Acts 5:30: "Slew and Hanged"

© 1998 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

Acts 5:30 (KJV) The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.

James White, both in his book The King James Only Controversy (pp. 225-6) and in debating on an America Online message board in August 1995, asserted that the KJV's translation was in error here, specifically regarding the words "slew and hanged" (and the following note is an expansion of my reply to him in the latter forum). His objection rests up the fact that Jesus was slain by "hanging Him upon the tree," and that thus (to his mind) these actions should not be separated by the conjunction "and." Therefore he considers the NKJV reading ("The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree") to be the necessary correction here.

But if one is going to take the approach of magnifying an ambiguity made clear by comparative passages into a difficulty, there is still a "contradiction" in even the new Bibles by saying that Jesus was hanged on a tree. He was nailed to a cross, not suspended by a rope from a tree, which is what has been considered hanging in our Western world for the past several hundred years. (For example, in the American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd College Edition, sense 3a. of "hang" is defined as "To execute by suspending by the neck.") So the verse is still not "right" by modern standards. White has left it only half "correct"!

To this Mr. White would probably reply, and quite properly, by demonstrating that the Greek word kremannumi (Strong's number G2910), which occurs seven times in the Greek NT and is always rendered in KJV with a form of the word "hang," can indeed refer to crucifixion, as it does in Luke 23:39 (KJV: "And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us"). Also, Peter, the speaker in this verse and the analogous passage at Acts 10:39, is linking the disgraceful treatment accorded Christ with the curse laid upon a hanged man under the Mosaic Law (see Deut. 21:22-23), a linkage also made by Paul (in Gal. 3:13, using the same Greek word as in the two verses in Acts). In short, we should examine the Biblical text in such a passage by comparing it with itself, rather than insisting that it conform to our modern standards of speaking.

This rule is a good one, and if it applies to modern translations of the Bible, no one can in justice refuse to allow it to apply to the KJV. In fact, the KJV's "slew and hanged" has a very good pedigree:

  1. It appears in Tyndale's 1534 NT at both Acts 5:30 and 10:39, and in the Great Bible of 1540.
  2. The "and" also appears (as "und") in Luther's German Bible in both passages (e.g., at 5:30--"welchen ihr erwürgt habt und an das Holz gehängt").
  3. The Geneva Bible in fact renders the two verses in two different ways--agreeing with the KJV at 5:30, and with Mr. White at 10:39 ("whom they slew, hanging him on a tree"). This shows that in the Geneva translators' opinion either option was correct.
  4. The Bishops' Bible [1568] agrees with the KJV in this verse, but at 10:39 reads "whome they slue, when they had hanged him on a tree"--a translation that one imagines would give Mr. White even more indigestion than the KJV's treatment of the phrase!
  5. Also, both verses appear unchanged in Noah Webster's 1833 revision of the King James Bible. Since Webster, whose expertise in English usage is unquestionable, did not see fit to alter them--although he did make numerous alterations to the style of the KJV, many of them pedantic in nature--, one may take the retained readings as evidence that this great lexicographer did not consider them erroneous or unintelligible.

As one further thought, one might also consider what all these men who rendered or allowed "slew and hanged" believed about what they were translating or allowing. None of these men were cultists. They all believed that Jesus was slain by crucifixion, and were obviously not trying to pass along any bizarre teaching that He was "slain," then "hanged." Also, as far as I am aware, this choice of words in the KJV has inspired no cultic belief in a two-stage killing of Christ, so the objection really addresses no practical issue facing the church. Even if someone were to establish a heresy from this verse, what White says on p. 258 of his book would seem to apply: " . . . while it is true that heretics down through the ages have appealed to this text or that, we must not allow the misuse of biblical texts to determine the readings we choose for the text of Scripture."

This is quite just, though one cannot help wishing the author had not selectively applied this rule only to his preferred modern versions. (See for example his comments on Acts 9:7 on p. 229 of his book, and on Titus 2:13 on p. 267, where KJV readings are to be criticized based on possible misuse by atheists and Jehovah's Witnesses, respectively.)

It seems fair, in light of the overwhelming evidence of what the KJV translators meant to say, not to intentionally misread what they said and then criticize it. This would be neither intelligent nor honest. What they did say is clear by comparison with other scriptures, so we should understand it in that light.

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