After reading various comments re: use of Thee and Thou vis-a-vis accuracy of translations to modern (not Elizabethan) English, all very informative, I am still wondering if the original texts of Hebrew and Greek Bible used a distinctly different grammar when addressing the Deity. Or conversely, was the same language used, with perhaps reverence displayed in the context?
Do original languages in Greek and Hebrew Bible texts use formal or informal language where traditional translations in English used Thee and Thou? [closed]
3"Thee" and "Thou" might be considered formal now, but originally they were simply the singular forms of "you", which was only plural. The early translations were being grammatically correct, not showing reverence.– Ray ButterworthJan 28 at 1:34
Hebrew and Greek are both inflected languages which contain the singular and the plural (and male/female/neuter) embedded within the inflection. It is not a matter of 'formality' or 'informality'. It is a matter of grammatical accuracy. 'You' does not mean the same as 'thou' in accurate English. And when addressing Deity (in particular) this matters, as a matter of accurate reverence (but not of 'formality'). This question may be voted for closure on this site as no text has been provided for us to practice hermeneutic analysis. Please see the Tour and the Help. Welcome to SE-BH.– Nigel JJan 28 at 2:51
The short answer is "No". The original languages do not have a "formal" form equivalent to "Thee" and "thou" - this was simply the common way to speak in the time the KJV was produced.– DottardJan 28 at 3:00
2@NigelJ There is no reason to vote to close a text-less question which is addressing matters of linguistics relative to the Biblical languages themselves, as is the case here. Understanding the Biblical language is part of proper hermeneutics, and in keeping with the culture of BH.– BiblasiaJan 28 at 7:50
The original languages had only one set of pronouns. There was no distinction at all between formal and informal forms of address--they did not exist. There was not even a difference in alphabetic case (uppercase/lowercase) in either Hebrew or Biblical Greek. There is no special manner of address for speaking to God in either Hebrew or Greek, with the possible exception of certain verbs in the imperative (command) form--as one does not command God to do anything.
(As it happens, the jussive and cohortative verbs, i.e. imperative verbs, in Hebrew, when used for God, may be of the same form as for others but are understood to carry a different sense of meaning. It gets complicated, and some might say it is somewhat subjective in terms of interpretation.)
With respect to the English translation of "thee" and "thou," these forms were the informal forms in the English of the time. Everything shifted, over time, to the use of the formal "you," at the cost of less clarity, since "you" applies both to singular and to plural forms of the second person.
Perhaps a table will make it more clear (focusing only on the grammatical "second person").
In the KJV, these forms are preserved, and we see that the disciples and Jesus addressed each other using informal pronouns (in the English translation--Greek does not have them). In modern languages with two forms, most are comfortable addressing those close to them using the informal pronouns. For example, in Spain, people often use the informal for "you" (tú) to address God. When doing so, they are addressing Him as a close, familiar friend. This same culture likely was prevalent in the English society at the time the KJV was translated.
Because neither Hebrew nor Greek has a distinction between formal and informal forms of address, this phenomenon came into being only post-translation.