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Unto us (part 1)

According to most definitions, a preposition indicates location. Specifically, a preposition defines the position of its object with other words in a clause or sentence. In the classic English grammatical prose, the object is always immediately after the preposition: Subject + Verb + Prep + Object. He (S) looked (V) at (P) her (O). These typically small words not only tell us where something is, they can also tell us the relationship of time and direction of an object to other elements in a sentence.

Common prepositions include: to, at, by, under, over, against, circa, via, during, toward, and many more! These are indeed critical words to define the relationship of objects within a sentence.

Now that we understand the functions of prepositions, let us note the accuracy, the wonder, of a certain supposed archaic preposition: unto. This is part one of two (or one of twain!), or perhaps three or four.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” Isaiah 9:6 - KJV

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” Isaiah 9:6 - ESV

Oh, is to the same as unto? Most dictionaries declare unto as simply the archaic form for either to or until. Most blog posts (this site is an exception), and apparently most new bible versions, permit the replacing of unto with to. Tut tut.

I’ve rung this bell before, but allow me to once again state that replacing words, or the order of words, or even the punctuation, dulls the sharpness of sword and distorts the intention of the author. Even ‘little’ words, simple prepositions, have value; therefore we study and trust that God will teach us and that our hearts will understand. Before we define unto, let’s look at an example.


“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it…” (Jonah 1:2) - Pre-whale ride

“Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it…” (Jonah 3:2) - Post-whale ride

What’s the difference from the first to second commission? What very clear and tangible impact does changing the preposition have? (Hint: see Ruth 4:1 and Esther 3:12: “…unto the king’s lieutenants, and to the governors that were over every province…”)

Until next time, grace be unto you.

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