Updated: Feb 15
The King James Bible was written in a language that transcends time. At no time in history has any population ever spoken King James English. Instead of writing in the language of their day, the King James translators crafted a sharp and two edged language using the vocabulary of English but fixed its rules of grammar in lock step with the rules of Greek and Hebrew.
The King's English was to use inflected pronouns. We do not say, "Thee art my friend". We say, "Thou art my friend." Why? Because the pronouns are inflected, they change based on how they are used. Thou is used for the direct object. Thee is used for the indirect object. Was this a new artifice in English? Not at all. There was a significant period of time in English history when pronouns were inflected. The translators chose to utilize that ancient usage and we are thrice blessed for them doing so.
We are thrice blessed because we have a bible written in a more exacting language wherein subtle meanings are more closely followed. We are thrice blessed because we are able to read the word of God in a language whose pronoun and verb usage parallel Greek and Hebrew. How hypocritical is the preacher who will criticize the construct of King James English as being too hard for audience and then spend a significant portion of his message trying to explain nuances of the original languages to that same audience!
We are thrice blessed because King James English is a language meant for thought. When we read the words of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Booker T. Washington, Calvin Coolidge, or FDR, we do not see King James English. We see people who spoke a language almost identical to our own. Yet what all of these men had in common was that they had cut their teeth reading the King James Bible. Their teachers could have told them that the King James Bible was outdated and that they needed a bible in a more modern and relevant English, and if they had done so each of those people would have been deprived of the greatest single source they had to mold their form of thought.
Fortunately for them and for our nation they were not influenced by idiots who took the King's English away from them on the pretext that it was outmoded and too hard. It taught them to think with structure. Each of the aforementioned men had diverse educations and grew up in widely diverse backgrounds and yet each of them were taught to read the King's English at a very early point in their education. It is the one unifying point in their educations.
I pastor a rural church in a poor county. My converts have been mostly poorly educated. Their grasp on literature barely transcended comic books. Their grammatical skills were lacking and would have ostracized them should they have ever tried to mingle in more educated crowds. Obviously they balked when I gave them King James Bibles to read. I, on the other hand knew that their thinking structure, their vocabulary and their grammar were all atrocious. I did what a doctor would do if his patient had an underdeveloped leg that had the potential to be healthy. I put their minds in a brace.
Reading the King James Bible was uncomfortable at first and they chafed. They would come to me and complain about the thees and the thous. I would encourage them to stick with it. I promised them that if they would plow through it with discipline it would begin to come naturally to them. Within 6 weeks of such reading I can begin to see clear differences in the structure of their thought and speech. This is my Professor Higgins moment (My Fair Lady, or Pygmalion if you will). It changes their lives. Not only are they reading the moral thoughts of God, but their minds have been forced into a structure that truly transforms them.
I recently had the honor of visiting Brother Paul Scott's ministry in Vietnam. There, like most of the rest of the world, the youth are being taught English. Like any youth anywhere who are learning a foreign language in school, I heard different degrees of comfort in speaking English. Some spoke haltingly and needed time to translate anything said to them. Others were able to speak in better English. However there was simply no children who learned English so well as one particular family who eschewed the state schools and sent their three elementary schooled children to a private school run by a Filipino matron who schooled them out of a King James Bible.
My first exposure to the children is when they ran into the room arguing with each other in English. They then whined and pleaded with their father in English for some little thing or another. Seeing us, they then whirled about and excitedly talked with us peppering us with questions and excitedly showed us their newest projects. Other than having a Filipino accent, they spoke English flawlessly. Surely this will facilitate them in in a world wide economy for all of their lives. It made me pity the children relying on the government schools to teach them English.
There are more aspects of King James English then just inflected pronouns. Paul Scott has been schooling us in this blog on the exactness of the King James vocabulary. It is unrivaled in newer versions and in other literature. America and the Western World are bankrupted on many levels that have nothing to do with money. I doubt though that there has been any damage done to the underpinning of the English speaking world like the removal of the King James Bible from its place as the bedrock of our language and of our literature.