Sidebar: Why Once?

© 1997 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

After surveying this evidence on Acts 12:4, it is perhaps necessary to look into a question that a correspondent of mine recently asked:

The question I would pose is, given the usage of the word Easter includes the Passover, why have the KJV translators used the word Easter to translate "pascha," being the only instance in the NT [of this translation]?

The essay by T.H. Brown on the Trinitarian Bible Society home page attempts to answer this, but I feel in a somewhat unsatisfactory manner:

Matthew's Bible of 1537 incorporated Tyndale's work on the Pentateuch, using passeover, but there were references to Ester in the chapter summaries in Leviticus 23, Numbers 9 and Deuteronomy 16. The Great Bible of 1539 made good use of Tyndale's passeover in fourteen places, but retained Ester or Easter in the other fifteen New Testament passages. The Geneva Bible of 1560, the Bishops' Bible of 1568, and the Authorised Version of 1611 continued the process of eliminating Easter and replacing it with passover. The fifteen New Testament occurrences of Easter in the Great Bible of 1539 were reduced to only one in the Authorised Version, and it seems probable that this was left inadvertently rather than intentionally, in Acts 12.4. If the translators intended to retain Easter in the Bible for ecclesiastical purposes they would hardly have been satisfied with one instance.

I do not feel that the evidence suggests that the word was retained in the KJV "inadvertently." For one thing, in all 27 verses in which "passover" or "Easter" is used in the KJV New Testament, the Geneva Bible completely eradicates the word "Easter," which had appeared repeatedly in Tyndale and the Great Bible (as Brown correctly notes above). Either the Bishops' Bible or the KJV--or both--could simply have followed Geneva in all these instances and totally eliminated "Easter." But as we have seen, the Bishops' Bible keeps the word "Easter" in two places and the KJV in one. Now perhaps it would not be surprising for the Bishops' Bible to retain the word by sheer inadvertence, since some of the scholarship of its translators has been criticized as "incompetent" (David Daniell, Tyndale's New Testament, p. xii), but the KJV men were by all accounts far more meticulous than these predecessors. Since both treat the word in much the same manner, it is more logical to view the treatment in both as the result of deliberate translational choices than as carelessness.

For another thing, there is documentation that the KJV translators considered themselves, by translating the Bible, to be creating a standard for English usage because of the importance of what they were translating. Therefore, they did not want to seem to be saying that some English words were less valid than others because they were not used in the Bible. Toward the close of their preface "Translators to the Reader" they stated that they did not want to "be charged (by scoffers) with some unequal dealing towards a great number of good English words," and that they felt that to "say, as it were, unto certain words, 'Stand up higher; have a place in the Bible always,' and to others of like quality, 'Get ye hence; be banished forever,'" would involve them in the censure raised by James 2:4--"'To be partial in ourselves, and judges of evil thoughts.'" Therefore, they stated that, since they "cannot follow a better pattern for elocution than God Himself," in Whose scriptures various words are used "indifferently for one thing in nature," they felt entitled to "use the same liberty in our English versions out of Hebrew and Greek."

In other words, they did not want to seem to be saying that some English words were less valid than others because they were not used in the Bible. Perhaps this motivated them to keep "Easter" in just one verse (rather than everywhere in the New Testament, as Tyndale did in his revision of 1534), because it was still understood in the sense of Passover, although in this sense "Easter" was starting to pass out of general use. The KJV men seemingly did not want to commit "unequal dealing" towards a "good English word" like "Easter." If they shied away from using it, others might think it was something less than a legitimate word because it was not in the Bible--or at least so I read them. Thus we see that they took care regarding their impact on the English language, as well as (primarily) to make sure the translation was accurate. In both translation and English language impact, we know that their influence was profound.

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