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THE BIBLE: Seek Wisdom and Understanding
Proverbs 4:7 (KJV) instructs us, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” How can we apply this wisdom to our study of the Scriptures?
The Bible stands as the divine revelation from God Himself, containing His thoughts and wisdom. Acquiring these divine thoughts is crucial for attaining eternal life. Merely scanning the lines of text is insufficient; we must comprehend what we read. Moreover, it is vital that we grasp God’s thoughts according to His intended meaning. Therefore, it is imperative that we read and understand the Bible in the way God desires. Are we fulfilling this requirement?
To discern whether we are truly comprehending God’s Word, let us consider two questions. Firstly, which translation of the Bible do we typically employ for our study? Secondly, why do we choose that particular translation? Is it because we recognize its ability to make God’s Word more understandable, or is it merely due to our familiarity with it over time?
Many readers of the widely used King James Version of the Bible adhere to it out of habit and unfamiliarity with modern translations. They may appreciate its elegant Shakespearean language and resist any changes to it. However, often unknowingly, they may read the Bible more for its literary aesthetic rather than for understanding its true message. Some may believe that a religious organization or a religious monarch must endorse a Bible for it to be authoritative. However, in a previous article, we learned that there is no valid basis for any Christian to hold the King James Version or any other translation as the exclusive version authorized by the Bible’s Author. Since the original texts of the Bible were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, translation into contemporary languages is necessary. Consequently, we have witnessed the emergence of numerous modern translations in recent years.
Now, let us reflect upon the King James translation, the most widely used Bible among English speakers. This version was published in 1611, over three centuries ago. While its language was modern and current at that time, language inevitably evolves. As a result, readers of the Authorized Version often struggle to comprehend its content, frequently misunderstanding God’s thoughts. Are we aware of the seriousness of this situation?
LANGUAGE CHANGES OBSCURE UNDERSTANDING
The ever-evolving English language has brought about shifts in meaning and the adoption of new meanings for numerous words since the time of King James. When these words are encountered in the Authorized Version of the Bible, they often cloud the understanding of modern readers, while readers from three centuries ago easily comprehended their intended sense. How much do language changes hinder understanding? A few examples will shed light on the matter.
In present times, the word “conversation” refers to an exchange of thoughts through speaking. Consequently, modern readers may mistakenly interpret the apostle Paul’s advice to Christian wives as it is rendered in the King James Version: “Wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.” Now, what does this mean? Does it imply that conversation, as we understand it, is the primary means by which a Christian wife can win over an unbelieving husband? And must a Christian wife fear her husband?
Where can we turn for clarification? We may assume we know the meaning of the word “conversation” and the word “fear,” leading us to adopt an incorrect understanding. Why? Because the word “conversation” had a different meaning three hundred years ago. However, if we consult a modern translation of the Bible, such as the Updated American Standard Version, we obtain the correct understanding: “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.” (1 Pet. 3:1, 2)
What a difference! It is primarily a wife’s righteous conduct that may win over an unbelieving husband, and it is not fear but profound respect that a Christian wife should display toward her husband. A modern translation has dispelled the confusion caused by language change, allowing the sun of understanding to illuminate our minds.
Let us now examine the Scripture in the King James Version at 1 Corinthians 10:24, 25: “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth. Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat.” The modern reader might naturally ask: What does it mean to seek another person’s wealth? And what is the shambles, and what type of food is purchased there? A clear rendering in a modern Bible translation breaks through the hazy barrier to understanding: “Let each one keep seeking, not his own good, but that of the other person. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising questions for the sake of conscience.” (UASV) How clear it is now! We are not to covet another person’s material possessions but rather pursue actions that benefit them. And the “shambles” simply refers to a meat market.
Consider the word “addicted.” Does it not suggest compulsively following a habit, typically a negative one? However, three hundred years ago, the word did not carry this negative connotation. Hence, when we read the King James Version at 1 Corinthians 16:15, “They have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,” it prompts us to question whether this is commendable or not. The Updated American Standard Version clarifies the matter: “They have devoted themselves to ministering to the holy ones,” which is indeed praiseworthy.
LANGUAGE OBSCURES UNDERSTANDING
The King James translators employed certain words that are no longer in common use today. When we come across these words, our comprehension may slow down significantly. Even worse, it is akin to participating in a race while blindfolded, causing us to stumble and fall. Mentally, a reader of the King James Version may stumble and falter when encountering archaic words. In Jeremiah 4:22, God’s prophet states, “For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children.” What kind of children are being referred to here? A modern translation clears away the debris of an obsolete word, paving the way for understanding: “For my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children.” (RSV)
Another stumbling block to understanding in the King James Version is the word “overcharge.” What does the phrase “that I may not overcharge you all” mean? The obstacle to comprehension is removed by the Updated American Standard Version, which reads: “so that I would not be burdensome to you all.” (2 Cor. 2:5, UASV) By employing modern translations, we can remove these roadblocks to understanding and navigate the pathway with clarity.
DISTORTING GOD’S WORD
The evolution of language can lead to the distortion of God’s Word if we rely on outdated Bible translations. These distortions can either provide readers with entirely incorrect ideas or even discourage them from making efforts to understand at all. However, it is essential to maintain a balance between literal translation philosophy and interpretive translation. Let’s examine an example where the King James Version is essentially correct, except for its archaic English. Matthew 11:12, according to the King James Version, states: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” Does God allow individuals to attain His kingdom through violent means? Yes, this interpretation seems more challenging! However, what is the correct understanding? A modern translation conveys the same message but uses updated language: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (UASV) It is the responsibility of the reader to grasp the author’s intended meaning.
The change in meaning of the word “prevent” over time has led to significant confusion for those who rely solely on the King James Version. For instance, 1 Thessalonians 4:15 in this version reads: “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.” How can the living in any way prevent the dead from being resurrected? The meaning is distorted due to the modern reader’s understanding of the word “prevent.” However, the Updated American Standard Version clarifies our understanding: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” The true meaning becomes clear. Now, imagine what happens to understanding when a reader of the King James Version has no access to modern translations and remains unaware that the word “prevent” used to mean “precede.” Such a person is faced with an absurd situation, and God’s Word appears distorted.
Consider the phrase “poor in spirit.” One might think it refers to someone lacking energy, vitality, determination, or willpower. According to the King James Version, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” These words spoken by the Master are of great importance, and it is crucial that we understand them correctly. Does the reader of the Authorized Version grasp the correct understanding? It will require effort, but indeed they can, as the true thought expressed by Jesus can be grasped through the preferred literal translation philosophy, even though a modern interpretive translation may provide a quicker understanding. However, what if their interpretation is incorrect?
The term “poor” (πτωχός ptōchos; adj. from πτώσσω ptōssō) carries the meaning of a “beggar.” An alternative literal rendering is “beggars/poor in spirit.” This means that the “beggars/poor in spirit” are aware of their spiritual needs, just as a beggar or someone in poverty is aware of their physical needs. The GOD’S WORD Translation renders it as: “Blessed are those who [are poor in spirit] recognize that they are spiritually helpless…” The meaning is clear, as if understanding the needs of a beggar or a poor person.
OPPOSITE OF THE TRUTH
Sometimes, words undergo such significant changes that their meanings become entirely opposite to what they once were. When this occurs in the King James translation, readers end up with the opposite of the truth; they acquire a mistaken understanding. Consider the word “let.” Today, it means “allow.” Therefore, it is understandable how a modern reader would interpret the following scripture from the Authorized Version: “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed.” Does this imply that the apostles of Christ, while still alive, permitted lawless and apostate Christians to enter and remain in the church?
No, the opposite is true, as the Updated American Standard Version clarifies: “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; but only until the one who is right now acting as a restraint is out of the way. Then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will do away with by the spirit of his mouth, and wipe out by the appearance of his coming.” (2 Thess. 2:7, 8, UASV)
This is the heart of the matter: In the days of King James, the word “let” meant to hinder, precisely the opposite of its current meaning. The apostles did not permit apostate Christians to flourish within the congregation. On the contrary, the apostles acted as a restraint against spiritual lawlessness during their lifetime. After their death, false Christians would begin to thrive.
When a change in the meaning of a word clothes falsehood in the guise of truth, it becomes a grave matter. This is precisely what occurs. For example, a Christian’s understanding of the doctrine of resurrection may be entirely opposite to the truth if they solely rely on a Bible translation from three hundred years ago. Consequently, someone using the King James Version reads Jesus’ words about the resurrection as follows: “The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” The word “damnation” today implies condemnation. This may lead people to believe in the resurrection of individuals who committed evil deeds solely for the purpose of condemning them. However, this is a false doctrine. Similarly false is the belief that all wicked individuals will return in this resurrection. How do we know the truth?
A modern Bible translation sets the matter straight, granting us the accurate understanding of Jesus’ words: “Do not marvel at this, because an hour is coming when all who are in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to a resurrection of life, and those who have practiced wickedness to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28, 29, UASV) Therefore, possessing an accurate translation allows for a correct interpretation.
Another example of changing words that result in an opposite meaning today is found in Luke 21:9. This relates to Jesus’ crucial prophecy regarding the sign of the last days of this wicked world. According to the King James Version, Jesus said: “But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by.” However, “by and by” today suggests an uncertain future time. Yet Jesus actually said, as the Updated American Standard Version conveys: “But when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified. For these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”
Due to space constraints, a comprehensive discussion of how language in the King James Version can cloud understanding is not possible. However, here is a list of a few more examples, along with the word or phrase used by modern translations to enable us to grasp the intended thought of God’s Word:
- “Let” (2 Thessalonians 2:7): Meaning “hinder” in the King James Version, it leads to a mistaken understanding. The Updated American Standard Version clarifies: “restraint.”
- “Damnation” (John 5:29): Implies condemnation in the King James Version, but a more accurate rendering is “judgment” in modern translations.
- “By and by” (Luke 21:9): Suggests an uncertain future time in the King James Version, whereas the Updated American Standard Version conveys “at once” for clarity.
Understanding God’s Word is of utmost importance. Long-standing usage, familiarity with certain passages, sentimental attachment, and poetic language should not overshadow clarity of meaning. Truth or error, clarity or obscurity, understanding or misunderstanding—these are the considerations. Which will it be for you? God commands us to “Get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7)
If you have primarily used the King James Version of the Bible, it is advisable to take steps to obtain a translation that presents God’s thoughts to you in the most understandable form. Consider exploring the 2022 Updated American Standard Version (UASV) to aid in gaining a clearer understanding of God’s Word.