Ancestry of the King James Version #2: Mythology, Archaeology & TranslationAuthor: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Alexander Campbell, Bible, Church History, Exegesis, King James Version
Greetings from the land of Saguaros and Scorpions. The following post, my second, continues my series on translations in honor of the 400th birthday of the King James Version (See HERE for #1). The KJV was a remarkable work of scholarship for its day but it was not and is not above criticism or improvement. This post reflects some of the conversations I have had on the weaknesses of the KJV as recently as yesterday. What I say is not to be construed as a put down on the king’s men in 1611 for they were the first to recognize that others would one day improve on their work. Rather I want to show, briefly, how archeology has continued to help us understand the language of the Bible better.
The advance of knowledge in the Hebrew and Greek languages has more than sustained the proposition that contemporary translations like the NIV, NRSV and ESV are in a much better position for accurate translation than the KJV. A long list of discoveries has made this possible. In this post I will list numerous examples where discoveries in archeology in the 19th and 20th century have taught us the meanings of Hebrew and Greek words more accurately — thus having a better translation of God’s word. But first a . . .
Quotable Quote from Alexander Campbell
“The labors bestowed upon the original text, . . . the great advances made in the whole science of hermeneutics . . . since the commencement of the present century [19th], fully justify the conclusion that we are, or may be, much better furnished for the work of interpretation than any one, however gifted by nature and by education could have been, not merely fifty but almost two hundred and fifty years ago. The living critics and translators of the present day, in Europe and America, are like Saul amongst the people — head and shoulders above those of the early part of the seventeenth century.” (Alexander Campbell, Address to the American Bible Union Convention, 1852, pp. 583-584).
Archaeology Debunks the KJVs Addiction to Mythology
The proof of Campbell’s statement (made 28 years after his production of the Living Oracles) is seen in the following examples. In the area of linguistics, especially in the Hebrew Bible, the modern scholar — towers over the king’s translators (not a claim to more intelligence just more and better info!). Objects formerly simply guessed at have now been identified (see Ex. 25.29; 37.16; Num. 4.7; Lev. 26.30; Isa. 17.8; 27.9; Ezek. 6.4 in the KJV and the RSV/NRSV or NIV).
Many kinds of animals were simply unknown to the King’s men so they supplied mythological names to these creatures of God. We see this mythological strand running throughout the Hebrew Bible of the KJV: Satyrs (Isa 13.21), Dragons (Job 30.29), Unicorns (Deut. 33.17), cockatrices (Isa 14.29), all of these animals are now known and translated properly and accurately (see the NIV in each case). What these men thought, in 1611, was “sapphire,” is now known to refer to “lapis lazuli.”
The same has happened in the NT as well. Regardless of the text type used, we now know Greek much better than in 1611. The papyri — which revealed the world of koine Greek to modern scholars — has taught us this. Just one example. The verb kapeleuo in 2 Corinthians 1.17. This is rendered in the KJV as, “For wee [sic] are not as many which corrupt the word of God . . .” The ASV also translates kapeleuo in this manner.
Here is an example where advancement in knowledge, not a change of text, has resulted in a more accurate translation. In 1611 they never dreamed of the papyri buried in the sands of Egypt and 1881 they were still a decade away from the fabulous discoveries. The verb kapeleuo occurs quite frequently in the papyri. Moulton and Milligan (The Vocabulary of the New Testament, Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Non-Literary Sources) tell us that the verb means to “trade” or “sell.” The noun form being used in the sense of “dealer” or a “peddler” of wares (like a used car dealer). This knowledge simply was unavailable in 1611 nor 1881. Thus when we pick up the NRSV or the NIV it should surprise none that we find this fine (and accurate!) translation of kapeleuo :
“Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit . . .” (NIV).
Interestingly the ASV anticipated this rendering by suggesting it in the footnote. Today we know that the footnote was correct. Other examples of this kind of movement to an accurate translation (that is rooted in the benefits of archeology) are in Matt. 28.1; Acts 19.16; Phil 4.18; 1 Thess. 5.14, etc.
I for one thank almighty God that he — in his good grace and mercy — has allowed us the good fortune to see his word with more clarity. The NIV is clearly more accurate in all of these places. The words of Campbell ring more true today than he could ever have imagined.
A good book like Adolf Deismann’s classic Light from the Ancient East contains literally hundreds of examples of what we are talking of. Aren’t we glad that mythology has been sent back to the books on Greek gods rather than in the word of God.