Zeal-of-the-Land Busy

I’m still reading God’s Secretaries, and I’ve arrived at a section in which Nicolson details the umpteen rules the KJV translators were supposed to follow. The second is this:

2. The names of the Profyts and the holie Wryters, with the other Names in the text to be retayned, as near as may be, according as they are vulgarly used.

I agree with that, but it would seem hardly worth saying. Why translate “John” or “Timothy” or, for that matter, “Jesus” with “Ioann,” “Timotheus,” or “Yeshua”?

Well, apparently there was a reason:

Some Puritans maintained that the names of the great figures in the scriptures, all of which signify something—Adam meant “Red Earth,” Timothy “Fear-God”—should be translated. The Geneva Bible, which was an encyclopedia of Calvinist thought, including maps and diagrams, had a list of those meanings at the back and, in imitation of those signifying names, Puritans, particularly in the heartlands of Northamptonshire and the Sussex Weald, had taken to naming their children after moral qualities. Ben Jonson included characters called Tribulation Wholesome, Zeal-of-the-Land Busy and Win-the-fight Littlewit in The Alchemist (1610) and Bartholomew Fair (1614), and Bancroft himself [Archbishop of Canterbury, in charge of the translation effort] had written about the absurdity of calling your children “The Lord-is-near, More-trial, Reformation, More-fruit, Dust and many other such-like.” These were not invented. Puritan children at Warbleton in Sussex, the heartland of the practice, laboured under the names of Eschew-evil, Lament, No-merit, Sorry-for-sin, Learn-wisdom, Faint-not, Give-thanks, and, the most popular, Sin-deny, which was landed on ten children baptized in the parish between 1586 and 1596.

Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (HarperCollins, 2003), 74.

Eschewing the culture’s accepted canon of names is a way of rejecting that culture and, to some degree, setting up one’s own. In a 17th century England that valued passing on its ways from generation to generation, this was a “half-mad denial of tradition” (p. 74).

Lane Dennis, the ESV, and the Internet Age


Once upon a time, I was preaching as a special youth speaker in a church in the South. It was my fourth or fifth time there. The pastor was KJV-Only, and I knew this, so I converted all the ESV quotations in my sermon to KJV quotations. I was preaching from my laptop—but in the rush of the moment I accidentally used the wrong file! The pastor’s daughter reported my ESV-usage to her dad, who wasn’t present, and I was asked not to return. They don’t hate me, and I still have some contact with them, but I’m not likely to be going back.

One of the pastor’s biggest objections to modern translations of the Bible was this, “You can’t copyright the Word of God.”

My answer to that has always been a verse from that Word of God: “The labourer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7). If someone goes to the trouble and expense of assembling an august group of Christian scholars and then pays to have their work organized, vetted, type-set, and printed, a copyright protects that work from being stolen or altered. The Bible does not demand that Christians give away all their work to other Christians for free.

esv But along comes the Internet Age, and at its dawn, the ESV. I noticed years ago that the ESV was different from other good translations in its use of technology. And things have only gotten better. Free iPhone and iPad apps, a number of free ESV websites—and they all look fantastic. I think these things have gone a long way in helping justify the S in ESV.

I knew someone at the top over at Crossway must be behind this push, because I gather that most people who have the power to make such decisions at different publishers are part of a generation which fears technology and is loathe to release their material online. Well, now Lane Dennis of Crossway has explained himself. This is a good read, and a good model.

Another KJV Verse That Is Difficult to Understand

“I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily” (1 Cor 15:31).

What does that mean? “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ”? What? That doesn’t make any sense to me, and I happen to speak very well English!

Add it to the list.

Another KJV Verse You Probably Memorized without Understanding It

Keep thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

This is a very common memory verse, as well it should be, but how many people know what issues means here? It doesn’t mean what we would usually expect that word to mean in a sentence like this one, “a matter that is in dispute between two or more parties” (Merriam-Webster).

I gather from the Hebrew word and an OED check that the KJV translators used issues to mean something more like “out-goings” (the OED offers, “the action of going, passing, or flowing out; egress, exit; power of egress or exit; outgoing, outflow,” and it attests this use in Wycliffe as early as 1382). Modern translations tend to use “springs” in this verse—“out of your heart flow the springs of life.” In other words, what happens in your life flows out of your heart (cf. Waltke, NICOT, p.298).

Today we tend to use the verb form of issue to mean something like “out-goings” when we say, “Senator So-And-So issued a press release.” And when we say, “There’s a new issue of TIME you’ve got to read,” we are using the noun in a way that stems from the “out-goings” sense—because a press issues or sends out each print run. (This connection, however, is not present in our minds when we use the word.)

But I don’t think very many people at all today use the noun form of issue in quite the way the KJV did in this verse. Yes, you got the gist of Proverbs 4:23, but are you content to memorize a verse in which you don’t really understand one of the major words?

And archaic usages in the KJV do create problems. I went to a funeral a few years ago where an old African-American preacher preached on “the woman with the issue of blood” from  Matthew 9. He began something like this: “This woman had an issue—an issue of blood. I got issues, you got issues, we all got issues!” Yes, we can blame this man for poor exegesis, but his use of a 400-year-old translation certainly didn’t help.

Another Verse in the KJV You Probably Don’t Understand Either

What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? (Hab 2:18 KJV)

Is “the graven image” a direct object of “profiteth” or the subject of “profiteth”?

In contemporary English syntax it reads most naturally as a direct object. “What profits the graven image?” Or we might say, “What brings benefit to the graven image?”

But Habakkuk didn’t mean that. He meant, as all the modern versions render this, “What profit is an idol?” or “Of what value is an idol?”

If “graven image” is a direct object, the rest of the first part of the verse is nonsensical. “What brings benefit to the graven image that its maker has graven it?”

I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I know others have trouble understanding the KJV, but I grew up on it so I have no trouble.” I used to say that, too, and there’s certainly some truth to it. I can read the KJV much better than the low-income teenagers in my neighborhood can. But I still challenge what I’ve heard a lot of people say. I’m convinced that KJV readers are missing more than they’re aware.