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Another Post on the OED

June 3, 2018

             When Solomon noted that of the making of many books there is no end, he had never heard of Facebook groups.  I can't even imagine how we would have reacted to the unceasing commentary and challenges that arise.  Hopefully, this will help some of you following the King James Bible Debate.     

 

                             Chapter 8 from Further Thoughts on the Word of God

 

 

                The Oxford English Dictionary

       

       There are generally three ways to determine the definitions of AV 1611 words.  The first and foremost is to look the word up in every single context it is found.  Throughout scripture, even words with which the reader already feels familiar can take on a different and deeper light once examined.  I would encourage the reader to take a word like heart and prayerfully examine it in every context from Genesis to Revelation.  It will never look the same.
          There are some words in the AV 1611 which are transliterated.  They were never translated.  They were taken out of their Hebrew or Greek alphabets and spelled out in our alphabet.  Mahershalalhashbaz, Isaiah 8:1 and Anathema Maranatha, I Cor. 16:22 are examples.  A good Cambridge Bible will have Dr. Thomas Paris's marginal translations of those words.  An Oxford Bible will carry Dr. Benjamin Blayney's translations.  
Still there are many words in the King James Bible that will take a dictionary to fully understand.  The purpose of this chapter is to familiarize the reader with the very best dictionary for AV 1611 words.  I discourage the use of the Noah Webster 1828 dictionary and will explain this in more detail in this chapter.            
         The Oxford English Dictionary, or OED as it is commonly called, is one of the greatest but least known tools available to the student of the AV 1611.  The OED is the cumulative effort of hundreds of largely anonymous scholars who have spent a century and a half researching the history and various meanings of almost every word in the English language.  The work continues to this day and updates are periodically published.
        I have expressed every bit of outrage I know how to express over the retranslating and interpreting that has been going on in churches.  Yet it is obvious that there are some words in the AV 1611 that are not in common usage today, or worse yet, have slightly altered meanings today.  Hopefully, by now the reader is aware that the underlying Greek text is not where to go for proper definitions.  The OED is not perfect, as we shall see.  When it tries to treat the KJV as different it usually errs.  When it sticks to giving the reader every possible option for possible definitions and the approximate year that definition was in vogue it does best.      
        The English words contained in the AV 1611 are the exact words the Spirit of God intended to use to convey the meaning of the Greek.  What is needed is a mechanism to determine what the English word meant to the AV translators when they wrote that word.  By going back to the Greek, the reader can do no more than open up the endless possibilities inherent in the translations of the word.  
        The best thing the reader can ever do is to use a concordance to look up every place the word is used.  By studying that word in context, each of the places it is used, the reader can usually determine exactly what the translators meant when they used the word.
There are some words that defy such an exhaustive study.  The word striker is just such a word.  It occurs in the AV 1611 only two times, I Tim 3:3, and Tit 1:7.  In each case the word occurs in a long list outlining the criteria for bishops.  For words like striker it becomes crucial to determine what that word meant in 1611.  Once that definition has been determined, it should be weighed against the context of the passage it is in and every other context that is similar.  The AV 1611 will never contradict itself and it is important that whatever definition is settled upon must not conflict with any other scripture.  Only then can the reader know that they have the right meaning.             This is a perfect time to use the OED.  Its history and editing have made it the perfect tool for determining the exact meaning of AV 1611 words.  In the mid 1800's the Philological Society of London began to investigate the need for a better dictionary than was currently available.  They began to collect words that were missing in the extant dictionaries.  Their goal was to find words back to the year 1000 AD.  They asked for volunteers to do research and to submit the results.  Thousands of contributions flowed in.      
        What sets the OED apart for use in Bible study is its unique way of listing definitions.  Not only does the OED give far more definitions for each word, it lists those definitions by the century in which they are used.  As a word's definition slowly evolved over the years, the OED has catalogued that change.  It has also gives sample sentences from actual documents or literature of that age.
      One drawback to the OED is that it can be as exasperating as a commentary on some Bible words.  The editors of the OED often prove to be just as subject to playing with Greek as anyone else.  That is not their strength.  Their strength is in providing its user with century-by-century examples of how a word has been used and defined.  The dictionary's user can then select the most obvious definition that fits the King James Bible in the context it is used.  Whenever the OED attempts to isolate the KJV use of a word as different than any other usage of that word, it should be held suspect.       
         Any student of the King James Bible can look within the pages of the OED to find the precise definition the King James translators had in mind when they selected that word.  They can then find the word in a sentence from that period of time.  Most dictionaries today only reflect the most commonly understood definitions.  This has led to unwarranted criticisms by fledgling Bible scholars when they attempt to reconcile their AV 1611 with the underlying Greek text.   
         There has been an exasperating tendency in the last couple of decades to rely on reprints of Noah Webster's classic 1828 dictionary.  Noah Webster's dictionary is a good work.  It set a standard in its day.  It is, however, a reflection of what 19th century Puritanism thought of English words.  
Webster's work was completed 217 years after the AV 1611 was completed.                 Granted, his definitions reflect the piety and good understanding of New England Puritans, but it cannot compete with the OED for pinpointing the precise definition the KJV translators had in mind.  
Part of Webster's problem was that he hearkened back to the period in English history called the Restoration , and to the time of Jonathan Swift as his standard for pure English.  Dr. Johnson in his dictionary was more correct when he said that he looked to writers before the restoration to find the "wells of English undefiled".    The Restoration took place a half-century after the AV 1611 was finished.  It was a time of obscene decadence and saw the introduction of many French nuances of speech.  Swift wrote even later, a century after the AV 1611.  Only the OED can take the reader back through time and illuminate a word properly.  A comparison of Noah Webster's dictionary with the OED will demonstrate this.  
         When Webster defined that problematic word striker, he did not reach far enough back in time to nail the meaning.  His 1828 dictionary defined striker as: 1. One that strikes, or which strikes.  2. In scripture, a quarrelsome man, Tit 1:7.  Webster is wrong here, but he died not knowing it.  Undoubtedly, he gave a correct definition for striker, but not the definition the KJV translators had in mind.
        The OED gives us more.  The Oxford editors carry us back prior to 1611.  They show a definition that would have undoubtedly been the first and foremost meaning to have come into the mind of a person living at that time.  Shakespeare used the word, and regardless of the spiritual value of anything Shakespeare wrote, he had a perfect sense for communicating his thoughts to the man on the street.      
        The OED says, one who strikes or roams as a vagrant.  They give a quote from Shakespeare's Henry the fourth.  "I am joined with no foot land Rakes, no long staff, six-penny strikers."    They further cement the long-understood usage of the word by quoting from a sentence in the year 1410, "overland beggars & strikers over the land". 
         What then would the word striker have meant to the man on the street in 1611?  A striker was a member of growing social problem in England.  These were vagrants who through the change in agricultural practices and increased industrialization , were forced out of their homes and took up a gypsy lifestyle.  They were generally associated with theft and violence.  Bands of strikers camping outside of a village generally struck terror into the hearts of citizens.  
        That would have been the first thing to cross the minds of a person who read the word striker in 1611.  How does that definition jive with Titus 1:7 and I Timothy 3: 3?  To understand it is necessary to go back and look at the alternatives offered to us.  Webster called a striker, a quarrelsome man.  That may give us some insight to 19th century Puritan thinking, but it is absolutely no reflection on any English meaning ever recorded hitherto or afterwards.  
      Webster attempted to get his definition from the Greek.  His understanding of the Greek word πλήκτην was that it meant pugnacious or quarrelsome.  The AV translators could have chosen either word.  They declined.  They chose an existing word with an existing meaning.  
As was mentioned earlier, the OED editors often feel obligated to give KJV words unique definitions that seem more based on an ersatz Greek or Latin construction than English as spoken in 1611.  To be fair, the KJV translators often did coin words that never occur in any literature before their time.  They lived in an age of flux in the English language.  
        Many writers of that day were compelled to make up words to express thoughts in English that they were translating.  Even Shakespeare who did no translating is credited with being the first to use many words.  Words such as agile, allurement, antipathy, catastrophe, critical and horrid are all words that never show up in any literature until Shakespeare used them.   The careful student of the KJV will find many instances in the OED where the Authorized Version is first recorded usage of a given word.
Striker is not one of those words.  It is unreasonable to think that the KJV translators would have coined a brand-new definition for an existing word especially when it would have wrought such confusion when heard on the streets by those acquainted with the common definition.  The OED editors nevertheless offer just such a scenario. 
       They offer a unique definition for the Authorized Version's use of the word striker.  They offer no other proof than the vulgate word percussorem and the Greek word πλήκτην.   They show that Wycliffe translated the word as smiter.  Herein is an excellent illustration of just why King James words should never be defined based on other languages.  They suggest that in scripture striker means, one who is addicted to striking; one who is ready to resort to blows.  If that definition were allowed to stand, we would have an absurd redundancy in the text.  In both I Timothy 3 and in Titus 1 the Apostle Paul also forbids the ordaining of a brawler.   
       The Greek word πλήκτην is a particularly frustrating word.  Before I understood the importance of the English translation I spent days in the bowels of the Cooper Library on the University of South Carolina.  I looked up the Greek word in every extant Greek context known to Greek scholars.  I didn't just look in a few lexicons for the word.  I looked it up in context everywhere it occurred in both secular and Bible sources.    It had a lot of fluctuating meanings.  
         One tool the AV translators spoke of using was the use of comparing other translations.  They said in their dedicatory to the King, "together with comparing of the labors, both in our own, and other foreign Languages".  The AV translators didn't just use the Greek in determining how to translate the Bible.  They compared other foreign translations.  
        One of the most consistently consulted translations was the Latin Vulgate.  Even during the writing of the New Testament, some of the Apostles had taken on Latin identities.  Paul makes reference to Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, Rom 16: 7b.  Andronicus and Junia are Latin speakers in the Roman Church.  
       The believers in Rome were as apt to speak Latin as Greek.  No doubt the scriptures were being read and preached in Latin almost from their very inception, probably even before the cannon was completed.  Determining how the old Latin Vulgate (as opposed to Jerome's corrupt Vulgate), translated any word is extremely important.  The Latin Vulgate used the word Percussorem for the Greek word πλήκτην.
        Over twenty years ago I had my students research the word striker and one of the more enterprising ones used percussorem in an attempt to define the word.  The attempt failed for the simple reason that neither one of us was sufficiently grounded in Latin to see the fallacy of using the most common Latin translation of percusso which meant to strike with the open hand.  
        It is a nuance of the Latin language that when a list is being given, the words are in the genitive case.  The word percussorem being in a list in both I Timothy and in Titus, has a genitive construction.  The word percusso as translated to strike with the open hand has a different genitive ending.  The genitive ending in the Vulgate is just like the Greek word πλήκτην; it is obscure.  About the only definition that cannot be used is the idea of striking with the open hand.   
Had the KJV translators wanted to imply a person who hits people they could have stuck with Wickliffe's use of the word smiter.  They did not.  They no doubt mulled over the idea of a quarrelsome person.  They considered Latin sources such as Pliny the Elder who used the word percussorem as an assassin.  They also looked at the context of the passage and assigned the English word striker.  
        No church is to ever ordain a drifting rootless person no matter how well qualified he seems in every other way.  In Psalm 109: 10, David puts a curse on the children of Judas Iscariot.  Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.  The spiritual children of Judas Iscariot will often tend to be rootless, and just like their spiritual father they will look good in almost every other respect.  
         If you ask pastors that have pastored for any time they can tell many stories about drifters who come to church.  They appear in a murky cloud and they adapt quickly to the ways of their surroundings.  Just like a cancerous tissue will grow more quickly than a healthy one, these people will seem to excel in all things.  Don't ordain them.  They are usually prone to violence and theft when difficult times come.  They will almost always leave in a bitter cloud of accusations and confusion.  Make a drifter settle down and get roots.  Wait to see that those roots take hold.  Only then can he prove himself.
          There is a rule of English associated with the AV 1611.  Any English word used in a King James Bible has the most common definition used at the writing of the King James Bible as long as the context will support that definition.  To suppose unique definitions that fly in the face of the common definition is to suppose that the KJV translators did not speak their own language well and sowed confusion.  I know of no greater tool to ascertain the common definition of any word in 1611 than the Oxford English Dictionary. 
         Dr. John Hinton, a Ph.D. educated at Harvard, Ohio State University, Baptist seminaries, and universities in India and Jordan uses an Oxford dictionary in his research and writings.   Dr. Hinton of Bible Restoration Ministries  has become a champion for the King James Bible.  He describes himself as a "well qualified language expert (philologist), Bible scholar and King James Bible defender."   His primary ministry is restoring the Word of God in foreign languages.  He has a side ministry of defending individual words that are too often challenged by neophytes.
         In a series of short essays  he uses his understanding of language as well as the Oxford Universal Dictionary (an abridged less expensive use of the Oxford research) to defend the AV 1611.  Dr. Hinton is almost unique among scholars in that he defers to the KJV even if his understanding of the Greek is different.  He states in his ministerial description, "I will treat the KJV as the final authority in any and all cases where my judgment of the Greek differs in any way from those who translated the KJV."   For those who have studied long, that statement is a rare and refreshing one by a scholar who fears God.
A typical essay by Dr. Hinton uses Oxford research.  In his defense of the word flood in Joshua 24:2 he makes reference to the Oxford definition. The Oxford Dictionary has it defined thus: "2. A body off flowing water; a river, stream usually a large river. "Its meaning goes back to Old English where flod meant flood, wave, current, stream or river.   He is able to show that the use of the word flood is not an error of translation as is so often supposed by modern scholars.
        For those who really want to know what a word means the Oxford is unsurpassed.  A little common sense will guide the reader past their occasional forays into Bible correcting.  There is a little more work involved, but it will be well worth the time.
        The great drawback to the OED is its cost.  1933 editions can be found at used bookstores or on the Internet for $500.00 to $1000.00.  There are compressed editions that require a magnifying glass to read that can be similarly found for somewhat less.  It can be found on CD for as little as a few hundred dollars.  The best bet for the average person is to find a library that has a set.  Most good libraries do.  
       There is a pressing need for a King James Oxford Dictionary.  A good editor could narrow the dictionary to English words found in the AV 1611.  He need not copy all definitions but could limit his work to those definitions that apply to 1611 or before.       
       

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