THOU, THEE, THY – The Language of the Holy Spirit?


The Language of the Holy Spirit ??

 Jim van Heiningen

It happened at an international airport.

Hundreds of travelers were milling about, while many others quietly waited to board their flights. With several races in evidence, it was obvious that not all were fluent English speakers; the kind of spectacle any “fisher of men” relishes.

So when I suddenly noticed what looked like a tract, left by someone on a seat, it warmed my heart. It turned out to be a beautiful tract with an inviting title. How wonderful; someone busy on the King’s business was meaning business!

I picked it up and started reading. Good stuff! Much money expended on its production! Much love and probably prayer, poured into it!

And yet…!

Something didn’t click. What happened to the publisher’s discernment? To explain the wonderful Gospel, the Good News, ever new, this good man had summoned English phrases four centuries old. In order to tell people of the 21st century why and how they should repent and receive the Savior, he felt he should employ Shakespearean language. An admirable tract? Yes! But why address today’s people in yesterday’s language, people who in many cases do not even have much of a grasp of modern English, leave alone the old?

Yet, strange to say, we certainly cannot blame the author’s language, it is clear enough. Rather it is God’s Word itself, the ‘double-edged sword’ of the Spirit, which is sadly dulled and blunted. What do I mean? There is this notion that, even in some totally antiquated form, the Word is always bound to do its work. And, of course, the Word can even then be effective, as when the reader is familiar with the old English as it was in use so many centuries ago, or if he is a faithful churchgoer. However, the public targeted by this tract rarely belongs to those categories.

Suppose an ‘inquirer’ is given a New Testament in the Authorized Version. Wonderful? Yes, but … There is a problem. Say that one of the things he begins to ‘understand’ from his readings is that the quality of his conversations should improve. That is not a bad thing. But what when someone enlightens him about the fact that in none of the eighteen verses, in which this version of the NT uses the word “conversation”, it means ‘conversation’? At least not as we know it today? None of the eighteen times. Would he not be entitled to say: “If I cannot trust the individual words of this book, why trust it at all?”

Then imagine him getting into Philemon. If he did wonder about Paul’s four ‘bowel-statements’ before his readings took him to Philemon, what is he going to make of verse 20 (and 7 & 12)? Can we blame him for concluding that Paul must be chronically constipated, and was looking to Philemon for a laxative? We cannot blame the reader; we must blame ourselves for putting such language into his hands.

An illustration

A short while ago, when good friends expressed an interest in the work done by that famous missionary to India, Amy Carmichael, we lent them one of her marvelous books. Now, these are English friends, they are middle aged and they are keen readers. Yet this was their comment when the book was returned:

“Yes, we enjoyed reading it, but, with the old fashioned English, we found it rather ‘hard going’!”

Dear Amy wrote this book only (!) eighty years ago… What to do when the person targeted by our Gospel literature is not a habitual reader of English, and might perhaps barely get his nose into a newspaper now and then? Must we, or should we, put into his hands, say a Gospel of John, a New Testament, or an entire Bible, printed in the English, not of eighty years ago, but of 400, and just hope for the best?! Could that be the Holy Spirit’s way?

Let us see what we can discover about this way.

William Tyndale

William TyndaleTyndale was one of God’s incomparable translators of the early 16th Century. He translated the Bible into English fromtyndale the original Hebrew and Greek, after ten centuries of virtually only Latin Scriptures. One consuming passion drove him. It was to place God’s Word into the hands of John Ploughman, as he called the common man. And so, obviously enabled by God’s grace at every step, he succeeded in making available the Gospel of Jesus Christ in readable and perfectly understandable English to the multitudes, which had been deprived of it for so long. The price he paid for his love and loyalty was prison and death at the hands of the agents of evil King Henry VIII. He was only forty-two. A crown awaits him from the King of kings.


King James IWilliam Shakespeare’s death in 1616 was important, but a thousand times more important was what happened five years James1earlier. “The most high and mighty Prince JAMES” was on England’s throne. And 1611 was the year in which a new translation saw the light. It had been painstakingly prepared by a group of expert translators, who did not, and probably could not, hide their indebtedness to William Tyndale’s efforts of the previous century (even if there are instances in which they should have kept even closer to Tyndale’s precedents: e.g. by not using the incorrect word “church” in translating the Greek “ekklesia”, but rather “congregation” as Tyndale had done, or by not using “charity”, but Tyndale’s “love”).

Again, and now on a much wider scale, the Bible was placed in John Ploughman’s hands in the down-to-earth, every day, English he was sure to understand. It was the translation that has come down to us as the “King James Version”, or the “Authorized Version”. It was the Holy Spirit’s answer to the need of the day: to get the man-of-the-street to read God’s Word in the language he could readily identify with: his own language!

The puzzle

The scholars, well versed in the “classical” Greek of the times of Homer, Plato and hosts of others, had been profoundly puzzled for centuries as they studied the New Testament Greek. They could understand it, but why was it so unlike the classical Greek? Finally many decided it must be a ‘special’ Greek, created and used by the Holy Spirit for the unique purpose of composing the New Testament. How right they were, and yet how wrong!

Fortunately, at long last, the penny dropped: the New Testament Greek was no more and no less than the common Greek used by the common man, in other words: colloquial Greek. While during that first century AD some people would have notions of the classical Greek, this would only rarely amount to a working knowledge. It is clear that the Holy Spirit used the eight NT authors in such a way that the result of their labors was perfectly accessible to anyone able to read. This would not have been the case, had it been written in classical Greek. The NT Greek, in other words, was not specially created, but it was specially chosen for the communication of God’s eternal love and truth to the minds and hearts of all men and women of the time. The Holy Spirit’s strategy was to get the written Word into their hands and hearts in their own, very ordinary, spoken language!

Remember Pentecost!

To have a glimpse of God’s passion for effective communication we only have to recall what happened in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Many of the thousands of Jews and proselytes, gathered for the festivities from all the countries round about, would not be completely unfamiliar with the Hebrew or the Aramaic of the day. However, to make that initial and profound impact on their minds and hearts, the Holy Spirit chose to communicate to them in the very languages and dialects of their own towns and homes (Acts 2).

Remember Jesus!

Sitting at the feet of the rabbis as a child, our Lord would undoubtedly have learned the classical Hebrew in which God communicated with Abraham, the patriarchs, Moses, David, the prophets and so on. He himself was (and is) Abraham’s God, who had become man. After working as a humble carpenter, some three and a half years were spent in ceaseless ministry. Did he minister to the people in that lofty Hebrew? No, he chose to communicate in Aramaic, the language the Jews had acquired during their years of Babylonian captivity, the common language, which was spoken and understood equally well by a Nicodemus and a Simon Peter, by a fallen woman and a Martha, by a Zacchæus and a thief dying on a cross.

The 20th and 21st Centuries

Could it be that the Holy Spirit’s strategy has changed for our times? In order to reach the heart of today’s man-or-woman-of-the-street, would He revert to the old, classical English of Shakespeare’s day? That was modern four centuries ago and it was his chosen vehicle then. But what about today’s milkman, or the domestic, or the young child, or the Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, or the New York dock-worker, or the Australian taxi-driver, or the South African prostitute, or the Hindu on a business trip to London?? Are we going to win them to the Lord by placing in their hands a Gospel booklet in Shakespearean language? We must praise God for those who, in spite of all the odds, are won to him that way. Why not? We may even praise him for using a donkey to get his Word across to Balaam. However, who would contend such to be his normal way of proceeding?

Rome and Mecca

If we hold fast to this most famous of all translations, the King James Version, even for evangelistic purposes, are we not putting ourselves in the same category as the Church of Rome, who for fifteen centuries would not hear of any other translation then Jerome’s Latin Vulgate? Martin Luther was able to read it in his monastery-cell, but no sooner was he soundly converted through these readings, then he seized the first opportunity to translate the Bible into the common German. His contemporaries must have full access to it!

Muslims believe the Qur’an to be God’s only valid revelation. But it must not be tampered with by translations and modernizations. It is only totally valid in the original (classical) Arabic. If the reader hardly understands what he is reading, that isn’t really important. There will always be the clerics, who can explain it to him.

1 Cor. 14:8 and 19

Paul emphasizes the absolute need for clarity and understandability. Just stop and think about this apostolic preference: rather five intelligible words, than ten thousand not readily understood! While it must be safe to assume that all true Christians would want to be “in league” with Paul, it is baffling that some should, at the same time, want to follow the unsavory example of Rome, withholding from the ‘common people’ the Scriptures in contemporary English, when these are so very obviously the Holy Spirit’s preference. Can a true Christian think in Muslim terms? If God’s Word is to be experienced as “quick and powerful” (‘quick’ being the old English for ‘living’ or ‘alive’), it must be intelligible.

U.S.A. divers

You may have heard of this American country preacher. He was very sincere, but had not had much education. One Sunday, expounding to his congregation the nuggets of gold, dug up in Matthew 4:23-25, he remembered that some of the faithful were not as faithful as they should be, so when he came to this bit about the “divers diseases”, he chided them:

“In this church we suffer those very diseases, and it is disgraceful! We must let the Lord deal with them! It saddens me that no sooner have we finished singing our closing hymn, then some of you will dive for your car to go to the lakeside or to the swimming pool. Others dive for the ice-cream parlor round the corner. Still others will make a dive for the pizza place. Repent! Let the Lord heal you of your divers diseases!!”

Perhaps they were healed, but had the preacher been able to read “various” instead of “divers”, it would undoubtedly have been better all round.

The passion

We shall be the last to wean you, or anyone, away from your beloved “King James”. Our passion, like Tyndale’s, is rather to see God’s eternal Word in the hands of those that are still ignorant of the Gospel, and to make sure they can actually read and understand it, be they English, Spanish, Chinese, Hungarian or Pakistani … For those, whose first or second language is English, that would mean, say, a Gospel of Luke or a New Testament in plain English, not in the classical English they may not readily understand, and which, after a while, they might put down in frustration, perhaps never to look at again. Everything should be done so they can have it and read it in a language, dignified on the one hand, but to them also perfectly normal. That is our Lord’s passion! Is it not a passion which we, in our day and age, may appropriate…? Tyndale’s amazing example leads us to believe that God certainly means to stir us in the same way!

Forty chapters

To further illustrate the need, we have drawn up a list with words and phrases from forty chapters in the four Gospels, just as we find them in the KJV. Verse numbers are not mentioned. We are much indebted to one Bible Society, which has a very strict KJV-ONLY policy. At the end of one KJV edition they printed a list (and presumably still do), nineteen pages long, consisting mainly of archaic expressions and their ‘translations’ into today’s English. That list-within-the-Bible is there to help the stumbling reader decipher the meanings of the respective KJV passages.

The following then is a very limited sampling only. Going through the whole Bible would have made this brochure many times longer!

Which KJV?

It may be important to point out that should you check the following expressions in your own KJV, you might occasionally come across a seeming discrepancy in the spelling of a word. Most likely this would have to do with the fact that among the several printings of the KJV by different publishing houses, there are certain discrepancies. Be assured that the ones below have been taken literally from a valid KJV edition. Italics have been added.


3. “…fruits meet for repentance.”

“…whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather his wheat into the garner.”

4. “…taken with divers diseases; …and those that had the palsy…”

5. “when he was set…”; “one jot or one tittle”; “aught”; “forswear thyself”; “Yea, yea; Nay, nay”; “twain”; “despitefully”; “publicans”.

6. “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet…”

“Why take ye thought for raiment?”

7. “Why beholdest thou the mote ..?”

10. “Nor scrip for your journey.., nor yet stave.”

11. “Then began he to upbraid the cities…”

14. “…head in a charger.”

16. “…the sky is red and lowring.”

17. “…have done unto him whatsoever they listed.”

18. “…his lord was wroth…”

21. “Whether of them twain did…”

26. “…thy speech bewrayeth thee.”

27. “…the governor was wont to release… a prisoner, whom they would.”


1. “latchet”; “forthwith”; “anon”; “straitly charged”.

2. “…they could not come nigh unto him for the press…”

“…David … was an hungred…”

5. “Why make ye this ado …, the damsel is not dead…”

6. “…knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press…”

8. “…thou savourest not…”

9. “…so as no fuller on earth can white them.”

“…let us make three tabernacles…”

“…he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.”

“…enter halt into life…”

11. “strawed”; “haply”; “thou cursedst”; “aught”.

15. “…they railed on him, wagging their heads…”


1. “stricken in years”; “the Holy Ghost”; “shew”; “tarried”; “Hail”; “cast in her mind”; “whence is this to me”; “lo”; “holpen”; “spake”; “kindred”; “noised abroad”; “waxed”.

2. “Wist ye not…”

8. “…a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house…”

9. “When the day began to wear away, then came the twelve and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go .., and lodge, and get victuals…”

“…the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.”

“…they kept it close…”

“…the devil threw him down and tare him.”

11. “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.”

“Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the … platter; but your inward part is full of ravening…”

12. “…if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch…”

“…lest he hale thee to the judge…”

13. “…why cumbereth it the ground?”

14. “…he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms…, saying …sit not down in the highest room…”

15. “…he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat…”

16. “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness…”

17. “I trow not.”

21. “…a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.”

“…shall not be able to gainsay…”

“…lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting…”

24. “…their eyes were holden…”


2. “…three firkins apiece.”

“The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.”

3. “The wind bloweth where it listeth…”

“…hath set to his seal…”

5. “The impotent man answered…”

7. “…I have made a man every whit whole…”

“Out of his belly shall flow…”

16. “Whither goest thou?”

Matthew 5:37

This verse is on the above list. We learn from it that what goes beyond a simple and clear communication may not be from God. How supremely applicable that must be to God’s own precious Word! The Scriptures, as they come to us, must be dignified, yet simple; accurate, yet not lacking in clarity. They must not give any impression that was not in the Divine Author’s mind!

Shall we pray for the Lord’s Word to run rapidly and be glorified, as the apostle pleaded with the Thessalonians (2 Thes. 3:1), and at the same time stand in the Holy Spirit’s way as he seeks to minister it in the clearest of terms to the modern reader?

He reveals, you revel

There is respectable literature about, which emphasizes the unsurpassed greatness of the KJV’s literary worth. No knowledgeable anglophile or literati in general would doubt that greatness. It is, however, one thing to admit wholeheartedly that, culturally speaking, the KJV Bible is the Englishman’s unique and truly awesome heritage, it is quite another to suggest, or even insist, as some of these publications do, that its literary worth necessarily elevates and enhances its spiritual worth.

To insist on that is to ignore the Biblical difference between ’soul’ and ‘spirit’. The soul of an anglophile may be transported to great heights by the wonders of poetic expression in the KJV psalms, for example, and yet remain totally oblivious to the “still small voice” of God’s Holy Spirit, who is seeking to get through to his human spirit. In other words, he may be a great literary man, he may be religious, he may be sincere, but if his interest lies in the channel, rather than the “living waters”, then his spiritual life, if there is any at all, will remain parched! Even as his “soul” is enriched, in the same sense as it would be by reading Shakespeare or Goethe, his “spirit”, that part of him that God means to waken from the dead, and draw into ever closer fellowship with himself, remains “dead in trespasses and sins”.

Thus we come to two conclusions.

1) The “prince of darkness”, Satan himself, is perfectly happy for his “subjects” to revel in Bible ‘language’. Especially if this gives them the impression that it makes them more acceptable to God. In fact it is nothing short of a master stroke that he should succeed in keeping so many bound to himself for eternity by blinding them to their spiritual need precisely through the literary richness of a particular version of God’s Word itself.

2) The Bible reader, who is spiritually alive and awake, looks beyond the language. He realizes that a Bible translation must be trustworthy, but that it was never meant to be more than the channel for God’s Word. He realizes that God’s Word is “alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword”. That while it needs human language to be effective, it is not bound to literary styles. He longs to hear God himself speaking to him as he searches for him in the pages of the book. The ‘loftiness’ or ‘ordinariness’ of the language are irrelevant to his spiritual quest. It is what he perceives there of God’s voice, of his face, of his will, which will truly cause him to revel. As God reveals, so he revels..!


Translations of the Bible, old and new, are without number, some obviously being better than others, and it may not be easy to make the right choice. We do not feel called to promote any particular one. Let the reader, who is in two minds about his choice for personal use, or for the purposes of evangelistic work, pray earnestly, alone and together with other likeminded friends. Let him at the same time weigh the issues and seek to make honest evaluations about different versions in hand, perhaps with the help of a Christian more experienced in this matter. The Lord will honor his deep desire to serve him in the most effective way.

A note of caution

Before you get all enthused about any version at all, it is important to realize that the “perfect version” does not exist! Not even the KJV is (or was) perfect, and, even more significantly, neither is the “Septuagint”! Only the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures were perfect. The Septuagint is the famous Jewish translation into Greek of the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, which had been in use for at least a century before Christ. What is its importance for us? Simply the fact that the New Testament authors saw fit to quote it with remarkable frequency, i.e. whenever they wished to draw the readers’ attention to promises, prophecies and types in the Old Testament.

Now do take note of this, they did so in spite of the fact that the job done by the Septuagint’s translators was not up to scratch. Notably their translation of the Minor Prophets, for example, left much to be desired. Much later the Septuagint was discarded by the Jews in favor of a better translation. These facts may surprise us, but they certainly show that the sovereign Holy Spirit, who incorporated so many passages from the Septuagint into the New Testament, does not need a “perfect” version.

This, however, does not mean that when we are after a good modern version, we should not be careful! In any Scripture translation we must look for a high standard in accuracy, dignity and…(!!) clarity.

A final illustration

Cuba has its pros and cons, but no one can say the Cubans are not highly educated (on the whole that is). They have more medical doctors per 1,000 inhabitants than any other nation.

All this education is not obvious at first sight. A charming lady, teacher of English, turned out to be a teacher not of children, as I first thought, but of professional teachers. Her knowledge of the English language, obviously, is much higher than average. I was glad to have some English tracts and, when I gave her one, she was delighted, reading it through immediately with immense interest – even though she was in the middle of a private class.

When I saw her again, she confessed, however, that some of the tract’s contents had left her totally nonplussed. Many of the verb endings and some of the personal pronouns had tripped her up. She had never encountered these before. Needless to say, this difficulty had also taken her mind off the real message that was coming to her in the reading.

You guessed it, it was the Bible quotations with “thou” and “thee”, and with “hast”, “doth”, “sayest”, “loveth”, and so on, which caused her problem. She just didn’t know what to make of these.

So I explained to her that this is the four centuries’ old English of the KJV, which some believers think should be perpetuated for ever, and used even in evangelistic literature for people not acquainted with it. Then I also apologized for unthinkingly presenting her with this tract. Why hadn’t I chosen one with completely understandable English?

“Unthinking” is perhaps the right description for all the well-intentioned people who are behind this kind of literature. May God “enlighten the eyes of our understanding”, so that, as we present his Gospel in our literature, the clarity and impact of God’s Word may not suffer needlessly!

Back to thou and thee

Let us return for a moment to the title chosen for this article, and ponder the question: “Am I holier if in prayer I address God as ‘Thou’ and ‘Thee’, applying also the correct conjugations of the verbs?” “Is it disrespectful or flippant if I don’t, changing these words to the simple ‘you’ form?”

When this writer (who has the Dutch nationality) prepared to go to England for the first time, he went to great lengths to comply with tradition and learn the ancient ways of addressing God. Once learned, he faithfully practiced them for many years. That is, until at long last something dawned on him.

At the time the KJV was born, in the 17th Century, everybody addressed everybody with “thou” and “thee”, whether they were high or low, old or young, men or women, God or human. “You” and “ye” were only used for plural in certain cases. In other words, it clearly was not specially reverent or respectful to say “Thou” or “Thee” to God. Pronouns were exactly the same for the Creator as they were for his creatures, and, of course, that is the way it was in the Hebrew and the Greek used in the Bible. It was one of the Holy Spirit’s ways of saying: “God is fully approachable.” God is not aloof! Once we are his children through faith in his Son, we even have the privilege of calling him “Abba”. It most certainly follows we may also call him “you”!

If our modern English has radically dropped the “thou-and-thee” for our fellow men, how have we somehow retained it for God? Should we now retain it any longer, when it doesn’t make us more acceptable to him, and when it cannot even be considered Scriptural, in the proper sense of the word?

Let us beware then of the almost unavoidable impression, given in public prayers, that such usage is superior to that of the brother who simply says “you”. And if we suspect it might be something of a stumbling block to anyone recently converted, whose tongue just isn’t getting round those unique pronouns and verbs, quite possibly discouraging him to pray, why not simply, by the Lord’s grace, be “all things to all men”, and gladly take the opportunity of dropping a tradition, which is neither scriptural, nor spiritual? May God’s ‘law of love’ be our guide!


Since writing this article, we read: “The King James Only Controversy”, by James R. White, published by Bethany House Publishers. This book is a goldmine of information for all who would delve further into the subject. James White writes lovingly, but it is obvious he also knows what he is writing about. It could be that you’d want to question some of the conclusions he comes to, but we know you will be the better for reading it.

“If you are interested in the fascinating story of the English Bible through the centuries, then here is an informative overview for you: It is illustrated with many relevant pictures of Bible translators and other key people. At the end you will find a time-line with all the main Bible events through some 3,600 years.”