I recently posed this question on the r-f-w email list:
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of J. Parnell McCarter
Sent: Monday, June 20, 2005 8:30 AM
Subject: [r-f-w] thou, thy and thee
I am sure there are some minister(s) or other men on this list who use "thou", "thy", and "thee" (instead of "you" or "your"), as a matter of
conscience, in addressing the Lord in their prayers. I would request that one or some of such explain the reasons for this practice. I think it may
be helpful for list readers.
An initial response by a list member is excerpted below, and I think it represents what may be called the modern mainstream view:
[mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of KenVAE473@aol.com
Sent: Monday, June 20, 2005 11:54 AM
Subject: Re: [r-f-w] thou, thy and thee
My personal feeling is that it is not a matter of conscience but of habit and practice from childhood, now 82, as I was raised on the KJV - and even the revised edition of 1881-1885 based on the 1611 edition - edited by the American Revision Committee of 1901, and also of the prevalence of this manner of speaking in the early church I was raised in. When antiquarians such as I gradually die out I guess you will see less and less of this.
Nevertheless I have gradually been inserting "you and your" in recent decades but still slip into "thou, thy, thine and thee" at times and even have been known to mix them up. Grown families and abundance of grandchildren help modernize the old mind. However, a favorite inclusion in prayer is I Chronicles 29:11,12 which certainly has "you and your" in my now preferred NKJV but I just automatically say "thine, thee and thou" in such a blessed passage as this certainly not from conscience but from long years of memorization…
I too was of the above view, but I am coming to find out there is more to it than that. To help understand this, let’s consider an observation by Dr. Joel Beeke, president and professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, in a pamphlet entitled “Practical Reasons for Retaining the KJV”. Here he writes the following: “A More Precise Idiom. Often attacked at this very point, the KJV actually is a more accurate and helpful translation precisely because of the archaic pronouns (“thou, thy, thee,” etc.). Both Hebrew and Greek distinguish clearly between the 2nd person singular (“thou”) and the 2nd person plural (“ye, you”). In many statements this makes an important difference (e.g. John 3:7). In a sense it is correct to say that in praying the Lord Jesus used “Thou” – God is one, not many! – for He definitely used the Hebrew or Greek equivalent.”
The Church very much has an interest in the language of the people, especially pertaining to theology. God calls us in His word to understand and embrace doctrines precisely, and to convey doctrines precisely as well. We are not to ignore the “dot and tittle” of the word of God. But precise communication of doctrinal truths requires a people’s precise understanding and use of language pertaining to theology. It takes hard and determined work for the Church to bring the language of a people so it precisely conveys the truths of God’s word in the original tongues (Hebrew and Greek). We should not take for granted, for example, that the English language has and retains such theological terms as “justification”, “sanctification”, “providence”, “trinity”, “propitiation”, etc. There are many people in the world who are not so blessed with a language so influenced by a Christian heritage as the English language has been, and missionaries to such people are at greater pains accurately and precisely to communicate Christian truths to the people. The Church should not be lax about maintaining precise language for theological use in the English language. It is to be regretted that so much of the modern Christian Church has become lax in this respect. It is to be regretted, for instance, the lax and imprecise use of language in so many modern translations of the Bible into English, even in the example of the NKJV cited above. It surely suggests an increasing indifference and laziness concerning the things of God. And the fruit of indifference and laziness over time is surely ignorance, such as is exhibited in modern man in general.
Here is how one person explained the case in the course of the discussion on the r-f-w list:
“Our attitude to God’s Word is important as it reflects our attitude to God Himself. Do we see ourselves in a position of humility and submission before Him? Are we careful to represent Him accurately? Thee/Thou is accurate You is not. It isn't the way He reveals Himself. This has a knock-on effect to our attitude to God in prayer and worship. We should address Him in prayer in accordance with the way that He has revealed Himself.
The answer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q54 “What is required in the third commandment?” is: “The third commandment requireth the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works”. The following catechism A55 states that the third commandment: “forbiddeth all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God maketh himself known”. As Cornelius Van Til has said, the Bible declares to us the self-contained God who is the final point of reference and we must not infringe the authority and Word of God in favour of man’s self - important pride.
So the Church has a real interest in preserving the precise use of theological language, even on this matter of preserving the 2nd person singular for theological discourse among ourselves and in prayer to God. May God keep us from laziness and indifference in our theological communication.