New Category: KJV

Over ten years ago, one of my God-given spiritual leaders said in a class that King James Onlyism is actively seeking converts and that, unfortunately, seeking peace by refusing to address the issue was not an option. Conflict was coming, and we needed to go on the offensive. This was coming from a man who is well known for standing firm and standing graciously. This was not an invitation to pugnaciousness or sowing discord among brethren.

The school I went to growing up was and is King James Only. And my teachers and principal there have always been gracious toward me, even in their disagreement. (The fact is, we haven’t talked about the issue since I graduated in 1997.) These folks are too godly to be shrill and intemperate about the issue. They don’t make this their one badge of honor as some do. (I once met an unregenerated homeless man whose first question to me was whether or not I use the KJV; and I had an unsaved KJVO bus-kid as a camper at the Wilds who didn’t know the gospel but did know that the NIV should be burned.)

I think one of the best ways to combat KJVOism without being combative is to bring up real-life passages which are difficult or impossible to understand in the KJV. It’s easy to say in general that the KJV just takes a little getting used to; it even has the advantage of being pretty well true (for educated people, anyway). But there are numerous passages that, I’m convinced, will be misunderstood by modern English speakers unless they pick up a modern English translation. My new KJV category will collect instances like these for my and your future reference. The weight of specific examples may overturn the bulkhead stuck in someone’s conscience.

FWIW, the two passages I always think of–two that I think are good to keep in your frontal lobe in case this issue comes up in conversation–are Col. 2:23b and Ps. 37:8.

Another Example of Language Change in the Last 400 Years: Punctuation

Three minutes ago I discovered another passage I had been misreading for years because I always thought of it in 400-year-old KJV language:

As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider. (Isaiah 52:14-15 KJV)

It was the dashes in the ESV that alerted me to my error (the poetic hanging indents helped, too):

As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
(Isaiah 52:14-15 ESV)

The dashes told me that the sentence flow goes like this: Just as MANY people were astonished at him, so shall he sprinkle MANY nations. I always–without knowing it–got lost in all the intervening verbiage in the KJV. The “So” in “so shall he sprinkle” seemed out of place to me. The ESV’s punctuation helped me understand the conjunction and keep the thread.

Punctuation means something, but in all my years I’ve never seen an explanation of the KJV punctuation (aside from the idea that it broke up phrases for easier public reading), and I can’t find a reliable explanation online or in my Logos library. And as a long-time KJV reader, I’ve never been able to pick up a recognizable pattern in its use of colons and semi-colons. It has always seemed somewhat haphazard to me.

If there is a punctuation pattern (and I actually suspect there is), why force modern English speakers/writers to learn that new system? And don’t forget that the total absence of quotation marks in the KJV also makes for unnecessary reading difficulty. I fully and wholeheartedly agree with Bill Combs of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.

NASB Less Literal

Comparing Bible translations is a very complex matter. One small example:

The New American Standard Bible is generally (and, I think, rightly) considered to be the most “literal” of major English Bible translations. (“Literal” is a notoriously tricky word that I won’t try to define here.)

But check out the following verse in major Bible translations:

ESV  Col 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

KJV  Col 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

NIV  Col 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

HCSB  Col 3:5 Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.

NASB Col 3:5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

One of these things is not like the other! My Koine Greek isn’t good enough to know how Paul might have distinguished “amounts to” from “is,” but the two are not quite the same.

The Greek has the most common linking verb: “ἥτις ἐστὶν εἰδωλολατρία.” The most common gloss (one way to define “literal”) for this word is “is.” The NASB, I think most would agree, isn’t as literal here as even the NIV.

“Amounts to” probably does capture the meaning of the phrase, but not the “literal” translation.

An Approximately 25-Year-Old Misunderstanding with 400-Year-Old Roots

haltsign.pngToday I’m writing about the funny, interesting, and powerful story of Elijah for eighth graders. And just now—just now, after 25 years of being a Bible reader—I realized what the King James translators meant when they have Elijah say, “How long halt ye between two opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21).

I always assumed that “stopping” between two opinions was what they meant (careful statistical analysis of my wife’s opinion revealed 100% agreement). People in the olden days used to say “Halt!” when they wanted others to stop, right? Riding your horse past a HALT sign was a ticketed offense!

I have read this story in other versions before. I’m guessing I’ve read it in the NASB, the NIV/TNIV, and the ESV. The NASB has the people “hesitating” between two opinions. The NIV/TNIV has them “wavering.” But the ESV (more literal in this case than the NASB!) provided the key that uncovered my life-long misunderstanding.

To halt wasn’t just to “stop” in 1611; halt was the verb form of halt, i.e., “lame” (I checked the OED). We would say something like “hobble” or “limp.” And that’s exactly what the ESV has: “How long will you go limping between two different opinions?”

More importantly, this is what the Hebrew has, too. The Hebrew word underlying “limping” is the one used to describe what happened to Mephibosheth when, as a young child, his nurse dropped him, leaving him lame (2 Sam. 4:4). Interestingly, the word also occurs again in 1 Kings 18. And the ESV uses the same English word it used in v. 21, creating a sarcastically mocking picture: The prophets of Baal “limped around the altar that they had made” (v. 26).

Elijah’s challenge to the people in v. 21 is a picturesque metaphor. An obscure one, to be sure, because the next phrase is not as clear as “between two opinions.” It’s literally something like “on two lopped-off boughs”—apparently crutches (this is the only time this word appears in the Old Testament). The whole phrase “describes a mind as wobbly and uncertain as the legs of someone lame” (Bergen, NAC p. 219).

But I missed all that until about 15 minutes ago because my Elizabethan English wasn’t as good as I always arrogantly (and I mean that) assumed that it was.

Another Verse in the KJV That Can Be Easily Misunderstood

A few years ago I turned on the TV (don’t ask why; I had no excuse) and flipped over to the Church Channel. There I beheld a white, 40-something charismatic preacher jumping around the stage before a wildly clapping and shouting audience. He read the following verse out of the KJV, and it was projected on the television screen in front of him:

And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. (John 2:3 KJV)

The preacher was tired, he said, of the kind of preaching that promised that God would supply only your needs. That only goes halfway. This verse shows, he said, that God delights to give us what we want, not just what we need.

Prosperity theology played a strong role in this man’s statement, but this post is about the KJV. And it’s your turn to supply an explanation, dear reader: what is it about the KJV that led this particular speaker of contemporary English astray?