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Chapter 22

Archaic Words


In defense of the use of modern translations, it is frequently asserted that the use of archaic words in the King James Version makes it incomprehensible to young people (see chapter 21 entitled The Youth Factor). Such arguments, while sometimes offered by sincere souls, are frequently used by those who have no great interest in the Bible study of the youth, but rather wish to find persuasive arguments to spread the use of corrupted versions of Scripture, versions which better suit their perverted doctrines. It is tragic that so many good people are persuaded by such pitiful lines of reasoning. Those convinced by such arguments seldom stop to reason why, if it was the genuine desire of modern translators to make Scripture clearer, it was thought essential to associate such changes with a perversion of the Bible. The revisers of 1881, including Westcott and Hort, were presented the opportunity to make only those corrections required by the change in language, and in a few minor areas where the King James Version did not provide the best translation. They were expected to maintain the Scriptures inviolate. Had they done so, they would have performed for the English-speaking Christian community a thorough service. But although they were commissioned only to make such changes, they used the exercise to totally pervert Godís Word. It was a shameful breach of trust.

Once more we assert that there is virtue in having the Bible presented in contemporary language, but decidedly not in association with destruction of the purity of the Word.

We contend that defenders of modern translators have protested the matter of archaic words in the King James Version far too much. Such protests disguise their hidden desire to insinuate corrupted material, which otherwise would be found totally unacceptable by every true lover of the Word.

If archaic words are a problem, a simple glossary in each King James Version would suffice. Indeed we believe that such an addition would be desirable. It would also serve to increase the vocabularies of the believers. Such an inclusion would be infinitely preferable to the present trend of combining the use of modern language with large scale alterations in Godís Word. We can but wonder if the true reason for the printing of modern versions is to deliberately pervert Godís Word, while the modernization simply provides the excuse.

The emphasis placed on the need for youth to use a Bible in simple English overlooks that it is in our youth we make the most rapid growth in our vocabularies, and that often the meaning of a new word is not gleaned from a dictionary or glossary, but rather is inferred from its context. If we remember how we ourselves and our children established a vocabulary of tens of thousands of words, many of the arguments concerning archaic words, specious as they are, simply fade away.

Let us illustrate this matter with a single word, tale. As used in the book of Exodus, this word has not the common meaning of a story, but means a quota or an assigned number. If the word tale is seen in isolation, most people would not give it this meaning. But when read in context, no person of average intellect would have the least doubt concerning its meaning.

Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves. And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God. . . . Go therefore now, and work; for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks. And the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in evil case, after it was said, Ye shall not minish ought from your bricks of your daily task. Exodus 5:7-8, 18-19

As a complementary issue, in verse 19 the archaic word minish is used. Such a word devoid of context may not be easily defined, but once again few readers of this verse would stumble over its meaningódiminish.

What does helve mean? Most readers would have no idea. But in its context in Scripture its meaning is perfectly plain.

As when a man goeth into the wood with his neighbour to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbour, that he die; he shall flee unto one of those cities, and live. Deuteronomy 19:5

Sometimes the immediate context does not reveal the exact meaning of an archaic word. An example of this may be seen in the following verse.

But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof. 1 Samuel 5:6

The word emerods is unknown to most contemporary English-speaking people. In its context in this verse, it could mean a disease, or equally a weapon such as a type of rod. But if only we would encourage Godís people to be thorough students of His Word they would be left in no doubt as to which of these alternatives is correct. The King James Version in its margin refers the reader to another passage of Scripture which states,

The Lord will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed. Deuteronomy 28:27

Clearly emerods is a disease, as can further be deduced from the context of other verses in the original passage, such as

And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts. 1 Samuel 5:9

Now it is true that the term emerods is not one known to us today. Although Russell is an Internist (consultant physician) he had never heard this term, nor read it outside of Scripture. But the impact and general understanding of the text remain. Many persons read of diseases the nature of which they do not know, but it does not detract from understanding. For example, in Russellís clinical examination for his specialist qualification in England he was shown a lady with a rare disease known as pseudoxanthoma elasticum. It is unlikely that most readers have ever heard of this disease. But one does not require a detailed knowledge of its pathology to understand the meaning of the sentence above which includes this contemporary term.

It is true that some words or terms still have contemporary meaning (just as tale did), which has been completely altered since the days in which the King James Version was translated. We are frequently told that this ambiguity causes great confusion. Yet here again context is so illuminating that in most cases there is no difficulty.

The command to take no thought, if given to a person today, may be construed to mean, stop thinking. While that meaning is implicit in the term as used in the King James Version, its fuller meaning is a command to cease being anxious. That understanding of the term is perfectly conveyed by the context in which it is used.

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment? Matthew 6:25

Similarly the term chief estates as used in Scripture does not mean major properties but rather chief men as the context evidences.

And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee. Mark 6:21

Modern speakers of English would refer to Paulís conduct in persecuting Christians, but in eighteenth-century English the word used was conversation. Yet in the context this archaic use of the word conversation causes not the least problem.

For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jewsí religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it. Galatians 1:13

At times the Hebrew poetical form gives us an understanding of a word. In this form parallel thoughts are expressed. Notice this construction below.

Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man. Psalm 5:6

Clearly the word leasing here does not possess its modern meaning but is set in parallel with deceit, indicating that leasing in this text meant lying.

That meat in the New Testament meant food is specifically indicated by the word in its context. One instance is cited.

And the same John had his raiment of camelís hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Matthew 3:4

Thus we contend that any problem caused by the use of archaic words in the King James Version is greatly overstated. Where an occasional word is not clarified by its context, we suggest that a Bible be prepared which includes the modern meaning of the word in question. Certainly there is absolutely no ground to mutilate Scripture in response to the presence of a few archaic words or phrases in the Bible.


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