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Being exposed to the Bible from my earliest years, I have a great love for it. Not only am I thrilled at the truths it contains, but I also am very fond of the language it was written in. I cut my teeth, as it were, on the King James Version, and find it, even now, to be a very poetic and lovely rendering of the Word of God in the English language.
Many argue that it is too difficult to read, since it employs an archaic form of English. The argument has been made that Shakespearean literature is very similar in style to the King James, and that it is still taught in public schools, attempting thereby to justify the reading of the KJV. Christopher Flannery, an Adjunct Fellow at the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University, says, "It has become fashionable in recent years for institutions of alleged higher learning to remove Shakespeare as a required subject for English majors." It appears that the whole "Shakespeare" argument will soon become a moot point.
Most everyday people simple complain, "I can't understand it. It has all of those 'Thees' and 'Thous.' " Often, my reply is simply, " 'Thee' means 'you,' and 'thou' means 'you.' Problem solved." But, actually, there is more to the 'thees' and 'thous' than that.
After seven years of study in French, I left high school with a rather good command of that language. I still remember a little French, and have since learned a good deal of Spanish, and am fluent in Russian. One of the things that any foreign language student learns is the conjugation of verbs. The verb form changes depending on whether the subject is 'you,' 'I,' 'he,' etc.
We are blessed that English is not so encumbered as other languages are. In English, the verb 'to be' is conjugated: I am, You are, He/She is, We are, You are, They are. Most other verbs just add an 's' for the third person singular form, as in the verb 'to go': I go, You go, He/She goes, We go, You go, They go.
But it was not always so. The King James preserves a mildly archaic (that is to say, not so old that it is impossible to read) form of our language that employs more verb conjugation. It is for this reason that the 'thous' are more important than it might seem at a glance. In fact, 'thou' is not merely an old form of you, it is the second person singular form, much like the French and Spanish 'tu.' 'Ye' is the second person plural form, like the French 'vous' or the Spanish 'usted.' The conjugation of the verb 'to be' as found in the text of the King James is: I am, Thou art, He/She is, We are, Ye are, They are.
Whereas 'Thou' and 'Ye' are the subject forms, 'thee' and 'you' are the object forms, as in "I gave it to you," or "I gave it to thee."
This becomes very important information when trying to determine exactly who is meant in the context of a particular passage. Take, for instance, Matt. 16:13-19. Jesus asked his disciples, " 'Whom do men say that I the Son of man ' And they said, 'Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.' He saith unto them, 'But whom say ye that I am?'And Simon Peter answered and said, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' And Jesus answered and said unto him, 'Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' "
If you follow this interchange, Jesus posed a question to the group as a whole, "Whom do ye say that I am?" Peter, singularly, answered the question, that Jesus was the Christ. When you understand the difference between thou and ye, Jesus' response to him, "Thou art Peter . . . and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven . . ." is quickly recognized as to him alone and not to the disciples collectively. Whatever you want to do with that information, the King James preserves, unquestionably, the statement in its intended form.
Much effort has been made to 'modernize' the Bible. I agree that some words could stand to be updated, but if you eliminate the language of the KJV altogether, you lose some of its clarity, simply because of the nature of modern English.
The Bible is often hard enough to understand - yea, impossible without the help of the Holy Ghost - but God brought His word to English during a period of time when the language was best suited to relaying its true intent. I have read His word in Spanish, French, and Russian, and love it in every language, but there is just something about the 'thees' and 'thous' that, for me, just brings the word of God home.
David M. McNabb
Editor & Bible Guy