Many believe because of the placement of specific words in Psalm 46 that William Shakespeare helped in the translation of the King James bible to English.

In 1610, the year of the final editing stages, Shakespeare would have been 46 years old (born April 1564). Psalms 46 (approximately the middle of the Bible) has a unique subliminal message, or does it?? Counting from the beginning of Psalm 46, the 46th word is shake. Counting from the end of Psalm 46, the 46th word is spear. Is it possible for these words to be a mere coincident? Or is it true that on Shakespeare’s 46th birthday, while editing the King James Version of the Bible, he chose Psalm 46, and made sure that combining the 46th word from the beginning and the 46th word from the end will read “Shake spear”?

While I am inclined to accept that this is just a bit of misplaced pattern recognition, I am interested in what the scholarly evidence actually supports.

  • 6
    The 46th word from the end is not "spear" but "in." The word "spear" is 47th from the end. See biblegateway, or a more original version, both agree.
    – Flimzy
    Nov 15, 2011 at 16:08
  • 4
    What's more, this isn't such a fantastic coincidence, as the word "shake" appears 39 times throughout the bible, and the words "spear" or "speare" appear 44 times, most closely in one line: "he laugheth at the shaking of a speare"
    – Alain
    Nov 15, 2011 at 17:20
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    Hence the skepticism. You know how sometimes people just make stuff up to create some sort of claim, which I am betting is the true origin of this. I doubt people expected you to actually verify it like that Flimzy! :)
    – JasonR
    Nov 15, 2011 at 17:51
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    "Is it possible for these words to be a mere coincident[sic]?" Yes. Nov 15, 2011 at 23:58
  • 1
    Did the major characters all kill each other off in the end with poisons and whatnot? Perhaps there's even a "Lost Last Supper" painting to this effect that shows everyone dead at the dinner table from food poisoning? ;-) Nov 16, 2011 at 3:47

3 Answers 3


TL;DR: The claim has dubious origins and no solid proof

I have seen this claim repeated by numerologists, but not by literature experts.

In fact, from a literature standpoint, it is a pretty ludicrous claim, since we are not even sure that Shakespeare wrote the text that is actually attributed to him, let alone the King James version of the Bible.

The claim in itself is not supported by any facts. So what if Shakespeare was 46 at the time? Why would he use his age to secretly sign a translation—and, by the way, why would he do the translation at all? Are the words shake and spear actually a literal transaltion of the original words? Does it mean that he was also the original hebrew author of the Bible?

It is well known who the authors were:

The translators were scholarly men who were experts in the biblical languages, and they were convinced of the inerrancy and authority of Scripture.


Finally, the translation process was tightly regulated, and the translation was peer-reviewed for accuracy. This alone is a good indicator that a single author would not be able to insert terms at will in the translation.

Fifteen general rules were advanced for the guidance of the translators:


8 . Every particular Man of each Company, to take the same Chapter or Chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts what shall stand.

  • 3
    But then the terms were already there, at approximately "right" places. All you have to do is to carefully pick phrases, so that the word-count comes out as desired. It is something that you technically can pull off, even with peer-review if your work meets the quality criteria. - Even if it were true, it would be a completely innocent joke. Too bad that the actual word-count doesn't come out right, though. And was Shakespeare known to use similar "hidden messages" in his other works?
    – UncleBens
    Nov 16, 2011 at 22:07
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    The persons responsible have been sacked.
    – user5341
    Nov 17, 2011 at 17:33

It's not true, simply because the numbers are off. We can count the words ourselves. Psalm 46, KJV (1611):

1 [To1 the2 chiefe3 Musician4 for5 the6 sonnes7 of8 Korah9, a10 song11 vpon12 Alamoth13.] God14 is15 our16 refuge17 and18 strength19: a20 very21 present22 helpe23 in24 trouble25.

2 Therfore26 will27 not28 we29 feare30, though31 the32 earth33 be34 remoued35: and36 though37 the38 mountaines39 be40 caried41 into42 the43 midst44 of45 the46 ...

Now it might be reasonable to exclude the parenthesized text, in which case we come to:

1 [To the chiefe Musician for the sonnes of Korah, a song vpon Alamoth.] God1 is2 our3 refuge4 and5 strength6: a7 very8 present9 helpe10 in11 trouble12.

2 Therfore13 will14 not15 we16 feare17, though18 the19 earth20 be21 remoued22: and23 though24 the25 mountaines26 be27 caried28 into29 the30 midst31 of32 the33 sea34.

3 Though35 the36 waters37 thereof38 roare39, and40 be41 troubled42, though43 the44 mountaines45 shake46

But counting from the end:

… the speare-47 in-46 sunder-45, he-44 burneth-43 the-42 chariot-41 in-40 the-39 fire-38.

10 Be-37 stil-36, and-35 know-34 that-33 I-32 am-31 God-30: I-29 will-28 bee-27 exalted-26 among-25 the-24 heathen-23, I-22 will-21 be-20 exalted-19 in-18 the-17 earth-16.

11 The-15 Lord-14 of-13 hosts-12 is-11 with-10 vs-9; the-8 God-7 of-6 Iacob-5 is-4 our-3 refuge-2. Selah-1.

Now I'm no numerologist, but I'm pretty sure 47 != 46.

Of course if we discount the last word, Selah, then speare is the 46th word... but why should we skip the last word? It's still a word.

  • One could easily argue that Selah is the end (0) rather than one word before the end (-1).
    – OrangeDog
    Jul 11, 2016 at 8:09
  • @OrangeDog: Wouldn't that make "To" 0, instead of 1, as well?
    – Flimzy
    Jul 11, 2016 at 17:15
  • Not if "To" is the first (1st) word. I mean to imply that there are stronger arguments than exploiting an ambiguity in how to count the words.
    – OrangeDog
    Jul 11, 2016 at 17:31
  • @OrangeDog: If you use a 0 index from one end, you ought to from the other, as well. So while I'm willing to accept there may be other ways to count, one ought to be consistent. Then again, this is numerology we're talking about... I'm not sure how scientific I ought to expect a practitioner to be.
    – Flimzy
    Jul 11, 2016 at 17:34
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    @Flimzy Given that Selah can be interpreted as a musical mark, it might actually be appropriate to not treat it as a word. That makes this argument weak. Sklivvz's argument is more independent of interpretation. Jul 12, 2016 at 11:56

The translation of King James was a big project that took at least 47 scholars six years to complete. The translators and revisers were organised in 6 teams, overseen by the Bishop of Canterbury (Source: Encyclopdia Brittanica). The idea that some translator could just decide to take a psalm and put an Easter egg into it without anybody noticing is rather fanciful and seems to underestimate the importance of the project for all those involved.

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