King James Only apologists insist that the KJV is the most accurate and concise English translation in print. However, when confronted with the reality of archaic, out of use words that make no sense to today’s reader, the apologists will reluctantly admit archaic words do exist in the King James, but then claim there are no words so difficult or archaic that they are not easily understood.
Just Google “Are there archaic words in the KJV,” and a host of KJVO propaganda articles pop up defending the King James as a Bible easily read and understood in spite of the out of use vocabulary. They will defend such KJV translations as wimples (Isaiah 3:22), ouches (Exodus 28:11), rereward (Joshua 6:9), felloes (1 Kings 7:33), blains (Exodus 9:9), besom (Isaiah 14:23), stomacher (Isaiah 3:24), implead (Acts 19:38), meteyard (Leviticus 19:35), and sith (Ezekiel 35:6).
Sith!? Say wha…?
Sam Gipp offers the typical KJVO response regarding archaic words from his classic Answer Book. Under question #4, when answering the question, “Aren’t there archaic words in the Bible and don’t we need a modern translation to eliminate them,” he writes, “Yes and No. Yes there are archaic words in the Bible but No, we do not need a modem translation to eliminate them.”
He goes on to explain how the word “shambles” in 1 Corinthians 10:25 means a “market place” in today vernacular. Yet instead of revising the KJV text with an update that reads “market place” in place of “shambles,” Gipp appeals to the example of 1 Samuel 9:1-11 when the writer of Samuel explains in the text that a “prophet” used to be called a “seer.” Christians, Gipp argues, should do what the Bible does at 1 Samuel 9:1-11 and just explain to the congregation what a “shambles” is without changing the word in the text.
Of course, what does a person do who is by himself reading 1 Corinthians and doesn’t have a KJVO English dictionary taped to the back of his Bible? Oh well.
Larry Vance, another KJVO apologist who wrote an entire book addressing the archaic word problem for King James believers, writes that many of the new translations contain just as many, if not more, archaic and hard to read words as the KJV. In fact, he states that in many, many instances, the modern translation will make a word even more difficult than what the KJV translates.
Now, I acknowledge that the majority of English used in the KJV is still in use today. And I recognize that modern translations may use unfamiliar words that may require an unread person to look them up in a dictionary. However, the concept of “archaic words” in the King James is much more than just vocabulary words that are hard to understand without consulting a dictionary.
Archaic in this instance has to do with words that are no longer in use and are absolutely foreign in modern times. In fact, the average modern dictionary may not even have many of them listed. Their archaic nature then makes the Bible inaccessible, preventing readers from truly understanding what it was God said. That’s a travesty. It makes William Tyndale’s martyrdom pointless.
I contend that while there may be some harder that average words found in modern versions, those words are not “archaic” in the sense of those found in the KJV as noted above, and in those many places where a so-called simple word in the KJV is changed to a more complex one in a modern translation, that difficult word is actually more precise and accurate than what is found in the KJV.
Let me explain what I mean.
I had a KJVO proponent send me a list of “archaic” words found in the NASB. He sent it in the form of a photo from what appears to be a page out of Vance’s book on the subject.
Vance, I suppose, believes this list proves his contention that modern versions make the Bible more difficult to read; but do they? I suggest they are not making the Bible more difficult to read but are making it more precise with the translation.
Let’s consider a few examples,
According to the list, the NASB has “sullen” at 1 Kings 21:5 rather than “sad” as in the KJV. The word “sad” is implied to be an easier word, whereas “sullen” a more difficult one. The word “sad” may be easier to read, but is it precise in translating the Hebrew? Not at all.
The word translated here is sar. It has the meaning of stubborn or resentful. The English word “sad” really just conveys the idea of sorrowful or mournful. Given the context of 1 Kings 21, Ahab is coveting Naboth’s vineyard and is prevented from acquiring it because he refuses to sell off his families inheritance. Ahab comes back to his house bitter and resentful, not grieved or mournful. The word “sullen,” which has the idea of bad-tempered or resentful, better conveys the meaning of sar in this verse.
Let’s move down the page to the word “torrent” as found in Judges 5:21 in the NASB. The KJV has the word “river.” We all know that a torrent is a sudden, violent outpouring; like a flash flood. A river, on the other hand, can be either slow or fast, meandering or swift depending on the circumstances. In the case of Judges 5:21, the Hebrew word translated “torrent” means just that, it was a torrent; an explosive, unexpected flash flood.
The story told in Judges 4 is of Deborah and Barak defeating Sisera and his army of chariots. The text isn’t entirely clear in Judges 4:15 of how Barak went about defeating Sisera except to say the Lord routed him and his chariots. Judges 5:21 is a part of the song of praise unto the Lord that Deborah sings after Israel’s victory. The song fills in some of the details as to what happened. It is suggested in Judges 5:21 that when Sisera and his army of iron chariots pursued Israel, they got bogged down while crossing a dry wadi, and God swept them away in a flash flood, which happened occasionally in the area. Torrent, then is a more precise translation.
Considering just one more. In the NASB, 2 Timothy 2:14 has “wrangle” instead of “strive” as in the KJV. The context is Paul exhorting Timothy to defend solid doctrine against those who would teach falsely. He warns Timothy to basically not dispute with them over worthless arguments.
In the instance of this verse, strive is not as precise as wrangle. The primary English definition of “strive” is to make a great effort to obtain or achieve something. A KJVO apologist may argue that the secondary definition of “strive” is in play here, which has the idea of fighting vigorously against something. But “wrangle” more concisely conveys the meaning of what Paul is telling Timothy. “To wrangle” means specifically to dispute over complicated arguments, exactly what Paul is telling Timothy not to do.
If the reader has the time, he ought to look over each one of the references. It may not be that the NASB is more precise all the time, or that the particular KJV word is a terrible choice. What one will discover, however, is that as the English language has developed and changed over the centuries, the KJV’s originally ability to communicate God’s truth clearly has lessened, and the precise clarity of God’s Word is what we as Christians should desire for in our English translations.