Thee, Thou, and Ye

Originally posted by Richard Bacon on the FIDO message system.
This is a continuation of his posts on why the NIV is a really bad translation.
Used with permission.

Packet: HOL
Date: 03-21-95 (13:09)             Number: 2735
From: RICHARD BACON                Refer#: NONE
  To: ALL                           Recvd: NO
Subj: NIV Examples 8                 Conf: (1442) fidonet.open_

OK, so this post has nothing to do with the NIV *per se.* It is however a response to those who maintain that one of the reasons that there is a great "need" for a modern translation *like* the NIV is the use of archaic terms such as "thou/thee/thy/thine" in the KJV.

First, let us establish that "thee and thou, etc." are *NOT* archaic or obsolete English. This is clear from the fact that everybody knows what they mean. Now if you want to try some archaic, or "olde Englishe" try Chaucer as originally written.

Second, let us establish that "thee and thou" were *NEVER* common street English, including that of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. Neither are they the equivalent of "du" in German. That is, they are not familiar as opposed to formal.

Rather, "thee and thou" are *poetic* forms used in religious language and love poetry! Every language including the Hebrew of the Psalms has special poetic forms (see Gesenius' _Hebrew Grammar_, sect. 2,q-r; etc.).

Why then should we stand idly by while the richness of our language (the language of the Bible in both Hebrew and Greek) is being tossed away by aging relics of the 60s? If they wish to write love poems and hymns using the modern term "you" to relate to one another, then by all means let them. But they may be pleased to keep their anti-literary hands off God's inspired word.

Here is a quick rundown for the non-grammarians reading this series of posts. A "pronoun" is a word that "stands in for" another noun or noun-phrase. A "personal pronoun" is one which stands for a person. The personal pronouns are classified as first person, second person and third person by their relationship to the one speaking. The speaker himself and any others he chooses to include as part of his "group" is called first person. The person(s) TO WHOM the speaker is speaking is called second person. The person(s) ABOUT WHOM the speaker is speaking is called third person. Thus we have the following table which we can construct in English, once we differentiate between the purpose of the various pronouns:


                     NOM             OBJ             POSS

1st     singular       I               Me          My (or mine)
       plural         We              Us         Our (or ours)

2nd     singular     Thou            Thee        Thy (or thine)
       plural         Ye             You       Your (or yours)

3rd     singular  He/She/It     Him/Her/It        His/Hers/Its
       plural       They            Them     Their (or theirs)

NOM=nominative = case of the subject
OBJ=objective = case of the object of the verb, indirect object of the verb or object of a preposition
POSS=possessive = case of possessing or sourcing.

Those who retain the the AV on the ground of its intrinsic translational, textual, and linguistic superiority to modern translations have sometimes been charged with following the example of 16th century Roman Catholics who venerated the Latin Vulgate and insisted that sacred worship should not be conducted in a known language. Of course, such is *not* fair criticism, because a *VERY HIGH* proportion of the vocabulary of the AV continues in common use today.

The preface of the NIV rightly points out that the ancient tongues (Hebrew & Greek) did not use a special form of the word "you" to address God. However, a cursory reading of the AV will soon clarify the fact that it is the *modern* translations which have attempted to keep "thee and thou" when addressing God and "you and you" when addressing mortals. That is NOT the case with the AV. The AV usage is simply a reflection of the singular 2nd person pronouns used in the Hebrew and Greek in which the Scriptures were originally written by the inspiration of God. However, in reading through the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures numerous times in my life, I have never found a *single instance* in which God is addressed using a 2nd person PLURAL pronoun. Not once!

Some interesting places to look for "thou and thee:"

In Luke 22:31, the NIV rightly explains in a footnote that the term "you" as used in that verse is plural. But then it FAILS to mention that in verse 32, the word "you" is singular in Greek! Of course, those who use the AV have no difficulty discerning that even without footnotes!

Exodus 4:15, "THOU shalt speak ... I will be with THY mouth" referring to Moses himself. But then "and will teach YOU what YE shall do" refers to the entire nation of Israel.

Again, examples could be multiplied. Perhaps I will do just that in my next post (Thou and Thee).




Packet: HOL
Date: 03-21-95 (13:09)             Number: 2738
From: RICHARD BACON                Refer#: NONE
  To: ALL                           Recvd: NO
Subj: Thee and Thou                  Conf: (1442) fidonet.open_

In my previous post (NIV Examples 8), I pointed out the use of the terms "thee and thou/thy and thine." I explained that they were *NEVER* common street English, but were a poetic device used by the AV translators to reflect the use of singular 2nd person pronouns from Hebrew and Greek.

At the conclusion of that post, I gave two examples -- in Luke 22:31-32 and in Exodus 4:15 demonstrating that it really becomes quite difficult to tell who is being addressed without being able to distinguish properly between singular and plural pronouns.

This post simply follows up on that one with some more examples of the same ambiguity that arises from not properly translating singulars and plurals.

Exodus 29:42, "This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout YOUR generations at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD where I will meet YOU, to speak there unto THEE." The *you*, referring to the children of Israel, is explained in the following verse, but *thee* refers to Moses, who had the holy privilege of hearing the words of God directly (Leviticus 1:1). And yes, before Jeff Doles asks, I believe a tape recorder would have picked them up.

2 Samuel 7:23, "An what nation in the earth is like THY people, even like Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to himself, and to make him a name, and to do for YOU great things and terrible, for THY land, before THY people, which THOU redeemedst to THEE from Egypt." Here David prayed to God in the second person singular, but referred to the people of Israel as YOU. What confusion could result if this important distinction were done away? It could be incorrectly thought that David was praying in part to the nation -- or that the land belonged to the people and not to God. Either misconstruction invites error.

Matthew 26:64, "Jesus saith unto him, THOU has said: nevertheless I say unto YOU, hereafter shall YE see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." THOU refers to the High Priest. YE and YOU are open to some interpretation, but AT LEAST include all those who were standing there IN ADDITION to the high priest.

John 3:7, 11, "Marvel not that I said unto THEE, YE must be born again." The message was spoken to the individual Nicodemus, but obviously has wider application. So also at verse 11, "I say unto THEE...that YE receive not our witness."

1 Corinthians 8:9-12, "Take heed lest...this liberty of YOURS.... If any man see THEE which hast knowledge... through THY knowledge...but when YE sin." The plural form likely refers to all church members, but the singular form to those in responsibility.

I would invite readers to get out a "modern" translation that has dropped the use of the 2nd person singular/plural distinction and read these passages along with Numbers 16:8-11; Deuteronomy 4:3; 1 Kings 9:5-6; Isaiah 33:2-4; Matthew 5:39; Matthew 6:4-7; Matthew 11:23-24; Matthew 18:9-10; Matthew 18:22-35; Matthew 20:21-22; Matthew 23:37-38; Mark 14:37-38; Luke 5:4; Luke 6:30-31; Luke 9:41; Luke 10:13-14; Luke 16:25-26; Luke 22:31-32; John 1:50-51; James 2:16; etc.

Surely you will notice that replacing "thou/thee/thy/thine" with the ambiguous "you" does NOT clarify, but tends to muddy the Scriptures.

Perhaps also, as a result of these few posts, there will be a greater appreciation for the important distinctions that are retained by the AV. Rather than seeing "thou/thee/thy/thine" as a reason for adopting a MODERN translation, we should see them as being a more accurate depiction of the WORDS GOD INSPIRED.