Thee, Thou, Thine and Thus in Prayer?

One of the teachings of Mormonism is that one should use reverence in prayer to Heavenly Father. It is taught that when you pray you should not use the language of our day.  Rather you should always use Thee, Thou, Thine and Thus. If you address God in common language (you, me, them, us, etc.) you are NOT being reverent.

I simply ask, why? What justification is there to support this position?  Is Old Modern English really MORE REVERENT?  If so, when the early Christians prayed in Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic were they being IRREVERENT?

Don’t get me wrong… I fully believe that one should approach God with awe and reverence. He is the ONE and ONLY TRUE God and He does deserve respect. However, why do we need to use Early Modern English to show respect? I believe that the only reason this is taught within Mormonism is this was the language used in the King James version of the Bible. Joseph Smith taught that the King James Bible was the “most correct” version of the Bible on the earth. In fact, it is the only version used by the Mormon Church today… despite the fact that we have MUCH BETTER translations available.

When my wife and I left the LDS Church one of the things we dropped almost instantaneously was the use of Early Modern English in our prayers. We began to address God in Modern English. We both feel that this has contributed greatly in our communication with God. We no longer have to struggle for words that simply do not feel natural.  We are able to address God in a natural manner and are able to concentrate on what we want to say to Him and not how we say it.  We believe that we can now approach Him as we really are and can communicate with Him reverently in the language of our day.

God has told us in the Bible that He already knows the groanings of our hearts.  In fact, He knows them before even we know them.  I really don’t think He cares what language we use when addressing Him.


10 thoughts on “Thee, Thou, Thine and Thus in Prayer?”

  1. Interestingly, I think there was an LDS general authority who tried to explain why Mormons believe in using thees, thous, etc., in prayer. The kind of reasoning is that this kind of antiquated language brings about a medium of heightened respect. These are supposed to be honorific.

    The only real problem is that prayer traditionally hasn’t used honorific forms, and it isn’t *supposed* to be honorific to the point of artificiality. Prayer historically has been familiar — as if you’re talking with a friend. So, in actuality, when you look at prayer in other languages (or even prayer throughout English history), the pronouns used are the ones that are the more familiar one…and thee/thou/thy were actually the more familiar alternatives to ye/you, which were the plural/honorific versions (but this distinction is muddled now because of course, they became one and the same).

    But looking in other languages…like for example French. tu = singular and familiar, vous = plural or more honorific. Prayer doesn’t use the more honorific vous. It uses the familiar tu.

  2. It’s about creating sacred space in one’s life. That’s all.

    The impulse today is to make everything too casual. The whole “Jesus is my homeboy” movement and all that.

    I see nothing wrong with standing firm against that slow descent into indifference.

  3. I just don’t see how using an antiquated manner of speaking leads to “standing firm against that slow descent into indifference”. How is it more reverent to use thee, thou, thine and thus? I simply found it to get in the way of being real and having a real conversation with God. Reverence is a matter of the heart not the mouth.


  4. I didn’t say it was an ideal method. I just said it was a method. There’s enough casual-ness in our religious observance in America, that we ought to applaud efforts to combat it – even if they aren’t optimal.

  5. Darrell, but that’s like saying that you can’t see how reading English literature in English class would lead to “standing firm against that slow descent into indifference.” I think the better position might be that you don’t agree with its usefulness (I certainly don’t think that suffering through Moby Dick was really all that useful), but not that you “don’t see” (I still understand why MD is a classic.)

    Sure, text messages and myspace language are more “real,” and sure, people are splitting infinitives and putting prepositions at the ends of sentences more, and sure, the subjunctive mood is a sick, dying animal in English, but there are still reasons why people might still prefer the old (or rather, the classic) to the new.

  6. Andrew,

    I have no issues if someone CHOOSES to pray in Old English. However, I do have a problem with teaching that the PROPER way to pray is to use Old English. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the LDS Church does… it teaches that using Old English is the only PROPER way to pray. To be exact, this teaching is part of the Missionary Discussions.


  7. As an LDS linguist, I kind of groan any time this comes up in church context. If thee/thou works for you, if you are accustomed to it and can do it without worrying about it, great. Go for it. I do it myself.

    At least, I do it when I’m praying in English. When I pray in my mission language, which has a familiar/formal distinction and a custom of using the familiar towards God, I adjust accordingly. I’ve never felt that either practice impeded my spirituality. Usually, neither one is particularly salient compared to the actual reason I’m praying. On rare, wonderful occasions, I have been able to feel each one with great power — both the honorific forms creating sacred space (thank you, Seth R., for putting it so well) AND the familiar forms expressing the intimacy and trust between a son and the Father. I thank God for both experiences. I wish more people could have both experiences.

    But, yeah, I said I was a linguist. What gets up my nose, as a linguist, is hearing about thee/thou at General Conference. Dear Brethren: You are being translated into over a hundred languages. “Thee” and “thou” are only special in one of them. Members that speak that one are outnumbered by members that don’t. Many of the other languages don’t mark a special religious register by using special pronouns, or don’t really have one at all. It is not ignoble to tithe mint and anise and cumin, but an 8-minute time slot and a worldwide audience call for weightier matters.

    Now, having said my own weightier matters, I’m going to mix my metaphors wretchedly, and pick a few nits off the mint and anise and cumin.

    1. I have never heard “thus” cited as a special prayer form. Don’t you mean “thee, thou, thy, and thine”?

    2. These forms are from Early Modern English. NOT Middle English, or Old English, or the nonexistent Old Modern English. If it’s Old English you’re looking for, King James is about six centuries too late.

    3. You’re confounding the prayer-language issue with the Bible-version issue. The King James Version does use these pronouns, but I suspect Joseph Smith was also influenced by the nearby Quakers, who deliberately revived “thee” in their religious speech. (Though they probably did so as a mark of interpersonal humility, rather than of divine authority.)

    4. I think you’ve mis-fired your quote with regards to “most correct.” JS used those words on one occasion to refer to the Book of Mormon. He is also on record as saying he found Luther’s German Bible most correct out of all the Bibles he’d seen.

    5. The King James Bible is the only *canonized* *English* Bible in Mormonism today. It is neither the only official LDS Bible, nor the only Bible Mormons use — just the only one used for official purposes in English. I believe it retains its special position first because we’ve felt no compelling reason to replace it, second because its language is both quoted and echoed in other LDS scripture (both canonized and otherwise), third because of its considerable literary merit, and not at all because JS said there would never be a better Bible or anything of the sort.

    6. I want a citation for the claim that thee/thou is in the missionary discussions. I cannot find it in Preach My Gospel, nor do I recall it in Uniform System for Teaching the Gospel, which I myself used. It’s possible it was in there and I ignored it because I wasn’t teaching people to pray in English, but I think in that case I’d at least remember being annoyed by it.

    7. Andrew: God is addressed familiarly in French, or in any European language with a T/V distinction. But if you leave Europe you’ll find counterexamples: Japanese addresses God or gods with the distancing -sama honorific; Chinese pronounces the divine pronoun the same but writes it with a special radical denoting deity; Mösiehuali̱ Nahuatl uses extra-special honorifics on verbs whose agent is divine; Tongan has forms only used with God or royalty.

    8. If I billed my blog as a “Mormon Apologetics” blog, I would feel honor-bound to devote more of it to expounding the reasonableness of Mormon doctrines than to condemning the doctrines of others. Just sayin’.

  8. Nathan,

    Thanks for your comment. I have been out of town for a few days and just got the chance to read through your post. Thanks for the correction. You are correct in noting that I should have said “thy” instead of “thus”. Good catch.

    I understand where you are coming from in regards to using language with which one is comfortable. I feel the same way. God loves us and personally, I don’t think He really cares whether we use modern language or “thee”, “thou”, etc. I just wish the LDS Church had the same attitude. This is a topic that has been addressed numerous times by LDS leaders, and the general message is that God should be addressed in “formal” language (although, as I pointed out in my post, the language they note we should use is not a “formal” language). Try praying in the local ward using “you”, “me”, etc., and I have found that if you are over the age of 10 and have been a church member for longer than 2 – 3 months, you will usually get a talking to by the Bishop.

    As for this topic being discussed in the missionary discussion… I served as a Stake Missionary and Ward Mission Leader for a few years and during my tenure, it was often discussed by the missionaries during the end of the first discussion or near the beginning of the second. I realize the Uniform System is no longer used by LDS missionaries, so I can’t speak to how it is done today. However, in the Missionary Guide to the First Discussion, The Plan of our Heavenly Father (#31160, published 6/86), on page 1-19 it says, “As appropriate, use the ‘Instruction on Prayer’ in the instruction booklet to help the investigators understand the basic pattern of prayer.” During this time the missionaries would refer to the Missionary Flip Chart (#32731, published 6/86) which has the basic order of prayer taught by the church:

    1) “Our Father in heaven…”
    2) “We thank thee…”
    3) “We ask thee…”
    4) “In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

    While going over this they would typically discuss the language we should pray in (thee, thou, thine, and thy) and the things we should pray about (Our Father; thank; ask; in the name of Jesus Christ).

    If I billed my blog as a “Mormon Apologetics” blog, I would feel honor-bound to devote more of it to expounding the reasonableness of Mormon doctrines than to condemning the doctrines of others. Just sayin’.

    Mormonism is only one topic we cover; although, it happens to be a passion of mine given the fact that my family and I were saved out of it. Hang around and check out some of the other topics, and you will find many things discussed besides Mormonism.

    Take Care!


  9. Interesting. English has gotten sloppy. “You” can refer to everyone on Earth, or one person, or any number in between. “Thee” is the person being talked to. I;m comfortable being sloppy with folks generally, but not with God…

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