Ye or Thee
by John D. Morris, Ph.D.
“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:6)
In perhaps His primary teaching on giving, prayer, and fasting, Christ used an interesting blend of singular (thee, thou) and plural (you, ye) pronouns. Since even pronouns as recorded in Scripture are inspired and profitable, there must be a lesson to be learned from them.
Although Christ begins the passage using the plural pronoun—“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them” (v. 1), evidently addressing the large group assembled—He switches and speaks in the singular. In the verses dealing with giving (vv. 2-4), with praying (vv. 5-6), and with fasting (vv. 17-18), He uses the singular pronoun and singular verbs over 30 times, but each teaching is balanced by a comparison, in the plural, to those who practice these deeds wrongly (vv. 1, 5, 16).
Evidently, our Lord is stressing the need to do these things privately, as opposed to publicly. Public giving and public fasting are often done to gain the praise of men and to appear overly spiritual. “They have their reward” (v. 5). Public prayer is certainly not improper, and indeed Christ uses the occasion to teach on public prayer by giving what has come to be called The Lord’s Prayer (vv. 9-13), again in contrast to improper public prayer (v. 7). But public prayer can never totally substitute for private prayer, for there is a continuing need for the intimately personal “closet” time with our God. “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret” (v. 6).
In each case, “thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (vv. 4, 6, 18). JDM