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I'm still struggling to understand when to use du / Sie. I was trying to read the Luther Bible and I noticed in 2 Samuel 24:14

David sprach zu Gad: Es ist mir sehr angst; aber laß uns in die Hand des HERRN fallen, denn seine Barmherzigkeit ist groß; ich will nicht in der Menschen Hand fallen.

This sentence comes from when Gad reports to King David that due to his sin, he will have to pick a punishment from God. Either famine, invasion, or plague. King David then responds that he picks the last, since that one God directly punishes, and he is full of mercy.

When referring to God, King David uses seine rather than Ihr. I would think that especially in this situation when God is about to punish him, King David would want to be as polite as possible.

I found similar usages of du in other places, such as Psalm 41:4 where King David continues to ask for forgiveness.

Ich sprach: HERR, sei mir gnädig, heile meine Seele; denn ich habe an dir gesündigt.

So I assume the rule is that God is du. Is there logic as to why that is? (I know, languages don't have to be 100% logical, but it would be nice if it was in this case)

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    Note that the King James version uses "thou", too.
    – Carsten S
    Apr 18 at 10:40

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In the first part you seem to mistake who talks to whom in Samuel 2 24:14. This is a conversation between two humans (David and Gad. It is not a typo. Gad is a son of Jacob). Of course they refer to God as 'he' and use the proper possessive pronouns for 3rd person singular when referring to his (God's) deeds or possible actions.

Remains the main point, the pronoun when addressing God, thus a conversation between e.g. you and God. This is more complicated and difficult to find a definitive answer:

The honoury use of "ihr" started - very roughly -around 1200,the honoury use of "sie" only in the 17th century. So traditionally no honoury form was used in German. The "Sie" was not even invented when Martin Luther translated the Bible. https://lup.lub.lu.se/student-papers/record/4882870/file/4882871.pdf

He translated from Hebrew and Greek to German which might or might not use a honour form (I don't speak either). However, the prayer goes "Vater unser im Himmel..." that implies a family context in which honoury address was not common in Luther's time. So "Du" seems like a good choice. More so as his quest was to make the church, the bible, and the liturgy more accessible and relatable to the common people. And it stuck.

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  • Thanks, I didn't realise that the formal you was only from the 17th century. Would books like Grimm's Fairy Tales also avoid the formal Sie?
    – HanMah
    Apr 18 at 9:05
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    @HanMah: Correct, see this question.
    – guidot
    Apr 18 at 18:53

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