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 6:25-30). 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 (John 1:23, Isaiah 40:3). 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 (James 4:14). We’re just drops in a bucket. We truly are nothing before him. No, we’re even less than nothing (Isaiah 40:15-17, 23-25). All our struggles for importance and worldly gains are simply vanity and meaningless (Ecclesiastes 1). In ourselves, we have nothing to boast about. Let us instead boast in our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). 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 (Galatians 2:20).

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.