One More KJV Verse You Didn’t Realize You Didn’t Understand

But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. (Eph 5:3–4 KJV)

What does “convenient” mean here? It obviously doesn’t fit—or at least not in the way we use it today. Put another way, you and I have never in our lives used this word “convenient” to mean what the KJV translators used it to mean in Ephesians 5:4.

The KJV translators did nothing wrong, however. They couldn’t predict the future of their language. The Oxford English Dictionary reveals that the word they chose was perfectly suitable:

convenient4

The problem is that language has changed. This is the current sense:

convenient6

The word is very unlikely to migrate back to its now-obsolete sense of “suitable.” And even if you waged a campaign to push the word back in time you’d be unlikely to succeed. No one person has the power to turn such a big ship as English.

Until you do succeed in persuading everyone to use “convenient” the way it was used in 1611 (and as late as 1790)—or until you successfully teach every American Christian to recognize the many words and syntaxes whose meanings have changed in the last 400 years—why not use a modern English version? Almost every one of my blog posts in the KJV category represents one or more statements of God that are in the KJV but might as well be removed from the Bible, because to modern readers they are unintelligible or worse.

With Ephesians 5:4, the KJV rendering is edging toward worse. Filthy talk and foolish jesting are not just inconvenient; they are “out of place.” They are “not fitting,” “not suitable.” Those renderings (which come from the ESV/NIV, NASB, and HCSB, respectively) are simple, everyday English that anyone can understand. And isn’t that what we want in a Bible translation?

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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