Updated: Oct 15, 2021
And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever, Genesis 3:22.
Recently, I posted a chapter from Further Thoughts of the Word of God about the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). I wrote that book 14 years ago and lo and behold, there are a few statements that I regret. Missionary Peter Heisey took issue with one of them. I had stated that there are some words in a King James Bible which need a dictionary to understand. To this, Peter Heisey responded:
1.) I do not personally believe that it "will" take a dictionary to understand the biblical meaning of a Bible [word]. That would be a denial of the sufficiency of the Bible itself, as well as a backhanded slap at the priesthood of every believer, including those who don't have access to a good dictionary. 2.) There are NO words which "defy" correct understanding when they are correctly studied in the KJB itself (and John M Asquith has explained how to do that study in the article -- I just think it works everywhere, with every word). [See the previous point.] It is not necessary to use any dictionary (or lexicon) to get the biblical meaning of a Bible [KJB] word.
What can I do but to applaud those statements? I would have been far better off to have said that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) can help the believer narrow down definitions. Only the mind of the believer in tune with the very God who inspired those English words can ever ultimately understand what a word means. A dictionary can help, but a believer stranded on a desert island, without a dictionary is not helpless.
With that in mind, let us look at a word used only one time in the scripture. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls, James 1:21. What is meant here in this context by the word, "engrafted"? This is a case where the OED is not particularly helpful. It has many definitions, but almost all of them post date the King James Bible. What did engrafted mean in 1611?
It is taken for granted by the translators that their readers spoke English. The translators themselves were fluent in the English of their day as opposed to the translators of the Douay-Rheims Bible, a bible which had been translated prior to 1611. Those translators were unused to speaking English, and when they did speak English, they spoke the Late Middle English of the Tudor Court. Even for those who had one of those bibles, the English was stilted, inaccurate and confusing. Contrast that with the King James Bible which has been a model and standard for English since 1611.
Prior to 1611, Shakespeare had used the word "engrafted" in a sonnet. "I make my love engrafted to this store". Doubtless he used the word metaphorically. Prior to that to "graff" something was an agricultural word whose origins derived from the French of the Norman conquerors, which in turn was derived from the Latin term for a stylus in the hand of a writer. When a branch was graffed onto a tree, it resembled the angle of a stylus while writing. You can be sure that the common Englishman reading his bible was quite unaware of its etymological roots, but instead saw an agricultural metaphor.
The word "engrafted" is from the root word "graff" or "graffed" which is used in a context quite recognizable to any reader.
And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? Romans 11:18-24.
Paul makes a metaphor here in which he describes the new believer as being graffed into the tree upon which the Jews have grown as branches. The sap running in that tree comes from the roots being planted deep to access the waters of life. It is the roots and fatness of the olive tree that give those branches their fruit. The believer is graffed on to that tree and that goodness now flows to him.
The branch that is graffed on becomes the engrafted branch, just as the person who is made able becomes the enabled person. The person who gains courage is the encouraged person. Any speaker of the English Language should be able to figure that out. What then does "engrafted" mean? It means, the object that was "graffed".
In James 1:21, the word of God itself has been engrafted to a tree. To what other tree can we attribute this to other than the tree of life? Because the second Adam has come, and because he has died for the curse of the first Adam, I can now take hold of the tree of life and live forever. Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts, Jeremiah 15:16. The words of a King James Bible are a branch on the very tree of life for any English speaking person to eat from. How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Psalms 119:103.
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures, James 1:18. The word of truth is graffed onto the tree of life. The salvation of our souls becomes the fruit of that tree, and we become the firstfruits unto God.