I am sure we are all aware of how some English words change their meaning over time. One such example that instantly come to mind is “gay.” When I was learning English as a child, I was taught that it means happy or merry. Now obviously it does not have that meaning. Chris Armstrong (Dr.Christian History) over in his blog Grateful to the dead have some interesting experiences with the King James Bible. I especially like the original meaning of flagons.

The following are just a few of the more than 500 words that could trip up modern readers of the King James Version, because they now mean something different—often very different!—than they did in the early 1600s when the KJV was being translated.

accursed devoted, Josh 6:17, 18; 7:1, 11–13, 15; 22:20; 1 Chr 2:7. This one shocked me!

addicted devoted, 1 Cor 16:15. And this one, though more understandable, could also cause considerable confusion in the modern reader.


allow (1) approve, Luke 11:48; Rom 14:22; 1 Thess 2:4. (2) accept, Acts 24:15. (3) know, Rom 7:15. Just as with modern English, KJV terms can have two, three, or even more meanings. And all of them can be remote from our modern understandings.

amazement terror, 1 Pet 3:6. A much stronger and more negative meaning. We’ve sort of domesticated this word, haven’t we?

bowels (1) heart(s) (metaphorically, as the seat of emotion), Gen 43:30; 1 Kgs 3:26; Ps 109:18; Isa 16:11; 63:15; Jer 31:20; Lam 1:20; 2:11; Phlm 7, 12, 20. (2) compassion, Isa 63:15; Phil 1:8; 2:1; Col 3:12. (3) affections, 2 Cor 6:12. (4) anguish, Jer 4:19. (5) innermost self, Song 5:4. A difficult image for us to appreciate today; seems to derive from an ancient Hebrew understanding of the “guts” as the seat of compassionate emotion. The closest we have now is in phrases like “go with your gut” and “gut check,” which refers more to intuition than love.

bruit report, Jer 10:22; Nah 3:19. This is a fun archaism still used in the jocular “schoolboy English” of 20th-century British literature, often in the phrase “bruited about,” referring to a widely disseminated piece of gossip or other information; as in, “it was bruited about that the bishop kept a secret mistress.”

by and by immediately, Matt 13:21; Mark 6:25; Luke 17:7; 21:9. Today, “by and by” seems to have the opposite meaning—something that will happen eventually.

careful anxious, Luke 10:41; Phil 4:6. So, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be careful for nothing” means, “don’t let anything make you full of care,” that is, “make you anxious.”

charity love, 1 Cor 8:1; 13:1–4, 8, 13; 14:1; 16:14; Col 3:14; 1 Thess 3:6; 2 Thess 1:3; 1 Tim 1:5; 2:15; 4:12; 2 Tim 2:22; 3:10; Titus 2:2; 1 Pet 4:8; 5:14; 2 Pet 1:7; 3 John 6; Jude 12; Rev 2:19.In other words, “charity” in the King James Version does not have the limited meaning it holds today, of giving something to someone less fortunate than yourself.

closet(s) private room(s), Joel 2:16; Matt 6:6; Luke 12:3. Hence the odd English term still used today, “prayer closet,” which has nothing to do with a clothes-closet.

conversation (1) way of life, 2 Cor 1:12; Gal 1:13; Eph 2:3; 4:22; Phil 1:27; 1 Tim 4:12; Heb 13:5, 7; Jas 3:13; 1 Pet 1:8; 2:12; 3:1, 2, 16; 2 Pet 2:7; 3:11. (2) life, 1 Pet 1:15. (3) in the way, Ps 37:14; 50:23. (4) citizenship, Phil 3:20. This is another 17th-century word whose modern meaning has taken, in the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, a significant “left turn at Albuquerque.”

discover(ed) (eth) (ing) (1) uncover(ed) (ing), Lev 20:18; Deut 22:30; 2 Sam 22:16; Ps 18:15; Isa 3:17; 57:8; Jer 13:26; Ezek 13:14; 16:57; 23:10, 18, 29; Hos 2:10; Nah 3:5; Hab 3:13. (2) reveal, Prov 18:2. (3) disclose(d), 1 Sam 14:8, 11. (4) strip, Ps 29:9. (5) removed, Isa 22:8. Five meanings, and not one of them “found,” the common modern meaning.

dragons (1) jackals, Job 30:29; Ps 44:19; Isa 13:22; 34:13; 35:7; 43:20; Jer 9:11; 10:22; 14:6; 49:33; 51:37; Mic 1:8; Mal 1:3. (2) sea monsters, Ps 148:7. I’d like to know how this first meaning relates to our meaning of “dragons” today: the wild dog doesn’t bear much resemblance to the mythical creature!

flagons cakes of raisins, Song 2:5. flagon(s) of wine cake(s) of raisins, 2 Sam 6:19; 1 Chr 16:3; Hos 3:1. Wow! Almost as bad a mix-up here as the one revealed in 2001 by Quranic scholar Christoph Luxemberg, who concluded that the “seventy virgins” promised in paradise to Muslim men martyred for their cause were actually, owing to an unfortunate misunderstanding, raisins. Imagine the disappointment.

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