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Does God Care about Capitalization?

Codex Sinaiticus (Luke 11.2)I got a question from a student today asking about capitalizing pronouns for God.  Here is her email:

Many times when I am writing, when it refers to God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, I will capitalize He, His, Himself, etc (for me it is a preference) However when writing academically what is appropriate for such references? Do I capitalize He, His, Himself, etc?

Here is my response. 

Great question.

Up until about thirty years ago the convention for divine pronouns was to capitalize them, which is why many people do this today.  Many older English translations did that.  In my experience most worship songs have pronouns for God capitalized.  Here is the NAS of Genesis 2:2 (the NAS first came out in 1960).

“And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Gen 2:2 NAS).

But I’m not aware of an English Bible translation in the past 30 years that has followed this convention.  All of them leave divine pronouns uncapitalized, except at the beginning of a sentence.  Check out: NIV, ESV, NRSV, etc.  Here is the NIV (2011).

“Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Gen 2:2 NIV).

All of these newer translations don’t capitalize divine pronouns.  Sometime the text is unclear about the antecedents for these pronouns, so when older translations capitalize a pronoun they think is referring to God, they are adding a level of interpretation, which is going beyond the text, and can be misleading.  If the original language of Scripture is ambiguous, I’m OK with an English language translation being ambiguous.

While I think I understand the rationale (capitalizing these pronouns is a way of honoring God), here are three reasons why I no longer do so.

1)      Neither the Hebrew or Greek capitalize divine pronouns, so any capitalization we add to our writing goes beyond the text of Scripture.  (See image of a Greek manuscript (Codex Sinaiticus) of Luke 11:2 from Wikipedia).

2)      Recent translations don’t do it anymore.  Most Christian authors and publishers do not capitalize divine pronouns either.

3)      I don’t think God cares.  He cares about justice, obedience, peace, grace, love, but not capitalization.

I tell students they don’t need to capitalize divine pronouns (but I don’t take off for it).

Thanks. – Dave Lamb

 

 

 

 

Goldingay’s The First Testament on Jesus Creed


Scot McKnight invited me to respond to questions about John Goldingay’s translation of the Old Testament, The First Testament.

Here are my responses just posted on Scot’s blog, Jesus Creed.

Enjoy.

Full disclosure, I also endorsed the book (see quote on the back cover).  I think it’s a great translation.

Urbana 2018

Since 1946, God has spoken to over 300,000 students at the Urbana conference about missions and what he is doing around the world.  The conference started in Toronto, moved to Urbana, Illinois in 1948, and since 2006, it has been held in St. Louis (but they kept the name Urbana).  It is the largest student missions conference in North America.  The theme Urbana 18  is “Faithful Witness: Discern your place in God’s Global Mission” and the biblical focus will be on the book of Revelation.

God spoke to me about missions and ministry at Urbana 1981, and 37 years later I’m still teaching the Bible.  And God has led me to be involved in cross-cultural projects in Hawaii, Nigeria, Mexico, Kazakhstan, Russia, Israel, Liberia, and Korea.  It has been my delight to attend seven Urbanas (1981, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1996, 2015), and from December 26-January 1, I’ll attend my eighth, this time with my wife Shannon (who’s been to four more than me).

At Urbana, I’ll be leading two seminars:

  1. God Behaving Badly: Is God Really Angry, Sexist, and Racist? At America’s Center (AC) 223-224 on December 28 from 2:00-3:00.  Many people think of God as wrathful, smiting people for no apparent reason. The Old Testament seems to portray God as malevolent, punishing enemies with extreme prejudice. But alongside these passages are pictures of God’s love, goodness, and compassion. How do we make sense of the seeming contradiction?
  2. Sexual Abuse in the Bible (#metoo), Hyatt Regency @Arch, Regency Ballroom DEF on December 30 from 3:30-4:30.  While people in power have been covering up sexual abuse for millennia, the Bible boldly records the tragic stories of Sarah, Hagar, two Tamars, and Bathsheba. As we examine these stories, we will discover how God shows mercy not only to victims but also to perpetrators of sexual abuse.

The first seminar will be based on material from my book, God Behaving Badly, and the second, on material from my book, Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style.

My wife Shannon will be co-leading a Bible study with Esrael Seyum on the book of Revelation with 800 international students (in AC 223-224, December 28, 29, 30, 31 in the mornings).  As many of you know, Revelation can be confusing, so she and Esrael will need great wisdom to lead this large group into clarity about God’s word.

If you’re coming to Urbana, I hope to see you there.  If you’re the praying sort, Shannon and I would covet your prayers.

Traveling to Korea (Oct 25-Nov 5)

I leave today (Oct 25) to travel to Korea for 12 days.  I will be speaking at one of the largest churches in Korea, SaRang (which means “Love”) Church in Seoul.  I’ll be teaching all day (7 hours) for two consecutive Saturdays (Oct 28, Nov 4) as a part of a program my seminary is doing with SaRang Church (“Marketplace Missionary Certificate”).

I’m excited, but also a little nervous.  If you are the praying sort, I’d appreciate prayers.  There are several challenges.

  1. My teaching will be translated into Korean.  I don’t speak Korean, and I have never taught this long in translation.
  2. There will be 1000 students.  I’ve preached to a crowd like this, but never done longer blocks of teaching with anything close to this large of a group.
  3. I just became dean at my seminary this summer (which is why I haven’t blogged much lately), and I have had a full teaching load in addition to new administrative responsibilities.
  4. Seoul, as you may know, isn’t very far from North Korea.  I will travel to the DMZ on October 31.  Hopefully, my president and Kim Jong-un won’t decide to start WW III while I’m there (I’m praying it never happens full stop).  Seoul is only 35 miles from the DMZ/border with North Korea.

Korea Map

I’ll be doing other teaching while I’m there (see “Speaking” on my blog).  On October 31, I am scheduled to visit the DMZ.  I’ll do my best to not start a fight, or look menacing.  I’ll post updates on Facebook, and perhaps on my blog.

I look forward to seeing first-hand what God is doing in the land of Korea.