There are many Bible passages where it seems to me that a clear understanding of the usage of punctuation marks would shed light on the meaning of these passages. For example, Revelation 20:4:

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

In this passage, an understanding of how the colon and semi colon effect the verse would help with understanding specifically who it was who lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. Was it only those whose souls John saw (those who were beheaded, etc.) or did it also include they who sat upon the thrones?

I am not specifically asking for help in understanding this particular verse. I am asking for help understanding punctuation marks in the KJV in general, so that I can apply this understanding to many verses.


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    This passage is a "hornets' nest" and a "Pandora's box" of controversy. I suggest you study the punctuation in several versions such as NIV, NRSV, ESV, NASB & NKJV, at least. – Dottard Apr 10 '20 at 21:51
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    Surprisingly, this topic has a thread that may be helpful: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/27255/… – tblue Apr 11 '20 at 6:57
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    Adding punctuation marks would be interpretation, in many places, rather than accurate translation. – Nigel J Apr 11 '20 at 13:20

Doing some quick research on the subject of quotation marks they appear to not be present in the actual King James Bible, that is the one commissioned by King James and published in 1611, instead they were introduced in the New King James Bible, first published completely in 1982, The goal was preserve the style and of beauty of the original King James Bible while updating its spelling and grammar to modern English standards. Arguably a worthy goal as the Elizabethan English of the King James Bible was already considered somewhat archaic by the time it was first published in 1611, a problem made even worse by the fact that large parts of the translation were based on Tynedale's bible, the first English bible translated directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, however Tynedale published his last version in 1536, and was unable to continue further work due to the insurmountable obstacle of being burned alive on the orders of Henry VIII. However when King Jame commissioned a new English bible his scribes looked toward Tynedale's excellent albeit incomplete translation and large swaths of it would eventually be used in the King James Bible. Therefore when the King James Bible was published, in 1611, large parts of it were already nearly a century old.

It would appear the quotation marks were largely added to passages were someone was clearly speaking in the original King Jame version and quotations were added simply to adhere to the grammatical conventions of modern English. From my understanding the editors of the New King James bible attempted to be as light-handed as possible in their revisions to the original text.

King James Bible

New King Jame Bible



Excerpt from Robert Montreith's *True and Genuine Art of Pointing*, 1704

A distilled version of the answer that follows is that the comma, semicolon, colon, and period represent increasingly longer pauses. This is a departure from modern use of the colon, which is used today to delineate an item or a list of items that follow.

King James Version Versions

First, I think, we need to recognize that there are different versions of the King James Bible. In the "original" 1611 King James Bible, the verse you refer to appears as:

And I saw thrones, and they sate vpon them, and iudgement was giuen vnto them: & I saw the soules of them that were beheaded for the witnesse of Iesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had receiued his marke vpon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they liued and reigned with Christ a thousand yeeres.

Most modern editions of the King James Bible, are, I think, based on an updated version produced by Oxford in 1769. This edition sought to improve the accuracy of the italicized texts - that is, the words that did not appear in Greek but were added in English for clarity - as well as update spelling, typesetting, and punctuation in many cases. As this case (found on Wikipedia) shows, the punctuation we see today in the "King James Version" may not be what was in the original 1611 edition:

Though I speake with the tongues of men & of Angels, and haue not charity, I am become as sounding brasse or a tinkling cymbal. And though I haue the gift of prophesie, and vnderstand all mysteries and all knowledge: and though I haue all faith, so that I could remooue mountaines, and haue no charitie, I am nothing. And though I bestowe all my goods to feede the poore, and though I giue my body to bee burned, and haue not charitie, it profiteth me nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 1611 KJV).

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor*, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing* (1769 KJV)

The text in bold shows where punctuation has been added or changed from what was in the 1611 edition.

A History of the Colon

I went through the above excursus because in order to answer your question I think we need to understand what orthographic rules were observed when the text was published.

At the time that the original version was published in 1611, the leading authority on proper writing, including punctuation, might have been George Puttenham's treatise, The Arte of English Poesie, written in 1589. At the time the 1769 edition was published, however, the pre-eminent authority seems to have been Robert Montreith's True and Genuine Art of Pointing (shown above), published in 1704 and available online. He lays out the following rules (following his punctuation of his own writing) for usage:


Comma, is a mark, for a small Pause, or Delay, after uttering that part of Speech, which is Pointed and Circumscribed therewith, such as be seen betwixt each Word in this Verse.

Pastor, Arator, Eques, Pavi, Colui, Supravi, Capras, rus [?], hostes, fronde, ligone, manu.

Or, in this Verse,

The Elements, Earth, Water, Air and Fire.


Semicolon, or Comma majus, is the Note or Mark, for a longer pause, halt or delay, in utterance, than that after a Comma; as in this Speech.

Thou Confiders, what Riches can do; not so, what Vertue.


Colon requires a Pause some what longer, than after a Semicolon; As, Make good use, of Time: for [?] years run swiftly away.


Point, or Puncctum, closes the period, or makes the Sense and meaning perfect; as you may observe, at the end of the above Examples.

As noted in the synopsis at the beginning, I think only the usage of the colon strikes us as strange. Fowler's Modern English Usage acknowledges this:

As long as the Prayer-Book version fo the Psalms continues to be read, the colon is not likely to pass quite out of use as a stop, chiefly as one preferred to the semicolon by individuals, or in impressive contexts, or in gnomic contrasts (Man proposes: God disposes); but the time when it was second member of the hierarchy, full stop, colon, semicolon, comma, is past. Some contemporary writers deliberately - almost ostentatiously - so employ it, but in general usage it is not now a stop of a certain power available in any situation demanding such a power, but has acquired a special function: that of delivering the goods that have been invoiced in the preceding words. In this capacity it is a substitute for such verbal harbingers as viz., scil., that is to say, i.e, etc.1

The Greek Elephant in the Room

I think all the above helps us to understand what various King James Bible editors intended with the punctuation that they inserted. But, as you probably know, the oldest Greek manuscripts have no punctuation. When we are reading the pauses (punctuation) inserted by the King James Bible (and other) editors, we are in some case reading their not completely objective interpretation of the text.

One interesting example is John 5:26-28. The 1769 King James text appears as:

For as the Father hath life in himself;
so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;
And hath given him authority to execute judgment also,
because he is the Son of man.
Marvel not at this:
for the hour is coming,
in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice

This is parsing the unpunctuated Greek text as follows, with pauses between lines as indicated by the punctuation in the English text:

ὥσπερ γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ἔχει ζωὴν ἐν ἑαυτῷ
οὕτως ἔδωκε καὶ τῷ υἱῷ ζωὴν ἔχειν ἐν ἑαυτῷ
καὶ ἐξουσίαν ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ καὶ κρίσιν ποιεῖν
ὅτι υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου ἐστί
μὴ θαυμάζετε τοῦτο
ὅτι ἔρχεται ὥρα
ἐν ᾗ πάντες οἱ ἐν τοῖς μνημείοις ἀκούσονται τῆς φωνῆς αὐτοῦ

An alternative punctuation scheme is:

For as the Father hath life in himself,
so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself,
And hath given him authority to execute judgment also.
["." instead of ","]
That [not "because"] he is the Son of man, ["," instead of "."]
Marvel not at this:
for the hour is coming,
in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice

According to the early Church the KJV scheme of pauses amounts to what was considered in the 4th century to be a heretical reading! This was specifically mentioned in a homily of John Chrysostom (349-407), who observed that Paul of Samasota had inserted pauses like those to eventually be found in the KJV to defend his theology of monarchianism - a belief that Jesus was a mere man who was "infused" with the divine Logos.

A note in an English translation of Theophylact's 11th century Greek commentary on the passage states:

Keep in mind the absence of all punctuation marks in ancient manuscripts - the reader must provide breaks between words according to his interpretation of the text. In addition the reader must choose between two possible meanings of the Greek conjunction ὅτι: "that" or "because." In the heretical reading [e.g. KJV], a period is placed after the words, "the Son of man," and ὅτι is interpreted as "because." In the readings of Chrysostom and Theophylact, a period is placed after the words execute judgment also, and ὅτι is read as "that."2

John Chrysostom's homily here:

That He is the Son of Man, marvel not at this. Paul of Samosata renders it not so; but how? Hath given Him authority to execute judgment, 'because' He is the Son of Man. Now the passage thus read is inconsequent, for He did not receive judgment because He was man, (since then what hindered all men from being judges,) but because He is the Son of that Ineffable Essence, therefore is He Judge. So we must read, That He is the Son of Man, marvel not at this. For when what He said seemed to the hearers inconsistent, and they deemed Him nothing more than mere man, while His words were greater than suited man, yea, or even angel, and were proper to God only, to solve this objection He adds, Hath given Him authority to execute judgment also (Homily XXXIX on John)

1. 2d. edition, Oxford University Press, 1965, p.589
2. The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. John (tr. from Greek; Chrysostom Press, 2007), p.90n.


It appears that something--perhaps the colon--was necessary to merge two distinct groups together for the sake of verses 5 and 6 following the verse in question:

But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

Prior to that colon in verse 4, you have to go back into the continuous text in chapter 19 to find out just who could possibly be "in the thrones". Since the chapter numbers were also added by translators for references, the only "ones" mentioned prior to 20:4 who would be allowed to sit on the thrones would be "THE WORD OF GOD" and that army that followed Him from heaven to rule and judge. (Remember, His message to the church was shown in Rev. 3:21-22:

To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. (My emphasis)

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

Accordingly, since Revelation 20:4 is speaking concerning the transition between the time of the reign of antichrist and the false prophet during the tribulation, and the reign of THE WORD OF GOD. The church would have previously been caught up to heaven in order to be positioned to "follow Him" as described in Rev. 19:13-15:

And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

HOWEVER, this additional group following the colon in verse 4 was necessary to fill out the TOTALITY of those who were not part of the church--that army that followed from heaven--, but were certainly included as part of the "first resurrection" spoken of in verses 5 and 6.

This additional group following the colon had come out of "great tribulation" under the reign of the beast and the false prophet, as described in Rev. 7:13-17:

And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. (My emphasis)

These tribulation age believers had died or had been put to death at a time specifically during the 3 1/2 year reign of antichrist as described in Rev. 14:13:

And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.

THEREFORE, since this group will temporarily be before the throne serving, rather than in the throne ruling, the colon appears to provide the inclusion of this tribulation group (before the throne, serving) along with the church (in the throne, ruling) as being part of the "first resurrection" spoken of in verses 5 and 6, following.

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