King James Onlyism fundamentally depends on a strategy of 1) falsely loading any differences between translations with exaggerated importance and 2) assuming the worst possible motives on the part of any translators besides those behind the KJV. This is clearly displayed in how they appeal to Zechariah 13:6 as alleged evidence against modern translations. The fact that the KJV mentions wounds in hands, whereas other translations describe the location of the wounds differently, is seen as immensely significant and painted as an effort to suppress a messianic prophecy. The difference between various versions of this verse is real, but when looked at objectively, it makes little-to-no difference as to the verse’s meaning and has nothing to do with malicious intent on the part of any of the translators. Instead, each translation represents an honest effort to render the meaning of the Hebrew idiom, and, in context, all of those attempts give us the same options as to the verse’s meaning. There is simply no case for King James Onlyism in this passage.
The Verse in Question
The passage under consideration reads, in the KJV:
“And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” (Zechariah 13:6, KJV)
Other translators offer different interpretations as to where precisely the wounds lie. For example:
“And one will say to him, ‘What are these wounds between your arms?’ Then he will say, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.’” (Zechariah 13:6, NASB, see also NKJV)
Other versions offer options such as:
“wounds on your back” (ESV)
“wounds on your body” (NIV)
“wounds on your chest” (CSB)
“wounds on your arms” MEV
These are the differences in various translations of Zechariah 13:6, which King James Onlyists latch on to create their argument.
And what is their argument? We can break it down into three points:
Claim that Zechariah 13:6 is a messianic prophecy and that the “wounds in thine hands” are crucifixion wounds.
Point out that all the major modern translations remove the reference to “hands”.
Claim that this is a willful attempt to hide the messianic meaning and the reference to the nails in Jesus’ hands on the cross.
Thus, the argument goes, only the KJV faithfully translates this verse and preserves its messianic meaning. But this raises several questions: Do the various versions of this verse really stem from a plan to hide its alleged messianic meaning, or is there a more obvious reason for them? Is the verse even messianic in the first place? If it is, do the alternative translations alter that meaning? As we will see, the answers to these questions undermine the KJVO case.
Why So Many Versions of Zechariah 13:6?
To start with, the reason for the various renderings of this verse does not stem from a conspiracy to obscure the meaning but rather from the wording of the Hebrew idiom involved. The literal meaning of the words is “wounds between your hands.” The wounds are not said to be on or in the hands but rather between them. But what does it mean to have wounds between your hands? Somewhere on the torso, like the back or the chest, as the ESV or CSB read? These are reasonable suggestions. The NIV plays it safer with “on your body,” while the NASB and NKJV keep it fairly literal with “between your arms.” The KJV drops the idea of “between” and simply places the wounds in the hands themselves. This was probably influenced by the Latin Vulgate and/or the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament,) both of which used words that can mean “between” but more literally mean “in the middle of” or ” in the midst of,”1 which could perhaps be taken to mean that the wounds are in the middle of each hand.
A case can be made for each translation, though “between” is the literal sense of the original Hebrew. At any rate, it seems clear that modern translators are not trying to suppress or hide anything. Instead, they are trying to convey the meaning of a difficult idiom. You don’t need to take my word for it. Each translation includes a footnote letting the reader in on this fact:
ESV footnote, “Or on your chest; Hebrew wounds between your hands.“
NASB footnote, “Lit hands” (see also NKJV)
CSB footnote, “Lit wounds between your hands.“
NIV footnote, “Or wounds between your hands.“
These translators want you to know what the Hebrew says while also conveying what the idiom means. There is no conspiracy here. Nothing is hidden, and the reasons for their choices are clear: wounds “between the hands” must be somewhere in the middle of the body. You might disagree, but there is no malice involved on the part of the translators.
Is Zechariah 13:6 a messianic prophecy?
The KJVO argument also hinges on the idea that this verse is a prophecy about the Messiah’s crucifixion wounds. But is it? Some King James Onlyists assume the messianic nature of this passage based on nothing more than the mention of hand wounds and then go right on the attack. However, more thoughtful KJVOs raise at least three points in favor of the messianic interpretation:
The previous chapter ends with a messianic prophecy, including the claim that “they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son,” (Zechariah 12:10).
Zechariah 13:6 is immediately followed in verse 7 with “Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered,” a passage which is applied to Jesus’s crucifixion in Matthew 26:31 and Mark 14:27.
Between these two messianic crucifixion passages, Zechariah 13:6 mentions both wounds on someone’s hands and that the wounds would come from the man’s “friends” (presumably the Messiah’s people who rejected him and handed him over to death).
Taken together, these three points do present an initially compelling case. However, when one looks at the immediate context leading up to Zechariah 13:6, a different picture immerges.
“‘It will come about in that day,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they will no longer be remembered; and I will also remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land. And if anyone still prophesies, then his father and mother who gave birth to him will say to him, “You shall not live, for you have spoken falsely in the name of the Lord”; and his father and mother who gave birth to him will pierce him through when he prophesies. Also it will come about in that day that the prophets will each be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies, and they will not put on a hairy robe in order to deceive; but he will say, “I am not a prophet; I am a tiller of the ground, for a man sold me as a slave in my youth.” And one will say to him, “What are these wounds between your arms?” Then he will say, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”‘” (Zechariah 13:2-6).
Verses 2-6 form a coherent unit wherein God declares the final overthrow of idols and false prophets. It is these false prophets, shamed and repudiated, who are in view. The one who says in Zechariah 13:5 “I am not a prophet; I am a tiller of the ground…” is the same “he” in Zechariah 13:6 who tries to explain away his wounds. Verse six is not about the messiah. Its about a shamed false prophet. This doesn’t depend on how one translates the location of the wounds. The Geneva Bible (the most successful predecessor of the KJV) also spoke of the “wounds in thine hands.” Yet, in the marginal notes, it explained:
“Hereby he showeth that though their parents and friends dealt more gently with them, and put them not to death, yet they would so punish their children, that became false prophets, that the marks and signs should remain forever.”
Similarly, the Protestant reformers like John Calvin explained (again, assuming an “in thine hands” translation like the later KJV’s):
“Some apply this to Christ, because Zechariah has mentioned wounds on the hands; but this is very puerile; for it is quite evident that he speaks here of false teachers, who had for a time falsely pretended God’s name.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Zechariah 13:6)2
Many King James Onlyists are aware of this context but claim that there must be a hard break between verses five and six and that verse six must be talking about Jesus and His crucifixion wounds, but the phrase “And one shall say unto him” is self-evidently continuing the conversation with the “him” from the previous verse. There is no room for a break in the flow or context until after verse 6. Thus, there is no messianic prophecy here, and the location of the wounds on the shamed false prophet’s body is not a major theological point. Even if one were to favor the KJV’s “in thine hands” reading, it is a minor point that has no impact on the meaning of the passage.
But what if it was?
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I’m incorrect and that the verse really was predicting the crucifixion of Jesus. Would it then support King James Onlyism? Not at all! The Hebrew would still mean “between your hands,” and all the possible explanations of that language would fit with Jesus’ crucifixion wounds. Don’t forget, the nails in Christ’s hands were not the only wounds He received. In the KJV, Isaiah 53:5 prophecies that “by His stripes we are healed,” and this is echoed in the New Testament (1 Peter 2:24). But Jesus didn’t receive stripes on His hands. Stripes would be on his back from the scourging. Were Isaiah and Peter wrong to picture Jesus’ suffering by pointing to his stripes rather than the holes in His hands? Or do the wounds on Jesus’ back also prophetically matter? How about where the spear was thrust into Jesus’ side? John 20:20-27 places that spear wound on Jesus’ body on equal terms of importance with the holes in his hands. Would it be wrong, then, for a prophet to point to the wounds on Jesus’ body rather than His hands? Of course not!
So, a prophetic reference to wounds on Jesus’ back, body, or “between his arms” would be every bit as appropriate and relevant as one mentioning the wounds on his hands. Were this verse a messianic prophecy, any of the above translations would still accurately describe what was done to Jesus’ body. Even then, this would not be an argument for King James Onlyism.
There are real differences between translators of Zechariah 13:6. However, those differences affect only the superficial details and have no real impact on the meaning of the verse. This verse is not a messianic prophecy, and even if it were, the difference between translations would not impact that. Translators have good reasons for the various choices they have made, and even if one prefers one over the others, there is certainly no malice or deceit in the wording of any solid, mainstream, Christian translation. In short, the KJVO argument fails at every point. There is no evidence for King James Onlyism in Zechariah 13:6.
1↑ The Latin phrase for the location of the wounds in Zechariah 13:6 is “in medio manuum,” which pre-KJV translators brought into English as “In the midst/middle of your hands” (Wycliffe/Douay-Rheims) The Greek phrase is “ἀνα μέσον τῶν χειρῶν σου” which the NETS still renders as “between your hands” but which can also mean “in the middle of your hands”
2↑ https://ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom30/calcom30.iii.xiv.x.html (Accessed 11/10/2022)