The I’s Have It / Case Matters / “I” Must Decrease

In my personal reading of the Bible, as I began exploring other translations, I started to notice the differences between them with regards to the capitalization of pronouns when referring to God (He, Him, His, etc). The first version I had when I started delving deeper in my studies was the New American Standard (NASB). I believe there are only two translations that utilize capitalization when referring to God, with the NASB being one of them. I read an interesting post by author Randy Alcorn about the matter that although it doesn’t necessarily follow the rules of English, it’s more about your convictions whether you do it or not. I personally capitalize pronouns related to God in my writing and my personal notes because it’s easier for me to tell who I’m referring to. There were several verses with multiple he’s that referred both to the generic man and God in the same verse or context. The capitalized form made it easier to distinguish between the two. It also grew on me the more I read it that way and I personally felt it honors Him more by doing so.

Thinking of this subject caused me to ponder a somewhat related topic. I began to mull over other capitalized pronouns. As I looked up the general capitalization rules for pronouns, it seemed that other than references to God, the only other cases this happens is for the formal second-person and for the first-person prounoun, “I”. With regards to the first-person capitalization rule, I found it quite interesting that English is the only language where this rule applies. Learning this fact caused me to question its origin. self-importance?

According to this blog entry from dictionary.com, “I” essentially morphed from the German word, “ich”. This word gradually lost letters as it evolved into “ic”, which in turn ended up being simply “i”. Amusingly, due to the fact that “i” by itself looked relatively small and insignificant, and thanks to publications around the time like The Canterbury Tales, “i” gradually grew taller and morphed into the capital “I” we’re all familiar with today.

I suppose you can make the case that a lower case “i” by itself is somewhat lonesome. It takes up very little horizontal space and I suppose the vertical space is lacking as well. Depending on how you write it or what font you choose, I suppose an upper case “I” has a little more visibility than a lower case one. However, within many modern typefaces, it seems to me that the capital “i” has gradually crept away from its earlier efforts of being larger. How many typefaces have it where the capital “i” looks like a lowercase “l”? This is probably the case for a majority of them (though I can’t say for sure if this is true).

The digital age seems to have influenced this “movement” (if you want to call it that) significantly. Often times in chat, mail, and forums, people seem to not bother dealing with case and capitalization when conversing with close friends. Out of laziness, case, punctuation, and even words have slowly crept away from texting and online interactions. Several acronyms have taken the place of common phrases with them even being used as makeshift words in the modern vernacular. Even modern marketing has brought the lowercase “i” back into the spotlight with regards to Apple and products such as their iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

handwriting
old, messy writing sample, circa 1999 (note the i’s)

Due to influences from this digital age, I also started making that shift in much of my personal handwriting sometime during my high school years. I often wrote in all uppercase during middle school and early high school (with upper and lower case being differentiated simply by the size of the character). This eventually changed as my writing evolved. Soon, I would often compose journal entries, notes, and letters in lowercase for the most part. Punctuation would still be present, but uppercase was absent apart from proper nouns and emphasized words. I personally enjoyed writing in this fashion as I started utilizing heavier and more prominent dots on my i’s and j’s. In my opinion, this gave my lowercase i’s more life on the page. Writing that way was probably one of my more favored handwriting styles back in those years (as that was changing quite frequently). Admittedly, this made it a bit difficult to write handwritten essays as I grew accustomed to writing this way. I actually had to force myself to follow case rules properly when such occasions arose that required it.


I think that capitalizing “i” portrays an interesting parallel when compared with our inner desires as humans. I believe that people in general want to be acknowledged, whether it be in career, fame, fortune, or wherever. Most people (if not all) want to be noticed and cry out for attention. They seek to achieve greatness and recognition in this world in some shape or form. They seek to leave their mark or find a sense of self-importance. Similarly, I see capitalizing “i” as a representation of this desire. The most insignificant letter that represents the self was given a boost by the writers of the time. Just as “i” (the letter) grew larger and more noticeable and significant, so too did “I”. I (self) grew larger and more noticeable and significant. I think the lowercase “i” in modern writing is more out of laziness. I see the uppercase “I” as a more appropriate and true representation of man and our view of self.

It makes me think of none other than John the Baptist and his desire for his ministry (). John’s disciples started to notice that he was losing some of his “followers” to the ministry of Jesus Christ, which had just started. His disciples grew concerned as it appears they feared for his reputation and wanted to keep him in the spotlight. However John had the right view on his purpose and on his true significance in the work he was doing. The Rock would be proud as John truly did know his role (though I wouldn’t say he shut his mouth). He saw himself as just a voice crying out in the wilderness (, ). As a forerunner and messenger for the one that Israel was truly looking for. He was happy to have the attention directed away from him, so that they may look upon their true savior. “Therefore, this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Let us strive to maintain a proper appraisal of ourselves and of our standing before our Lord. Our lives are but a vapor (). We’re just drops in a bucket. We truly are nothing before him. No, we’re even less than nothing (). All our struggles for importance and worldly gains are simply vanity and meaningless (). In ourselves, we have nothing to boast about. Let us instead boast in our Lord (). Let us remember that we were crucified with Christ. It is no longer “I” who live. Let us make it Christ who lives in us ().

Let us figuratively drop to the lowercase “i” with regards to self. Let us instead bring to uppercase “He” who is worthy of all glory, honor, and praise. Our Savior, Christ. The Alpha, and the Omega. No, you don’t have to change the way you write. Instead, I encourage you to change the way you live. Who’s sitting on the throne? Who are you living for? Again, just like John the Baptist, let us find our joy in keeping this mentality:

“He” must increase. “I” must decrease.

John 3:30 (I Must Decrease) from Matt Papa on Myspace.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? (ESV)

23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (ESV)

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (ESV)

14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (ESV)

15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

Isaiah 40:23-25

23 who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One. (ESV)

1:1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.

12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

15 What is crooked cannot be made straight,
and what is lacking cannot be counted.

16 I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.

18 For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. (ESV)

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (ESV)

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (ESV)