Dead Words and False Friends in the KJV

I recently purchased a book in my Logos 7 Bible Software by Mark L. Ward, Jr., entitled: Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. In the book, Ward points out the fact that the King James Bible is the only 1611 release that is still on any best seller’s list! He also points out the fact that many common sayings, such as; “By the skin of his teeth” and “A labor of love” are taken directly from the King James Version of the Bible. But the highlight and meat of the book is Ward’s insightful handling of what he calls; “dead words” and “false friends” in the KJV.

Dead words are words found in the KJV that were in common use when the KJV was published in 1611, but are no longer in common use today. A good example is the word; “leasing” which is found in Psalm 4:2 and Psalm 5:6. The word has nothing to do with renting a domicile or a building, but rather denotes; the act of lying or falsehood. Another good example is “champaign” (pronounced exactly the same as the wine beverage), which was the term used for open level countryside in Deuteronomy 11:30. Ward list several more dead words, but readily points out the fact that dead words are really no problem for the modern English reader of the KJV because they are easy to recognize.

However, the greatest pitfall for the modern English reader of the KJV is undoubtedly the danger of failing to recognize “false friends.” Ward defines false friends as; “Words that are still in common use but have changed meaning in ways that modern readers are highly unlikely to recognize. Many words and phrases in the KJV are still in use but meant different things in seventeenth-century England—and yet what they now mean makes sufficient sense in context that most readers don’t notice the change. They don’t realize they need to look these words up.”[1] The example of false friends that Ward illustrates and analyzes in detail include the word; “halt” in story of the Prophet Elijah’s confrontation with Israel and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:21. In modern use, the term “halt” primarily means to “stop.” But that is not the usage that was prevalent in 1611, when the KJV was first published. Ward points out that although some modern versions such as the NASB (New American Standard Bible) and the NIV (New International Version) render the meaning of “hesitating” or “wavering,” the ESV (English Standard Version) gives the meaning the KJV translators had in mind with their use of the word. In 1611, the common use for the word “halt” was to limp or be crippled. This is the same meaning of the word in Luke 14:21 (KJV). Elijah was not asking the people how long were they going to stop, or even waver or hesitate between two opinions. He wanted to know how long would they limp or be crippled by their indecisiveness!

Ward cites several more false friends found in the KJV, such as “conversation.” Today, the word means dialogue or talk, but in 1611, the word was commonly used to denote all of one’s dealings with another, hence, manner of life or conduct. The Apostle encourage his readers to “love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous.” Today “pitiful” means to be pathetic or weak, but in 1611, the word meant to show pity and compassion for others.

As I was reading Ward’s book, I thought of a few “false friends” that he didn’t mention (of course Ward never claims to cite them all; his work is primarily to alert us of their existence), such as “faint” in Luke 18:1. Jesus said, “Men ought to always pray and not faint.” Today, the word primarily means to feel dizzy and lose consciousness, but in 1611, the primary meaning was to lose courage or to give up! What about when we read in the KJV that we are to be “careful” for nothing? But we tell one another everyday to be careful! Well, careful today means to take precautions and be mindful of potential problems or danger, but in 1611, it’s primary meaning was to be anxious and worried. So, when Jesus says to Martha in Luke 10:41, “Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things.” He was not complimenting her on her good housekeeping skills, he was telling her that she was anxious and filled with anxiety.

I was happy to know that “unicorns” really are real, because they are in the KJV Bible! But the unicorn in the KJV was not the mythological one-horned horse that we know, but rather was a wild ox! In fact, the unicorn in Psalm 22:21 apparently had more than one horn, because the author prays; “Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.”

Ward’s book is on my “suggested reading list” for a greater understanding of the Bible and the use of the English language for all preachers, teachers, and serious students of the Bible. If you don’t own Logos Bible Software, the book can also be purchased in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon.com.

                1. Mark Ward, Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible. Edited by Elliot Ritzema, Lynnea Fraser, and Danielle Thevenaz. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018),  31.

Watch Your Mouth: Don’t Cuss or Curse!

hand over mouthI can remember, while growing up as a young boy in Mississippi, my friends and I would often play ball in the back yard. Sometimes, we would get angry with one another and let out some expletives that we wouldn’t have said in our Sunday School class. At the time we said those words, we didn’t know that mother was listening. But, soon we would hear her yell out the window: “You’d better watch your mouths boys!” You see, back when I was growing up, it was a BIG NO-NO for children (anyone under 21) to use “cuss” words.

But, I would like to suggest that, even though we live in a society in which we are constantly exposed to profanity on the Internet, radio, TV, and other media outlets, “cuss” words are not as nearly damaging as “curse” words! You see, there is a difference between “cuss” words and “curse” words! “Cuss” words are the words used when we sometimes get angry and lay our religion down! (But then, there are some folks I know of who have incorporated these words into their normal everyday vocabulary!) You can tell when you are “cussing” because if you have ever had any home training, something within you tells you that you are using bad language! But “curse” words are horses of a different color! I know some preachers who use “curse” words (by the way, some of them “cuss” too!). There are many people who would never “cuss,” but they “curse” all the time!

You are “cursing” when you say that you can’t, when God has said that you can! You are “cursing” when you tell your child that they will never be anything because (in your opinion) their father is no good! You are “cursing” when you always talk about what’s wrong with your life and never express appreciation for what is right! You are cursing when you always speak negative, non-productive, cynical, and pessimistic words! The Bible says that a man’s belly will be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth . . .death and life are in the power of the tongue! Jesus said, “Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be cast unto the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass, he shall have whatever he saith.” (Mark 11:23 KJV) In other words, whatever you consistently speak with your mouth and constantly believe in your heart will eventually become a reality in your life! Your present circumstances are a direct result of the words you have been habitually speaking! Your words have power!

We used to say when we were children; “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” Well, that’s not exactly true! Not only can words hurt you; words can kill you! Especially if they are “curse” words spoken and/or believed by you! Watch your mouth! Don’t cuss and don’t curse! Be careful what you say! Make sure you speak life and not death into your life and into the lives of the people around you!