Steven said...

Thanks for the post, I have never heard it explained that way before. I have always preferred using thee & thou when addressing any of the persons of the Trinity.

In Christ,

Pastor Steven