The Bible was translated into English over a period of 500 years, the process began in part c. 1000 a.d. and culminated with the Authorized Version of 1611. Along with Hebrew, English is the only other major language that developed at the same time as its Bible. The difference is that the Hebrew language of Israel had no other written literature prior to the Pentateuch; the early Anglo-Saxon had few sources but with Gutenberg’s moveable type printing (1349 a.d.) modern English had many printed sources from Europe.
Although not a major intent by the variety of English translators, many helps to Bible study found their way into the English Bible. In addition, the King James Bible of 1611 contains several critical linguistic helps, otherwise unknown to those without knowledge of Hebrew and Greek. This study covers one of those helps: the number of the second person pronoun.
Why does the King James Bible (KJB) have “thee” “thou” “thy” etc., and also have “you” “your”, etc.,? Primarily, because the 54 translators (1604-1611) were concerned with translating the pure words of God. Misunderstanding of this feature abounds, chiefly because those who study grammar and literature in the secular field, fail to see that the KJB was not written in strict English of the 15th century. The English in the KJB is a form of English not spoken by anyone in any century; it is Biblical English. Read the sermons and other writings by even the KJB translators, and you will find their usage of English is markedly different from their translation of the Hebrew and Greek into English.
“In late Middle English and early Modern English, the singular pronouns thou, thee, and thine (like the French tu forms) served as markers of intimacy and informality. (Thou was the subject form, thee the object form, and thy/thine the possessive.) In contrast, the plural you (like French vous) signified politeness and respect–or downright submissiveness: “Social inferiors used you to their superiors, who reciprocated by using thou” (The Oxford History of English, 2006).
This was true regarding common English usage, but the Bible is not common English. Others have imagined that “thou” “thee” “thy” “thine” were used only when speaking to Deity. This was misunderstood due to the fact that the “t” pronoun signifies a singular pronoun and rightly used when addressing God, who is one LORD. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
When the KJB reader sees a pronoun beginning with “t”, it is singular; a “y” is plural. Hebrew and Greek have distinct singular and plural identification of the second person pronouns, so does the KJB. Translation of the word of God demands the utmost ability and care to be sure the target language carries the same meaning as the former. This may not seem to be important at first glance, but Bible doctrine hangs on the proper understanding of the difference between whether one person is spoken to or a plural number is addressed.
One example is in Luke 22:31-32:
31 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as
32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy
brethren. (King James Bible, AV 1611)
(NOTE: Some may object that the KJB also inserted words that were not in the Hebrew or Greek texts. Although not the purpose of our study here, the KJB actually has six reasons for italicized words. All languages have peculiarities that make a word for word translation impossible. These are understood in the base language, but in translation to a target language there must be added words that make the original intent and meaning clear. The KJB put all such words into italics, thereby showing the honesty of the translators to the reader and providing another amazing Bible study principle. Compare Deuteronomy and Matthew: Deuteronomy 8:3 with Matthew 4:4. The Hebrew has no “word” in the language, it is understood by the Hebrew reader. Greek does have “word” and it is essential to the Greek and English. When Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 in Greek, He removed the italics and thereby proved the inspiration and authority of the future KJB OT quote!)
KING JAMES BIBLE: 31 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you (PLURAL–all of the apostles), that he may sift you (PLURAL) as wheat:
32 But I have prayed for thee (SINGULAR-Peter), that thy (SINGULAR-Peter) faith fail not: and when thou (SINGULAR-Peter) art converted, strengthen thy(SINGULAR-Peter) brethren. (KJB)
NIV: 31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
NIV ANALYSIS: 31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked (“HAS ASKED” AND “HATH DESIRED” ARE DIFFERENT) to sift (THE FORCE OF “HAVE YOU” REMOVED. SATAN DESIRED THE PERSONS, THE “SIFTING”WOULD OCCUR AFTER HE HAS THE PERSONS) all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon,(CONFUSING THE NUMBER OF PRONOUN, THE NIV HAD TO INSERT “SIMON” WHICH IS NOT IN ANY GREEK TEXT) that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back (“TURN BACK” IS NOT THE SAME AS “CONVERTED”), strengthen your brothers.”
AMPLIFIED BIBLE: 31 Simon, Simon (Peter), listen! Satan has asked excessively that [all of] you be given up to him [out of the power and keeping of God], that he might sift [all of] you like grain, 32 But I have prayed especially for you [Peter], that your [own] faith may not fail; and when you yourself have turned again, strengthen and establish your brethren.
AMPLIFIED BIBLE ANALYSIS: 31 Simon, Simon (Peter), listen! (“LISTEN” IS NOT IN ANY GREEK TEXT) Satan has asked excessively (“EXCESSIVELY” IS ADDED TO GIVE THE SIMPLE “ASKED” INTENSIVE FORCE) that [all of] you be given up to him [out of the power and keeping of God], that he might sift [all of] you like grain, (AMP. BIBLE MISSES THE POINT OF “HAVE YOU” JUST AS THE NIV DOES. THE GENERAL “GRAIN” IS NOT THE SAME AS THE SPECIFIC “WHEAT”. ALSO, THE TERM “WHEAT” IN OTHER PASSAGES IS ESSENTIAL TO PROPER INTERPRETATION.)
32 But I have prayed especially (“ESPECIALLY” IS NOT IN ANY GREEK TEXT) for you [Peter], that your [own] faith may not fail; and when you yourself have turned again, (“TURNED AGAIN” IS NOT THE SAME AS “CONVERTED”) strengthen and establish (“ESTABLISH ” ADDED) your brethren.
Other errors and the same in ALL the so-called translations could be mentioned, but the point is
- Accepted the doubting attitude of what God said: “Yea, hath God said…”(Genesis 3:1)
- Added words to what God said: “…neither shall ye touch it…”(Genesis 3:3)
- Subtracting words from what God said: “…surely…”(Genesis 3:3)
- Changing what God said: “…surely…” changed to “…lest…”(Genesis 3:3)
- Accepted the “new” translation: “Ye shall not surely die…”(Genesis 3:4)
“Updated” and “new”, as well as “easy to understand” English translations since the late 1700’s have done nothing but remove the pure words of God from the readers, and substituted careless, confusing and deceptive terms that hide those words, words the Lord Jesus Christ deemed so important, He said:
“But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)
“5 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
6 Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” (Proverbs 30:5-6)
“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. (Deuteronomy 4:2)
“And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:19)
Is the KJB hard to understand? Someone said: “What bothers me about the Bible is not what I don’t understand, what bothers me is all that I do understand.” The KJB is rated today at 5th grade reading level–it was 3rd grade thirty years ago. I know two former Bible college students, who in their adult years learned to read by the King James Bible.– Dr. Dave Reese