Effectual or Effective?
Updated: May 11
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, James 5:16.
Years ago I had a friend (now deceased) who suffered from mental illness. He always lied. I don't mean that he was a frequent liar, I mean that he always lied. Once I realized that, he was easy to be around. A simple yes or no answer could always be trusted. He was lying. If he said "no", the answer was "yes". If he said the traffic signal was green, you stopped because you knew it was red.
The new versions are often a help to me in the same way. When I want to know what a specific verse is saying or what a word in a King James Bible means, I can look it up in the ESV or the NIV and find out what it does not mean. Take our opening verse, James 5:16. The English quote is simple but it contains a word not used as commonly as it once was. It uses the word, "effectual". Apparently that word troubles the devil because the new versions avoid it.
ESV: The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.[a]
(with a footnote), a. Or The effective prayer of a righteous person has great power.
NIV: The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
One of the excuses given for needing new versions is the lame reference to C.S. Lewis's idea that as a language changes, a new version should be translated for those who speak the modified language. That sounds wonderful to the ignorant and silly. Mark Ward uses it in his silly reasoning. However, in the only instance that we have seen of that, which was at the time of Nehemiah and of Ezra, the children could not read the Hebrew Bible. God didn't give them a new version which would have been totally in his power. The prophets kicked their daddy's butts.
As the English language gradually changes from generation to generation, and from geographical locale to geographical locale, the one standard that every single English speaking congregation can hold in common with their brethren throughout the world is the King James Bible. So far, there is no dialect of English (not speaking of Pidgin English which is a language in own right) whose speakers cannot understand and be blessed by using a King James Bible. Each dialect will have nuances wherein certain King James words won't come natural to them, but just like anything else a little education can handle that.
Language unites people. Diverse languages separate people. When God sought to divide and confuse the people, he confounded their languages. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech, Genesis 11:7. The use of the King James Bible functions similar to the altar Ed of Joshua 22:34. It is a witness that links us to our roots. It is a unifying grace among all English Speaking people. For this reason the devil raises up legions of witless critics to smash and destroy it.
In every one of those diverse countries wherein English is still spoken and understood there will be some words or phrases that are no longer used as they were in 1611. I have yet to find one of those that proved too hard for any person to grasp when a pastor or teacher took a few moments to study it and to explain it.
The word "effectual" is one of those words which at least in American English isn't used much and is thought to be synonymous with effective. It is not. The word "effective" is never used in a King James Bible. Instead, a more specialized word is used. We might say today that a man is an effective speaker. We would not say that he was an effectual speaker.
We might say that the speech was effectual in its delivery, or that it was effective in its delivery. We have made those two synonymous. That is a modern development which about two minutes of education can set straight. As an example, if we read a book from the early 20th century that said that a person was nauseous, it would mean that the person caused nausea in those around him. If they meant that a person was ill they would say that the person was nauseated. Think of the word "poisonous". A poisonous substance poisons people. We would say that a poisonous substance makes people to be poisoned.
Nevertheless, the words "nauseous" and "nauseated" in today's parlance mean something entirely different than what they did 100 years ago. Today we intermix those lightly. Literature is so abounding with the misuse of the word "nauseous" that it has lost its distinct historical meaning. Today it can mean a person needing to vomit or the agent that causes the person to feel like vomiting. A person 100 years ago or even 50 years ago reading the sentence, "My wife was nauseous.", would think being associated with the man's wife provoked people to nausea. Likewise, the words "effective" and "effectual" are too lightly interchanged today and in doing so a fine line of meaning is obscured.
In 1611 and for centuries afterward, effectual had specific legal and theological meanings. The Oxford English Dictionary gives us those two meanings. From the 15th century up through the 20th century, these two definitions were used in literature.
Effectual: Of a legal document or covenant: valid, binding.
Effectual: Of a prayer or an entreaty: earnest, urgent.
In our King James Bible the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man is prayer that is binding to a covenant. It is an urgent and urgent entreaty. I really didn't need the Oxford English Dictionary for that. I merely looked in the newer versions to find out what it didn't mean and then looked at it in context. I compared it to other verses dealing with prayer.
And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us, 1st John 5:14.
A righteous man will pray according to a valid and binding covenant. He will pray according to the will of God.
Luke 11:5 And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves;
Luke 11:6 For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him?
Luke 11:7 And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.
Luke 11:8 I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.
Luke 11:9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
Luke 11:10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Is this not an earnest and urgent prayer request? This is effectual prayer. Was it effective? Of course it was. But it is far more than effective. Prayer can be effective, but not all prayer is.
When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin, Psalm 109:7.
Isaiah 1:15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
Jeremiah 7:16 Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee.
Jeremiah 11:14 Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a cry or prayer for them: for I will not hear them in the time that they cry unto me for their trouble.
Jeremiah 14:12 When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence.
To say that effective prayer availeth much is redundant. Of course it was effective. God answered it. Can we know ahead of time that a prayer will touch the heart of God and be answered? Yes we can if we pray in accordance to his will. That is effectual prayer. It was effectual before it became effective. It became effective because it was effectual. God answered it because it was an earnest entreaty prayed by a righteous man in accordance to a covenant that God has with that man.
A tip of the hat to my astute reader.