Another Problematic KJV Rendering

by May 31, 2011Exegesis, KJV, NTScholarship6 comments

“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” All modern translations render that last phrase with another word: “who suppress the truth.”

In contemporary English, to “hold the truth” means to believe it, to establish it as a tenet for oneself. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

The Greek word translated hold (κατέχω) means exactly that in 1 Cor 15. “I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”

So the KJV translators certainly have some justification in using the word hold in Rom 1. But what do they think this verse means? There are ungodly people who hold fast to the truth, who take it as a personal tenet—but they do so unrighteously? I suppose that’s possible. But suppress makes much better sense.

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  1. Wesley Barley

    Do any other passages support a “suppress” gloss here or is that a contextual decision?

  2. Mark L Ward Jr

    Good question. “Suppress” doesn’t appear anywhere else, but BDAG offers this as sense 1: “to prevent the doing of someth. or cause to be ineffective, prevent, hinder, restrain.” That sense definitely appears elsewhere (BDAG lists Phlm 13; Luke 4:42; 2 Ths 2:6).

  3. Hal Jones IV

    I agree that “suppress” is a better rendering for today, but, I must admit, that I can understand a rendering of “hold” even from a theological perspective. One cannot suppress something he does not know; to know can very easily be communicated to have [truth/knowledge, that is] (or “hold” in this context). When I read “hold the truth in unrighteousness” I see ungodly people who have the truth, in the sense that they know it, and yet continue to do unrighteousness.

  4. Mark L Ward Jr

    I think that underlines my overall point in my series of posts on “problems” with the KJV. Some of those problems probably weren’t problems back in 1611 (though I did just read Nicolson’s “God’s Secretaries,” and he said that the translators purposefully chose old-sounding language that no one had ever really quite spoken!).

    But they’re problems today—so the KJV simply isn’t written in our language. I can say that after reading Nicolson’s book, I came away more sure that a translation consciously standing in the tradition of the KJV (like the ESV) is what I would like to keep using. That tradition has a literary beauty and even a cultural power that I don’t want to give up lightly.

  5. Hal Jones IV

    I definitely agree with you there, Mark. I quote the KJV often simply because it is what I studied for so many years, but I enjoy reading and studying out of the ESV (my personal favorite). Just to note – my point above was not that I disagreed with you, per se, but that I concluded “There are ungodly people who hold fast to the truth, who take it as a personal tenet—but they do so unrighteously? I suppose that’s possible.” wasn’t what the translators intended.

  6. Mark L Ward Jr

    Ah, got it! I’d like to know what they intended. According to the book I just read on the history of the KJV, it’s hard to know because little of the proceedings of the translators’ work survives.