In Which I Beat Critics to the Punch, a Punch I Deserve

My new book Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible has inside it what I now take to be an error. Probably. But one I already hedged.

In the book I give about three dozen examples of “false friends,” words which we still use but which meant something different in 1611—in such a way that modern readers usually won’t notice. This is the key concept of the entire book, and one of my examples, added at the last minute as my deadline neared, I now believe doesn’t belong in the list. If there’s a second edition, I plan to replace it (I’ve got more).

Ironically, it’s one of the examples a radio/podcast interviewer zeroed in on in one of my interviews about the book. The interviewer didn’t spot my error. It’s still possible I was right. It’s not perfectly clear. But on balance, I think I was wrong.

And I’d love for a critical reviewer to find the error. I am discovering that, for this book, the most difficult part of the entire project has been not writing, not editing, not re-editing, not re-re-re-re-editing, not persuading my wife that a given line actually was funny and merited inclusion, not getting a publisher to take me on, not analyzing the cover, not promoting the book, not any of those things. The most difficult part of the project has been finding a qualified person who disagrees with my thesis and who will do me the courtesy of listening hard and responding to that thesis. I’ve had basically two such responses. I’ve also had nice responses; I’ve also had a very few nasty ones; I’ve also had a number of responses that utterly refused to address what I actually said and instead insisted on talking about something else. But I’ve only had two people listen hard enough to understand the main thing I was saying and then answer it with anything more than the wave of a hand.

I feel like, I dunno, a swordsman who spent his formative years watching a battle go back and forth and training to step onto the front lines. I sharpened my blade religiously; I invented new thrusts and parries; I perfected a near painless method of killing my opponent in which he comes immediately back to life and realizes we’re actually on the same side (hey, this is my metaphor). And now hardly anyone will fight me.

There are lots and lots of KJV-Only folks out there, and I’m asking you: hit me! I will smile with joy and turn the other cheek for another blow and another! Look up all the words I laboriously looked up in the Oxford English Dictionary. Find the one I think I was wrong about. Offer an alternative. Try to undercut my project at its central point: “false friends.”

Now’s your opportunity.

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.

6 thoughts on “In Which I Beat Critics to the Punch, a Punch I Deserve”

  1. Pretty quiet here…but I’l be watching for other replies. I read your book, btw. I guess I missed the false friends “error” to which you refer on my first read. I enjoyed your work and have recommended it to others.

  2. Mark, I purposed to get back with you on this, but was let hitherto. Since we had a draw on “heady” and I didn’t figure you’d go for “commend,” I went back over your list of 25 false friends this morning. I believe the right one jumped out, but we’ll see. Incontinent.

    Sometimes with words like these I can’t be sure if I’m thinking of current usage or just made friends with these words so many years ago that I don’t think of them as archaic. But I believe the following dictionaries will support the choice of “incontinent.” I checked several and not one of those identified the same meaning as the KJV usage as archaic (its the first definition in the online Merriam-Webster and Free Dictionary-AHD).

    Dictionary.com: 3. lacking in moderation or self-control, especially of sexual desire
    FreeDictionary.com: 1. Not restrained; uncontrolled…3. Lacking sexual restraint; unchaste
    Merriam-Webster: a (1) : lacking self-restraint (2) : not being under control
    Oxford online (not OED): 2. Lacking self-restraint; uncontrolled

  3. Nice opening line. =)

    I think we’re probably at a draw with incontinent, too, because I don’t deny that contemporary dictionaries still include the sense used in 1611. And I imagine some readers do get it. I don’t think they all get it, however—because I went to the trouble of checking the NOW Corpus (https://corpus.byu.edu/now/), which you should try, and the overwhelming majority of uses of incontinent referred to an inability to control certain bodily functions. When the word meant “lacking in self-restraint,” it tended to have its head noun directly following it, such as “incontinent user of Facebook.” When someone was described as “incontinent,” full stop, using just a copula and a predicate adjective as in 2 Tim 3:3 (“Mildred was incontinent”), all the examples I checked were clearly about those bodily functions.

    Now, I don’t think modern readers who fail to get this word in 2 Tim 3:3 actually conclude that it means there “unable to control one’s bowels.” My guess is that they don’t really think about it, honestly. It’s in a long vice list with plenty of other things to think about. But the word doesn’t sound archaic, because we still use it, so my hypothesis would be that people still think they’re getting it but don’t.

    So this raises a question: how many readers have to misunderstand a word before it becomes a “false friend”? I don’t know. I think we’re there with this use in 2 Tim 3:3, however. But we’re at a draw because I can’t deny, again, that the right sense is still around.

    In any case, that’s not the word I had in mind. =) But it’s just the kind of patient work that I think my KJV-Only brothers are duty-bound by my book to do.

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