Introduction – Thou Versus You
The influx and proliferation of so many versions of the bible in the English language has probably occurred because many people find the old English in the King James Version difficult to understand, cumbersome, and maybe even intimidating. Thanks be to God, you are perfectly capable of understanding the King James Version of the Bible. It just happens to be easier to read a more modern version.
One problem among others is that without the more precise old English of the King James Version, It’s appallingly easy to miss out on information and any blessing that goes along with it.
Thou, Thee, You, and Ye
I have one strictly practical reason for relying on the King James Version which uses the Elizabethan English of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. There are elements that English has lost over the centuries. These elements translate the word usage of the original text more precisely. Without them, it’s easy for us to miss god’s intended meaning. A good example is in John chapter 1, in which Jesus makes an important shift from singular to plural.
“And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” (John 1:51)
Jesus is addressing Nathanael concerning a prophesy about all those who become saved. Notice the word “him” followed by the words “you” and “ye.” The first word is Singular. Jesus is emphasizing that he wants us to know that he is literally addressing one man. However, He changes to the plural words “you” and “ye.” Jesus is telling Nathanael that he and all his brothers and sisters in Christ will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. If we had read this in some other version that uses our modern English, the line between singular and plural would have been blurred, and we might think that Jesus meant to reference Nathanael alone. Modern Bible versions use “you” and “your” for all the second-person pronouns, making it impossible to tell when God makes this shift in the original languages.
Let’s examine another passage that makes an even clearer distinction.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, [thou] that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under [her] wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” (Matthew 23:37-38 AV)
Here, Jesus uses “thy” when addressing Jerusalem, obviously not made up of a single resident. The first “thou” in the above verse is in italics, indicating that the word was not actually present in that part of the passage in the original Greek manuscript. The surrounding grammar about killing the prophets and stoning those whom God sends to Jerusalem is singular second-person, indicating why the translators supplied “thou.” “Thou,” “thee,” and “thy” are the singular forms of “ye,” “you,” and “your” respectively. Jesus then shifts to “ye,” “your,” and “you” at the end of the passage.
The reason it’s important to make that distinction is that God is teaching a lesson by addressing a city housing many as if it were a single entity. Old English used “you,” “your,” etc., to address more than one person. The original languages of the Bible distinguish between the singular and plural second person pronouns, so it’s important that any translation honor that. The King James Bible makes that distinction, rendering a more faithful translation of the original texts.
So how do we know which is singular and which is plural in the King James Bible? Easy: If it begins with the letter Y, it’s plural. If it begins with the letter T, it’s singular. Here’s a short list.
- Thou = you. Thou shalt not kill.
- Thy or thine = your. This day thy soul shall be required.
- Thee = you. Let the people praise thee.
- Ye = you. Hereafter ye shall see heaven open.
- Your = your (plural). The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
- You = you (plural). Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed.
There may be more precise underlying Greek or Hebrew text even in passages where singular or plural seems obvious in a modern English Bible translation. It’s not always possible to surmise whether God is using Singular or plural second person pronouns by the context alone. Reading through the above passages about Nathanael and Jerusalem and substituting the modern “you” and “your” makes this apparent. A more modern translation, even if based solely on the same underlying manuscripts as the King James Version, would still fall short because of the imprecise translation of these simple little words.