Disputing the "Undisputable"

Miscellaneous Alleged KJV "Errors" Answered

© 1997 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

"All that I possess" (Luke 18:12)
"God save the king" (1 Samuel 10:24)
"Sweet savour" (Lev. 6:21)
"Ashes upon his face" (1 Kings 20:38)

The following answers to allegedly "Undisputable, universally recognized errors in the KJV" listed on the "Interactive Bible's" web site are grouped together because they can be handled briefly, and because they give a good overview of the kinds of pitfalls that befall those who declare KJV renderings "errors" without making adequate study of them.

Marvin R. Vincent (Word Studies in the New Testament) and A.T. Robertson (Word Pictures in the New Testament) also condemn this translation as wrong; the Greek word ktomai, says the latter, is the "present middle indicative, not perfect middle 'kektemai' (I possess)." But this only shows that both men were ignorant of the fact that "possess" can mean "get." See the Oxford English Dictionary, "possess" 3a.: "To take possession of, seize, take; to come into possession of, obtain, gain, win. arch[aic]." Cf. Shakespeare's Tempest, III.ii.88-90: "Remember/First to possess his books; for without them/He's but a sot, as I am . . . ." Also, Thomas Paine in Rights of Man, part 1 (1791), denouncing Burke for not comparing the English and French constitutions, uses "possess" in the same manner: "It was the strongest ground he could take, if the advantages were on his side, but the weakest, if they were not; and his declining to take it, is either a sign that he could not possess it, or could not maintain it." (Library of America ed. of Paine's Collected Writings, p. 468-9.)

John Wesley retains the translation in his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament and remarks, "Many of them gave one full tenth of their income in tithes, and another tenth in alms," indicating that to him the meaning was self-evident. NKJV also gives "possess" here. Again, a non-error in the KJV, and an erroneous criticism on the part of objectors.

And this is an error? If one translates literally (cf. Darby: "May the king live!"), one gets nonsense, or at best a rendering that does not convey the full intention of the Hebrew phrase. "Long live the king" in ASV and NIV is also a "dynamic equivalent," since "long" is nowhere represented in the Hebrew (and is thus quite properly italicized in ASV). Luther's German has a similar dynamic equivalent phrase: "Glück zu dem König!"--"Good fortune to the king!" Since the idea behind KJV's "God save the king" is "may God protect the life of the king" (i.e., the same meaning as "Long live the king"), the only way one can classify this as an error is by condemning a translation in the KJV that one would easily allow in modern versions.

Since "savour" can be "A smell, perfume, aroma" (Oxford English Dictionary, "savour," sb., sense 2) as well as "Quality in relation to the sense of taste" (ibid, sense 1), such an objection demonstrates nothing but a lack of knowledge on the part of the objector.

Furthermore, the proposed change, "soothing aroma," found in the NAS, is objectionable on the grounds of its implication about the nature of God. (As the late Dr. David Otis Fuller once remarked regarding Lev. 6:21 in a tract comparing the NAS with the KJV, "Whoever heard of soothing a sovereign God!" ["On Your Guard!" published by the "Which Bible? Society," p. 1.]) Psalms 50:12 tells us that God says, "If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof," so to imply that, like heathen gods, God must be "soothed" by an offering is unsound doctrinally.

The NIV, in translating "an aroma pleasing to the LORD," avoids this mistake, as do other translations I have consulted (even liberal ones such as the New American Bible and NRSV). Thus the correctors attempt to replace a sound reading mislabelled as an "error" with one that gives rise to a real theological error.

The KJV is by no means alone in this rendering: Tyndale (Matthew's), the Geneva Bible, Robert Young, and Jay P. Green all give "ashes," and the Douay (rendered from Jerome's Latin Vulgate) agrees substantially by rendering "dust." Adam Clarke writes that the reading of the Hebrew "aphad" for "bandage" (rather than "apher," or "dust") is in fact a conjecture--one which he strenuously advocates by citing the LXX and Chaldee, which read thus, but a conjecture nontheless ("It is only the corner of the last letter which makes the difference; for the daleth and resh are nearly the same, only the shoulder of the former is square, the latter round"). Even if other Hebrew manuscripts were found after Clarke's time bearing "aphad" (bandage) as the reading in this place, all we would really have is a textual variation--not a KJV "error."

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