Updated: Feb 15, 2020
“But when divers were hardened, and believed not…” (Acts 19:9).
Divers? For some (well, at least one!) these words paint a vague mental picture of some kind of petrification of the late Jacques Cousteau (for those under 40, he was a famous French undersea diver) and the crew of the rammed Calypso, the mother ship. Divers.
Seriously, we again come to the place of decision in our understanding of God’s word: do we take the time and effort to understand the difference between divers and diverse, or do we ride the wave of easy reading texts, tagging divers as archaic and replacing it with the more popular diverse? They are both, apparently, of the same root word; so, is there a difference?
Divers: More than a few, many, and some variation within the population. The variation can be slight, even deceptively slight. The stress is more about the quantity, and an unequal or slight deviation within the quantity.
Diverse: A significant variation in nature, in character, and in type. The stress isn’t as much about quantity as it is in differences within the population.
In Acts 19:9, divers indicates that many, not a few, were disbelieving. Surely within this population there were slight differences, but they were all people, Jews of Ephesus, and so on. No extreme variations, just a statement about the number or quantity of unbelievers.
Proverbs 20:10 is a warning about using multiple and deceptively inconsistent measures: “Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the Lord.” The idea here is the weights and measures are slightly off, not wildly off or different; for a noticeable variation would alert the normally unsuspecting customer. A similar warning is given in Deuteronomy 25:13,14, and again the word divers, not diverse is used. And such is the case, whether it be be threads, weights, seed, tongues, temptations and so on.
“And four beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another” (Daniel 7:3).
No, these are not four scruffy scuba-divers coming up to report their sunken ship findings; these are four distinctly different beasts. Not many in quantity (four), but surely they are variable in character and type. When the fourth beast is called “diverse from all the beasts that were before it…”(7:7), the stress is not on the numerical quantity or volume with slight variations; no, the stress is on the variation, the diversity.
Divers and diverse may in fact share the same root word, but within the Bible they are used with their own particular emphasis. In my humble opinion, keeping them in place as they were written in the Authorized Version, and seeking to understand them, will yield a deeper, richer relationship with the Author.