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More King James Curiosities

A terrific and detailed discussion of some of the problems of the King James as a modern translation can be found in Jack Lewis’s helpful ,The English Bible: from KJV to NIV.    Among some of the more interesting points he makes are the following.

Words used in the KJV that we have no clue about today (well, most of us):  almug, algum, chode gat, habergeon, hosen, kab, lugure, neesed, ring-straked, wimples, ouches, cracknels…. He lists dozens more.

Phrases: ouches of gold (Exoc. 28:11); collops of fat (Job 15:25); naughty figs (Jer 24:2); lien with (Jer. 3:2); rentest thy face (Jer. 4:30); murrain of the cattle (Exod. 9:2).  He gives lots more.

Sentences that may, at least, puzzle:

  • And Jacob sod pottage (Gen 25:29)
  • And Mt. Sinai was altogether on a smoke (Exoc. 19:18)
  • Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing (Ps. 5:6)
  • Solomon loved many strange women (2 Kings 11:1)  (!)
  • I trow not (Luke 17:9)
  • We do you to wit of the grace of God (2 Cor. 8:1)
  • Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowls (2 Cor. 6:12
  • The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd (Eccles. 12:11)

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The KJV translators loved to use a variety of different words for the same Greek or Hebrew word.  I’m not sure this is always a problem, but it is interesting to note.   The Hebrew word for “word” (DBR) is translated with 84 different English words in various passages; the word “face” (PNM) by 34; the word “pass over” by 48; the word for “good” (TB) by 41.

A bigger problem: the one I mentioned in my previous post, of words that are ones we use today but with different meanings, leading to very real chances of misunderstanding the translation:

  • Prov. 22:29 speaks of a “mean man” which means a “common man”
  • Lev. 14:10, the “meat offering” actually means a “grain offering”
  • 1 Sam 17:6 indicates that Goliath carried a “target” on his shoulder, meaning a javelin
  • Ps. 88:13 “In the morning shall my prayer prevent thee” means “…shall come before you.”
  • 1 Cor. 10;24, “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.”  Wealth then means “welfare” to us today
  • Acts 10:11 Peter sees a sheet from heaven “knit at the four corners,” meaning “let down from four corners”
  • Phil 4:6, “Be careful for nothing,” means “don’t worry about anything.”
  • Ps. 124:3 “Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us.”  Quick means “alive”

The KJV mentions all sorts of mythical animals as if they were real.  Possibly the translators thought they were?  The unicorn (Deut. 33:17) satyr (Isa 13:21); dragon (Deut 32:33), cockatrice (Iswa 11:8), and arrowsnake (Gen 49:11, in the margin).

Sometimes, as it turns out, the KJV actually gives the literal rendering of the Hebrew in a way that today people would find surprising and even offensive, in the words of the Bible, as in 1 Sam 25:22, 34, I Kings 14:10 etc. when it refers to one who “pisseth against the wall.”   The Hebrew actually says that: “urinates against the wall.”  It means a male person (as opposed to female).

Go figure.

Not the fault of the translators, there were some printed editions of the KJV that had some very interesting and amusing mistakes in them, leading these editions to be given well-deserved names:

– The Unrighteous Bible of 1653 left one of the “not”’s out of 1 Cor. 6:9,  so that it reads “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom?”

– The Sin On Bible of 1716, which in John 8:11 joyously has Jesus say “Go and sin on more”

– The Vinegar Bible of 1717 which gave as the title for the parable: “The Parable of the Vinegar” (instead of …Vineyard)

– The Lions Bible of 1804, which in 1 Kings 8:19 has God tell David that “they son that shall come forth from thy lions” (rather than “loins”)

– And my all-time favorite, The Adulterous Bible of 1631, left the “not” out of the seventh commandment, so the command now is “Thou shalt commit adultery”

Well, no Bible is perfect.  But probably some are more perfect than others….

Textual Problems with the King James: The Trinity
The King James and William Tyndale



  1. Avatar
    mariana1952  January 12, 2013

    Very interesting but I`m not surprise.I have a bible in portuguese and when i read it I found lots of words ,don`t even exist in portuguese dictionary(Portuguese is my first language) I was like where does this word came from?
    You just prove to me that I should`n and i don`t trust the bible to be THE TRUTH people claim.
    Thank you Dr.Ehrman for the blog.Looking forward for more and I have to go back the ones from last year.

  2. Avatar
    maxhirez  January 12, 2013

    Are the words and phrases we “have no idea about today” elucidated retroactively by going back to the Greek/Latin/Hebrew to see what was translated to what? Are any of those lost to time?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 13, 2013

      I just meant that hte English words are no longer ones we use. There *are* some Hebrew terms in the Hebrew Bible, however, that we do not understand and do not know what they mean….

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    Walid_  January 12, 2013

    Dr Ehrman you’re so full of knowledge, I doubt there’s anything that you don’t know about.
    Is there a collection of those hilarious bible quotes somewhere?

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    nichael  January 13, 2013

    It is useful, of course, to bear in mind that this problem (that is, that the language can “change out from under” the translators) is not restricted to “old” translations like the KJV.

    To give a couple of example: The marvelous book “The Making of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible”, written by some of the translators of the NRSV, contains a chapter by Prof Ehrman’s teacher Bruce Metzger (about whom Prof Ehrman has written on this blog).

    Among the examples Prof Metzger’s chapter (“Problems Confronting Translators of the Bible”) contains is a list of translations which the committee of the NRSV (published in the earlier 1990s) felt necessary to change from those given in the earlier RSV (published in 1952) as a result of the continually changing nature of English.

    An amusing example is from Psalms 50:9, which was rendered in the RSV as:
    – “I will accept no bull from this house”
    but which the translators of the NRSV felt it useful to change to:
    – “I will not accept a bull from this house”

    However, probably the most famous example is from 2 Cor 11:25 (in which Paul is listing the ordeals he has suffered as an Apostol) which the NRSV gives as:
    – “Once I received a stoning”
    which was changed from the RSV’s translation:
    – “Once I was stoned”.

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    Peter  January 14, 2013


    I hope you don’t mind if I try to squeeze these two short questions in under the heading of translations!!

    1. Re. Luke 2:7.

    Luke wrote: “And she brought forth her firstborn son,….”. I was just wondering about this line in the context of the “Virgin Birth”. Is “firstborn” an adjective that was specifically used to modify “son”( in which case Mary could have had more sons after she had Jesus), or is it a compound noun that was primarily used to signify that it was the first time Mary gave birth(in which case it could be argued that Jesus was her only child)? What word is used in Greek?

    2. I’m sure you’ve been asked this question, with slight variations, hundreds of times, but anyway….!

    Catholic apologists say that the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity is not undermined by the numerous descriptions throughout NT canon of Jesus’ having siblings. The argument goes as follows:
    the original communications about the life of Jesus were done orally through Aramaic. There was no specific Aramaic word for ‘cousin’, and the word for ‘brother’ in Aramaic could also mean ‘cousin’; so when Jesus was described as having brother and sisters in the various NT writings, all that had happened was that somewhere along the chain of communication about Jesus one of the links had taken the wrong meaning and had wrongly designated James et al as brothers and sisters rather than cousins, leading to the mistake’s being recorded in Greek when it eventually got to the writers ( I suppose it’s a bit like the “man”, “son of man” mistranslation I’ve heard you discuss before).

    If you leave out the fact that Paul met James, who surely would have been able to impart to Paul exactly what his relationship was to Jesus, how do you deal with this question? Can you give this argument a coup de grace on grounds of linguistics rather than those of common sense?!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 14, 2013

      I”m sorry to say I’m on the road and don’t have my books with me to consult. But yes, “first born” does suggest there were others born later, which is why somme later scribes removed the word from their copies. On Jesus’ brothers/cousins: I’m not familiar with the argument based on Aramaic; I thought that Jerome (who was one of the few theologians who actually could read Greek) said that hte *Greek* word for brothers also meant cousins. That, however, is not true.

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    Yentyl  January 14, 2013

    Oy vey!

    Here’s a web site that gives a lot more. My goodness. I love the wife beater one. Ha!


  7. Avatar
    revneil  January 17, 2013

    About the ‘Wicked Bible’ of 1631 and its printer, the King’s Printer, Robert Barker, my friend Pierce Carefoote, in the companion guide to his exhibition ‘Great and Manifold’, 2011 at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, offered the report of contemporary writer, Peter Helwyn (1599-1662), “His Majesty having been made aquainted with (the error) by the Bishop of London, Order was given for calling the Printers into the High-Commission, where upon Evidence of the Fact, the whole Impression was called in, and the Printers deeply fined, as they justly merited.”
    Barker was fined the enormous sum of 300 pounds, though he maintiained that agents of his rival printer, Bonham Norton (1565-1635) had infiltrated his establishment and sabotaged the print run. Printing the Bible was a cuthroat business at the time and there may be something to Barker’s story: he died in 1643, broken and bankrupt.

  8. Avatar
    revneil  January 17, 2013

    Mind, Barker had had problems before. A 1613 printing had Matthew 26:36 as “Then cometh Judas with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.”–afterward called ‘The Judas Bible’. (Unless, of course, you want to say that this is–finally–the true hidden gospel come to light.)
    These are printing errors, not translation or use of language questions, but they pose another fundamental question: As with the fact that there are so many variants among the texts of scripture from antiquity that the original text is not known, so what does it mean that there are so many printing errors and variants in the AV that there is no such thing as ‘The’ King James Bible in one authoritative text?’
    For those few who still want to clam authority for the AV, what does it mean that the source text is lost, and that all we have are flawed variants?

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