Old Languages (I)

Most of the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. Later, the translators of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible translated the text into Old English vocabulary. Both of these facts can cause problems for modern readers. Today we’ll start by considering four types of difficulties that readers have when they read the KJV.

  • Old words that aren’t used in our day to day conversations
  • Words that have a different meaning now than they did when the KJV was written
  • Old English pronouns, like thee and thou
  • Old English verb endings

Old Words

You don’t hear words like anon (Mar 1:30), beeves (Num 31:38), and churl (Isa 32:5) very often, yet they appear in the Bible. First, read these verses in context and jot down what you think each of the three words mean.

If you downloaded eSword yesterday, you can look up these words in the KJV+ portion of the program. The Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries will tell you that:

Anon means:

G2112 yoo-theh’-oce Adverb from G2117; directly, that is, at once or soon: – anon, as soon as, forthwith, immediately, shortly, straightway.

Beeves means:

H1241 baw-kawr’ From H1239; a beeve or animal of the ox kind of either gender (as used for ploughing); collectively a herd: – beeve, bull (+ -ock), + calf, + cow, great [cattle], + heifer, herd, kine, ox.

Churl means:

H3596 kee-lah’ee, OR kay-lah’ee From H3557 in the sense of withholding; niggardly: – churl. (We would say stingy.)

Old Words with new meanings

Example 1

For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: (Gal 1:13)

You probably got the idea from the context that the word conversation in this verse means something more than just how Paul talked. Reading a modern dictionary wouldn’t be much help, My Oxford dictionary says:

“An informal spoken exchange of news and ideas between two or more people.” (Oxford dictionary)

However, the 1828 Websters give a clearer picture here:

“1. General course of manners; behavior; deportment; especially as it respects morals.” (Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of American English)

And Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries gets right to the point with:

“G391 an-as-trof-ay’ behavior”

Example 2

A friend told me that he was worried about someone in our church because he was planning to lease a car. My friend had read:

“O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing?” (Psa 4:2)

“Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.” (Psa 5:6)

He was worried that this man was leasing a car when the Bible warns us about leasing. The problem is that the meaning of that word has changed since the Bible was written. The Old English word leasing means falsehood or deceit.

Old English pronouns

I’ve heard some people complain about the thees and thous in the Bible. When you take the time to learn what they mean, though, you find that these personal pronouns make the Bible clearer. Here are the Old English personal pronouns that the Bible uses, along with their meanings:


Pronoun

Meaning

Thou

You, second person singular.

Thee

You, singular, (Object case of thou)

Thy / Thine

Yours

Ye

You (all), second person plural.

Take a look at this verse from the story of Nicodemus’ visit to Jesus:

“Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” (Joh 3:7)

In modern translations this comes out something like this:

“Don’t be surprised that I said to you, you must be born again.”

Modern English is a little sloppy like that. You can’t tell who the two yous are. The second you in the verse, Ye, means all of you – y’all, as those of you down South say. So you could translate the verse like this:

“Don’t be surprised that I said to you, Nicodemus, that everyone needs to be born again.”

Old English verb endings

Like te Old English pronouns, Old English verb endings give you extra information that may not be communicated in modern English.


Ending

Meaning

Example

Est, ast, st

Second person singular, present

Thou talkest.
You are talking.

Edst

Second person singular, past

Thou talkedest.
You talked.

Eth, ath, th

Third person singular, present

He talketh
He talks.

Reference recommendations

Here are two concordances I use that have original language dictionaries:

Read more about it

Go back over your word list from Ephesians one and use a Strong’s Concordance or eSword to find definitions for the original Hebrew and Greek source words. Make a note of any new light these definitions shed on the chapter.

You can download eSword by visiting the links section of this blog.

If you want to access Strong’s dictionary online, one place you can go is BlueLetterBible.org

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the impact of translating from Hebrew and Greek into English.

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