• Thee, Thou, and Thine – Jacobean English

    by  • November 25, 2013 • Greek, Hebrew, Uncategorized • 0 Comments

    Why do we use the words thee, thou, and thine in religious worship and biblical studies? Common responses to this question range from their usage conveying respect, to the practice being an archaic remnant of speech used back in the day of the King James / Authorized Version’s translation. Unfortunately, these ideas are both wrong, and the fact people do not know the meaning of thee, thou, and thine is a damning indictment on our understanding of the English language and the Bible – both the King James Version and the more modern editions which are purportedly easier to understand. “There is a growing scriptural illiteracy… [we] have forgotten things [our] grandparents knew.” (D. Todd Christofferson, “The Blessing of Scripture.” General Conference, April 2010)

    The idea of thee, thou, and thine being used as a formalized language of respect has found support from Elder Dallin Oaks who calls it the “The Language of Prayer.” (General Conference, April 1993) Unlike languages such as Spanish which contain a formal and informal second person pronoun, English does not contain a formal pronoun. Elder Oaks however compares the words to the formal address he used during his time in the legal profession.

    2nd Person Pronouns Number Nominative Objective Possessive
    Colloquial English Singular / Plural You You Your / Yours
    Spanish Formal Singular Usted Le / La Su, suyo/a
      Plural Ustedes Los / Les / Las Sus, suyos/as
    Spanish Informal Singular Tú / vos Te Tu, tuyo/a, Vuestro/a
    Plural Vosotros/as Os Tus. tuyos/as, Vuestros/as

    While a formal manner of address may be helpful for some in approaching deity, as indeed Elder Oaks reports it is for him based on his experiences as a lawyer interacting with a judge, this is not supported theologically or philologically.

    Our relationship with God is not one of lawyer to judge, that would be the relationship of Christ, our Advocate (D&C 110:4), with the Father. Our relationship with God is that of a child to his or her parent (Acts 17:29; 1 John 3:2), a parent who weeps for us (Moses 7:28), and who is waiting to take us by the hand (Heb 8:9, D&C 112:10, Abr 1:18). Surely such a relationship is not formal, but rather familiar, intimate. President Ezra Taft Benson said it this way, “Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar his face is to us. (Jesus Christ – Gifts and Expectations. BYU Devotional Dec 10, 1974)

    Greek and Hebrew, from which our bible is translated, do not have a formal and informal pronoun, therefore there is no biblical justification for, or mandate of formality. Further dispelling this notion of a formal form of address is an understanding of how other languages, which do have formal and informal pronouns, approach deity. The Reina Valera bible, the official bible translation used by the church in Spanish (Handbook 2: Administering the Church 21.1.7), employs the informal second person form of address. Consider the following two passages:

    Luke 5:22-24 – Reina Valera Version
    22  Jesús entonces, conociendo los pensamientos de ellos, respondió y les dijo: ¿Qué pensáis en vuestros corazones?
    23  ¿Qué es más fácil, decir: Tus pecados te son perdonados, o decir: Levántate y anda?
    24  Pues para que sepáis que el Hijo del Hombre tiene autoridad en la tierra para perdonar pecados (dijo al paralítico): A ti te digo: ¡Levántate!, toma tu lecho y vete a tu casa.

    Luke 5:22-24 – King James Version
    22 But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts?
    23 Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?
    24 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.

    Matthew 6:9-10 – Reina Valera Version
    9  Vosotros, pues, oraréis así: Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos, santificado sea tu nombre.
    10  Venga tu reino. Hágase tu voluntad, como en el cielo, así también en la tierra.

    Matthew 6:9-10 – King James Version
    9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
    10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

    It has also been said thee, thou, and thine are archaic expressions, left over from spoken English in the day of the King James Bible. This is not true either, for the King James Bible is largely derived from the Tyndale Bible, printed eighty-five years earlier. Jacobean English was hardly the spoken vernacular of the day, it was old fashioned before the Authorized Version even hit the presses.

    Why then did the translators of the King James Bible use thee, thou, and thine? The answer boils down to this, it is the only way to accurately express the word of God in English. Unlike the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts from which we derive our English bible, English is purported to have no differentiation between a second person singular or plural pronoun. I say purported because if one were to learn, say Spanish today, one would be referred to the table of second person pronouns above, and told the English singular and plural pronouns are the same, you, you, and your (s). This is not only untrue, it obscures the meaning of the word of God.

    The second person singular pronouns are in fact those troublesome three words we have been talking about, thee, thou, and thine. Check out the pronoun chart below:

    Person Number Nominative Objective Possessive
    1st Singular I Me My / Mine
    Plural We Us Our / Ours
    2nd Singular Thou Thee Thy / Thine
    Plural Ye You Your / Yours
    3rd Singular He / She / It Him / Her / It His / Hers / Its
    Plural They Them Their / Theirs

    Knowing  the meaning of thee, thou, thy, thine, and ye is one key to unlocking the meaning of the word of God, unlocking the bible. This meaning is lost in all modern translations which do not use the words thee, thou, thy, thine, and ye.

    The before quoted passage in Luke 5:22-24 is made clear when we understand the “ye” and “your” in verse twenty-two are the second person plural pronouns, referring to the Pharisees. Verse twenty three on the other hand refers to the sins of the man sick with palsy, “thy” and “thee” are second person singular pronouns. The Pharisees are not being offered forgiveness here. In verse twenty four Christ goes on to say to the Pharisees, a second person plural “ye”, that they could know Christ had power to heal the sick and forgive sins by saying to the man sick with palsy, a second person singular “thee”, “thy”, and “thine”, to arise, take up his bed, and walk. Compare the four versions below. Which is easiest to understand?

    King James Version (KJV), Luke 5:22-24
    22 But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts?
    23 Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?
    24 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.

    Tyndale Bible, Luke 5:22-24
    22 When Iesus perceaved their thoughtes he answered and sayde vnto them: What thinke ye in youre hertes?
    23 Whether is easyar to saye thy synnes are forgeve the or to saye: rise and walke?
    24 But that ye maye knowe that the sonne of ma hath power to forgeve synnes on erth he sayde vnto ye sicke of the palsie: I saye to the aryse take vp thy beed and go home to thy housse.

    New International Version (NIV), Luke 5:22-24
    22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?
    23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?
    24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . .” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

    English Standard Version (ESV), Luke 5:22-24
    22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts?
    23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?
    24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he said to the man who was paralyzed–“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

    The Tyndale bible is obviously more archaeic, but the usage of pronouns is very clear. The King James Bible, in Jacobean English, sounds much more dated than the ESV and NIV, but is much closer to our modern vernacular than the Tyndale bible, and the usage of pronouns is very clear. The New International Version and English Standard Version, on the other hand, both have very modern sounding English, but the pronouns are ambiguous. The meaning is obscured. Which version is more accurate? In this particular matter, there is no contest. A bible must faithfully convey the meaning of the original translation in order to be accurate, including second person pronouns. We believe the “Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” (A of F 8)

    Consider the following passages and how an incorrect reading of the second person pronouns can change the entire meaning of the passage:

    Luke 22:31-32 – King James Version
    31 ¶ And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
    32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

    Who does the “you” in verse thirty-one refer to? Not Simon, as it is a second person plural pronoun.  The “you” refers to the apostles who have been striving amongst themselves for supremacy. They, “sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened.” (D&C 64:8) What is the Lord’s solution to this collective problem? He turns individually to his chief apostle, Peter, and charges him with second person singular pronouns to be converted, serve, and strengthen his brethren, the apostles. “Satan hath desired to have you [all the apostles]… but I have prayed for thee [Peter]”

    Exodus 4:14-16 – King James Version
    14 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart.
    15 And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do.
    16 And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.

    In verse 15, “thou” and “thy” are second person singular pronouns referring to Moses. “You” and “ye” in verse 15 however are second person plural pronouns referring collectivelly to the people of Israel. It makes much more sense for Aaron, the spokesman, to teach the children of Israel, than for Aaron to teach the prophet of the Most High God. In fact, in Numbers 12:1 Aaron tries to teach the prophet, tell him he screwed up. The episode plays out with Miriam contracting a case of leprosy and Aaron asking forgiveness, saying both he and Miriam had been quite foolish. (Num 12:11)

    Why do we use thee, thou, and thine? Because the distinction is made in the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts between the 2nd person singular and plural pronouns, and using thee, thou, and thine is the only accurate way of conveying the word of God in the English language. The alternative, the modern vernacular, with the all purpose you, your, and yours is ambiguous at best, and misleading at worst.

    The Lord retains this manner of address in modern revealed revelation as noted in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 20:76-77, 79; 109:10-12, and 121:1-6) and the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 13:9-10, 19:20-21). Why? Because the Lord wants us to understand Him. His word is clear. Thee, thou, and thine is the language of accuracy, Jacobean English. These passages listed in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine Covenants are prayers to God the Father, a singular individual. Our own personal language of prayer depends on what kind of relationship thou / you desire to have with God; a fearful judge, or an intimate loving father. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “It is a great thing to inquire at the hands of God, or to come into His presence.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 22.)


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