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Question about Bible Verses

Hallo Duoligo Freunden:

Every day I read a Deutsch Bible verse, then translate. I have learned a lot this way. Here is the website: http://dailyverses.net/de/zufalls-bibelvers

Anyway, I have a question with this particular verse:

Du bist mein Schutz und mein Schild; ich hoffe auf dein Wort

When speaking to God, would you not use "Sie sind" out of respect? Or is the familiarity part of the tone? Anyone know?


April 22, 2015



In languages with T-V distinction, God is usually addressed intimately by convention. If you read the Bible in an older variety of English, or some modern translations, you'll observe that English speakers used to address God informally also (i.e. as "thou", which was the informal/intimate form of "you" until just a few centuries ago when English lost T-V distinction).


Came here to say this.

Confusion over the T-V distinction in English is often reinforced, too, when people misuse "thee" and "thou" in order to make something sound pompous or formal. (Dead giveaway: Tacking on "eth" or "est" to anything other than a verb. That makes me literally cringe.)

It's good to remember that "archaic" and "old fashioned" are not the same as "formal." Addressing others casually isn't a modern innovation.


I am giving you my very first lingot because I have enjoyed the discussion so much. I am an American Lutheran with a German heritage and a degree in Theology. All of the comments have been rich and right on (even the reference to the group Abba!) Thank you for the great discussion!


He is our father we cry to him and say "abba father" which means "daddy God". I don't think he cares if we use formalities or not. He is daddy God.


This isn't a language-learning comment, but... when I went to church with my family back in the mid-70's, every time I saw "abba" in the Bible I couldn't help thinking of the musical group which was so popular at the time.


It's worth recalling that when English still employed the familiar 'thou', God was referred to this way. The Lords Prayer used to be "Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come etc" (maybe it still is, I presume they've updated it but I'm not Christian). It looks like German has kept this.

Unfortunately English speakers have come to associate 'thee' and 'thou' with a formal tone implying a 'power distance', like in Star Wars when Vader says "What is thy bidding my Master". As far as I can recall this is the only time Vader uses 'thee'. Originally 'thou' was only for family and loved ones, not Emperors.

What's more, the Latin Vulgate Bible uses the familiar 'tu' for God. The theological implications of this are that the Christian God is supposed to be a personal and familiar God, rather than a distant one.


I was curious about that same thing in French, where the Lord's Prayer uses "tu" instead of "vous". My friend who's been a French teacher for some 40 years explained that it's because the relationship between God and his followers is extremely close, like a child and a parent, whereas I myself would have used "vous" out of respect if it had been up to me (and if I happened to be the religious type).

Have a lingot because I'm sorry for your downvotes; I hope it's not just because of the Bible question. Sheesh, language learning is language learning, no matter what text one is learning from.


This is interesting. Up to a hundred years or so, children used to address their parents with the formal "Sie", not the "Du". In Spain, this was still fairly common 50 or so years ago as a mark of respect.

And I agree, these downvotes are ridiculous... the first line should have read "Hallo Duolingo Freunde", not "Freunden", but so what? And if the poster likes to use Bible verses to practice her language skills, then why not? Whatever works and keeps you motivated is fine, surely?


Thanks for the tip on "Freunden". To get a downvote for trying to learn is ridiculous, and isn't that why we have this discussion group? To practice using the language? I think I will refrain from posting here now if that is how it is, because one cannot learn in a hostile atmosphere. Thanks for your help!!


You will always get useful answers here to your language questions, and that's what counts. Just ignore the downvotes, would be my advice. People get downvoted for all sorts of bizarre things nobody can even fathom.

[deactivated user]

    I agree and I ignore the downvotes. I just try to learn from every translation I proofread. Some are great translators. Thanks for offering your feed-back.


    It could also mean they are just not interested in your question. Nobody read any rules about what to upvore/downvote or did I miss them?

    or they could mean that bible verses are not a good thing to learn from because their official versions are not really translations from current language A to current language B.

    For example there are 3 versions of Vater Unser that where used widely just in the last century I think.


    If you check back you'll see it has 8 upvotes now :) Wherever you are there will be one or two people that try to ruin the experience. The vast majority of users in the discussion forum genuinely want to help!


    Some tend to judge your post by its title alone without reading the content.

    Just ignore them, anyway your post and the replies are interesting.


    Please don't be put off by downvotes. The only justification for downvoting something is if it's spam and the downvoter wants to prevent it cluttering the upper part of the page. I always read to the very bottom of the page now as often the best stuff has been voted down to there. Sometimes even a good explanation of a grammatical point gets downvoted for no good reason.


    Actually, the bible is wonderful poetry, and it is why I read it. Who knew it would get such a response? Thank you very very much!


    It is very useful as a learning tool and certainly has beautiful poetry. I have a sister who likes comparing the Bible in different languages and it has helped her immensely!


    I wonder if this varies with denominations of Christianity. I know in English there are denominations that consider God to be a best friend or a kind father-figure who you can talk to very personally and be comfortable with; whereas there are other denominations who consider God to be an all-powerful and very high-above-us sort of being who will deal out divine retribution to anyone who doesn't "fear" him. So I wonder if, across German culture, there are some denominations that would go with Sie and some that would use Du.

    Very interesting question, AmyMarchetta!


    I don't think there is a denomination which officially does this, at least in Germany. (I just googled this a bit, and found out that in the Netherlands, you indeed use the formal "u" for God). It just doesn't match with the distance you express through saying "Sie". The "Sie" is also much younger than most prayers, and people don't change a prayer just because the custom of addressing people changes.


    It's the same in English. So the Book of Common Prayer wording of the Lord's Prayer includes "thy will be done (rather than your will be done). However, in English the second person singular (thee, thou, thy, thine) has fallen out of general use, so evryone is now "you".


    I believe the idea is that we would talk to God as we would a close friend or a father. Our relationship with Him isn't formal, it's close and personal, so we use the familiar form.


    [Disclaimer: Opinions and experiences of a 20-something German. Older people might have a different opinion on these topics as the.]

    "Sie" has a really, really formal connotation. And old-fashioned It's not just respect, it's distance. You use "Sie" if you barely know each other and don't have a strong intention in changing but but rather want to keep your distance. You use "Sie" when adressing a teacher, a doctor, some stranger on the road or a vendor... Someone to whom you don't have a deeper emotional relationship. Some people adress their in-laws with "Sie" but that's rare and pretty much shows that you have an awful relationship to them.

    "Sie" isn't used as often in German as many language learners seem to think. Even at workplaces, it's becoming less common because it's very hierarchic and stiff and well... People want a friendlier atmosphere! Also, you (usually) don't use it when being introduced to friends of your friends or meeting a blind date or basically on the entire internet. There is no "Sie" at the internet ;)

    So... It doesn't matter how much you respect someone. If you are close (or want to get close), it's way more common to use "du" and anything else will come off as very stiff and distanced. Since that isn't exactly the kind of relationship that religion promotes... It would be very awkward to use "Sie".


    Interesting response. American society has moved to become more relaxed and familiar in many respects. Formal language and even formal attire is much less common than it was 50 or 60 years ago. It is interesting to see that we are not the only ones changing.

    Whether this is good or bad, well, I will leave that to a sociology website! =)


    Actually, I thought that it might be some American influence. People seem to be much more open over there and way quicker to call someone a friend (even if use "du" for someone that doesn't automatically mean that you'd call them your friend in Germany)... And with the whole world growing closer together, it just seemed natural to me that this might be the cause for less formality (especially in 'future oriented' fields).

    But I guess changes like this are happening all around the world.


    I was wondering about that. People in the US, at least, tend to be a lot less formal than they used to. I wondered if that was happening in other countries around the world as well. At least I know the answer for Germany now :-).


    Best response... Have a lingot!! Danke!


    Thanks for sharing this. I thought that Sie was the way to speak to most people.


    Well... Technically it is since you don't know most people at all ;) If you would ask a stranger on the streets for directions or the time, you WOULD use "Sie".

    Anyway, it really depends on your environment. As I said, it's about my environment and my experiences... And even with this limited perspective, it's a complicated matter. Even native speakers often feel a bit uncomfortable when they are in a new environment and have to figure out what level of familiarity is acceptable.

    One of the worst things is being in a new relationship and meeting your partner's parents for the first time! It's hard in any languages but this distinction between "du" and "Sie" makes it even more complicated in my opinion. I never knew which one would be less awkward and usually ended up avoiding using personal pronouns for them unless I was sure that "du" is acceptable. So much for "less awkward". Luckily, no one noticed it so far x:


    About meeting the parents: If everyone is an adult, I would expect that the parents offer "Du", at least implicitely, e.g. by telling you their first name themselves:

    Let's say you're called Markus and the parent is called Erika. If the parents say:

    "Hallo Markus" = you can use Du

    "Hallo, ich bin Erika" = you can use Du

    If your partner introduces everyone and tells everyone the first names of the others and the parent just says "Hallo" when shaking hands then it is still tricky (I think this is a mandatory hand-shaking situation in Germany btw).

    Maybe a clever way here would be then to use "Sie" right away ("Freut mich, Sie kennenzulernen") and hope that "Du" will then be offered by the parents. If you don't clear up the "Du"/"Sie" situation right away then it gets really awkward as you said.

    There is a clear hierarchy in this situation so the decision is up to the parents.


    Yes if they'd introduce themselves with their first names, it would be easier. But so far, I've rarely been formally introduced. It tended to be quite casual and like "Hello! Mum, this is X. X, this is my mother." "Nice to meet you, X" "It's a pleasure"... Not really helpful when trying to figure out what would be acceptable.

    If I'm really unsure, I tend to use "Sie" in the beginning too but well... It's an awkward situation far too often..


    This in-law issue reminds me of my (American) parents, who managed to be married for 25 years without, in my recollection, ever calling their in-laws anything at all. They didn't use first names, or "mom and dad", or anything. They couldn't have gotten away with that in Germany; they would have had to pick a pronoun!


    That has been my experience learning German. I have a copy of Martin Luther's translation of the New Testament in German and I can't remember him using "Sie" when someone is speaking to God. I find "du" to be more personal; if you were unfamiliar with God you could use "Sie" but it makes no sense if you know someone well, unless you want to be ultra polite.


    You got the answer. Thanks for sharing the site, I have been wanting to read some verses in German. A lingot for you


    Yes, thank you for the link! I am an American German Lutheran and I one of my main reasons for learning German is to get in better touch with my faith tradition.


    This is actually an extremely interesting question universally. In Czech (a Slavic language), vy also definitely say "ty" and not "vy" when talking to God. I googled it a bit and apparently there are two main theories for that: 1) it might point to one's truly deep inner connection to God, 2) it might have been decided by some clerical authority a long time ago. I guess we'll probably never find out, but I vote for some version of 1).

    Thank you for the food for thought, I really never considered this before :)


    No, we say DU, when we speak to God. God is universal, and everyone is on an equal footing with Him. Polite society is man-made.


    Das ist ein bisschen witzig: 1 Timotheus/4/7 "Die ungöttlichen und altweibischen Fabeln aber weise ab, übe dich aber zur Gottseligkeit;"


    Well, it's not exactly an answer to your question (since it's been pretty much clarified by a bunch of nice people already), but I found this Memrise course about religous/biblical vocabulary and I think it might be interesting for you! :) http://www.memrise.com/course/300024/christian-vocabulary-german/


    In my home area the remnants of “thee” and “thou” still exist, though often shortened to “thi” and “tha”. It was always a familiar term used between friends.

    When the early English Bible was translated “thou” was used to indicate the close personal relationship we could have with God.

    Later the Churches turned it into a sanctimonious term to be used only to God. This made him more distant and made it seem more difficult to approach him.

    Some modern translations have reverted to using the familiar terms. The New World Translation is available for free online or download (or print copy free on request) from jw.org in whole or in part in 160 languages. Other material (video/audio/publications) is in 1024 languages. I use this translation in learning Czech (side by side with English translation in an app called Equipd Bible) and find it very helpful with reading and listening.


    When I was a child more than half a century ago the King James' Version of the Bible (known then here in the UK as "the Authorised Version") was used in school and church. Modern English versions were coming to be used more and more but some people strongly preferred the old familiar versions.

    As a child I formed the idea that it was imperative to use "thou" in prayers because, I believed, "thou" was an especially respectful way to address God. I was very surprised indeed when in my early teens I found out during a school lesson that, historically, "thou" was how people had spoken to their equals and inferiors, not their superiors.

    The concept of a warm relationship with God makes sense. It must have been the sixteenth and seventeenth century translators who choose to use the warm, familiar "thou". I don't think that distinction existed in the ancient languages that they were translating out of. I think in those languages "you" was straightforwardly just a matter of the number of people being addressed, whether one or more than one. Or am I wrong about that?

    I see Chris says the Churches turned "thou" into a sanctimonious term to be used only to God, making Him less approachable. It could be seen like that.

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