Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Review: The Unbound Scriptures Unwound

Rick Norris, The Unbound Scriptures: A Review of KJV-only Claims and Publications. Fayetteville, NC: Unbound Scriptures Publications, 2003. ISBN 0974546208. 552 pages (viii, 544).

The author of this work, Rick Norris, is a fundamental, independent Baptist. He maintains the website Bible Version & King James Only Controversy Information. He spends a great deal of time working actively in internet discussion forums and Facebook groups to promote his views, especially with long copy and paste sections from or similar to his book.

Norris states that one purpose of his book “is to advocate the need for consistent principles that would result in Scriptural, balanced view of this issue” (p. 1). He claims an “additional aim of this book is to provide information concerning the history of our English Bible as it relates to the translation issue” (p. 2).

The Unbound Scriptures consists of a “Foreword” by James D. Price, author of King James Onlyism: A New Sect, and chairman of the New King James Old Testament translation committee. This is followed with an Introduction” by Norris, 18 chapters about the King James Bible and King James Only controversy, five appendices, a bibliography, and an index.

Norris’s book provides some interesting information for which he has exerted much effort in compiling. However, it is very thick, dense reading – like trying to navigate through a canebrake. Piling on quote after quote after quote, and presenting lengthy paragraphs of “unformatted” information (see the information on differences in various editions, pp. 113-131, for example) has a way of wearing out the reader. It is not clear whether Norris is oblivious to this, or whether it suits his agenda. The modus operandi includes quote after quote, source after source, with little to no distinguishing of the weight they give to the matter at hand. For example, in attempting to charge Richard Bancroft with perpetrating fourteen changes on the translation authorized by King James (pp. 92-95), he has no primary sources with which to work. There are two mid-17th-century sources that claim prelates, plural, (not Bancroft) made some editorial changes to the translation. Over a period of time, this charge morphed from prelates plural to Bancroft only. Rather than focus on the early and unique claims, Norris fills the pages with all sorts of extraneous material – author after author after author who is simply referring to what some other author – often a tertiary source – says about Bancroft changing the Bible in 14 places. This style of being heard for much speaking (Matthew 6:7) will surely frustrate many readers. Further, Norris does not address conflicting claims. He does not even mention a primary source that is at odds with his premise – the translators’ report to the Synod of Dort in 1618, which states that Thomas Bilson and Miles Smith put the finishing touches on the translation before it went to publication. 

He makes other errors of presentation, such as the discussion of “originals” on page 366-367. Norris confuses quotations that reference the apographs (original language copies) and other quotations that reference the autographs (original media of the penmen) as if they are equivalent. This may be by mistake, but it sends a mixed message nonetheless. Additionally, the first full paragraph on page 367, beginning “If there were no inspired originals…” seems to suggest that KJVO advocates do not believe the original were inspired. 

Clearly, Norris has put in a great deal of research on the subject. He provides some useful data that the has compiled. He shows inconsistencies among different KJV-onlyists (of course, there are inconsistencies among anti-KJV-onlyists as well). The comparisons of verses in the KJV in Appendices A and B might be handy and helpful reference tools. The pages of differences in certain editions/printings of King James Bibles can be instructive as well, if the reader is armed with a sharp sickle to cut through the dense cane.

Regarding his first purpose, Norris assuredly advocates for his principles, though not always consistently or balanced. This work is polemic with a capital P. Regarding the second purpose, Norris does provide some good historical information about the KJV translation (e.g., Appendix C gives a straightforward list of King James’s translators). However, he immoderately inserts too much tertiary information, while too often lacking analysis of and reflection on possible primary and early secondary sources. I cannot recommend Norris’s book, though I can see some benefit of use by the forewarned reader.

Monday, February 27, 2023

The victories of Christianity

The victories of Christianity, wherever they have been won, have been won by distinct doctrinal theology:

  • by telling men roundly of Christ’s vicarious death and sacrifice
  • by showing them Christ’s substitution on the cross, and His precious blood
  • by teaching them justification by faith, and bidding them believe on a crucified Saviour
  • by preaching ruin by sin, redemption by Christ, regeneration by the Spirit
  • by lifting up the brazen serpent
  • by telling men to look and live,—to believe, repent, and be converted

This,—this is the only teaching which for eighteen centuries God has honoured with success, and is honouring at the present day both at home and abroad.

Let the clever advocates of a broad and undogmatic theology,—the preachers of the Gospel of earnestness, and sincerity and cold morality,—let them, I say, show us at this day any English village or parish, or city, or town, or district, which has been evangelized without ‘dogma,’ by their principles.

They cannot do it, and they never will. Christianity without distinct doctrine is a powerless thing. It may be beautiful to some minds, but it is childless and barren. There is no getting over facts.

J. C. Ryle, in Avoid Jelly-Fish Preaching

Sunday, February 26, 2023

A Charge to Keep Have I

Charles Wesley wrote “A Charge to Keep Have I.” He published it initially in Short Hymns on Select Passages of the Holy Scriptures, Volume I in 1762 (Bristol: Printed by E. Farley). It is Hymn 188 on page 58. “A Charge to Keep Have I” is one of 18 hymns in the Leviticus section, pages 56-61. The hymn there is presented as two stanzas of Short Meter Double. In common practice today, it is four stanzas of Short Meter paired with a short meter tune. Lowell Mason’s Boylston seems to be a popular pairing. St. Thomas is another fitting tune for this hymn.

According to Melody Publications, the idea formed from a statement in Matthew Henry’s commentary. They write:

“The Wesleys had much congregational singing in their meetings, believing their hymns would help to convict sinners, encourage the saints, and educate all in the Christian faith. One day in 1762, as Charles was reading Matthew Henry’s commentary on Leviticus 8:35, the phrase “and keep the charge of the LORD” seemed to stand out. The Levitical priests had the responsibility of making sure that everything that took place at the Tabernacle of Israel was in accordance with the word and will of God. He believed that Christians are given a similar charge to keep.”

Leviticus 8:35 Therefore shall ye abide at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation day and night seven days, and keep the charge of the LORD, that ye die not: for so I am commanded. 

Of this passage, Matthew Henry writes:

“This chapter gives us an account of the solemn consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priest's office...They attended to keep the charge of the Lord: we have every one of us a charge to keep, an eternal God to glorify, an immortal soul to provide for, needful duty to be done, our generation to serve; and it must be our daily care to keep this charge, for it is the charge of the Lord our Master, who will shortly call us to an account about it, and it is at our utmost peril if we neglect it. Keep it that you die not; it is death, eternal death, to betray the trust we are charged with; by the consideration of this we must be kept in awe.”

Comparing Henry’s comments and Wesley’s hymn shows the connection. “To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill” may be derived from Acts 13:36.

188. Keep the charge of the Lord, that ye die not.—viii. 35.

1. A charge to keep I have, 
A God to glorify, 
A never-dying soul to save; Who gave his Son my soul to save
And fit it for the sky: 
To serve the present age, 
My calling to fulfill: 
O may it all my powers engage 
To do my Master’s will! 

2. Arm me with jealous care, 
As in thy sight to live, 
And O! thy servant, Lord, prepare 
A strict account to give: 
Help me to watch and pray, 
And on thyself rely, 
Assur’d, if I my trust betray,
I shall for ever die.

The last two lines of the original hymn seem (at least to me) to teach apostasy. That is consistent with the theology of the Wesleys and Methodism. Some Baptist hymnals apparently agree, and change those lines to “And let me ne’er my trust betray, but press to realms on high.” Less often, sometimes “A never-dying soul to save” is changed to “Who gave his Son my soul to save.”

Saturday, February 25, 2023

The Judgment of the Synod of Dort, and other links

The posting of links does not constitute an endorsement of the sites linked, and not necessarily even agreement with the specific posts linked.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Laying the Foundation Stone

The following news from 1880 in taken from the North Devon Journal, giving news from Croyde (“Laying the Foundation Stone of a New Baptist Chapel,” Thursday, May 20, 1880, page 8). I came across this while researching John Milton Compston, and thought his comments were interesting.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Unicorns in 1488

Some writers have tried to confuse a debate by claiming that “unicorn” was not an English word in 1611, and that the KJV translators “transliterated” it. However, Criminal Trials and Other Scotland...During the Reigns of King James the Fourth and Fifth demonstrates this was not the case. It was a word brought over from Latin long before 1611.

Aug. 20 [1488]—Item, Quhen þe King paſt to Laneríke to þe Ayre, gevin him ſelf xxti Vnicornis.

The Unicorn was a gold coin struck during the reign of James III, which has the figure of an unicorn on it (yes, the mythical one, supporting a shield with the Scottish arms).

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The KJV Translator and the Unicorn

Q. Did any King James Bible translator mention the unicorn, apart from their translation of the Bible?

A. Yes, William Branthwaite, KJV translator in the 2nd Cambridge company, wrote to Sir Thomas Wilson, wishing that “my letters might bear bezoar or unicorn or some other more sovereign cordial either to cure your malady or to comfort against the fits and encounters thereof.” This is recorded in Gustavus Paine’s book, The Men Behind the KJV (p. 61). In the context Paine ties it to “the mythical unicorn,” mentioning it is found in nine Bible verses. Unfortunately, Paine misunderstands. Branthwaite does not at all think the unicorn he mentions is mythical.

A “cordial” here in his letter means a stimulating medicine. The Bezoar stone is a calcified concretion found in the stomachs of some animals, prized for medicinal properties (or at least its supposed medicinal properties). The bezoar stone and the rhinoceros horn are used in Indian, Oriental, and perhaps other traditional medicine.

It is not particularly important to our subject how good these remedies were as medicine. However, it is important that they were actual medicines that were used by doctors of that time. You cannot make medicine out of a fictious animal! You make medicine out of the horn of a real animal. This shows that the KJV translator Branthwaite thought of the unicorn as a real animal, not a mythical one.

From this same period of time, a medical book called The Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton (1577-1640), mentions the unicorn. On page 143 he writes, 

“Of inward medicines I need not speak: use the same cordials as before. In this kind of melancholy, some prescribe treacle in winter, especially before or after purges, or in the spring, as Avicenna; Trincavellius, mithridate; Montaltus, piony seeds, unicorns horn; os de corde cervi, &c.”[i]

The significance here is again that Burton is talking about actual medicines that were used by doctors. Whether these are great medicines, poor ones, or otherwise, the important factor is that Burton is writing about actual medicine that was used by doctors. It would be hard to use a mythical unicorn’s horn as medicine, but unicorn horn/rhinoceros horn was used then (is still used in traditional Chinese medicine).

Whatever William Branthwaite thought of unicorns beyond this, his letter shows he believed it was a living creature.

[i] Treacle or theriaca, a type of medicinal syrup, probably of various ingredients; Avicenna (probably something medicinal named after the Persian doctor, AD 980-1037, of the same name); Trincavellius, mithridate (used as an antidote against poison); Montaltus, piony seed (the seeds of the peony are still used in homeopathic medicine; os de corde cervi (bone of the heart of a deer).

Psalm numbering, again

In regard to the Psalm numbering key I posted yesterday, someone asked if I could include the Latin Vulgate. I have revised the chart accordingly. The Vulgate numbering of the Psalms follows the Septuagint. It is possible that some of the internal verse numbering varies. (I did not check all that.)

I found a Catholic site that states that in the USA the Catholic Psalm numbering follows the number in the Hebrew, while in some European Catholic Bibles the numbering follows the Vulgate/Septuagint. This would be in reference to translations.

I also added Psalm 151, which appears in the Brenton Septuagint without a number, and is also in the Latin Vulgate (but not the Douay-Rheims English translation).

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Numbering of Psalms in Greek and Hebrew Traditions

Comparing the Psalms in the KJV and LXX may become confusing because of the differences of the numbering of the individual Psalms (which divisions some mistakenly call chapters). This reflects a difference in the Hebrew Masoretic and Greek Septuagint traditions. A general but inexact rule of thumb is that most of them are off by one number. Here is a quick key of comparison.

Sometimes there are internal verse numbering differences, such as the superscriptions being numbered as the 1st verse in English translations of the LXX (Septuagint), while not being numbered in the King James translation. Compare, for example, Psalm 3.

LXX Verse 1: A Psalm of David, when he fled from the presence of his son Abessalom.

KJV Superscription: A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

Resources I used for comparison are HERE and HERE, as well as a print copy of the Brenton translation. It is my understanding that Lancelot Brenton’s translation is based on Codex Vaticanus, via the Sixtine edition of 1587 and the Valpy edition of 1819 (which was Brenton’s immediate source). If anyone finds any discrepancies or errors in the above key, please let me know. Thanks.

Monday, February 20, 2023

In other words, sweets and treats

  • booza, noun. A Middle Eastern frozen dessert containing milk, cream, sugar, flavorings (e.g., fruits, nuts, or chocolates),  milk pudding, and mastic (Arabic gum).
  • frozen custard, noun. A dairy-based frozen dessert with egg yolks for added richness.
  • frozen yogurt, noun. A frozen dessert made with cultured milk rather than fresh milk.
  • gelato, noun. A frozen dessert made with milk, cream, and sugar (gelato has higher quantities of milk and sugar than ice cream).
  • granita, noun. A Sicilian crunchy frozen dessert made primarily with sugar, water, and flavorings (e.g. fruit juices, coffee, etc.).
  • ice cream, noun. A frozen dessert made with milk, cream, and sugar (ice cream has a higher quantity of cream than gelato).
  • ice milk, noun. A frozen dessert similar to ice cream with less than 10 percent butterfat content.
  • parfait, noun. A dessert made of cream, eggs, sugar, and flavoring frozen together and served in a tall glass.
  • semifreddo, noun. An Italian class of frozen desserts similar to ice cream, with the main ingredients being egg yolks, sugar, and cream. (Spanish, semifrío.)
  • sherbet (aka sherbert), noun. A frozen sweet dessert made from fruit or fruit juices, and milk or cream.
  • slush or slushie, noun. A frozen carbonated beverage.
  • snow cone, noun. A ball of finely shaved ice topped with flavored syrup.
  • snow ice cream, noun. A frozen dessert made by adding ingredients (usually milk, vanilla, and sugar) to snow.
  • sorbet, noun. (French) A frozen dessert made primarily of fruit juice or fruit purée, sugar, and water.
  • sorbetto, noun. (Italian) A frozen dessert made with water, sugar, and fruit or fruit juice.

This divine book, this heavenly volume

“The scriptures of the Old and New Testament, containing a well-attested revelation from God, my Maker and my Sovereign, I therefore look upon and receive as the only rule of my faith and practice. This divine book, this heavenly volume, I accept with humility and gratitude from the hand of my adored Creator, as a gift of inestimable value; and, considering it as the grand charter of my eternal salvation, I cannot but esteem it as my indispensable duty implicitly to submit to its sacred dictates, in every affair of religious concernment. And it is because I am fully persuaded that the following doctrines are contained in those oracles of eternal truth, that I embrace them—as my articles of faith—as the foundation of my hope—and as the source of all my spiritual joy.”

From “Confession of Faith” in The Works of Abraham Booth: Late Pastor of the Baptist Church assembling in Little Prescott Street, London, Volume I, Abraham Booth (1734-1806), London: J. Haddon, 1813, pp. xxx-xxxi. “A Confession of Faith, Delivered by Mr. Abraham Booth at his ordination over the church of Christ in Little Prescot Street, Goodmans Fields, February 16, 1769.”

Sunday, February 19, 2023

The God We Adore

1. How good is the God we adore!
Our faithful, unchangeable friend:
Whose love is as great as his pow’r
And neither knows measure nor end.

2. For Christ is the first and the last;
Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;
We’ll praise him for all that is past
And trust him for all that’s to come.

“How Good Is the God We Adore” is a doxology derived from the last stanza of a 7-stanza hymn by Joseph Hart. In the original, the it is one stanza of 8 lines, but for use as a doxology it is broken into two stanzas of 4 lines. The lines of 8 are dactylic and therefore need a tune that fits to the two short-one long accented rhythm of the poetry (i.e., an L. M. tune will not work well). Most often it seems to be set with the tune Celeste. It seems to me that it might work with our Sacred Harp tune Greenfields.

The tune Celeste first appeared in Sacred Hymns and Harmonies: being the Musical Companion to ‘Lancashire Sunday-School Songs’, edited by J. Compston. In the Leeds Mercury, June 19, 1858 (p. 9), Compston is identified as “the pastor of the Baptist congregation at Bramley.” In an 1881 report of the Taunton District Psalmody Union (Western Gazette, Friday, April 22, 1881, p. 7), Compston served as precentor, was elected an “hon. secretary,” and was identified then as a “Baptist minister, at Fivehead (a village on the way from Taunton to Langport).” It appears that he is the same person as John Milton Compston (1828-1889) who is buried in an unmarked grave at the West Norwood Cemetery in London, England.[i]

Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, Thursday, April 25, 1889, p. 6

The original and complete hymn by Hart is Hymn Number 73 on page 105 of Hymns Composed on Various Subjects (London: W. Day, 1811), which Hart first put forth in 1759. Underneath the hymn number, Hart refers to Deuteronomy 13:1 – “If there arise among you a Prophet, or Dreamer of Dreams, &c. Deut. xiii. 1. &c.” In footnotes at the bottom of the page, he also notes John 10:29 (stanza 6, line 3), John 10:15 (stanza 6, line 4), John 10:28 (stanza 6, line 5) John 10:11 (stanza 6, line 6), and John 3:15-16 (stanza 6, line 7). In the hymn we also hear echoes of other Bible verses, such as Galatians 1:8, 2 Corinthians 11:14, 1 Corinthians 2:2, Galatians 3:2, John 8:44, Mark 13:21, Acts 7:39, Hebrews 7:24, and probably others. It is full of biblical truths and biblical references. The whole is a warning against false prophets, an exhortation to faithfulness, ending with a doxology of praise “the God we adore.” He is constant and unchanging; we can trust in him.

It is unfortunate that some of Hart’s great hymns are among the best that are used least.

1. No prophet, nor dreamer of dreams,
No master of plausible speech,
To live like an angel who seems,
Or like an apostle to preach;
No tempter, without or within,
No spirit, tho’ ever so bright,
That comes crying out against sin,
And looks like an angel of light;

2. Tho’ reason, tho’ Scripture he urge,
Or plead with the words of a friend,
Or wonders of argument forge,
Or deep revelations pretend;
Should meet with a moment’s regard,
But rather be boldly withstood,
If anything, easy or hard,
He teach, save the Lamb and his blood.

3. Remember, O Christian, with heed,
When sunk under sentence of death,
How first thou from bondage wast freed—
Say, was it by works, or by faith?
On Christ thy affections then fixt,
What conjugal truth didst thou vow?
With him was there anything mixt?
Then what would’st thou mix with him now?

4. If close to thy Lord thou would’st cleave,
Depend on his promise alone;
His righteousness would’st thou receive?
Then learn to renounce all thy own.
The faith of a Christian, indeed
Is more than mere notion or whim;
United to Jesus, his head,
He draws life and virtue from him.

5. Deceived by the father of lies,
Blind guides cry, Lo, here! and, Lo, there!
By these our Redeemer us tries,
And warns us of such to beware.
Poor comfort to mourners they give
Who set us to labour in vain;
And strive, with a do this and live,
To drive us to Egypt again.

6. But what says our Shepherd divine?
(For his blessed word we should keep)
“This flock has my Father made mine;
I lay down my life for my sheep;
’Tis life everlasting I give;
My blood was the price that it cost;
Not one, that on me shall believe
Shall ever be finally lost.”

7. This God is the God we adore
Our faithful unchangeable Friend;
Whose love is as large as his power,
And neither knows measure nor end.
’Tis Jesus, the first and the last,
Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home:
We’ll praise him for all that is past,
And trust him for all that’s to come.

Joseph Hart died in 1768, and is buried in the Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, where the famous author and preacher John Bunyan was buried 80 years earlier.

[i] “Rev. J. Compston” and John Milton Compston are both identified with musical compilations, the temperance society, and the Sunday School Band of Hope. Additionally, John Milton Compston’s wife is buried at Fivehead, where Rev. J. Compston served as a minister. The book Temperance as Taught in the Revised Bible, written by Rev. J. Compston, identifies the author as also the Editor of Lancashire Sunday School Songs.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

In other words, higher criticism a bumble broth

  • antigodlin, adjective. Out of line; askew.
  • bollard, noun. (Chiefly British) One of a series of posts set at intervals to prevent vehicles from entering an area.
  • bumble broth, noun. A mess; a muddle.
  • carretela, noun. A type of light two-wheeled carriage, typically having passenger seats facing each other, and drawn by a single horse.
  • cochleary (also, cochleate), adjective. Shaped like a snail shell; spirally twisted.
  • cosmeceutical, noun. A cosmetic that has or is claimed to have healing or curative properties.
  • downsizing, noun. The act or process of reducing the number of ineffective or unnecessary employees or labor force, usually as a cost-cutting measure
  • dumbsizing, noun. The practice of reducing the staff numbers of a company, organization, etc., to foolishly low levels, with the result that work can no longer be carried out effectively (dumb + sizing, after the more common downsizing).
  • figural, adjective. Consisting of figures, especially human or animal figures.
  • frostification, noun. An instance of hair turning grey or hoary.
  • higher criticism, noun. Study (criticism, as scientific investigation of literary documents) of biblical writings to determine their literary history and the purpose and meaning of the authors. Cf. lower criticism.
  • lower criticism, noun. Study (criticism, as scientific investigation of literary documents) concerned with the recovery of original texts, especially of Scripture, through collation of extant manuscripts. Cf. higher criticism.
  • nasicornous, adjective. Bearing a horn or horns on the nose (as the rhinoceros).
  • petulance, noun. The quality of being easily annoyed and complaining in a rude way like a child.
  • polyglot, adjective. Containing, composed of, or written in several languages; able to speak or write several languages.
  • shoat (also shote), noun. A young, weaned pig.
  • sholt, noun. (English regional) A dog; esp. a low-bred dog or cur.
  • spadiceous, adjective. Of a bright-brown color; bay; chestnut.

Friday, February 17, 2023

2 Peter Reconsidered, and other links

The posting of links does not constitute an endorsement of the sites linked, and not necessarily even agreement with the specific posts linked.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Ehrman-Wallace debate

A couple of comments taken from the Bart Ehrman-Dan Wallace debate, “Can We Trust the Text of the NT?”

Can we be relatively certain that we can recover the wording of the autographs? Do some theological beliefs change based on textually suspect passages? Are missing passages unimportant if not directly related to specific theological beliefs?

Dan Wallace stated: “Although the quantity of textual variants among the New Testament manuscripts numbers in the hundreds of thousands, those that change meaning pale in comparison. Less than one percent of the differences are both meaningful and viable. There are still hundreds of texts that are in dispute...There are hundreds of passages whose interpretation depends to some degree on which reading is followed.”

Bart Ehrman gave this analogy: “Suppose that tomorrow morning we wake up and it turned out that in every Bible throughout the entire world there was no longer to be found the Gospel of Mark, Paul’s letter to the Philippians or the book of First Peter – which doctrines of the Christian faith would be affected by the loss of those three books? Not a single doctrine. Would it be significant? Yes! It would be significant. It would be hugely significant. Significance does not ride on whether essential beliefs are affected.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Goliath, a giant

Goliath, the not-so-giant giant?


Back in December 2022, an interloper swooped down into the “King James Bible / Textus Receptus Defenders” Facebook group. He was anti-King James, anti-Masoretic text, and pro-Greek Old Testament. In about three or four days he put up hundreds of posts, then, either having expended all the contrary items he knew or having worn out his welcome – or both – he moved on to play games elsewhere.

One of his anti-KJV anti-Masoretic text screeds was about the height of Goliath, the not-so-giant giant, reduced in height by 3 feet. The Hebrew Masoretic text was wrong; the Greek LXX was right. Here is the relevant verse for inspection.

KJV English translation from the Masoretic text

1 Samuel 17:4 And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.

וַיֵּצֵ֤א אִֽישׁ־הַבֵּנַ֙יִם֙ מִמַּחֲנ֣וֹת פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים גָּלְיָ֥ת שְׁמ֖וֹ מִגַּ֑ת גָּבְה֕וֹ שֵׁ֥שׁ אַמּ֖וֹת וָזָֽרֶת׃

Brenton English translation from the LXX

1 Samuel 17:4 And there went forth a mighty man out of the army of the Philistines, Goliath, by name, out of Geth, his height [was] four cubits and a span.

καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἀνὴρ δυνατὸς ἐκ τῆς παρατάξεως τῶν ἀλλοφύλων Γολιὰθ ὄνομα αὐτῶν ἐκ Γέθ, ὕψος αὐτοῦ τεσσάρων πήχεων καὶ σπιθαμῆς·

Immediately a difference stands out – the Hebrew Goliath stands at 6 cubits and a span (about 9 feet 9 inches) while the Greek Goliath is two cubits shorter, four cubits and a span (about 6 feet 9 inches).[i] What to do?

Witnesses for the short Goliath

The interloper, with great intent to slight the Masoretic text, argued that the Greek reading is supported by Josephus and the Dead Sea Scrolls. In that he is correct. Josephus stated:

Now there came down a man out of the camp of the Philistines, whose name was Goliath, of the city of Gath; a man of vast bulk, for he was of four cubits and a span in tallness: and had about him weapons suitable to the largeness of his body: for he had a breast-plate on that weighed five thousand shekels. Josephus, Antiquities, Book VI, Chapter 9, Verse 1

Josephus is an historian to whom we often turn to see what he has to say about 1st century Jewish and Christian history. Often, he can be very interesting and helpful. On the other hand, he is neither inspired nor infallible. What his description tells us is that he had access to a text that was corrupted in this verse, perhaps like the Dead Sea Scroll or the Greek Old Testament. On the other hand, folks like the interloper mentioned above mention the late date of the Masoretic Text we are using. Then keep quiet about the date of the manuscripts of Josephus. I believe none of them are older than the 11th century AD.[ii]

What Josephus wrote has been known for centuries, but perhaps revived in interest with the discovery of scroll 4QSam(a). Translated into English, the scroll says something like:

“Then a champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was FOUR CUBITS and a span.” 1 Samuel 17:4, Dead Sea Scroll 4QSam(a) circa 75 BC

The Qumran scrolls, discovered in 1947, had been out of the possession of both the Jews or the Lord’s churches – or anyone else – for over one thousand nine hundred and fifty years. They are a grand historical find, but they are not part of the scriptures God preserved in the pillar and ground of his truth. We cannot accept the Bible doctrine of the preservation of his word and also insert hidden words outside the provenance of the Lord’s churches. These scrolls have been preserved as historical documents, but not as words in use by the Lord’s people. In fact, just who produced and used these still seems an unsettled question.

The interloper boldly claimed, “The oldest Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts, which are MSS of the Book of Samuel, go back to the 1st to the 3rd century BC. These agree perfectly with the LXX today.” Quite the lie, known to be so by those who carefully study the Dead Sea Scrolls. Either he was deceived himself, or set out to deceive. Sometimes the scrolls agree with the Hebrew Masoretic Text, and sometimes with the Greek Old Testament, and sometimes have differences from both.[iii]

Here is a closer look at the scroll “containing” 1 Samuel 17:4. For his readers, the interloper did not give a fair and honest representation of the DSS 1 Samuel 7:14. In English translations we find many of the words either bracketed or italicized as below – because this portion of the scroll is very fragmentary. All the relevant words are not actually visible and must be supplied!

[Then] a cha[mpion named Goliath, who was from Gath, ca]me out [of the Philistine camp. His height was f]our [cubits] and a span.[iv]

A champion out of the camp of the Philistines named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was four cubits and a span went out.[v]

Notice in both presentations (though slightly different) there are more unreadable words than readable ones. This is problematic in that are entire change in the Bible could rest on either the skill or guesswork of those trying to reconstruct this text.

Concerning the Greek translation of the Old Testament, we also must understand that there is not one THE Septuagint – not just one that is complete, final, and authoritative. There are numerous ones, some of which have five cubits or six cubits rather than four cubits.[vi] For example, see a reference book on Origen’s Hexapla on 1 Samuel 17:4.[vii]

Notably, Greek Old Testaments have other corruptions in 1 Samuel. For example, the text preferred in the Brenton translation is missing 17:12-31, 41, 50, 55-58, 18:1-5 – but the Alexandrine text has these verses, which Brenton supplies in an appendix.[viii]

Witnesses supporting the Masoretic text

Those clamoring for the “shorter” reading sometimes fail to recognize or mention other witnesses in addition to the Masoretic Text – such as the Vulgate, Peshitta (“his height was six cubits and a half cubit”), and Targums (Jonathan, שִׁתָּא אַמִין וְזֵירְתָא). The Greek translation of the Old Testament by the Jew Symmachus (circa AD 200) has six cubits and a span. He attempted to accurately translate the Hebrew into Greek. The use of “six cubits and a span” indicates he had a manuscript at that time, with that reading. The fifth column of Origen’s Hexapla also contains the reading six cubits and a span. The Latin Vulgate of Jerome in the fourth century is another witness to the greater elevation of Goliath – “sex cubitorum et palmo,” that is, “six cubits and a span.” This height may also be found in Midrash Jewish exegesis.[ix]

Other Bible evidence

It is worthwhile to note other mentions of height in the Bible, though there are not that many.

Several commentators and historians (including the NET Bible), however accurately, put the average height of an Israelite male around the time of David and Goliath at about 5 feet 3 inches.[x] Saul was head and shoulders taller than the tallest Israelite of his time – maybe around 6 feet tall, or perhaps a little more (1 Samuel 9:2). Og king of Bashan’s height is not given in the Scriptures, but he had a nine-cubit bedstead (13-1/2 feet). LXX (ἐννέα πήχεων) agrees here. It is unlikely that a “7 ft. giant” would need or want a 13 ft bed. Benaiah the son of Jehoiada slew an Egyptian who was five cubits high (that is, about 7-1/2 ft. See 2 Samuel 23:21; 1 Chronicles 11:23). This Egyptian would be taller than the LXX Goliath. He is simply called a man of great stature.

Many exegetes have noted the size and weight of Goliath’s armor and weapon. The staff of his spear was “like a weaver’s beam” with the head itself weighing about 15 pounds.[xi] His armor probably weighed about 130 pounds. This is not conclusive, but certainly is suggestive of the larger Goliath.

The Companion Bible points out the characterization of Goliath by the number six: “Note his number ‘6’ is stamped like a ‘hallmark’ on this ‘man’” – the six cubits, “the six pieces of armour,” and the six hundred shekels of iron.[xii]


To me, it seems like a thread running through the supporters of short Goliath is the difficulty to believe this man could actually have been over nine feet tall. In “The Height of Goliath: A Text Critical Question,” Jonathan Burke wrote:

“This is a height which is not only highly unlikely for any Iron Age man, but far beyond what would have been considered a giant at the time.” (2011, p. 1)

Burke continues, “Archaeology has shown that the heroes buried in the ‘royal tombs’ at Mycenae were 1.76 ‐ 1.80 mtr. tall, [about 5’10”] while the height of the average man at that period (according to the skeletons excavated) was 1.64 mtr. [about 5’4”] both in the Aegean lands and in Canaan.”[xiii]

In contrast to Burke, the Unger’s Bible Dictionary (among other sources) claims that “Skeltons recovered in Palestine attest the fact that men as tall as Goliath [i.e., “over nine feet”] once lived in that general region.”[xiv]

Modern textual critics seem split on the issue. Peter Gurry and John Meade write:

“Although the six-nine Goliath has the earlier and perhaps better external evidence, the nine-nine Goliath is probably more likely original because a later scribe probably found a contextual reason (1 Sam. 9:2) to shorten Goliath to six nine.”[xv]

Benjamin J. M. Johnson concludes similarly Gurry and Meade. Johnson argues that the change to “six” in cubits from reading the number later in “six hundred” is unlikely, and that the height of the giant is so iconic that a scribe would not likely miss that. He argues rather that it is more likely an intentional change from six to four.

“…the reference to ‘six hundred’ in v. 7 seems fairly far removed from v. 4. For example in 4QSama it is four lines apart. Furthermore, if the reception history of this story is anything to judge by, it strikes me as unlikely that a scribe would accidentally change something as iconic as the height of Goliath. It seems more likely that the change in height is the result of intentional exegesis…there does seem to be a good narrative reason for a scribe to lower the height of Goliath. If Goliath is merely four cubits, or around six foot six inches tall, then, though a towering figure, he is not a creature of legend but merely an extremely big man. Rather than give the account verisimilitude, this shortening of Goliath serves as a critique of Saul, who is head and shoulders taller than everyone in Israel (1 Sam 9:2). After all, who better to face the Philistine giant, than the Israelite giant—Saul?[xvi]

Modern translators are slow to agree with a short Goliath. For example, on Bible Gateway, of 54 translations of 1 Samuel 17:4, 50 of these accept the Masoretic reading, 3 take the LXX reading, and 1 vaguely says “almost twice as tall as most men.” The majority of translators are not beating a path to the LXX door on this verse.

The interloper’s argument mostly falls flat as an anti-KJV screed. We should never fear believing our King James and Masoretic Text, six cubits and a span / שֵׁ֥שׁ אַמּ֖וֹת וָזָֽרֶת.

[i] In this essay, I am using the measurement of a cubit equaling about 18 inches, and a span about half that, 9 inches. There are other opinions about these measurements.
[ii] Josephus: all the Greek Manuscripts. This, in my mind, leaves open the possibility that his text was “corrected” to match the Septuagint reading. I have not researched this carefully. It is just an initial thought. Others may have already proven whether this could or could not be so. Other things that could be researched – possibly have been and I am not aware of it – are (1) might Josephus have been a member of the Jewish party who used the Dead Sea Scrolls, and (2) could the cubit have been adjusted to what translators felt was a changing standard of how many increments comprised a cubit.
[iii] Scrolls editor Emanuel Tov identifies 5 different groups of DSS texts: 1. Texts written in Qumran practice (about 20% of the texts); 2. Proto-Masoretic texts (about 35%); 3. Pre-Samaritan texts (about 5%); 4. Texts close to the presumed Hebrew source of G (about 5%); and Non-aligned texts (about 35%). Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (2nd revised edition), Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001, pp. 114-116.
[iv] The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English, Martin G. Abegg Jr., Peter Flint, Eugene Ulrich, Editors (translation and commentary) HarperCollins, p. 229
[v] Words in italics cannot be seen in the scroll, since the scroll is fragmentary. Words present in the scroll but with some letters unreadable or missing are in blue. Dead Sea Scrolls English Bible Translation.
[vi] LXXA and LXXL have 4, while LXXB has 6. The “odd man out” is the 8th century manuscript known as Codex Venetus, which has the reading five cubits and a span (i.e., circa 7 feet 3 inches). 1 Samuel is not in Sinaiticus.
[vii] 4. שֵׁשׁ. Ο. τεσσάρων. Alia exempl.  Πεντε.7 Σ και οι λοιποι εξ.8 7. Sic Codd. XI, 29, 52, 55 alii (inter quos 243).  So Codices 11, 29, 52, 55 others (including 243). 8. Cod. 243. Sic in textu Ald., Codd. III, 44, 74, alii, Arm. I. Codex 243. Thus in the text Ald., Codd. III, 44, 74, others, Arm. I. Origenis Hexaplorum Quae Supersunt; Sive Veterum Interpretum Graecorum in Totum vetus Testamentum Fragmenta, Tomus I, Genesis-Esther, Fridericus Field, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1875, p. 515.
[viii] Brenton’s translation is based on Codex Vaticanus, via Sixtine edition of 1587 and the Valpy edition of 1819 (which was Brenton’s immediate source). For more on LXX manuscripts, see Manuscripts of the Septuagint. An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek. Additional Notes, by Henry Barclay Swete.
[ix] On I Samuel 17:49, medieval French rabbi Rashi cites Midrash Tehillim 18:32, which says that Goliath fell forward rather than backwards, “so that David wouldn’t have to go to so much trouble to cut off his head. He gained twelve cubits and two spans.” Noticeably, this is twice the height of Goliath, if he is considered to be six cubits and a span. Midrashes Vayikra Rabbah and Shir Hashirim Rabbah also say that Goliath fell forward toward David, although they only give Goliath’s actual height, six cubits and a span. Some interpreters think all three of these intend to express the same idea – the former (Tehillim) expressing it in the distance difference of falling forward instead of backward (12 cubits and 2 spans), while the other two simply express how far he fell forward (6 cubits and a span).
[x] NET Bible note on 1 Samuel 17:4 – tc Heb “his height was six cubits and a span.” The LXX, a Qumran manuscript of 1 Samuel, and Josephus read “four cubits and a span.” A cubit was approximately 17.5 inches, a span half that. So the Masoretic text places Goliath at about 9½ feet tall (cf. NIV, CEV, NLT “over nine feet”; NCV “nine feet, four inches”; TEV “nearly 3 metres” while the other textual witnesses place him at about 6 feet, 7 inches (cf. NAB “six and a half feet”). Note, too, that the cubit was adjusted through history, also attested in Babylon (NIDOTTE 421-424 s.v. אַמָּה). If the cubits measuring Goliath were reckoned as the cubit of Moses, his height at 6 cubits and a span would be approximately 7 feet 9 inches tall. This is one of many places in Samuel where the LXX and Qumran evidence seems superior to the Masoretic text. It is possible that the scribe’s eye skipped briefly to the number 6 a few lines below in a similar environment of letters. The average Israelite male of the time was about 5 feet 3 inches, so a man 6 feet 7 inches would be a very impressive height. Saul, being head and shoulder above most Israelites, would have been nearly 6 feet tall. That is still shorter than Goliath, even at “four cubits and a span,” and makes a sharper contrast between David and Saul. There would have been a greater expectation that a 6 foot tall Saul would confront a 6 feet 7 inches Goliath, placing Saul in a bad light while still positioning David as a hero of faith, which is fitting to the context.
[xi] Oddly, Jonathan Burke argues that the description refers to being like looped cords on a weaver’s beam, “that enabled a warrior to throw it harder and further.” Then he says “spears were commonly used to thrust at short range rather than thrown (note Goliath does not throw his spear.” Burke, p. 2.
[xii] The Companion Bible, E. W. Bullinger, editor. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, (original) 1922, p.389.
[xiii] Burke, page 1, fn 1; from Margalith, “The Sea Peoples in the Bible,” p. 49 (1994).
[xiv] Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Merrill F. Unger, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, p. 419.
[xv]How Tall Was Goliath? A Textual Dilemma,” at Crossway.
[xvi] B. J. M. Johnson, “Reconsidering 4QSama and the Textual Support for the Long and Short Versions of the David and Goliath Story,” Vetus Testamentum 62 (2012), pp. 539-540.