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The commonly used version of this Christian prayer comes from the King James Bible

9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

—Matthew 6:9–13

This answer says that the second person informal is used when speaking to God, but does not give a reason as to why. To me it would make more sense to address the creator of the universe as formally as possible.

marked as duplicate by curiousdannii, user66974, FumbleFingers, tchrist Oct 19 '16 at 12:09

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  • Erm, there might be a problem here; as soon as I posted my answer it was down-voted, clearly before anyone could have read it or even skimmed over it. I imagine the same thing has happened to J O S H – BladorthinTheGrey Oct 19 '16 at 6:21
  • Of course, if the down-voter has any real motive I'm happy to help improve my post. – BladorthinTheGrey Oct 19 '16 at 6:32
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    You're not addressing the creator of the universe; you're addressing your dad. Gods take informal pronouns (where available) in all the languages I've come across, from Sanskrit to English. (Disclaimer: “languages I've come across” in this context excludes Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic, three major religious languages that I believe do have T/V distinctions. Michael’s answer below indicates that the informal is also used at least in Hebrew, though.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 19 '16 at 7:37
  • @JanusBahsJacquet At least in (ancient) Hebrew, the second person singular is not informal. It is used to address a single person even in the most formal circumstances (e.g. Moses to Pharaoh). – michael.hor257k Oct 19 '16 at 7:53
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    "Why does the KJV use thou towards God?" seems like a related question, but I have not yet learned the proper difference between these pronouns, so I do not know to what degree. – Tonepoet Oct 19 '16 at 10:08
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There is no indication in the text of any early English translations that the use of thou/thee/thy/thine signifies "informal you". That notion is a theological and interpretative one, and frankly better asked about elsewhere (SE: Christianity or SE: Biblical Hermeneutics).

For instance, Jesus addresses Satan with Thee: are we to take this to mean we (or even he) was using "informal you" rather then simple singular you to address Satan?

Language-wise, the use of thou/thee/thy/thine exists in the English-language translations of Wycliffe (1384), Tyndale (1526), The Great Bible (1539), the Geneva Bible (1560), the Rheims New Testament (1582) and somewhat belatedly, the King James Version, or KJV, (1611).

Thou/thee/thy/thine were used in these translations to preserve the distinction in number between you-singular and you-plural, which is also found in Latin and Greek (I am not sure about ancient Hebrew), the languages that these translations are based on. Wycliffe had only the Latin at his disposal; the Rheims (the official Roman Catholic translation) was also based on Latin; while others, including the KJV, were based both on the Greek and on earlier English versions (thus, the translators of the KJV consulted not only the Greek but the Rheims, etc).

This distinction in number can be seen in such passages as Luke 21:31-32. For example, the KJV has:

31 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, beholde, Satan hath desired to haue you, that he may sift you as wheat:

32 But I haue prayed for thee, that thy faith faile not; and when thou art conuerted, strengthen thy brethren.

KJV (original spelling, 1611) (link)

You does not refer to Simon alone, but to all the disciples; while thou/thy/thee refers to Simon alone (you-singular).


As another example, note that the use of singular-you is also used in the exchange between Jesus and the Devil in Matthew 4 (the three temptations). See for example Matthew 4:9-10:

9 And [the Deuill] saith vnto him, All these things will I giue thee, if thou wilt fall downe and worship me.

10 Then saith Iesus vnto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him onely shalt thou serue.

Screen shot of original 1611 KJV manuscript of Matthew 4:7-10:

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Here is a screen shot of the Our Father from the Douay-Rheims Bible of 1610, which includes the 1582 Rheims NT:

enter image description here

And a screen shot of the Our Father from the King James Version of 1611.

enter image description here

If you want a theologically-based answer (for instance: how should people "address the creator of the universe"?) from a Christian point of view, you should probably post this on SE: Christianity or SE: Biblical Hermeneutics.


Note: I favour the OP's title Why does the Our Father use “thy”? rather than the edited version If “thy” is an informal pronoun, then why does The Lord's Prayer use it to refer to God?

Also, my suggested edit to the OQ, adding the tag grammatical-number remains apropos and should not have been rejected.

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    According to Wikipedia: "Following the Norman invasion of 1066, thou was used to express intimacy, familiarity or even disrespect" – michael.hor257k Oct 19 '16 at 10:27
  • @michael.hor257k Wikipedia provides no reference to support any claim that thou is used in English translations of the Holy Bible to signify informal you. If thou must mean informal you rather than singular you, then one could argue that Jesus is modeling the use of informal you when addressing Satan (see my answer). – Alan Carmack Oct 19 '16 at 10:49
  • I did not mean to claim that thou in the Bible is informal. However, I do believe that at that time the meaning of thou was already informal, and its usage to address God was an exception to this rule. You will find support for this view here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%E2%80%93V_distinction#English – michael.hor257k Oct 19 '16 at 11:11
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    Okay, well Wikipedia evinces no evidence that thou was used in English translations "to express intimacy, familiarity or even disrespect." @michael.hor257k – Alan Carmack Oct 19 '16 at 14:54
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As William Tyndale translated the Bible into English in the early 16th century, he preserved the singular and plural distinctions that he found in his Hebrew and Greek originals. He used thou for the singular and ye for the plural regardless of the relative status of the speaker and the addressee. Tyndale's usage was standard for the period and mirrored that found in the earlier Wycliffe's Bible and the later King James Bible. But as the use of thou in non-dialect English began to decline in the 18th century, its meaning nonetheless remained familiar from the widespread use of the latter translation.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which is still the authorized form of worship in the Church of England, also uses the word thou to refer to the singular second person.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thou#Religious_uses (emphasis added by me)


See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Lord%27s_Prayer_in_English, especially:

Early English translations such as the Wycliffe and the Old English, however, were themselves translations of the Latin Vulgate.

The Latin Vulgate text can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord%27s_Prayer#Original_Greek_and_translated_Latin_versions

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