What does the King James Bible mean—“reins?”

WHAT DOES THE KING JAMES BIBLE MEAN—“REINS?”

by Shawn Brasseaux

On 15 occasions, the Authorized Version makes reference to “reins.” Most of these are found in the “Old Testament.” As a brief introduction, we look at few of a couple of those verses right now. Psalm 7:9 says: “Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins.” And, Jeremiah 20:12: “But, O LORD of hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I opened my cause.” What are such “reins?” Why this curious word?

The Hebrew word usually rendered “reins” is כִּלְיָה, or kilyah (Strong’s #H3629). Kilyah appears 31 times in the Hebrew Bible. Our 1611 translators translated it as “kidneys” 18 times and “reins” 13 times. (Another Hebrew word—חָלָץ, or chalats [Strong’s #H2504]—is rendered “reins” in Isaiah 11:5. This gives a total of 14 Old Testament usages of “reins.”) The word “kidneys” is generally restricted to the literal, fleshly organs of sacrificial animals offered in Judaism—Exodus 29:13, Exodus 29:22, Leviticus 3:4, Leviticus 3:10, Leviticus 3:15, Leviticus 4:9, Leviticus 7:4, Leviticus 8:16, Leviticus 8:25, Leviticus 9:10, and Leviticus 9:19. There are two figurative usages of “kidneys” in Deuteronomy 32:14 and Isaiah 34:6. “Reins” in the Greek New Testament is νεφρός, or nephros, (Strong’s #G3510). It appears only once—Revelation 2:23.

Now, to the English word. “Reins” is a form of the Middle English reines, reenes; which was derived from the Old French reins; which was taken from the Latin rēnēs meaning “kidneys, loins” (plural). Even today, modern-day medical terms reflect the Greek, Latin, French, and English etymologies. Have you ever heard of renal failure—the kidney(s) malfunctioning? The medical study of kidney diseases is called nephrology—reflecting the Greek word, of course. Medical science dealing with the function of kidneys is known as renal physiology. Now that we know how “kidneys” and “reins” are connected, how should we handle the King James verses that say God is interested in seeing and knowing our “reins?” Is God really concerned with our kidneys?

In ancient times, kidneys (hidden inside our torso, or loins) were assumed to be the seat of our emotions, feelings, and affections. “Reins” is related to our literal kidneys. However, “reins” can also be used figuratively in reference to our innermost component (again, emotions, feelings, affections; mind). For the record, Strong’s Concordance has the following definition for the Hebrew word kilyah (#H3629): “feminine of H3627 (only in the plural); a kidney (as an essential organ); figuratively, the mind (as the interior self):—kidneys, reins.” Strong’s defines the Greek word nephros (#G3510) as: “of uncertain affinity; a kidney (plural), i.e. (figuratively) the inmost mind:—reins.”

The “reins,” are actually the mind, rather than the heart (another part of our innermost being), since some verses (see below) use both “reins” and “heart.” However, the King James Bible translators are not wrong in using “reins” to refer to something other than literal kidneys. They are using the word in a figurative sense to indicate the mind, as you can now see for yourself.

  • Job 16:13: “His archers compass me round about, he cleaveth my reins asunder, and doth not spare; he poureth out my gall upon the ground.”
  • Job 19:27: “Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.”
  • Psalm 7:9: “Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins.”
  • Psalm 16:7: “I will bless the LORD, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.”
  • Psalm 26:2: “Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.”
  • Psalm 73:21: “Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.”
  • Psalm 139:13: “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.”
  • Proverbs 23:16: “Yea, my reins shall rejoice, when thy lips speak right things.”
  • Isaiah 11:5: “And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.” (Jesus Christ as He reigns in the Millennium!)
  • Jeremiah 11:20: “But, O LORD of hosts, that judgest righteously, that triest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I revealed my cause.”
  • Jeremiah 12:2: “Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root: they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit: thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins.”
  • Jeremiah 17:10: “I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”
  • Jeremiah 20:12: “But, O LORD of hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I opened my cause.”
  • Lamentations 3:13: “He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins.”
  • Revelation 2:23: “And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.”

Also see:
» What is “the foolishness of God” in 1 Corinthians 1:25?
» Are we created in “the image of God?”
» What are “phylacteries?”

2 responses to “What does the King James Bible mean—“reins?”

  1. Pingback: Given Versus Came #6 | 333 Words of Grace

  2. Pingback: Do the words “to be” belong in Romans 1:7 and 1 Corinthians 1:2? | For What Saith the Scriptures?

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