OBSOLETE WORDS IN THE
By Robert A. Joyner
There are many words in the KJV today that do not convey the meaning to the modern reader that the original writers intended to express. When the KJV came out in 1611, it was sixteenth century English at its best. Through the years many words and expressions have become ambiguous or misleading. There are hundreds of them. In this chapter I will point out samples of them. I believe the reader will find archaic and obsolete words are a much bigger problem than you would think.
In the KJV you run into outdated expressions which the modern American could never understand without help. Of course, all of these examples I will give are updated in the NIV and the NASB.
In I Samuel 30:31 the KJV says, “Where David himself and his men were wont to haunt.” Five times the KJV uses the expression, “Fetch a compass” (examples: II Sam. 5:23; Acts 28:13). In Matt. 27:44 it says, “They cast the same in his teeth.” In Mark 9:18 the KJV says, “And pineth away.” In Gal. 4:24 it says, “Which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.” In James 1:21 we are told to “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.”
The reader will never know what these obsolete expressions mean unless he looks them up in another source. The NIV or the NASB makes them all simple enough so a child can understand them.
To those who argue for the beautiful and lofty language of the KJV, I will challenge you to go out in public and talk in King James English today. You will soon see how odd and outdated it is. Try it. I dare you! Of course you will not do it because you do not want to sound silly. But you don’t care if God does.
Now let us focus on some of the words in the KJV that have changed or taken on new meanings through the years.
ADMIRE, ADMIRATION was used in 1611 to denote wonder or astonishment, without any implication of praise or approval. That is why John in Rev. 17:6 looks at the great Whore, which is the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth, and “wondered with great admiration.” Of course, John did not admire this wicked woman, but he was amazed and wondered. The NIV says,” I was greatly astonished.” The KJV conveys the wrong meaning here and in other places where these words are used.
AFFINITY means nearness of kin or mutual attraction today. The Hebrew word translated “affinity” by the KJV means, “relationship by marriage, especially by a father and a son-in-law.” In 2 Chronicles 18:1 Jehoshaphat “joined affinity with Ahab.” In Ezra 9:14 the KJV says, “Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations.” The NASB says “intermarry” or “allied himself by marriage.” The reader of the KJV will miss part of the meaning in these verses while the NASB makes it clear.
AGAINST today means opposite or confronting. Notice how it is used in the KJV. In Genesis 43:25, “against Joseph came” and Exodus 7:15 it says, “against he come” and in II Kings 16:11, “against king Ahaz came.” In Numbers 25:4 it says, “Take the heads of the people and hang them up before the LORD against the sun.” Over and over the KJV uses the word “against” when another word would give a clearer meaning for the modern reader. The NIV and the NASB usually say “for” or “before” in these passages.
AGONE is an outdated word for “ago.” In I Samuel the Egyptian said, “Three days agone I fell sick.”(30:13) The NASB says, “I fell sick three days ago.”
ALLEGE today means merely to assert. In the sixteenth century it meant to produce evidence and to prove. In Acts 17, Paul for three Sabbaths reasoned with the Jews out of the Scriptures. Verse 3 says, “Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead.” Does anyone believe that Paul only asserted but did not prove and give evidence for what he said? The NASB says, “Explaining and giving evidence.”
ALWAY appears 23 times in the KJV and “always” 62 times. Today we always add the “s.” In Titus 1:12 Paul said, “The Cretians are alway liars.” Matthew 28:20 says, “Lo, I am with you alway.”
ANGLE meant “fishhook” to the KJV translators. “All they who cast angle into the brooks” means “all those who cast a hook into the Nile.” (Isa. 19:8 NIV) The KJV turned around and translated the same word as “hook” in Job 41:1. “Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook?”
ANON means “soon” or “presently” in my dictionary today. The Greek word translated “anon” means “immediately” or “straightway.” The KJV can be misleading here. For example, in Mark 1:30, when Jesus entered Peter’s house they immediately tell Him about the sick mother-in-law. However, the KJV says that “anon” they told Him. This makes it sound like they waited awhile. The stony ground hearer, in the parable of the sower, heard the word and “anon with joy receiveth it.” (Matt. 13:20-21) The Greek says he received it immediately while the KJV makes it sound like he might have waited awhile. I realize this is no big deal. But the point I want to make is that throughout the KJV, in small things as well as the big, the reader is being misled.
APOTHECARY appears six times in the KJV. The word means one who prepares and sells drugs for medicine. However, the Hebrew word means “perfumer.” The NASB always says “perfumer.”
ARMHOLE is used for “armpit” in the KJV. In Ezekiel 13:18 it says, “Sew pillows to all armholes.” In Jeremiah 38:12 it says, “Put now these old cast clouts and rotten rags under thine armholes under the cords.” The NASB says, “Now put these worn-out clothes and rags under your armpits under the ropes.” Anyone can see that “armpit” is better than “armhole.” I am not sure what an “armhole” is, unless it is a hole in your arm.
AT is used in an obsolete way in Exodus 19:15. It says, “Come not at your wives.” Numbers 6:6 tells the nazarite, “he shall come at no dead body.” The Hebrew means don’t come near your wives or near any dead body. I give only two examples here, but many times the KJV uses “at” in the obsolete sense.
AWAY WITH is an old expression used in Isaiah 1:13. “I cannot away with.” The Hebrew means tolerate or endure. The NASB says, “I cannot endure.” This expression, which we never use today, makes it harder for the reader to see that God cannot endure false religion.
BAKEMEATS is used in Genesis 40:17, where the chief baker was carrying “all manner of bakemeats for Pharaoh.” This simply means all sorts of food prepared by a baker, (which usually contained no meat). It has little to do with the modern conception of baked meats.
BEAST is used in the KJV as a general term for all living creatures other than man. The word “animal” is not used in the KJV. The word “reptile” does not appear, since it is was not in current use then.
The word “beast” is used in the book of Revelation to refer to the holy living creatures around the throne of God. (4:6,7,8) Remarkably, the same word is used to refer to the wicked “beast” that rises out of the sea, and the “beast” that rises out of the bottomless pit. (13:1,11; 17:8) There are two different Greek words used in these passages. One means “living creatures” and the other means “wild beasts.” The KJV makes no distinction. The NASB does.
BESOM is an outdated word for broom. In Isaiah 14:23, God says of Babylon, “I will sweep it with the besom of destruction.”
BETHINK THEMSELVES is used in I Kings 8:47, “Yet if they shall bethink themselves in the land.” The NASB says, “If they take thought in the land.”
BETIMES means early or in time. However, the Hebrew word the KJV translates as “betimes” actually means diligent or persistent. In II Chronicles 36:15 when the Lord sent messengers “betimes,” it means He sent them persistently. In Proverbs 13:24 the KJV says chasten him “betimes.” It actually means to “discipline him diligently.” This word “betimes” in the KJV, misled me in my early Christian life. The reader should research every verse where the word is used before he assumes he knows the meaning of it.
BEWRAY is an obsolete word which meant to reveal or disclose. In Matthew 26:73, Peter was told, “thy speech bewrayeth thee.” The NIV says, “Your accent gives you away.” I believe “bewray” is used about four times in the KJV.
BLOW UP is used in the KJV sometimes instead of simply “blow.” In Psalm 81:3, it says, “Blow up the trumpet.” Today “blow up” means to explode or inflate.
BOLLED is used in the KJV in Exodus 9:31. It says “the flax was bolled.” The Hebrew word means bud or bloom. Of course, the NASB or the NIV brings this out.
BOTCH, as used by the KJV, is an archaic word that means boils or sores, as the “botch of Egypt”, etc.
BOWELS is used 28 times in the Old Testament. Sometimes the word is used literally as we would use it today. In II Samuel 20:10, Joab cut out the “bowels” of Amasa. The NASB says, “inward parts,” which sounds better.
Also, the KJV uses the word “bowels” to denote the womb and the male organs. This can be mis-leading. In about 10 instances the word “bowels” is used for feelings and emotions. Examples: “My bowels are troubled.” (Lam. 1:20) “My bowels were moved for him.” (S.S. 5:4) The KJV says of Joseph that “his bowels did yearn upon his brother.” (Gen. 43:30)
In eight passages in the New Testament the KJV uses “bowels” in the sense of affection or compassion. The Greek word does not refer to the intestines specifically, but to the “inward parts.” It is much like the word for heart, which can mean your blood pump, or it can mean “inward affection” or “sincere emotion” (As, “I love you with all my heart.”) In the English language of 1611, both “bowels” and “heart” had this double reference to physical organs and to emotions of which these organs were supposed to be the seat. Today only the word “heart” retains the double meaning.
When Paul tells the Philippians that he longs for them “in bowels of Jesus Christ” (1:8), he means the affections of Jesus Christ. In Colossians 3:12, Paul talks about “bowels of mercies.” In I John 3:17 the KJV says, “shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him.” The book of Philemon uses “bowels” about three times. This book will mean more if you put “heart” in the place of “bowels.” In fact, most passages where the word “bowels” is used, will mean more if you will read them in the NIV or the NASB.
The word “bowels” was a good word in 1611, but I would not recommend that you use it in polite society today. It is a very crude word now. It should be updated.
BULLOCK is used today only of bulls that have been castrated. In the KJV the word means a young bull. To use the word “bullock” today is a blatant mistranslation because the word means something different than it did in 1611. The Bible says the bull had to be without blemish to be offered to the Lord.
CARE, CAREFULNESS, CAREFUL are words that can be misunderstood by the readers of the KJV. They appear in the sense of anxiety or worry. Martha was “careful and troubled about many things.” (Luke 10:41) This means she was worried and upset. Paul told the Corinthians, “I would have you without carefulness.” (I Cor. 7:32) This means that Paul wanted them free from worry or anxiety. God does not want His children to worry. (Phil. 4:6 NASB) The reader can miss some blessings unless he refers to another version where these obsolete words are not used.
CARRIAGE in the KJV means that which is carried. Today it means a vehicle by which persons or things are carried, such as a horse and carriage. I still remember as a young Christian, I read, “we took up our carriages and went to Jerusalem.”(Acts 21:15) I did not understand then, “that they took up their baggage.”
CERTIFY today means to attest or declare by a formal or legal certificate. The KJV uses the word “certify” when the meaning is simply to tell or to make known. Examples: “Esther certified the king thereof.” (Esther 2:22) In Galatians 1:11, Paul says, “I certify you brethren.” In neither case is there any implication of formal attestation. The Greek means “to make known” or “I would have you to know.”
CHOLER is an outdated word that once meant anger. In Daniel 8:7, “He was moved with choler.” In 11:11, “The king of the south shall be moved with choler.” The Hebrew word means he was enraged or moved with anger. We do not use the old word “choler” today. If you did, no one would know what you meant.
CLOSET is used several times in the KJV. The word once meant a private room but this is not the meaning today. Sometimes the KJV translators use “chamber” for the same word. The Greek word for “closet” means private room or storeroom. “Closet” is ambiguous in Matthew 6:6, where it says, “enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.” The reader is misled in all other places where the word closet is used.
COLLEGE is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word which means the second quarter or district. The KJV says Huldah the prophetess “dwelt in Jerusalem in the college.” (II Kings 22:14; II Chron. 34:22) The NIV says, “in the Second District.” The word “college” has misled me before I learned better.