Stan Cox

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Binding Archaisms

The King James version of the Bible is a wonderful translation of the words of God into our native tongue.  As a translation, it is limited in that it represents the scholarship of mere men who have attempted to take the words of God from the original languages (Hebrew in the Old Testament, Greek in the New Testament), and establish their meaning accurately in the English language.  The effort was laudable, and well executed, giving English readers almost 400 years ago a reliable translation of God's Word into an important and influential language.  It must be understood, however, that it is merely a translation, and that final arguments concerning meaning and usage of the words used by the Old and New Testament writers must be settled by a study of the original tongues of inspiration.

It can be said that no other translation of the Bible has had a greater influence upon literature than the King James version.  The translators were careful to respect the plenary and verbal inspiration of the original autographs, and yet managed a work that is almost poetic in its reading.  Though the English language has changed in the ensuing 400 years, the Bible remains usable and desirable to many believers.

The changes in the English language, however, have made the King James version of the Bible a bit more challenging to read and understand.  The words "avouch", "bruit", "collop", "durst", "emerods", "concupiscence," "greaves" and "wist" all appear in the text, and no doubt are not well understood by the majority of English speakers today.  A search of the Internet revealed a computer based "King James Dictionary" with over 860 archaic or difficult words which can be looked up for definitions and context.

Newer versions of the Bible are challenging the King James version for popularity.  Some of these versions are competent, some are not.  They represent more modern attempts to do the same thing that the translators of the King James did, which was to translate God's word into a common tongue.  Though some of these efforts do not mirror the careful and respectful treatment of the original tongues that characterized the scholarship that produced the King James version, some do, and are worthy of consideration.

It must be recognized that the term Authorized Version, commonly used for the King James Version of the scripture, simply indicates that the version was the one authorized by the King of England, and has no special standing as the acceptable or preferred English version before God.  In fact, as the language changed, the King James version itself underwent several revisions.  The two most significant revisions took place in 1762 and 1769.  A recent revision, which was finished in 1982 has resulted in what is now referred to as the New King James Version.  In the preface of the New King James Version, the translators stated the following:

"Students of the Bible applaud the timeless devotional character of our historic Bible.  Yet it is also universally understood that our language, like all living languages, has undergone profound change since 1611.  Subsequent revisions of the King James Bible have sought to keep abreast of changes in English speech.  The present work is a further step toward this objective.  Where obsolescence and other reading difficulties exist, present-day vocabulary, punctuation, and grammar have been carefully integrated..."

Further, regarding the New King James version, the translators stated:

"Readers of the Authorized Version will immediately be struck by the absence of several pronouns:  thee, thou, and ye are replaced by the simple you, while your and yours are substituted for thy and thine as applicable.  Thee, thou, thy and thine were once forms of address to express a special relationship to human as well as divine persons.  These pronouns are no longer part of our language.  However, reverence for God in the present work is preserved by capitalizing pronouns, including You, Your, and Yours, which refer to Him..."

The explanatory comments, as well as the changes themselves are indicative of a simple truth — that living languages change.

An Unfortunate Reality

Unfortunately, some are rather superficial in their understanding of these matters, and are guilty of binding upon men the archaic language of the King James Bible.  We are aware of some who exalt the King James version as the only acceptable English version of the Bible.  There is no legitimate argument for this, but tradition can be a strong motivation for binding the opinions of men (cf. Matthew 15:9).

It is interesting that the translators of the King James version did not consider their work to have any ascendant place.  Following is a quote from The Revised New Testament and History of Revision, Edited by Isaac H. Hall:

"The title-page speaks of this version [the 1611 KJV, SC] as being 'with the former translations diligently compared and revised.' In their address to the readers, the translators themselves say: 'Truly, we never thought, from the beginning ... that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one; but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one.' Speaking of this acknowledgment, Dr. Krauth, of the present version committee, says: 'Without this confession, the Authorized Version would tell its own story. It is only necessary to compare it with the older versions, to see that with much that is original, with many characteristic beauties, in some of which no other translation approaches it, it is yet in the main a revision. Even its original beauties are often the mosaic of an exquisite combination of the fragments of the older. Comparing it with the English exemplars it follows, we must say it is not the fruit of their bloom, but the ripeness of their fruit.'"

To today give special ascendancy to the King James Version is to reserve for it a place its translators never intended for it to have.

Additionally, we are aware of the occasional contention that pronoun references to God must be in the archaic forms of the past, i.e. Thee, Thy and Thou, which are characteristic of the King James version.  Appeals are made to reverence and respect, and may serve to sway the unlearned to bind such traditions upon others.  While the arguments may have some emotional appeal, a careful examination of them shows them to be specious.

We agree that the terms have a certain poetic and reverential connotation.  We would not discourage their use in prayer as we address our Father, either by young or old.  However, to take the further step of binding their use upon others is to go too far, as some have done.  To illustrate this point, note the following anecdote.

As a young man I remember well a challenge made by a peculiar man after a gospel meeting at the old Westridge congregation in Odessa, TX.  He had attended our meeting, and asked to speak with the men after the congregation, to correct us in an unscriptural practice.  After the service was over, a few of the men stayed, and he spoke to us, contending that we were disobeying God by not addressing Him by His Hebrew name, and His Son by the same.  His contention was that the correct pronunciation was "Yah-Weh", rather than Jehovah, and that God would accept no other pronunciation.

Brother Jay Bowman, conversant with the Hebrew language, noted that the Hebrew language was devoid of vowels, (the Hebrew equivalent to Jehovah would be found in the consonants YWHW), and so the actual pronunciation would be unknown to modern man.  The man persisted in his contention however, basing his pronunciation upon the preface of his Bible, where the commentator opined that the above pronunciation "might have been" the way ancient Jews pronounced the name of God.  In effect, the man was basing his entire argument upon the opinion of man.  He was binding where God had not.

The Pharisees of the New Testament did the same.  They established their own traditions, and bound them upon others.  Jesus said of them:

"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." (Matthew 23:13-15).

Stated clearly, there is no scriptural instruction regarding the use of pronouns in the English or any other language.  Further, we have the divine example of Jesus and His disciples utilizing the common translation of their day, the Septuagint [Greek version of the Old Testament].  Any argumentation to the contrary has as its basis what men have determined or decided.  To acquiesce to their faulty reasoning  is to allow them to "to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus" (cf. Galatians 2:4).  Those who seek to bind their conscience in this matter upon others are subject to the same condemnation as that given by Jesus to the religious legalists of his day:

"And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." (Matthew 15:9).


There are numerous parallels from scripture which show the invalid nature of binding the traditions of men.  The Pharisees believed the disciples of Jesus to have been "irreverent" in eating with unwashed hands (cf. Mark 7:2-8).  It was in this context that Jesus condemned their vain worship, "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men" (vs. 8).  The Judaizing teachers likewise sought to bind (circumcision) where God had not.  Paul would not stand for it, saying, "Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you" (Galatians 2:3-5).

If it is that you are constrained by conscience to continue to use these archaisms, fine.  "Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves" (Romans 14:22).  However, "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4).  Therefore, "...Let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way" (Romans 14:13).

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