Monday, January 29, 2018

The “Anti”-KJV Quiz

Last Friday I posted a link to The KJV Quiz. I have personally dubbed it an “anti-KJV quiz.” Why?

First, the constant use of the term “false friends.”[i] It is used in 9 of the 10 examples. Using “false friend” seems to be an attempt to express the idea that folks may generally think the KJV word will mean something else than it actually means. Curiously, in a quiz about word meanings the compiler of the quiz uses “false friend” incorrectly! A false friend is a word in one language that looks or sounds similar one in another language that is wrongly assumed to have the same meaning.[ii] While this may have been unintended, such usage supports the tired old saw that King James English is a foreign language!

Second, five times the compiler uses the expression “Today it means…” (in the other five questions he or she uses something similar, though perhaps not quite as dogmatically). But it is not true that these words don’t mean the same today – and you usually don’t even have to look in an unabridged dictionary to discover that![iii]  Most words have a range of meaning. As far as I know every one of the words in the quiz still carry that 1611 meaning today.[iv] Just because some – even a majority of folks – are unaware of the range of meaning of a word doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have that meaning.

Third, some of the choices given seem almost a “set-up” so that the person taking the quiz will be confused about the answer. The answers for “What does halt mean in 1 Kgs 18:21” are: pause, limp, stop, and vacillate. All four of the answers supplied fall within the current range of meaning of the English word “halt.” While the Hebrew word pacach means limp, it also has a range of meanings.[v] Further, “to limp between two opinions” surely must have the connotation of to pause, hesitate, waver, yes, even vacillate. This makes me wonder whether the design of the quiz is to make those who read the King James Bible doubt their comprehension of what they are reading.[vi]

So, that is why I dubbed it an “anti-KJV quiz.” Then why did I post it and recommend people take it? I guess to some extent it was a “set-up” for this post! But, more importantly, I think it is worthwhile for any reader of the King James Version (and non-readers as well) to take this test, or something similar, to gauge how much one is actually comprehending when reading the Bible. It is not just exclusive King James readers who have this problem – we read over words assuming that we know what they mean. Part of studying the Bible is studying words to understand their meaning. If we think we know that apt means “inclined” we will never search to learn that it just might mean “able” instead!

[i] From the French faux ami.
[ii] For example, agenda in French does not mean the same thing as agenda in English.
[iii] The “unabridged” Random House Dictionary of the English Language contained 315,000 entries when it was published in 1966.
[iv] For example, one of the current meanings of “want” at is “to have need” – which is what the compiler implies it doesn’t mean today.
[v] It is translated “passing over” in Isaiah 31:5 (and in Exodus 12:13, 23, 27).
[vi] Another purpose of the quiz is a “come on” advertising Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible by Mark Ward. It is a book designed to move folks away from the King James Bible. “In Authorized Mark L. Ward, Jr. shows what exclusive readers of the KJV are missing as they read God’s word.”


Mark Ward said...

Brother Vaughn, you gave my quiz a pretty thorough review, and I appreciate this.

You are right that "false friends" usually refers to words that are the same across languages. I'd argue, however, that Elizabethan English is not our English (though it clearly has many, many overlaps), and I believe "false friends" is still appropriate terminology. Multiple linguists read my book, Authorized, and none of them complained about my use of this term.

The Random House Unabridged Dictionary does not purpose to tell readers what words meant in the Englishes of the past; only the Oxford English Dictionary does this, and it was the source for all the lexicographical claims underlying

You are right, however, that the "design of the quiz is to make those who read the King James Bible doubt their comprehension of what they are reading." But my purpose is not as destructive as that may initially sound: I don't want people doubting their Bibles. Instead I want to warn them that they are slowly losing their birthright as Christians, a vernacular BiblI encourage you to read Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible to gain a better sense for what I'm going after on

R. L. Vaughn said...

Brother Ward, thanks for your interaction with my review of your quiz. I appreciate it. Not to belabor the points, but I’ll make a few observations.

Alexander Pope wrote “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” but I’ll just have to “foolishly rush in” and agreeably disagree with even the linguists on “false friends.” In this context it is pejorative rather than precise. I’ve never studied a foreign language called Elizabethan English and yet I’m quite able to read it. I’ve never had that kind of success with any other foreign language I’ve attempted, and am not aware of having any gift of reading in tongues! :-)

My mention of the Random House Unabridged Dictionary was perhaps ill-advised and apparently distracts from the point. The simple point is that I have usually found that most any decent dictionary that I use will include the meaning of the “antique” word that is in found in the KJV (sometimes it may say it is archaic, but often it does not). A list of definitions doesn’t tell searchers which definition fits the word they are looking up from the KJV – but I find that a dictionary never tells me which definition is the right one for the word I’m looking up, whether it is a word from a book written in 1611 or 2017. Obviously there is more word study involved in Bible study than just looking in a dictionary. BTW, the reason I don’t use or reference the online OED because it requires a subscription.

I have no problem with your creating such a quiz with a design that fits your own beliefs and motives. Despite our differences of opinion on Bibles, I have no problem recommending someone take your quiz (with some of the caveats such as I mention in my post, of course). I think I am going to mention and link to it on Facebook (much to the chagrin of some of the KJV friends, I expect). I think it is good for any exclusive reader of the King James to take a test that would reveal that do not really understand the Bible they are reading. We would differ in our approach of how to correct the problem.

We have gone (in not too many years) from a globe of English-speaking Christians linked by a common English Bible to local congregations divided by many English Bibles (usually more or less based on the size of the congregation). In the past two weeks I know of two people who have purchased new Bibles – not because they researched and found them to be the most accurate, easy-to-read, etc., but simply so they could read along with their pastor (they already were not using the KJV).

I have debated about purchasing Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, and might do so in the future. Pretty impressive recommendations from D. A. Carson & John Frame (John McWhorter, too, but his name is not as meaningful to me). But for now I am overloaded on newly purchased books that I need to read! (Including the Holman KJV Reader’s Bible which you reviewed on your site.) BTW, I enjoyed your video presentation on “Why Bible Typography Matters.”

Sorry to run so long in response, brother. Couldn’t seem to find a stopping place (so I probably did belabor the points!). Have a blessed day.

Mark Ward said...

I like interacting with someone who quotes Alexander Pope and makes me laugh—sympathetically—even while disagreeing. Gift of tongues indeed! =) I have set myself the difficult task in Authorized of persuading obviously learned people like you, people who can write an English sentence reliably (what a relief it is to run into an "opponent" who can do this!), that they are wrong to say of themselves, "I’ve never studied a foreign language called Elizabethan English and yet I’m quite able to read it." I think it's truly intelligent people like you who will be most surprised to find the things they've been reading right past for years.

Obviously, now, people like you and me are not missing big stuff in the KJV. Elizabethan English is not a foreign language in the full sense that French is. Almost all the things we're missing in the KJV are small. But think of it like a Venn diagram: as the centuries pass, the two circles (contemporary English and Elizabethan English) have less and less overlap. At some point, they'll become so distinct that we'll call them separate languages. We're far, far from that point. But we're also 400–500 years closer to it than when we started (I say 400–500 because a good bit of the KJV harks back to Tyndale). The lines between "accent" and "regional dialect" and "language" are not bright and clear. As my hero John McWhorter says, they're blurry and have a lot to do with the sentiments of the people speaking them. I am concerned that the sentiments we quite naturally feel toward the KJV and its English are blinding some of us English-speaking Christians to the difficulties we ourselves are having in understanding the KJV—and, worse, to the difficulties others are having who were not given the reading ability we were.

I crossed sea and land to get an OED subscription; couldn't afford it on my own. But a library system one county over will let me use it—and I do, all the time. You are also right that many KJV words and senses are found in big dictionaries. But not all, not all. The OED is the only ultimately reliable tool for looking up every last sense.

So, now, we would differ in our approach to correcting the problem of readability... If I may divine your meaning here, I'll bet you'd say, "If you have trouble understanding, look it up in the dictionary!" And you're guessing I'd say, "Use a modern translation instead." But you're missing a middle term here, as my book will explain: I don't think anyone but a specialist will know how often he or she needs to use a dictionary with the KJV, because most of us read right past words we don't realize we're misunderstanding. We don't know to look them up. I try to prove this in the book. Also, you can't look up syntax, only words. There are many aspects to readability beyond individual lexemes.

My whole first chapter fills out your very lament: we've lost our globe of English-speaking Christians linked by a common English Bible. I agree, I really do. But stop debating about buying my book =), just do it, and maybe I'll be able to persuade you that we've gained more than we've lost.

I've really enjoyed this exchange.

R. L. Vaughn said...

I thought about quoting Bobby Burns, but there was the problem of it sounding like a foreign language -- coupled with the fact he didn't say what I wanted to say! Speaking of foreign languages, funny you picked French to mention. I took French in High School. Now half the population of Texas speaks Spanish, and you might be hard pressed to find two Frenchmen here. What was I thinking!

I would agree that someone like me -- who has been reading the KJV 50 years or so -- is not missing big stuff when reading the KJV. At the same time, I understand that a person like me may be more susceptible to reading over small things without realizing it -- lulled into a false sense of security. On the other hand, the "easy reader" concept prevalent with some translations today can lull others into the same sense of false security. No doubt there are issues of syntax, etc., but some people who claim they can't understand the KJV can read poetry with differently arranged words. What's up with that? Some of these things are a matter of learning and continuing study. There are, beyond translation and reading questions, issues of theological consideration such as the Bible as a sealed book to those to whom God has closed it (Isaiah 29:10ff) and natural man not receiving the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14ff.)

That said, there are people who read at a low level. One Facebook friend (and a friend in real life, too) who took your KJV-Quiz intriguingly suggested "We need an English Targum for those who are truly literacy challenged." (This as opposed to continuing to multiply English translations.)

To be sure, I would say, "If you have trouble understanding, look it up in the dictionary." But that is not the sole solution. Yes, use a dictionary. But if a person doesn't think he is misunderstanding a word he won't bother to look it up. The solution is not as simple as just understanding words, but understanding context and so forth. In addition to reading something written in 1611, I read things that were written in 1957, 1976, 2000, and 2017. I often read over words in these as well, without taking the time to open a dictionary. But if I understand the context I can explain what I read even though I missed a word here and there.

Keep talking and you'll probably talk me into buying your book. I'm a sucker for books!

Speaking of reading over words, here is one I've overlooked even though it is in black and white in the KJV (Luke 22:31-32):

(KJV) And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

I suspect most readers of modern editions are reading over it as well.
(LEB) “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. And you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Mark Ward said...

I'm actually with you: long-time readers of the KJV like you and me can be lulled into a false sense of security because we know we're getting the big picture but don't realizing we're missing small stuff. I have definitely had this experience, and many times. And the "easy reader" translations can lead to false security, too. So I tend to think the two perspectives cancel each other out and we have to do the hard work of determining how different KJV English is from our English with a view to an open-eyed evaluation of its suitability as a church's or person's main (let alone only) translation.

That's what I've done in Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, and you do need to buy it! =) Converted there is a good example of the kind of "false friend" I discuss in the book. My question is: how many "false friends" like this does it take (and this is not the only reading difficulty imposed by the changes English has undergone in 400+ years) before we can make that open-eyed assessment?

After this exchange I'm especially eager to hear back from you after you read! I've had plenty of skilled and sympathetic reviewers, but so far really just one skilled, *un*sympathetic reviewer (who was still more than gracious).

R. L. Vaughn said...

Brother, I'm glad you made it back. It's good to hear from you again. Well, I now have your book in my grubby little hands and may have to push it to the top of the reading list. I mean, you definitely need the profit of an unsympathetic reviewer. ;-) The other day when I ordered your book on Amazon there were 19 reviews -- all positive! Are you offering payoffs? :-D (Actually, as of today they have grown to 26, with one disgruntled customer -- not for KJV-bashing, but for Mormon-bashing! Go figure.)

I'll read with an eye of posting a short review, if I have the time and opportunity.