Purpose:

The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Mar 24, 2018

Beware of Archaism! Some positive thoughts on Mark Ward's new book Authorized: The Use and Abuse of the King James Bible (and further discussion)

Mark Ward is a scholar at Logos Bible Software and has a PhD from Bob Jones University. I have been acquainted with Mark for some time now and believe that he holds to a very balanced perspective on textual and translation issues, even when I don't necessarily agree with all he says. He has recently published Authorized: The Use and Abuse of the King James Bible (available on both Logos and Amazon Kindle). I believe this is a great book that deserves your consideration if you have any sort of ministry that involves preaching, teaching, and interpreting Scripture (this includes you, Mr., Mrs., or Miss Sunday School leader!), or if you are interested in Bible translation issues.

Now, before we look at what Mark has to say in his book, let me state that I, personally, am approaching this whole issue from the following perspectives: (1.) Byzantine priority perspective (├á la Maurice Robinson, one of my mentors at Southeastern), that nonetheless has a high regard for the TR (which, as I explain to my students, is a branch of the Byzantine tree, though not identical with it), and (2.) A perspective that believes that the KJV is, all things considered, probably the best English translation in history to this point, but not inerrant or incapable of being criticized. The analogy I use with my students is that of quarterbacks--no quarterback in the NFL is perfect (that would take a supernatural work, and supernatural work has only occurred with the Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic originals), but the KJV is, essentially, Aaron Rodgers (or, if you prefer, Tom Brady).

Now, back to Mark's book Authorized.
The strength of Mark Ward's book is that it focuses precisely on that area where even the most ardent traditionalists should be cautious, that of readability and archaism. Here Mark's book is golden: it examines, openly and honestly, the need to understand how language has changed in 400 years (or even 250 years, if we consider that the edition of the KJV we use is from 1769).

To be clear, this is not a minor matter. If, by misunderstanding what a word in the KJV means (or, rather, meant 250-400 years ago), I teach one thing when the apostle meant another, I am thereby guilty of saying "Thus saith the Lord" when, in fact, "the Lord hath not spoken" (Ezekiel 22:28), even if my intentions are pure. Ignorance can only go so far as an excuse. At the very least there should be an assumption that all preachers and Bible study leaders have made an attempt to figure out the meanings of words before teaching theology on the basis of what one thinks a word means. I am not talking about necessarily knowing Greek and Hebrew (though that helps). There are plenty of tools for the layperson to use that will help them understand a word in the KJV w/o knowing Greek and Hebrew (a topic for another time).

Two examples on archaism will suffice (Ward gives many, many more):
1. From my own experience: while leading a Sunday morning Bible study on James 3:1, in the part where we "put the verse into our own words," the word "masters" was understood as referring to slave/servant owners. Yet the Greek is didaskoloi, or "teachers" (there is no textual variant here). 400 years ago "master" could mean "teacher" (that is why, after all, many of us get "Masters degrees"!) Yet the language has changed. To teach this passage as referring to the concept of "one who owns slaves" would be to completely misunderstand and misrepresent the Apostle James.
2. And now a more significant example from Mark's book (page 44): "Before a wildly clapping and shouting audience, he [popular prosperity preacher  Rod Parsley] read the following statement out of the KJV, and it was projected on the television screen in front of him: 'And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine' (John 2:3 KJV). 'I'm tired,' Parsley preached, 'of the kind of sermons that promise that God will supply only your needs. That only goes halfway. This verse shows that God delights to give us not just what we need, but what we want!'"
The problem, of course is that the Greek reads kai huster─ôsantos oinou, "and whey they lacked wine . . .." Four hundred years ago "want" in the King James meant "lacked" (cf. Psalm 23:1!); thus "when they lacked wine" was (for 1611) a good translation. It is not, however, an adequate translation in 2018, because the language has changed!!

Let me reiterate: to teach John 2:3 as if it is referring to desire ("want"), on the basis of our reading of the King James (a reading that actually misunderstands the language of the King James) is to misinterpret and abuse Scripture, and thus become guilty of what Ezekiel 22:28 is condemning.

Mark Ward's book is valuable because it demonstrates just how easy it is to do this on the basis of archaic language (often without our even realizing it!)

Now, what is the solution? For some churches (such as my own), the solution is not that we stop using the King James. However, even in our case, even as we preach and teach from the King James, we must be aware of, and explain, archaic language. Our final authority lies with the original intention of the Apostolic and Prophetic authors, not the language of the King James. Once again, even though we respect the King James as the "Aaron Rodgers" of Bible translations, our final authority lies with the original Greek words of the Apostles, not the English words of Anglicans (be they ever so intelligent or articulate!)

Practically speaking, what this means is that every preacher of the Word, and every Bible study leader must be aware of anachronisms and properly interpret the words according to the original intent of the inspired author. Failure to do so is to abuse God's word (hence the title of Mark's excellent book). Today there are a plethora of tools (many available online at blueletterbible.org) that can enable anybody to do that, even without a Bible-college degree (maybe I'll post on that sometime in the future!). In other words, ignorance is no excuse.
[To to those who wish to comment: All comments are moderated before posted, so please make a courteous contribution to the discussion, or ask a legitimate question, or it may not be posted]

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