Since about 2003 or so, Will and I have had something of a Salieri-Mozart like relationship. As I have engaged the apologetics of KJV-onlyism on email discussion groups and Internet chat forums, Will has been faithful to post his comments contradicting everything I write. Plus, I can always count on him to publicly savage my personal character with accusations of being a lying Bible denier, or just plain stupid.
Generally, these exchanges center around particular problem passages found in scripture and how the translators of the King James Bible have chosen to translate the questionable passage, as opposed to how modern translators may have chosen to translate the passage. Take for example the number of people reported to have been struck by the Lord at Beth-Shemesh in 1 Samuel 6:19. The KJV states the Lord struck 50,070 people. Other translations, even non-English ones, translate the number a variety of ways. That is not because the translators of those other versions don’t believe God won’t kill that many people at once, but because the number is difficult to ascertain from the original Hebrew. In an article I wrote, I understand the number to be reflective of the total number of people God struck between the Philistines and the Israelites.
Will equates the English text of the King James with the original biblical autographs; the King James being an English translation of those original autographs. Thus, according to Will, anyone who translates the Bible any way other than how the KJV reads is changing the Word of God. So, if you do not believe God killed 50,070 individual persons in the small village of Beth-Shemesh just like the KJV implies happened, you are denying God’s Word according to Will and his KJV-only apologetics. In fact, many of the polemics written by KJV-onlyists are constructed for the sole purpose of creating an absolute, unyielding defense of the English translation of the King James. Rather than seeking to uncover what the Bible is truly saying, these so-called “believing Bible studies” only serve as an excuse to protect the KJV text from any meaningful and much needed revision.
The problem with defending such an extremely irrational view of God’s Word is how it leaves one easily exposed to embarrassing criticism. Rather than defending the infallibility of God’s Word, we are defending the infallibility of a particular translation. If it then can be clearly demonstrated a serious flaw exists in the translation, then it is tantamount to saying an error exists in God’s revelation. However, if we acknowledge the fact translations can be at times poorly done and in need of revision, the flaw is a problem with the fallible translators, not God’s authoritative Word.
This view of the KJV is what fuels the current disagreement between Will and myself.
I wrote an article examining 1 Samuel 13:1, 5. I argued that in 13:5 the number of chariots listed in the verse, 30,000, is misunderstood. That is because no standing army during that period of Israel’s history fielded an army with 30,000 chariots. I concluded the word for “chariot,” translated from the Hebrew, rekeb, can have a wide semantic range including the specific vehicle, the driver of the chariot, or the entire chariot fighting force including men and vehicles. The last definition is what I think is being conveyed by the author at 1 Samuel 13:5.
Enter Will Kinny. Utilizing all his skill as a high school Spanish teacher, he posted an article exacting an autopsy of my argument.
Because I believe the 30,000 chariots here is better to be understood as the total number of individual soldiers and their vehicles rather than just individual vehicles, Will claims I have “lost my mind.” I am a “Bible denier” and have changed the definitions of “inerrant and infallible.” But notice I haven’t denied the Bible at all. Heck, I haven’t even denied the KJV. I happen to think the number 30,000 is correct. I don’t side with the typical footnote of 1 Samuel 13:5 which says the number “30,000” is a copyist error for “3,000.” The only thing I have done is offer my perspective on how we are to understand the number “30,000” as it relates to the word “chariots” and I guess if even my interpretative perspective differs with a KJV-onlyist I am apostate.
Will provides his typical criticism found in all his screeds by citing a dozen other translations that read “30,000” and then he cross references over to 1 Chronicles 19:7 where it says how the Ammonites hired 32,000 chariots to fight against David. He concludes that because a dozen or so other non-KJV translations have 30,000 at 1 Samuel 13:5 and 1 Chronicles 19:7 has “32,000 chariots,” then it has to be individual chariots.
With these things in mind, let me consider Will’s criticisms.
First, it needs to be understood that I didn’t pull my understanding of rekeb out of thin air. The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis states that rekeb “can be used collectively for chariots, as well as charioteers.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia also affirms this idea. So it isn’t some unique and bizarre understanding of the language as Will suggest. In fact, the KJV implies this usage in 1 Chronicles 19:18 where it says David, “slew of the Syrians 7,000 men which fought in chariots.” Note the phrase men which fought in is in italics alerting the reader that the phrase is not in the original Hebrew text. The KJV translators made an interpretative translation of the verse to reconcile the number 7,000 with the number 700 in 2 Samuel 10:18. On what exactly did they base that interpretation? Could it be because rekeb can be seen as a collective total?
Secondly, I don’t think KJV defenders like Will truly appreciate the enormity of the number 30,000 or even 32,000. Thirty thousand is a huge number of anything let alone chariot vehicles. To put the number in some perspective, Andrew Higgins produced 20,000 landing craft for the 175,000 troops to be used during the Normandy invasion on D-Day, 1944. That is 12,000 short of the number mentioned in the KJV if we are to see individual chariots.
Additionally, the expense with building chariots, along with maintaining the animals needed for pulling them, is staggering. Imagine 32,000 chariots being pulled by 4 horses each. That would be 128,000 horses on a field of battle! If only two horses were pulling each chariot, we still have 64,000. 64,000 people can maybe sit in Dodger Stadium. That’s just people. Imagine horses. Then consider the need to maneuver the chariots effectively in battle against an enemy, especially on bushy, hilly terrain. 32,000 chariots being pulled by 128,000 horses, or even 64,000 horses is astronomical.
Again, I am not denying the Bible or correcting anything. I am merely trying to understand the biblical text while attempting to maintain its integrity in light of known military history; and this is not liberal, higher criticism history either.
I am sympathetic to the desire of KJV-only apologists to defend the integrity of the biblical text. I am of the opinion that folks are too quick to label every textual difficulty a “copyist error.” Perhaps some exist, but I look for other solutions to the biblical problem rather than automatically concluding its a “copyist error.” However, KJV-onlyists are not defending the integrity of the Word of God specifically. They are protecting their favored translation from any meaningful revision. Their zeal is admirable, but in the long run, defending an outdated, 400 years old Bible version from being revised only serves to make them look foolish, and brings reproach upon the gospel.