The Answer: archaic words & modern translations.

The Answer:  Yes and No. Yes, there are archaic words in the Bible; but No, we do not need a modern translation to eliminate them.

The Explanation:

That there are archaic words in the Bible is very true. An archaic word is a word which is no longer used in every day speech and has been replaced by another. A good example of an archaic word is found in I Corinthians 10:25.

“Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:”

The word “shambles” is archaic. It has been replaced in common speech with the word “market place”, Indeed we can be certain that “shambles” was a much more accurate description of the ancient market place (and many around the world today). It has none the less passed from common use.

Well then, shouldn’t we publish a new translation which removes ” shambles” and inserts the more common “market place”?

No, what we should do is turn to the Bible, our final authority in all matters of faith and practice and see what the Bible practice is concerning archaic words. For surely we believers in a perfect Bible will want to follow the Bible’s practice concerning archaic words.

In searching the Scripture we find the Bible practice for handling archaic words in I Samuel chapter 9:1-11 —

(1) “Now there was a man of Benjamin, whose name was Kish, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite,a mighty man of power.
(2) And he had a son whose name was Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.
(3) And the asses of Kish Saul’s father were lost. And Kish said to Saul his son, Take now one of the servants with thee, and arise, go seek the asses.
(4) And he passed through mount Ephraim, and passed through the land of Shalisha, but they found them not: then they passed through the land of Shalim, and there they were not: and he passed through the land of the Benjamites, but they found them not.
(5) And when they were come to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant that was with him, Come, and let us return; lest my father leave caring for the asses, and take thought for us.
(6) And he said unto him, Behold now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is an honourable man; all that he saith cometh surely to pass: now let us go thither; peradventure he can shew us our way that we should go.
(7) Then said Saul to his servant, But, behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man? for the bread is spent in our vessels, and there is not a present to bring to the man of God: what have we?
(8) And the servant answered Saul again, and said, Behold, I have here at hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver: that will I give to the man of God, to tell us our way.
(9) (Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he spake, Come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer.)
(10) Then said Saul to his servant, Well said; come let us go. So they went unto the city where the man of God was.
(11) And as they went up the hill to the city, they found young maidens going out to draw water, and said unto them, Is the seer here?”

Here, in the first eleven verses of I Samuel 9 we are not only confronted with an archaic word, but with the Bible practice for handling it.

We find Saul and one of his father’s servants searching for the asses that had run off (I Samuel 9:1-5).They decide to go to see Samuel the seer and enlist his help in finding the asses (verses 6-8).

In verse 11 we are going to run into an archaic word. But, before we do, God puts a parenthesis in the narrative (verse 9) to tell us about it. Notice that verse 9 states that “he that is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer.”  Thus we see that, between the time that this event took place and the time that the incident was divinely recorded the word ” Seer” had passed from common use to be replaced with “Prophet.” “Seer” was now archaic.

BUT, look carefully at verse 11 where the archaic word appeared.

“And as they went up the hill to the city, they found young maidens going out to draw water, and said unto them, Is the seer here?”

Please note that the verse retains the outdated word “seer.” It does not say “Is the prophet here?”

Thus we see that God Himself through the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit used verse 9 to explain the upcoming archaic word but did not change the holy text!

So we see that, the Bible practice for handling situations such as we find in I Corinthians 10:25 when preaching is to tell the congregation something to the effect that “What beforetime was called ‘shambles’ is now called ‘market place”‘. But we should leave the archaic word in the text. This is what God did! Surely we sinners are not going to come up with a better method for handling archaic words than God has.

So, the answer to the question is, “Yes, there are archaic words in the Bible but No we do not need a modem translation to eliminate them. God didn’t change His Book, He certainly does not want us doing it.

©All material is copyright of Dr. Sam Gipp. Used with permission.


Posted on June 14, 2011, in The Answer and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. If I were able to take Dr. Gipp for coffee, I would attempt to make the following point:

    If one of my ancestors had written a letter to their wife while on a journey and even wanted them to preserve the letter for their young daughter, they would use language contemporary with the time of writing. There would be archaic words no doubt, but the words they choose would no doubt be contemporaneous with their audience.

    It’s no different for the God of the Bible. Between the writing of the Hebrew text and its transmission and the writing of the Greek Septuagint, certain phrases were no doubt substituted to render the text intelligible to those who were reading the Greek. And sometimes it’s even the alterations that New Testament writers quote.

    So, I’m sorry, but God *did* update or “change” His Word. And the explanation that Dr. Gipp uses elsewhere that the KJV is God’s inspired word for the English language is truly not found anywhere in Scripture using careful exegesis of the text, even as it stands in English.

    However, if I were going to agree in principle about something Dr. Gipp said, I would say that it ISN’T necessary to change all *seemingly* archaic words…and into *this* box, I’d toss all theologically specific words…propitiation, etc. To render those as a different word strips the original of its specific meaning (although, rendering propitiation as “atonement” *does* get most modern Christians at least pointed in the right direction as to what John is talking about in his first epistle).

  2. One has to remember concerning archaic words: lots of the words that are archaic may not really be archaic, but only not used in everyday talk. For instance: the word mess & messes used in Genesis 43 and 2 Sam 11 referring to food. This may seem archaic, but every person that has been in the military and/or been around the military knows what a Mess Hall is. So the word is not archaic, it is still in common usage, just not for the everyday exegetical wannabe looking for an excuse not have the Authorized Version as their only authority. You also need to keep in mind that we speak English, not American. There are still words that we don’t use in American corrupted English that the Brits still use today. BTW, there are some great websites that actually compare the number of “archaic” words in the AV to the NIV; the NIV is just as “archaic” as the AV.

  3. I agree with the corrupted American English. I am an English teacher for remedial levels in college. Most of them speak English that fall into Eubonics and who knows what. It has definitely been corrupted throughout the ages!!

    Personally, I think the “archaic” language is beautiful! Poetic even!

  4. Why is it that Shakespeare is accepted and it is written in the same archaic language that the Bible is written in yet people accept and appreciate the archaic language that Shakespeare is written in but when it comes to the KJV people want to change it? When we change those words we loose the meaning. God honors studying and it’s not the Word that has changed it’s us. Effort in study is honored!

  5. “But we should leave the archaic word in the text. This is what God did!” Mmmmm, no. How do people cook up these convoluted extrapolations? Oh, I know, it’s because they come up with some concept they want to be true and then comb through the scriptures looking for a way to support it. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

    If you wanted to treat the KJV translation the same way as Dr. Gipp claims God handled archaic references in I Samuel, then the KJV should have loads of parenthetical references inserted directly into the KJV text, with modern English translations. Of course, if that were done, KJV-onliers would have an absolute conniption (since it would be the same as using multiple translations ::gasp!::)

    • My thoughts exactly…if we are to use this passage as a model on how to deal with archaic language then Gipp’s assumptions are all wrong. If my understanding of the KJV is correct the parenthetical notations are nothing more than uninspired translators notes (unless of course you’re a Dual inspirationalist which I suspect Gipp is). If this is the case then we must revise the KJV to include parenthetical notations before every word in which usage has changed.

    • Dang, Brandon! I love your language skills! Reading your comments make me feel like my IQ got a massage. I bet you are brutal in debates.

      • It just really bothers me that so many fundamentalists seem to completely throw out critical thinking and instead substitute it for logical fallacy (an all-time favorite seems to be the ‘false dilemma’) and textproofing. I don’t understand the anti-intellectual movement, it undermines Christian’s credibility.

  6. J. Austin Watts

    Allow me to preface my comments with this: I love the language of the Authorized Version. It is deeply poetic, it carries great weight, and it captures well the English language at the zenith of its long history.

    The real “problem,” in my opinion, is the archaic meanings of words (as opposed to simply archaic words). Any halfway decent student of Scripture will look up a word they don’t understand because no one uses it today. However, a very precious few will look up a word that they DO understand, because it never even occurs to them that it means anything but what it means in 2011.

    Here is an example, from the most well-known verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) That verse is pretty easy to understand, right? I mean, if there IS an archaic word in that sentence, it is “begotten” – and even that is easily defined, and a lot of people know what it means (even if they’ve never used it before). The way in which most people misread this verse, however, is not in the words themselves but in their construction.

    The little phrase “For God so love the world” – what does that mean? For most of us, we read it as the degree of God’s love: “God loved the world so much.” When, in reality, that’s not really what Jesus (or the Apostle John, or the KJV translators) meant. You see, in koine (and in 1611 English), that phrase would have been understood as “For God loved the world in this manner (or “by this action”).” It’s not about the degree of God’s love at all; it’s all about the demonstration. The emphasis is on the action of love, not the abundance of it. And this actually lends a far greater weight to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus. Basically, “how much” God loves is not what is being explained. Jesus is explaining love itself. Without His death for Nicodemus (and the world), there is no love at all.

  7. Im obliged for the post.Thanks Again. Cool.

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