The KJV: Dead Words and False Friends

authorized-ward-2018We have begun to consider a new book that examines Christians’ use and misuse of the King James Version of the Bible. The book is Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, written by Mark Ward and published by Lexham Press (2018).

As we have noted, on the one hand, the author has high praise for the KJV and its influence in the life of the church and in the lives of Christians. But, on the other hand, he is critical of it, judging its English obsolete and out-of-date, to the point he says that modern Christians need to use the modern translations. Most Christians simply do not and cannot understand the KJV anymore.

In our last post we examined his second chapter, where he laid the groundwork for this criticism. In chapter three – “Dead Words and ‘False Friends,'” – he gives some detail to prove his point that the KJV is no longer understandable by most people today.

He starts out with the “dead words” found in the AV – words such as “trow,” “pate,” “bray,” “leasing,” and “collop.” He criticizes the Trinitarian Bible Society (much of whose work in defense of the KJV I admire) for saying these are simply “archaic words” whose meanings have changed. He argues the meanings haven’t changed; the words are “in hospice” and “six feet under.”

In other words, they’re dead or dying, no longer in use and, therefore, not understood by today’s readers. And he has a point. Yes, one can look them up in a dictionary, but should a Bible translation have to make us do that? Isn’t it supposed to be God’s Word in our tongue, the language we and our children can understand so as to receive and believe His Word?

Then Ward goes further, treating what he calls “false friends,” a more serious issue in his mind. These are words that at first glance seem to be easily understood, but because of a change in meaning since the 17th century, are actually often misunderstood, leaving the reader with a “false” friend – and a lack of understanding of what God’s Word truly says. He gives six examples, of which we pick out one for our benefit: the word “halt,” as in 1 Kings 18:21, “How long halt ye between two opinions?” Listen carefully to what he says:

I always assumed that halt here meant ‘stopping’ between two opinions, and almost every other mature Christian I’ve spoken to (I’ve polled dozens) has said the same. People in the olden days used to say, ‘Halt!’ when they wanted others to stop, right? ‘Halt!’ medieval guards always said, ‘Who goes there?’ Riding your horse past a HALT sign was a ticketed offense in ye olden days.

I had read the Elijah story in other versions before… The NASB has the people ‘hesitating’ between two opinions. The NIV has them ‘wavering.’ but the ESV provided the key that uncovered my lifelong misunderstanding.

To halt wasn’t just to ‘stop’ in 1611 (or in 1568 when the Bishops’ Bible used this very word); halt was the verb form of a word used in the KJV Gospels in the parable of the great banquet: ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind’ (Luke 14:21. Halt in 1611 meant ‘lame.’ Instead of ‘how long halt ye,’ we would say something like ‘hobble’ or ‘limp.’ And that’s exactly what the ESV has; ‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions?’

And after pointing out that the Hebrew word in that 1 Kings 18:21 text is the same as the word used to describe Mephibosheth’s disability after he was dropped by his nurse (he “limped”), the author says this:

Elijah’s challenge to the people in 1 Kings 18:21 is a picturesque metaphor. An obscure one, to be sure, because the next phrase is not as clear as ‘between two opinions.’ It’s literally something like ‘on two lopped-off boughs’ – apparently crutches…. The whole phrase ‘describes a mind as wobbly and uncertain as the legs of someone lame’ [quoting commentator Paul House].

Is it significant that we miss that meaning and graphic point of Elijah’s piercing question to Israel because our translation uses a word that has changed in meaning and no longer conveys God’s Word clearly to us? Why is that not viewed as serious? Why do we want to brush that aside? Do we care about understanding what we read in the Bible?

I am not arguing for tampering with the Word of God; and I certainly am not saying that we ought to jump at every new translation of the Bible. But I am arguing that our translation ought to make God’s Word plain to us and our children (and grandchildren). And, I am not saying that we shouldn’t dig into the Word and do word  studies to discern its meaning. But I am saying that simple expressions such as Elijah’s question ought to be clear at “face value,” in plain, contemporary English that brings out the special nuance of the Hebrew word. “Limping” sure brings that out in our day better than “halt.”

Ward has a point worth hearing concerning these “false friends.” What do you say?

Published in: on May 8, 2018 at 11:12 PM  Comments (2)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I am so weary of dogmatic KJV-only people that I flat out don’t care what they say any more. The KJV is a good Bible, but it was intended to put the Word in the then common language; that was a driving factor in its publication (in addition to avoiding the notes in the Geneva Bible and retaining some of the church words favored by the state church). Elizabethan English is nobody’s common tongue these days.


  2. I am a KJV only believer and I completely disagree with this man’s thoughts. Personally the limp or lame definition makes more sense. I don’t really agree that it meant stop or stopping… How long halt ye between two opinions?
    This is clearly being indecisive in what you want to believe… so to limp between them or to be lame which means to walk in a manner that is impaired by a limp makes more sense then to say how long will you stop between two opinions.
    There are several words that I have to look up definitions on, whether in the Bible, a book I am reading or a text book I had to learn from… to act like I should be able to pick up everything and completely know all the words is ridiculous.
    I chose to use the concordance, some commentary and the context of the whole chapter I am reading to understand what God had for me not one word.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: