Review: Laurence M. Vance’s Archaic Words and the Authorized Version

I’m trying to do what wiser people have recommended; I’m trying to critique only the best and strongest representatives of the various KJV-Only viewpoints available. I recently posted a YouTube review of Laurence M. Vance’s 1997 book, Archaic Words and the Authorized Version. Here’s the text.

I hope to show that Laurence M. Vance’s book, Archaic Words and the Authorized Version is simply and fundamentally and clearly wrong, gloriously wrong, infamously wrong, precisely at the point of its central thesis. When it came time to rate it on Goodreads I wanted to give it one star out of five. But I couldn’t. I had to give Vance another third of a star for sheer gumption, another third for the thousands of hours of work needed to put this thick book together, and a last third of a star for being the only person in the KJV-Only world that I have ever run into who demonstrated knowledge of the existence of the Oxford English Dictionary. So: two stars total.

Here’s Vance’s thesis:

The thesis of this seminal work is that the Authorized Version is no more archaic than daily newspapers, current magazines, and modern Bible versions. (viii)

Calling your own work seminal is gumption. And having a thesis like his—one that is so counterintuitive (actually, I will argue, counterfactual)—is double gumption. I gotta hand it to him.

I want first to interact with Vance’s thesis as he stated it, clarifying what “archaic” language is; then I want to look at ten randomly-chosen examples from his book that will demonstrate the book’s gloriously infamous gumption.

“Archaic” vs. “obsolete”; and words vs. senses

There are tons of debates in the world. They never stop, and they never will stop until the eschaton. And perhaps even then we’ll have debating societies: finite people just can’t know exhaustive truth about everything. This alone would lead to disagreements, but then the fall of mankind of got mixed up in there and now debates happen—and go sour—at 5G speeds.

Many debates don’t have an agreed-upon standard; the standard is itself part of the debate. Macs vs. PCs, for example—it’s meaningless to say that one is “better” than the other until you ask, “By what standard?” Mac users tend to prefer the standard of aesthetic appeal, while Microsoft users might prefer the standard of lower cost or of available apps. They can’t agree upon a standard of what counts as a good computer, so they can’t have a debate over which computer is better—not until they establish a standard.

There are two major debates over the King James Version, and “by what standard” is relevant to each of them. One is Greek New Testament textual criticism: which edition is closest to the originals? The originals are the agreed-upon standard. But we don’t have the originals. So that debate is interminable. This is one big reason why I don’t talk much on my YouTube channel about this debate. We have an agreed upon standard, but we don’t have access to it.

But there’s a second major debate over the KJV, and, blessedly, we have an agreed upon standard to guide us and to stand over us as referee. The debate is over the contemporary readability of the King James. And the standard is The Dictionary. Both sides acknowledge it. My KJV-Only brothers acknowledge it every time they say, as I have heard them say to me repeatedly over three decades, “Anybody with a little diligence and a dictionary can read the KJV just fine.” People like me who love the KJV but reject KJV-Onlyism, who argue that edification requires intelligibility—we acknowledge the authority of The Dictionary, too. I have looked up every one of my “false friends” in the OED, the Oxford English Dictionary, and the footnotes in Authorized make this clear.

Laurence M. Vance acknowledges the same standard. In fact, he uses the same dictionary—and he’s the only KJV-Only individual I’ve ever known who did so. The OED is the ultimate English dictionary, the granddaddy of them all, the Sumo wrestler of dictionaries. It’s huge and exhaustive, and it takes extra effort to understand it and use it compared to Merriam-Webster or American Heritage. The OED tries to cover the entire history of English; other dictionaries focus instead on words and senses that are still in use.

Forgive my extended throat-clearing here, but I can’t review Vance’s book until we all understand how this standard, The Dictionary, and particularly the OED, works. We need to distinguish, as The Dictionary does, among “archaic” words, archaic senses, and “obsolete” words and obsolete senses.

“Archaic” words and senses are those that are old but still understandable by people who have some special reason to know them. Here’s the OED on “archaic”:

Belonging to an earlier period, no longer in common use, though still retained either by individuals, or generally, for special purposes, poetical, liturgical, etc. Thus the pronunciation obleege is archaic in the first case; the pronoun thou in the second.

Beeves is another good example. It used to be used to refer to “cows” in the past, and sure enough it appears in the KJV. Beeves is still retained today—but only for “special purposes.” It is a technical term used and known pretty much only by people who work with cows, like ranchers. They might buy some “quality Texas beeves” at a cattle auction. But say beeves to someone who is not a specialist in bovine husbandry—which, according to a recent Fox News poll, means most of us—and you’ll draw a blank.

Now, the Christian religion is a special field. If we had to learn some archaic words in order to read our Bibles, that would not, I think, be an intolerable burden. You have to learn special words to dig deep into any field.

But there aren’t just archaic words; there are archaic senses of words. And this is important. The OED and all other major English dictionaries may give multiple senses for any given word. And only one or two of them might be archaic. “Experimental,” for example, is not an archaic word. We use it all the time. But it has an archaic sense: (AHD) “based on experience as opposed to authority or conjecture.” You see this sense in 18th century English writers such as Jonathan Edwards, who talked about “experimental religion.” This sense still gets used just often enough among Christian theologians that the sense is “archaic” and not “obsolete.”

And all this means that archaisms in the KJV and other Elizabethan texts exist on a spectrum from easy to hard. Ye and thee are archaic, but they are easy to learn and understand. Most people who’ve made it through high school are aware of these archaic forms. But the average person is not likely to know the archaic sense of “experimental.” For him or her, “experiential” would be more readily understood.

Then you have obsolete words and senses. Archaic words and senses are dying, or they are living off a small sidestreet in Limbo frequented only by people who have some special business there. But obsolete words and senses are six feet under in the linguistic cemetery. The OED is their headstone. They have been pronounced dead by The Dictionary. And sometimes it will even give us the hour of death. Merriam-Webster defines an “obsolete” word as one that is “no longer in use or no longer useful”—and in language, those are the same thing. If a word or sense is no longer in use, it’s no longer useful: you can’t use it, because people won’t know it.

Now, finally, we can get back to the thesis of Vance’s book, Archaic Words and the Authorized Version. Again that thesis is:

The thesis of this seminal work is that the Authorized Version is no more archaic than daily newspapers, current magazines, and modern Bible versions. (viii)

I think, here, that Vance is using the word “archaic” to cover words and senses that are archaic and those that are obsolete. Certainly, throughout his book he lists both kinds of words.

For example, he acknowledges that in the sentence “they have done unto him whatsoever they listed,” “Listed is definitely archaic” (214). He doesn’t provide any examples of this word being used in contemporary English—because it isn’t. It’s not archaic, it’s obsolete. Now, I’m not picking on his terminology, I’m really not. I think what he did was fine: he was being non-technical for a non-technical readership. I just think it can also be helpful to be a bit more specific, distinguishing archaic words and senses from obsolete ones.

And now that we have those concepts in mind, I can clarify something. The problem for today’s readers with KJV English isn’t just that it’s archaic, although nearly every KJV sentence outside of “Jesus wept” is worded in at least a slightly different way from how we would do it, and that has to mean something for readability. The problem with KJV English is that some words and some senses of some words have passed from “archaic” to “obsolete.” Again, the problem with insisting that everyone read the KJV exclusively is not that it has quaint language, language with the whiff of the antique mall or the museum but that we might realistically expect them to buckle down and learn. The problem with KJV English for modern readers is two kinds of linguistic obsolescence: dead words and false friends (which are simply obsolete senses of still-in-use words). In other words, it’s English so old it is either unintelligible or, worse, misleading.

As I’ve said, the existence of obsolete and archaic senses is not the fault of the KJV translators! They couldn’t know what would happen to English in the next 400 years after their work was done.

But we, if we’re going to have a productive debate over KJV English, have to understand these concepts I’ve just explained. We’re going to need them as we turn now to Vance’s specific examples.

Ten Random Examples from Vance’s Book

Now: Vance gives 712 examples of words (and a few phrases) he himself judges to be “archaic” in one way or another. How many of them do I have to critique, and how must I select them, in order to represent his methods and judgments fairly?

That’s kind of up to you. Fairness is probably in the eye of the beholder here. All I can do is my best—within the natural time limits of my schedule and of the YouTube medium. I don’t think I can realistically expect you to sit through more than ten examples. That would get tedious. So how do I select them fairly? Well, first I read and read and read, and I looked things up in dictionaries, and then I took notes. You can see them here. Then I asked Siri to give me random numbers between and therefore choose my examples, and these are the ten words Siri chose:

  1. Gazingstock
  2. Importunity
  3. Farthing
  4. Cockatrice
  5. Verily
  6. Champaign
  7. Mess
  8. Oration
  9. Beeves (I’m not kidding—it picked one of the very words I already talked about! I laughed out loud when I turned to it!)
  10. Translate

Word nerds out there can tell right away that we’ve got a mix of archaic words and obsolete words, and of easy archaisms and hard ones. We’ll find, too, that we’ll need the difference between “words” and “senses,” too, in order to fairly evaluate this list. We’ve even got a word or two, I’ll argue, that isn’t archaic at all and shouldn’t have been placed in Vance’s book.

Vance lays out his methods in the beginning of his book. He promises us six things in each entry:

  1. A verse of Scripture from the KJV using the word.
  2. All forms of the word in the KJV, like satiated, unsatiable, and satiate.
  3. The etymology of the word.
  4. A definition of the word.
  5. Examples of how the word is used in modern Bible versions.
  6. Examples of how the word is used in contemporary newspapers and magazines.

These last two are important, because without them he can’t prove his thesis. He has to show that these archaic and obsolete words and senses are, in fact, still used—and used commonly—today. He has to, implicitly, correct the dictionary whenever it calls a KJV word obsolete.

Let’s see how he does.

1. Gazingstock

On this first example, I’m afraid he doesn’t do so great fulfilling his own program. We get the verse: “He will set thee as a gazingstock” (Nah 3:6). He does well on the definition, though not so great on the etymology. It seems to me he didn’t dig deep enough into the huge entry for “stock” in the OED, because it explains why “-stock” is the suffix on so many obsolete words like gazingstock, sportingstock, talkingstock, floatingstock, and gauringstock—and one we still use today, laughingstock. The OED says that a “stock” was a trunk of a tree, and that it probably got used (they’re not certain) in these words because the people who are the objects of others’ mirth are pictured as being unfeeling like a tree stump. But Vance couldn’t say everything there was to say about gazingstock, so this omission is not a big deal.

But there was something he was supposed to say, something he promised to say—or there was no point in his writing this book. In the very first example word, selected at random by Siri, Vance gives no examples of gazingstock being used in contemporary newspapers or magazines. Instead he changes the subject and offers a random example of a place where, in his judgment, the KJV uses an easier word than the NIV. Okay, yes, maybe “tranquility” is more difficult than “quietness” for modern readers (though I’d call that a pretty big maybe, and I can’t know unless I look at the context, which Vance does not provide), but surely neither is “archaic.” And that’s what Vance has promised to show us: that the KJV is no more archaic than today’s newspaper than the modern versions. By failing to find a use of gazingstock in either one, what Vance has just done is acknowledged that, in fact, the KJV is more archaic than today’s English—at this one point, the word gazingstock.

When I sat down to read his book, I saw Vance do this repeatedly. And my mouth hung open further and further each time, until it was dragging the floor and my wife had to come and help me put my jaw back in joint. I literally could not believe that such a clearly intelligent man would think he can get away with this. And I’m telling you: I saw him do it over and over. Have readers gotten wise since this book came out, during my senior year of high school? I hope so. If not, I’m trying to wise them here on this humble sidestreet of the internet frequented only by you people who have some special business here.

Vance is 0 for 1, I’m afraid. Let’s move on.

2. Importunity

The second word Siri chose at random was importunity. And here Vance again had my mouth hanging open, because importunity simply isn’t an archaic word. It’s a difficult word, sure, but it is a word I know from outside the KJV. “Persistence” is probably a better word for the passage at hand, the short illustration Jesus gives of the man who bangs on his neighbor’s door at night, asking for three loaves of bread. And, sure enough, the modern versions don’t use “importunity.” They use more common words such as “audacity,” “persistence,” and “shamelessness.”

But if The Dictionary is our standard, I couldn’t find one that called importunity archaic, let alone obsolete. The word is listed as current in Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, and of course the OED. No wonder, then, that Vance was able to find an example of this word in the magazine Sojourners in 1990. It’s not an archaic word at all.

I really am trying to be fair here, but so far I’d say Vance is at a clear 0 for 2.

3. Farthing

The next word Siri chose for us is farthing. This word definitely has the whiff of the antique mall or the museum, to me at least. But then, if The Dictionary is our standard, none of the three we’ve been checking call this word “archaic” or “obsolete.” They all do say that it is a former monetary unit from Britain. The OED says that the farthing ceased to be legal tender in 1961. It was one fourth of a cent. So, yes, that’s probably close enough to enable us to call the word “archaic.” Clearly, we don’t have farthings anymore.

But… the word has held on, and it appears in another different sense in all three dictionaries. It now means “something of small value.” In fact, the OED tells me that this sense has been around since before the time of the KJV. Just like our phrase “My two cents” uses pennies as metaphors for things of small value, so “farthing” has had both a literal and a figurative sense for many centuries.

Which one did the KJV translators intend when they translated the Greek word assarion, which was a coin valued at one-sixteenth of a day’s wage, with, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?”

I think that quite clearly, given the context, they were picking the literal sense: one-fourth of a cent. They were picking the closest equivalent coin in their culture to the one Jesus talked about from his culture, which is a perfectly good translation strategy.

But all this means that Vance has confused words and senses. Sure, we still have the word “farthing”: he proved that with a reference to Fortune magazine. But he didn’t show that our English still has the sense found in the KJV, that literal sense: one fourth of a penny.

Vance in the beginning of his book says that “to learn and understand the Bible one must be familiar with its vocabulary instead of dragging it down to one’s own level.” He says that we must “learn the vocabulary necessary to understand.” And I say: do I have to learn that the farthing was one fourth of a cent in order to understand my Bible? Would it be so wrong for today’s translators to pick an equivalent coin that is in use today rather than one that was in use in 1611? Like “penny”? Or to be vague like “copper coin,” since we don’t have a true equivalent to one-sixteenth of a day’s wage? Or to just transliterate the Greek word, indicating that there is no contemporary equivalent? It just seems odd that I should have to learn about the historical monetary units of Britain in order to understand my Bible today.

Vance hasn’t proven his thesis with this word; he found the KJV word in Fortune, but he didn’t find the KJV sense of that word. I have to say that I saw him do this repeatedly in other examples I read. And I have to conclude we’re at 0 for 3.

4. Cockatrice

Word 4: Cockatrice. This one comes from Isaiah 14:29:

Out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice.

Do you know what a cockatrice is? I don’t. I think based on the contexts in which it appears in the KJV it must be some kind of snake? But I have to admit I’ve never looked it up till today. Vance says that it meant a “hybrid serpent and fowl.” So like a bird-snake? I certainly didn’t know that.

He doesn’t say whether this is an accurate reflection of the Hebrew, and I have to assume it isn’t. The modern translations tend to go with “adder.” That is an English word I do know.

And, once again, on example 4, we have a word for which Vance finds no contemporary uses. My mouth is hanging open again. This book is supposed to prove that the KJV is no more archaic than the newspaper or than modern versions, but Vance has to implicitly acknowledge—by changing the subject, just like he did in example 1—that, in fact, cockatrice is not present in contemporary English. I won’t spend any more time on this one.

I really and truly would like to give Vance a point, because it doesn’t look balanced to give someone a 0%. But blame Siri’s random selection process: we’re at 0 for 4.

5. Verily

Vance does the same thing yet again with word number 5, “verily.” He gives no example uses from current English. He actually explicitly acknowledges that “verily” is archaic. But watch what he does—again:

Verily might be archaic, but is certainly much easier to understand than why the NRSV substituted “remonstrated” for “contended.”

This is like a Red Sox fan saying during a dispute with a Yankees fan over which is the best team, “Okay, maybe the Yankees have won more World Series, but the Red Sox have a better logo!”

Yes, maybe so. But that wasn’t the argument we were told we were having. Vance’s thesis was not that the KJV is easier than modern versions, but that it was no more archaic than they are. So his example from the NRSV is irrelevant to his stated thesis.

Now it may be that he has a second, unstated thesis: that the modern versions are actually harder to understand than the KJV. And I have seen plenty of KJV-Only folks say this very thing. And we could have that debate. But that would call for a different book than the one Vance has given us: different method; different proofs. He stated his thesis so clearly; why is he bringing up irrelevant data? And why does he do it repeatedly at precisely those points at which he fails to demonstrate his thesis?

FWIW, it turns out that the NRSV had a good reason for going with “remonstrated” in Neh 13:17, the passage Vance has to be talking about (just check the commentaries). But even this is irrelevant to the question we’re supposed to be pursuing. Vance’s book was supposed to tell us about Archaic Words in the Authorized Version. Remonstrated isn’t archaic—as The Dictionary will quickly tell you. We’re 0 for 5 here; let’s move on.

6. Champaign

And yet I can’t move on. The very next word selected at random, example no. 6, shows precisely the same pattern we’ve been seeing. This time his change of subject actually made me laugh out loud, it was so gloriously cheeky. Look what he does:

Although the word champaign is archaic, it is still the name of a city in Illinois.

Champaign was used twice in the 1611 KJV—once in Deuteronomy and once in the apocryphal book of Judith (remember: the 1611 KJV included the Apocrypha). The word meant “plain” or “field.” Deuteronomy 11:30 speaks of “the land of the Canaanites, which dwell in the champaign over against Gilgal.”

I would think it is obvious that the fact that there is a city in Illinois which bears the name Champaign is of no help to me when I come to Deuteronomy 11:30. I didn’t know what a champaign was until I read Vance’s book. I do have him to thank for teaching me this word. (A YouTube commenter mentioned that he’s from Champaign, Illinois, and yet didn’t know what the word meant.)

And, y’ know, I am determined to give Vance at least one point. And, despite himself, he earns one here. Because all three of our dictionaries mark this word as still current. I’ve never heard it or read it that I can recall. I’ll bet four farthings that you haven’t either. I also failed to find it in the linguistic corpus I like to check: all I saw there was that city in Illinois. But I have to admit that, apparently, I’m the one who’s ignorant. I guess Vance was, too, though, because he said the word was archaic. But he still gets a point. I’m determined.

Now… if you and I and Vance [and the guy from Champaign] don’t know this word, might it not be better to say “plain” or “field” instead, like Vance acknowledges the NKJV does? But I suppose that’s irrelevant to the thesis again. Back to evaluating Vance’s arguments for this thesis. He’s 1 for 6.

7. Mess

Word 7 is “mess.” The passage Vance cites is in one of my favorite stories in the Bible, the story of Joseph and God’s amazing power in planning good where his brothers planned evil.

And [Joseph] took and sent messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin’s mess was five times so much as any of theirs. (Gen 43:34)

Now let me pause for a second to make a linguistic observation. This sentence is full of archaisms. They aren’t hard to understand if you have some practice and if you understand the context, but at so many points, the way the KJV talks here just isn’t the way we talk or write. It is obviously, undeniably an older way of talking. Without even looking at the Hebrew, I can de-archaize this sentence. I can translate from KJV into modern English; I’ve been doing it my entire life. I can often, not always, do this kind of thing on the fly.

And Joseph had food sent to them all from in front of him, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as large as any of theirs.

There is only one word in this KJV sentence that is archaic: “mess.” So why did I change so many other things when I translated it into our English? Because it isn’t just words that are archaic; it’s word order and syntax and prepositional phrases. And I can’t find anywhere in Vance’s book where he acknowledges these other dimensions of archaism in language. In this book, “archaic” is something limited to words. But his thesis was—again—that “the Authorized Version is no more archaic than daily newspapers, current magazines, and modern Bible versions.” So why did he talk about only one dimension of language? For him to demonstrate his thesis, I think he’d have to find magazines that said “from before him” and “five times so much as.” You and I both know he couldn’t do that—because the KJV uses archaic English and today’s New York Times does not.

Now to mess.

Context makes this word clear enough in the KJV. Mess simply has to mean “food.” And, as I was sure Vance would point out, and he did, good readers today will have heard of a “mess hall”—and, I’d add, of “the Captain’s mess.” “Mess” is a word I associate with soldiers and sailors—which is precisely what the AHD tells me to expect. It is clearly “archaic” in the sense I described toward the beginning of this piece: it is a word that used to be used more commonly to mean “food” but has now stuck around only in specialized uses, namely naval and military uses, neither of which fits the context in Genesis 43.

Vance doesn’t acknowledge any of this. But by appealing to military uses and finding no other kinds of examples, he is actually implicitly showing that the word is archaic in the sense of that word as defined by The Dictionary.

And, I mean, don’t you just know that it is? “Joseph took and sent messes unto them.” No one today would ever say that. This isn’t the fault of the KJV translators: that was perfectly fine in their day. And it isn’t our fault. Language simply changes over time. 1 for 7.

8. Oration

Eighth word: oration. This is another word like importunity, one that simply isn’t archaic. I don’t have a problem with the KJV using the word in the place Vance names, Acts 12:21:

And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.

An oration is a formal and elaborate discourse, a grandiose speech, even a pompous one. Every one of The Dictionaries I looked at listed it as current, and indeed it is a word that I personally know and have used. So it’s no surprise that Vance found this word in the Associated Press in 1994. It isn’t archaic.

But I also don’t have a problem with modern translations using what I take to be easier, more commonly known, words here. And that’s just what most of them do. They tend to use “public address” or “speech,” which are certainly also acceptable translations of the Greek word God inspired. And isn’t that the point? If there are two words that are both accurate translations—and there very, very frequently are—and one of them is gold and the other is silver, is it so bad if you use the silver one and not the gold if far more people understand the silver one? In other words, are we obligated to use the most formal synonym currently available when more commonly known, somewhat less formal ones work just as well?

1 for 8.

9. Beeves

I already talked about beeves. I’ve talked about it in previous videos, in fact.

Vance did not offer a current use of this word in his brief discussion of it. He, once again (I am not making this up) changed the subject and complained that the NRSV used the more difficult “deference” instead of the easier “fear” in a passage he doesn’t name. Again, maybe he’s right. And again, it’s totally irrelevant to his thesis.

In fact, Vance could have found a use of the word beeves if he’d looked hard enough in the right places. It is still used today, as I said earlier, in specialized places. But that’s what “archaic” means. Beeves is clearly archaic, or nothing is.

1 for 9.

10. Translate

The tenth and final example word, chosen by Siri at random from Vance’s book, is interesting .It’s translate, which is used only once in the KJV.

[The Lord swore] to translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah. (2 Sam 3:10)

Context is clear enough here that you could use nonsense syllables and people would still know what the sentence means. Let’s try it.

[The Lord swore] to trembulate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah.

You get the gist, don’t you?

But why not use a word people actually know, in a sense they actually still use? This is what all major translations do here. They pretty much all go for “transfer.” And, in fact, that’s what Vance said “translate” used to mean. He acknowledges that the word is now used mostly for “transferring” meaning from one language to another. So what’s wrong with saying “transfer”?

There’s one more wrinkle to cover, and this is the interesting part: Vance gives a current example use of “translate” that, he says, shows that the KJV’s use of the word is no more archaic than modern newspapers. Let’s take a look:

However, less strategic dependence has not translated into a loss of United States leverage over China on other policy issues.

That’s from a periodical called Current History. And that is a recognizably current use of the word translate. But we have to pull out the conceptual tools I said you’d need: the difference between words and senses, and between those that are “archaic” and those that are “obsolete.”

All three of the dictionary companions we’ve been relying on give many senses for translate. And they all divide these senses into two groups: transitive and intransitive. Stay with me here. Remember from English class: transitive verbs take direct objects:

Tyndale translated the Bible into English.

The object of the transitive verb in this case is “the Bible.”

And the Bible verse that Vance is citing here uses the transitive sense of the verb:

The Lord swore to translate the kingdom from Saul to David.

And yet the example sentence from contemporary English that Vance chooses uses an intransitive sense of the verb:

Less strategic dependence has not translated into a loss.

There’s no object. Vance says that we still have this word, “translate,” and we do, but we don’t have it used in the sense found in the King James Version in 2 Sam 3:10.

In fact, if you check the Oxford English Dictionary, sense 9 is:

†9. transitive. To transfer (rulership, a country, etc.) from the possession or control of one person or people to another.

And it names this sense as: “Obsolete.”

We’re at 1 for 10, folks. In all honesty, I didn’t expect it to be this way. I bought this book with some fear that it might point out some things I had missed in my own little book. I come away from it feeling more confirmed in my view that the KJV is a translation into an English no one speaks fully anymore. Indeed, it’s hard to see this book as anything but a diligent collection of evidence to refute its own thesis.

I have been seeking out the best trained and most gifted brothers in KJV-Onlyism as dialogue partners; I’ve looked for the best representatives of the position. And I have learned things from them, I have. They’re not always 1 for 10. Even Vance helped me clarify what exactly “archaic” means by picking examples that sharpened my thinking.

Conclusion

Do you want to keep going? We can keep going. We can do this all day today, all day tomorrow. I only went through ten examples out of 712. That’s 1.4%. So I don’t think I “proved” that Vance failed to demonstrate his thesis. That would take more time than most people are willing to spend.

So what have I done? I have given you the conceptual tools to evaluate this book—and many claims like it I’ve seen in KJV-Only literature—for yourself. Armed with the concepts of archaic words, archaic senses, obsolete words, and obsolete senses, I think you can indeed read Vance’s book with more careful eyes. I wouldn’t mind at all if he got a big jump in sales because of this review (and I myself did buy the book with my limited book budget)—if it means that you are reading it with these conceptual tools I’ve tried to give you.

But most of you won’t do this, and I don’t really blame you. You will go on trusting the same people you trusted before you read this, because it takes a lot of time and energy to reevaluate your views. And that’s true whether that’s people who take Vance’s KJV-Only viewpoint or people take my not-KJV-Only viewpoint. So I want to end with a sobering and direct word for those who who trust KJV-Only leaders and who distrust anyone who questions them.

I never want to tell anyone to distrust their pastor; that is a dangerous thing to say unless their pastor is a false teacher. I don’t think that KJV-Only pastors, by and large, are “lying”—purposefully telling untruths to people under their care. I’ve known men like this, and I’ve known them to be godly, careful, evangelistic, and a lot of other good things.

But here’s the sobering things I want to tell you: don’t let anyone degrade you the way the Emperor did with his new clothes. Sometimes people can get away with saying things that aren’t true precisely because the untruths are so glaring. People look around them, and they see a lot of other people nodding their heads, and they assume that they’re the ones who are missing something. But you’re not.

The thesis of this seminal work is that the Authorized Version is no more archaic than daily newspapers, current magazines, and modern Bible versions. (viii)

This is obviously and patently and culpably absurd. There is not a stitch of clothing on that emperor. I’m saying this at the end of the video, after spending a lot of hours trying to show that it’s all absurd. But all that means is I just spent a lot of hours trying to demonstrate something you already knew. When you read contemporary newspapers and magazines—and contemporary Bible versions—the subject matter may be difficult in places, and it certainly will be, but the English is instantly recognizable as your English. When you read the KJV, and this is absolutely not a criticism of the KJV, you can’t not know that its English is archaic. Its differences from our English are visible in nearly every line.

I am absolutely certain that every person who made it this far in this video knows, beyond even the tiniest fleck of shadow of a doubt, that, “If the salt have lost his savour,” is archaic English, and, “If the salt has lost its taste,” isn’t. How do I know this? Because you never talk or write like KJV English in real life. You know that people would look at you funny. They would wonder why you are purposefully choosing archaic and obscure and even obsolete ways of saying things. They would wonder what your subtext was. Are you strange? Are you playing a joke on them? Are you some new breed of hipster NPR hasn’t done a story on yet? Are you trying to appear smart by quoting Shakespeare? KJV English is nothing if it isn’t archaic. And everyone knows it. Vance said that modern versions “drag” the vocabulary of the Bible “down to one’s own level.” But he himself used contemporary English throughout the book rather than Elizabethan. Why? Because the latter is archaic and therefore harder to understand.

That’s far from saying that it’s all unintelligible or useless or impossible to understand. I don’t think it is. I love the KJV, and I use it in some way in Bible study just about every day. But if we ask this narrow question, Is it archaic? the answer has to be a resounding yes. Over and over again, the one standard that we all agree upon, The Dictionary, labels words and senses in the KJV as “archaic” and “obsolete.”

And this matters. This matters because people like Vance are saying, as he said on page viii,

The Authorized Version is the Bible for English speaking Christians and the standard by which all other versions should be judged.

But what does the Bible say? It says,

Except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken?

1 Corinthians 14 teaches us that edification requires intelligibility. Where possible, Bible translators need to use words the plow boy, the man on the street, the average person knows rather than words they don’t. And by definition, an archaic word or sense is one that relatively few people know, and an obsolete word or sense is one that practically no one knows. Don’t let someone tell you do know word when you don’t, or that you somehow should feel deficient for not knowing words that The Dictionary says were laid to rest before you were born. Edification requires intelligibility, brothers and sisters. I beg of you: don’t let someone tell you not to read the Bible in your own English.

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.

15 Comments

  1. B Morgan on June 23, 2020 at 6:30 pm

    This is an excellent interaction with Vance’s book. I appreciate your continued efforts at being fair and genuine in your interactions. Those traits won my attention years ago when I first read your work. I recommend you without hesitation.

  2. Alexander Thomson on June 23, 2020 at 7:25 pm

    Mark,

    You tempter! I was just going to bed, when my email prompted me about your article! (Serves me right for staying up late! It’s now 0230 hours, so please pardon any typos etc.!)

    Personally, I am not KJVO, but I am a strong advocate of using KJV and other parallel translation(s) for study. Moreover, I should be horrified if KJV were to be discontinued in our Christian public sphere.

    Over many years, I have taught many folk how to read KJV, a task (and pleasure) made much more delightful by the Trinitarian Bible Society’s Westminster Reference Bible trinity – Compact, Standard, Large Print, available. for dollars 18, 20, 27 and pounds 15,17,33. These are superb productions, easily checked out at us.tbsbibles.org and tbsbibles.org

    TBS also provides a free Bible Word List to take care of those obsolete words! Such lists were common in nineteenth and early twentieth century KJV’s, and they could also be obtained separately or included with the Bible Helps and the like, also common.

    Now, the Westminster did a wonderful thing! It put its 200,000 (yes!) cross-references, not into a jumbled centre column, but into two margins, right and left. Included in the margins are explanations of certain words discreetly asterisked in the text. So, I thought you might like to know the explanations given for your ten examples ( and I have drawn from the Westminster’s excellent concordance a couple of references to complete your own!)

    01. “gazingstock”…….Nahum 03:06……”something to stare at in wonder”…….
    02. “importunity”………Luke 11:08…….. ah! not asterisked or explained!…….
    03. “farthing”………….. Matthew 05:26…..referenced to good table of money etc. at back…….
    04. “cockatrice”……….,Isaiah 14:29………”adder”…….
    05. “verily”……………….John 10:17……. ..”surely, indeed, truly”….
    06. “champagne”. Deut. 11:30……….”plain, flat countryside”…….
    07. “messes”…………. Gen. 43:34……….”dishes of food”……..
    08. “oration”…………… Acts 12:21…….. ah! not asterisked or explained!…….
    09. “beeves”…………… Lev. 22:19…… ….”cattle, oxen”……
    10. “translate”…………2 Sam. 03:10……..”transfer”……

    Eight out of ten explained! Not bad! (Memo to TBS – excellent start, include more explanations in future?).

    And here’s something especially for those beeves that are like bees in your bonnet! Rev. W W Skeatvwas Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Cambridge, where he produced a/the standard of “Glossary of Bible Words with Explanations and Illustrations”, a little work of twenty pages or so, available separately or bound up with other matter and/or in KJV Bibles. Here is his entry for you to chew over !) : “BEEVES s. pl. oxen. Lev. 22.19; Numb. 31.33. Flesh of muttons, beefs, or goats. Shak. Merch. Ven. I. 3. 168.”

    So, if Christians would only see that Christians had such Bibles, and if Christians would teach and encourage one another, Christians would find that Christians benefit!

    Every Blessing,

    Alex.

    • Mark Ward on June 24, 2020 at 11:07 am

      Ha! Sorry for tempting you!

      Now, Alexander, would it be okay—given 1 Cor 14’s teaching that edification requires intelligibility—to produce a revision of the KJV (which is itself a revision of a revision of a revision!) that just changed “gazingstock” to “spectacle”? And “verily” to “truly”? And “translate” to “transfer”? Isn’t the existence of so many glosses in the margin of the TBS Bible an argument that it’s time to revise the KJV? And if so… Would you accept the NKJV or MEV, which use the same Hebrew and Greek texts as the KJV?

  3. Fred Creason on June 24, 2020 at 11:04 am

    Good job, Brother Mark. You are correct: the thesis is absurd. I once asked a KJVO, who was a bit frustrated because I didn’t use the KJV, if we should offer classes in Elizabethan English so that church people could better understand their KJV. He was thrilled with the idea. I then suggested that we offer classes in Hebrew and Greek instead. Why stop with the 17th century? Why not go back as far as we can go? I quit using the KJV when I found myself spending lots of teaching and preaching time explaining the KJV to people who didn’t use the KJV. Most people today, even those who use the KJV, struggle to understand it. Attempts at explaining away the archaisms are silly. It’s far simpler to say that God’s English is Elizabethan English, and any Bible that’s not written in God’s English is wrong.

    • Mark Ward on June 24, 2020 at 11:10 am

      Thanks for reading, Dr. Creason! And you are, of course, perfectly right.

      I’m afraid that my KJV-Only brothers seem to me to have a hard time getting their story straight. One day the KJV is at a fifth-grade level and no one in their entire ministry has ever had any trouble understanding it and I am making up all my complaints; the next they are producing long word lists helping modern readers understand the archaic words and saying that all anyone needs is a dictionary or a Westminster Reference Bible or D.A. Waite’s Defined King James Bible and they can understand the KJV just fine.

  4. Alexander Thomson on June 28, 2020 at 3:28 pm

    Dear Mark and Fred,

    A few comments on yours!

    1. The KJV, of course, is not written in Elizabethan or Jacobean English. It was influenced by several prior translations, not least by Tyndale with his vigorous English, much-Anglo-Saxon-influenced!

    2. Let me make it clear, again, that I am a lover and user of the KJV, but I am decidedly not a KJV-Onlyist!

    3. I advocate the retention of the present KJV (basically, Blayney’s Cambridge 1769 edition), in order that our culture has continuity with so much of our excellent English literature. Students are now unable to tackle much of our English classics.

    4. Only when and where asked, do I teach individuals and groups to better read and better understand the KJV ( I also teach, often in secret, students of English literature!). There is definitely a demand for this assistance! The Westminster is a superb instrument for our purposes; and we know that KJV sales and usage have increased since it was published.. I would like to see more glossses and marginal notes in the Westminster; and I have no doubt that such will appear in due course.

    5. I do not like the MEV, and I have not found many who do like it. The NKJV, of course is widely liked and used, though for me there has always been something “pale” about it! But, I would say that, with a bit of reworking, it could be a very good and acceptable translation of the Majority/Byzantine text. A few die-hard Received text souls might object to its replacing their KJV in the public sphere, but not too many : in the UK, we have not been, and are not, plagued with the KJV-Only malady – from about ( and even before) 1875 onwards Christian Brethren were in the forefront of textual criticism in the UK and ordinary working men used textual resources, and used the RV for study, even referring to its readings and renderings in public gatherings where all read from the KJV. (I was brought up in that tradition.)

    6. In case you’re wondering, my own favourite translations are KJV, ASV, NASB: and I very often use the ESV in Christian work.

    7. Let me relate a personal anecdote. In 1971, a church decided to read in public the whole of the KJV in a year, remembering its appearance in 1611. I did not know the church or its pastor; but a mother and her lad came to me, asking me to teach him to read his KJV. His mother said that he had been diagnosed as “educationally sub-normal” (the horrible expression that we now have dropped in favour of “having learning difficulties”). Because he could not read properly, the pastor had refused him permission to take part in the public reading effort. Within six months – unknown to all but his mother and him and me – I had taught him to read and understand his KJV – and his mother too! No Christian had ever sat down with him, to teach and assist and encourage him – and that is no small part of our problem today!No matter what translation we use – our general and Christian literacy rates are a disgrace!

    8. The pundits regularly tell us that the reading age of the KJV is 17-19 years. Stuff and nonsense! my generation read the KJV from about ages 7-8, and we could well understand it by ages 11-14! I have not met many modern young folk who, within a relatively short period personal teaching and encouragement, do not have a decent grasp of the KJV!

    8. May I refer you to Mark’s blog (page 11 of the blogs), dated February 23 2015, and titled, “The Reading Level of the KJV”? You will see that I have set out some of the results of an extensive review into Bible literacy and preereed translations. I should be interested in any observations or comments or suggestions that may occur to you.

    Many thanks for your patient attention!

    Every Blessing,

    Alex.

    (Now that it’s 2330 hours here, I think that I’ll have an early night! But, it’s humid (for us, anyway)!

    .

  5. Robert L Vaughn on July 6, 2020 at 9:42 am

    Many of us know about the Oxford English Dictionary, we’re just too poor to afford it.

    • Mark Ward on July 6, 2020 at 9:42 am

      😉 I am, too. Thank you, local library system!

  6. Alexander Thomson on July 7, 2020 at 12:37 am

    Dear Mark and Fred (and other readers),

    I am surprised not to have received comment, so i take it that everyone’s interest has abated. Fair enough. let me sign off by saying thanks for the opportunity to have posted in this Blog.

    Every Blessing,

    Alex.

  7. Alexander Thomson on July 7, 2020 at 12:25 pm

    Mark, Did you remove/not post my sign-off comment? Alex

    • Mark Ward on July 7, 2020 at 12:32 pm

      Alexander, I never deleted any of your comments; just hadn’t gotten around to approving them all! =) Hey: I think you’ve gotten no answer because, I’m sorry, but I haven’t been able to understand what you’re saying either here or on the ETC blog. :/

  8. Alexander Thomson on July 7, 2020 at 4:40 pm

    Mark,

    My comment has re-appeared!

    Do I take it that you don’t wish to pursue matters further?

    Regards,

    Alex.

    • Alexander Thomson on July 8, 2020 at 5:08 am

      Mark,

      Thank you for your reply and explanation.

      Of the eight responses that I made to you and Fred above on 28th June, point 8 has do do with figures, and I am dealing with that point at the blog referred to at point 8.

      If you will kindly indicate where points 1 to 7 above are not clear,I shall endeavour to clarify matters.

      Many thanks.

      Regards,

      Alex.

  9. Milton Stanley Sr. on August 26, 2020 at 8:40 pm

    I enjoyed your post, but your math is off. Ten out of 712 is 1.4%, not .014%. You divided correctly, but you have to multiply your raw number by 100 to get percentage.

    • Mark Ward on August 26, 2020 at 8:44 pm

      Ha! Will fix. That actually helps my case! I covered proportionally more examples than I thought I did!

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