Why everyone needs a Challoner-Rheims Bible


I just learned something rather interesting and useful regarding the use of personal pronouns in English Bible translations, and I feel a little dumb for not knowing this sooner, especially since I was an English major!

I like to read a variety of Bible translations, and I own quite a few. For the longest time I didn’t realize that when the older translations use Thou, Thee, Ye, and You, they are conveying more closely the original pronouns. Modern English doesn’t distinguish between singular and plural personal pronouns. If you’re addressing a single person, you say ‘you,’ and the same if you’re addressing a group. Greek and Latin DO distinguish between singular and plural personal pronouns, as well as objective and subjective forms of personal pronouns. So where the older translations use ‘Thou’ or ‘Thee,’ it reflects the singular tense in the original Latin or Greek. ‘Ye’ or ‘You’ indicate a plural.

Here’s an article that explains this in more detail. The author is speaking about the KJV, but this would obviously apply to the DR-Challoner Bible as well.


I still gravitate towards the RSV-2CE, pre-1991 NAB, and the Orthodox Study Bible for everyday reading, but now I realize the importance of reading the older translations too.

Sorry if this is a little ‘Captain Obvious.’ Just thought I’d pass it along my little ‘aha’ moment!


Interesting point. Thanks for posting.


Not at all: a great many modern English speakers do not know this, and some misinterpret older texts because they don’t know it.


Not so. American English certainly does…where many of my friends grew up, anyway.

“Y’all” is singular, and plural. However the singular can be modified with “all” (“all y’all”) and it becomes solely plural.



Still kinda better to me than ‘you guys’. :smiley: For the record I heard there was this place in America where they use yins. :wink:


That would make for an interesting translation…‘Y’all shall not steal.’


I would propose that the Holy Spirit is the best
interpreter of the bible, ask the Lord to SHOW
you what is meant by a passage. He has reveal-
ed MANY things to me in my re-reading of the
Gospel message that I NEVER would have
understood by my human language/knowledge!


To be nitpicky, that’s actually all singular: “I am the LORD thy God … thou shalt not steal.” This is because Israel the nation is personified as a single entity (think something like Uncle Sam or John Bull).


In that case, “Don’t be a swiping what’din don’t belong to all-y’all…ya hear?”


We also have you’uns, which I’ve always thought to be plural.


Clearly Southern California isn’t The South. No self respecting Southerner would speak like that.


I always wished they translate the plural “ya’ll”. That’d take care of the problem right there.


Over time I have learned to read the old English without even noticing it, but I used to despise it. But in my opinion I think most readers can understand newer translations simply by the context, most especially when its translated by professionals. But I also think the OP makes a great point, and perhaps the Douay Rheims is the next best thing to use for those who dont read Latin.


I suspect this is why Msgr. Knox retained the “Thee” and “Thou” pronouns in his translation from the Vulgate. I used to think this was just a nod to familiarity, but I think he realized it serves a real purpose in understanding the language of the original text.

I’ve been reading the Knox version on the New Advent site and I think its brilliant. I think next paycheck I am going to splurge get a copy of the Baronius Press reissue.


You have to be careful, though, to check that that is really what the thees and thous are doing. There is a thing known as “prayerbook English” which mucks this up. To summarise/over-simplify:

  1. The Book of Common Prayer and the KJV Bible are written in deliberately slightly-archaic-sounding English even for their time, when the you/thou distinction was being lost already in many communities.
  2. People grow up using thees and thous in prayers and the Bible, and think that this is the more respectful useage: the opposite of the actual case. An idea develops that this is the proper way to address God, and only God, to show him proper respect.
  3. New prayers get written in prayerbook English, using thee and thou only when referring to God. This also includes some hymns we still use.
  4. Bibles, including the original RSV, use prayerbook English, using thee and thou only to refer to God. This makes their use deceptive for anyone trying to understand the nuance of the original texts.

Luckily this mostly died out by the end of the 20th century, although I still occasionally see it in the wild, mostly among a certain sort of Anglican. But it means you have to be careful about how an ‘old’ translation is really using these words.


Yes, I’m not a fan of the translations that *only *use ‘Thee’ and ‘Thou’ to address God the Father. I was glad that the 2nd edition of the Ignatius RSV bible used ‘you’ consistently. I’m only interested in the older terms when they help me understand what the original says.


The disappearance of the singular is frequently overstated: while A W and J C Hare claimed in 1827 that it had died out in the latter half of the C17th (and Webster appears to have uncritically swallowed this), it actually hung on well into the C18th. Thus, Samuel Johnson’s A Grammar of the English Language (1755) refers to the loss both of the subject-object distinction and of the singular-plural distinction, saying, “You is commonly used in modern writers for ye, particularly in the language of ceremony, where the second person plural is used for the second person singular, You are my friend”, and Johnson uses “thou” and “thee” for the singular throughout. See also Thomas Gray, John Home, Alexander Pope, Laurence Sterne, Samuel Richardson, William Ward, Robert Lowth (and please ignore Wikipedia’s naïve comment about Johnson’s birthplace, ignoring the *reception *of his work).


You must really love English if this is the only problem you (singular or plural) have with the English Bibles.



Heh…it’s not the only problem…don’t get me started on ‘inclusive’ language! There are already enough threads on that.


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