Back

The KJV's Archaic Language
Pros and Cons

Even if you're new to the KJV-only debate, the topic of "Archaic Language" of the KJV has probably come up. This page is more of an information page than an argument page, as there is a large misunderstanding as to why some of the words in the KJV are "archaic". In fact, there are instances where the use of archaic words are more accurate than what our modern English allows.

One argument against the KJV is this archaic language. However, it really isn't hard to look up an old word in a good dictionary. So, the argument against the KJV because it is a little harder to understand is a bit weak. However, that raises the more important argument - why should we need an old dictionary to understand the Bible? In fact, that's one of the reasons the KJV translators themselves produced the KJV - they saw the need for scripture in their common use of language, not a centuries old dialect. (See here for some KJV-translator quotes on the subject.)

Edwin H. Palmer, spokesman for the NIV, said: "Do not give them a loaf of bread, covered with an inedible, impenetrable crust, fossilized by three and a half centuries. Give them the word of God as fresh and warm and clear as the Holy Spirit gave it to the authors of the Bible ... For any preacher or theologian who loves God's Word to allow that Word to go on being misunderstood because of the veneration of an archaic, not-understood version of four centuries ago is inexcusable, and almost unconscionable."

There are several "types" of archaic language in the KJV:

1. Use of "thee" and "thou" pronouns (and "ye", "thine", etc.)
2. Use of "-est" and "-eth" endings on verbs
3. Use of archaic words that have lost meaning (not finished)
4. Use of archaic words that have changed meaning (not finished)
5. Use of archaic idioms and Phrases (not finished)

Use of Pronouns: "thee" and "thou", "ye", "thy" and "thine", etc.

The Preface of the NIV states:

As for the traditional pronouns "thou," "thee" and "thine" in reference to the Deity, the translators judged that to use these archaisms (along with the old verb forms such as "doest," "wouldest" and "hadst") would violate accuracy in translation. Neither Hebrew, Aramaic nor Greek uses special pronouns for the persons of the Godhead. A present-day translation is not enhanced by forms that in the time of the King James Version were used in everyday speech, whether referring to God or man.

The use of the "thee" and "thou" and related pronouns is actually a grammatical issue, not an archaic issue. The NIV translators were correct in avoiding "thou", "thine", etc. in reference to and adding reverence to Deity. They point out that to make the pronouns that refer to Deity any more "majestic" than any other pronoungs, such as the NASB has done, would be making a distinction that is not present in the original languages. For this reason, the are correct in avoiding these archaic pronouns. However, in avoiding these pronouns for that reason, they have introduced a different kind of inaccuracy for there is nothing "majestic" about these pronouns in the first place. In fact, the use of these pronouns provide a more accurate translation than the modern "you" does. Is everyone ready for some grammar lessons?

The difference between "thou" and "ye" is simple:

"thou" is 2nd person singular (ie. used when addressing another person individually), while "ye" is 2nd person plural (ie. used when addressing a group of people). The use can be explained by the following charts:

KJV English Contemporary English
Person Case Singular Plural
1st I we
2nd thou, thee ye, you
3rd he, she, it they
Person Case Singular Plural
1st I we
2nd you you
3rd he, she, it they

Then what's the difference between "thou" and "thee", and between "ye" and "you"?

Again, purely grammar. "thou" is used as the subject, "thee" is not. Same thing with "ye" and "you". It is identical to the difference between "I" and "me", "they" and "them", "she" and "her", etc. Just as you wouldn't say "Me gave it to they" but instead "I gave it to them", you wouldn't say "Thee gavest it to ye" but instead "Thou gavest it to you". For example:

Genesis 17:11 (KJV) "And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you."

Revelation 3:16 (KJV) "So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth."

A really good example of where the singular and plural meaning of "you" is lost in modern translations is in Christ's dialog with Nicodemus in John chapter 3:

John 3:12 (KJV) "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?"

John 3:12 (NIV) "I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?"

When reading this verse in the NIV, one would most likely miss that this verse was not directed at Nicodemus only, but at the Pharisees as a group (or even all unbelievers), even though Nicodemus was the only one present. A singular "you" (thou) is used throughout the conversation, but where it changes to a plural cannot be easily determined in modern versions.

However the NIV occasionally (certainly not always) includes a footnote explaining when a "you" is singular or plural, as in the following verse where the underlined "You" is noted as plural:

John 3:7 (NIV) "You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.'"

Thus, as you (thou) can see, modern "you" can be both singular and plural while the old English makes a distinction. This distinction is also in the Hebrew and Greek from which our English translations are translated from, so in fact the use of "thou", "thee", "ye" and "you" instead of the modern generic "you" is more accurate. Likewise for "thy" (and "thine") instead of the modern "your".

However, it is still usually possible to tell whether a "you" or a "your" in a modern English translation should be taken as singular or plural simply by context. This is not always the case though, as indicated with the Nicodemus example given above.

OK then, what about "thy" and "thine"?

Both "thy" and "thine" are the singular equivalent of the modern "your", indicating possession. The difference between "thy" and "thine" is two-fold. First, the difference will occur when the object of possession immediately following the word begins with a vowel or not (or sometimes an 'h' as in "hour" or "heart"), exactly like the difference between "a" and "an". For example:

Thine apple is red.
Thy banana is yellow.

For example:

Genesis 22:2a (KJV) "And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac,..."

The second difference is similar to the difference between "my" and "mine". For example:

KJV English Contemporary English
Person Case As Subject Not as Subject
1st sing. My banana is here. The banana here is mine.
2nd sing. Thy* banana is here. The banana here is thine.
Person Case As Subject Not as Subject
1st sing. My banana is here. The banana here is mine.
2nd sing. Your banana is here. The banana here is yours.
(*Note: of course, in the example given, if the 2nd person singular sentence the fruit being discussed was an apple, "thine" would be used instead of "thy" because of the first difference mentioned above.)

For example:

Mark 25:25 (KJV) "And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine."

There are places in the KJV where these grammar rules are broken. Of course these are not serious problems with the text of the KJV, but they do indicate that the KJV-translators were prone to human error as opposed to being under divine inspiration for every word of the text:

Inconsistent "thy/thine" with a vowel/consonant:

Leviticus 27:27 (KJV) "And if [it be] of an unclean beast, then he shall redeem [it] according to thine estimation, and shall add a fifth [part] of it thereto: or if it be not redeemed, then it shall be sold according to thy estimation."

Inconsistent "thy/thine" with a following "h" word:
In the KJV, there are 39 occurrences of "thy hand" and 145 occurrences of "thine hand". For example, Numbers 21:34 compared with Numbers 27:18. Similarly, there are 19 instances of "thy heart" and 103 instances of "thine heart".

Thus, the KJV's use of "thou" and "ye" and similar number-sensitive pronouns instead of the more generic modern "you", is a PRO for the KJV.


Use of "-est" and "-eth" endings on verbs

Many people, KJV-only supporters included, do not understand the use of "-est" and "-eth" verbs in the KJV. In fact, some KJV-only supporters and KJV-only websites have the facts completely wrong. For example, the last section of the page http://balaams-ass.com/journal/warnings/theethou.htm quotes Appendix D, pp. 131-132 of The Difficult Words of the Holy Bible Made Understandable, by James W. Knox, which erroneously explains these endings of signifying continual action (as opposed to a one-time action). I'll discuss that a bit more in a moment, but first let's look at why these endings are really there.

Like the "thee/thou/ye/you" discussion, this too is purely an circa 16th century English grammatical issue. However, unlike that discussion, the "-est" and "-eth" endings do not provide any more accuracy to the text, so dropping these endings in contemporary English does not in any way remove or blur meaning of the scriptures.

Like the "thee/thou/ye/you" issue, "-est" and "-eth" suffixes have to do with number and case of persons:

Person Case Singular Plural
1st n/a n/a
2nd "-est" n/a
3rd "-eth" n/a

NOTE: Not all 2nd person singular verbs end with "-est", but all verbs that end with "-est" are 2nd person singular. Likewise, not all 3rd person singular verbs end with "-eth", but all verbs that end with "-eth" are 3rd person singular.

For example, let's look at the verb "love" in the KJV. The verb will always fit the table above as follows:

Person Case Singular Plural
1st I love we love
2nd thou lovest ye love
3rd he loveth they love

It is similar to the person-case rules for the modern verb "is":

Person Case Singular Plural
1st I am we are
2nd you are you are
3rd he is they are

Thus, as it would be improper grammar to say "I is" or "he are", it is improper grammer to say "I loveth" or "they lovest" - the case and number of the verb must match the noun or pronoun. That's all there is to it! Not so hard, is it? Don't believe me? Look up any "-est" verb (lovest, gavest, knowest, doest, etc.) in a Strong's concordance and you'll see it's always with a 2nd person singular subject. Likewise, looking up any "-eth" verb (loveth, gaveth, knoweth, doeth, etc.) in a Strong's concordance shows it's always with a 3rd person singular subject.

Similarly, shorter words sometimes drop the 'e' from the suffix, reducing it to "-st" and "-th", but the rules are still the same. Examples of these words are have/hast/hath and does/dost/doth.

Now, back to the explanation as given on the website mentioned above. They explain the "-est" and "-eth" suffixes on verbs as signifying continual action (Greek "perfect tense") as opposed to a one-time action (Greek "aorist tense"). Their error raises an important question: these tenses and duration indication on verbs are present in the Greek scriptures from which our English translations have been produced. However, these tenses are absent in English, so the meanings (aorist vs. perfect) are lost during translation, and must be guessed at by a reader. This indicates that no English version, including the KJV, can be totally "perfect", and that study of the underlying languages can provide meaning that is lost in English. From Greek and Hebrew to English - how accurate is accurate? page)>.

Thus, the KJV's use of "-est" and "-eth" endings on verbs, because they neither add meaning to nor take meaning from the text, are neither a PRO nor a CON. However, they could be considered a PRO if a "reverent" or "majestic" sounding text is what appeals to you. They could be considered a CON if you'd rather have the text in everyday language, just as its meant to be.


Use of Archaic Words that have Lost Meaning


Use of Archaic Words that have Changed Meaning


Use of Archaic Idioms and Phrases


Back