Archaic Words and Translational Precision

retroKing 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…?

sith

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Joyner provides a more comprehensive list in these two articles, Obsolete Words in the KJV, PART 1 and PART 2

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.

NASBKJVVance, 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.

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21 thoughts on “Archaic Words and Translational Precision

  1. Annotated versions of Bibles with word explanations explain the preciseness of translating words even for English (old) to English (new). Such was helpful in my anthology reading Shakespeare. Without the annotations we would surely miss most of the puns for example.

  2. Sounds to me like the NASB is using a deeper modern vocabulary rather than archaic words. At least the original KJV lets me put my Oxford Dictionary to good use.

  3. “Replenish” in Genesis is one of those archaic words which led to the “Gap theory.” Supposedly there was a previously populated earth (with all the dinosaurs and millions of years) which was destroyed in Satan’s war and then God had to remake the world. So man had to “replenish” the earth. However, there is no such word as “plenish” and “replenish” wasn’t “re-” anything. Replenish simply meant to “fill.” Yet KJVO’s just can’t seem to understand such simple concepts as language changing meaning over the years.

  4. I love how that list contrasts the NASB “trigon” with the KJV “sackbut”, as if sackbut is so much easier to comprehend. (Also “timbrel” with “tabret”, and “tinder” with “tow”, really?)

  5. The first KJV version I was given in the 1950’s used the word ‘wot’. The verse was in one of Paul’s letters where he says “I wot not”. as a young teen I could not understand but after much questioning I was told it meant he did not know – ‘wot’ being old English for ‘know. A couple years later I got a new KJV and looked up that verse. It was changed to ‘know’ and there was not notice in the Bible anywhere that the word had been changed.

  6. I think you have missed the point altogether; the NASB, NIV, CEV, the Massage, etc. all use the corrupt Westcott-Hort text. Which is essentially a compilation of all the errors that ever made their way into any bible text!

    While the NKJV uses the TR for the New Testament it uses the Nazi corrupted Leningrad Codex for the OT. I guess it is OK for Nazis to modify your bible?

    So what would you prefer; use a corrupted bible just because it is a more modern English, or use the text that Christians have always used, and educate yourself on the meaning of some old words?

    My wife uses the NKJV and I use the AV (kjv) and I am always shocked at how different it is. There are differences in meaning in almost every verse! Subtle differences sometimes make a huge difference in meaning!

  7. Unless the Nazis also invented time travel, there is no way that they corrupted the Leningrad Codex; it’s been in Russia since 1863.

  8. At the end of the day should we really say the King James Bible has archaic words when all the “so-called archaic words” are used every day across the world still?

    The new versions are not more accurate they just come from the same torrent as most lexicons. “Thus saith the lexicon?” “The lexicons are my final authority.”

    New versions use hard to understand words and the list is long. The words are harder or the same and if they appear more “accurate” that is because someone has not studied properly. Get Vances book people.
    Good news if we are all still here in 20 years the King James Bible will still be sold and preached from. The NASB will mostly likely be forgotten.

  9. Fivepointer- no of course not. I am just pointing out that the word “meteyard” is used everyday.

  10. Fivepointer- “Her name is Mrs. Sally Meteyard.”

    What I think is funny is how there is a website called meteyard.com
    Do you have any more words that are “archaic” in the King James Bible that you need help with?

    Escovado- It counts.

  11. Your grasping here. A surname is not the same. Use “meteyard” in a normal sentence. For that matter, use felloes and blains in a sentence that a 21st century English speaker would understand.

  12. Fivepointer-
    Meteyard: “Hand me the meteyard to measure the garment.” By the way the name “Meteyard” is rooted in the “archaic” tool/way to measure.
    Felloes- “Each of the Felloes, which form the outer ring of the wheel, have to be identical.” See http://www.artillerysociety.co.uk/Felloes.html

    The “felloes height is 1.” http://www.amazon.com/Handmade-Hickory-Diameter-Authenticity-Travels/dp/B00F4I63L8/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1444098834&sr=8-5&keywords=Felloes

    Blains: “Have you seen the painting called The Plague of Boils and Blains? It is sold on Amazon.”

    Chilblains: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chilblains/basics/definition/con-20033727

    By the way fivepointer there are loads of words that people don’t understand in the 21century that are “common.”
    You use words that you had to look up the meaning.
    I think the crying over the “archaic” words is evidence of a people not reading, studying, and teaching the Holy Bible.

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