Matthew 14:9 Revisited

by James May[1]

 

Earlier this year I wrote and posted to the Internet a paper entitled, “The Great Inconsistency of King James Onlyism.”[2] In the paper, I devoted three pages, out of a total of 28, to a brief discussion of five verses where the King James Version is not an accurate translation of any Greek text. One of the examples that I gave is found in Matthew 14:9. In this verse, the Greek word translated as “oath’s” is plural. While the 1611 KJV lacks the apostrophe that would indicate number, current editions have placed the apostrophe such that the word is singular in English. It has come to my attention that Mr. Jeffrey D. Nachimson has written a paper[3] in which he disputes my position. Besides arguing his point, Nachimson unfortunately also finds it necessary to hurl a variety of insulting names at those who, including myself, do not share his view of the King James Bible. He uses such terms as “Alexandrian clones,” “textual wolves,” “scholastic scum,” “self-conceited individuals,” “reprobated suckers,” “stupid Alexandrian Cultists,” “Alexandrian Cult nincompoops,” and “translational schizophrenics.” While I will offer some comments upon Nachimson’s disputing of my position, he will have to wallow all by himself in his crude and childish name-calling.

 

Stacking the deck

 

By presenting the issue under discussion as a legal case, Nachimson disguises the fact that he has built his conclusion into his premise:

 

Hence, we hold to the proposition that the A.V. 1611 text is innocent until proven guilty. That is, until some scholastic scum like R.L. Hymers can show us definitely that there is an “ERROR” in the A.V. text, then he can keep his “leasing” mouth shut and cease from filling the air with anymore anti-Biblical prevarications! (Nachimson, p. 2).

 

The reader may find it illuminating to note that Dr. Hymers is a member of the very pro-KJV Dean Burgon Society, only uses the King James Bible, and rejects all modern translations. More to the issue, we are not dealing with a criminal case, and the KJV will not be found either “innocent” or “guilty.” Because this is not a criminal case and because our conclusion will not be one of innocence or guilt, there is no presumption of “innocence” for the KJV. We presuppose that the KJV is an accurate, but not perfect, translation of an accurately transmitted text. The burden of proof rests with Nachimson to prove the extraordinary idea that the King James Version is an absolutely perfect translation in its most minute details.

 

Translators or printers?

 

The Greek word for oath in Matthew 14:9 is a plural. A very literal translation in English would be “on account of the oaths.” In the KJV 1611 the reading “for the othes sake” lacks an apostrophe and thus does not indicate whether oaths is singular or plural. Current KJVs indicate a singular with the reading “for the oath’s sake.” After making his customary insults and reproducing my material on this point, Nachimson says the following:

 

In the passage before us, the alleged ERROR in the A.V. 1611 text is that the A.V. translators were completely blind and oblivious to the basic rules of Greek syntax; that even though each member of the group of translators had read through and inspected this verse a minimum of 14 times, somehow this “oversight” passed by 47 men. The ERROR presented here by this translational schizophrenic, James May, is that the King James Bible translated a Greek plural accusative as an English singular! (p. 12).

 

I could use the same blustery language that Mr. Nachimson employs and say that he “lied” in this statement, but I will not. What he charges me with is, however, completely untrue. In my paper I said nothing about the work done on this verse by the translators of 1611. As is very clear on page 20, I used Matthew 14:9 as an answer to an assertion made by David Sorenson that “although the first edition of the King James Bible contained errors of punctuation and printing, over the years these errors have been corrected so that the KJV now contains no errors whatsoever.” The point I made, which should be evident to any careful reader, is that later editors made mistakes when they added punctuation marks. In other words, I carefully chose my wording so as not to indicate whether the lack of punctuation was a result of the work done by the translators or of the work done by the typesetters and printers. I chose this wording because I do not know. Notice my exact words, “The KJV 1611 failed to insert the necessary apostrophe for the possessive of its translation.”

 

The simple fact is that no one can document precisely what the KJV translators actually recorded in this passage or anywhere else in the Bible. KJVers are constantly telling us that we cannot appeal to the original Greek manuscripts because they no longer exist. Well, the original documents that the translators sent to the printers for the A.V. 1611 no longer exist either, and the printers did a dandy job of introducing many errors into the text, which errors to this day have not been fully corrected. The “perfect Bible” that Nachimson claims to hold in his hands is a phantom that does not exist. We repeat our position that we have a Bible preserved by God such that it is sufficiently accurate for all matters of faith and practice. Allowing the KJV to be its own judge, there never has been a perfect edition. I made this point quite clear in my paper under the heading “Various Editions of the KJV.” Anyone desiring a much more extensive treatment should secure F.H.A Scrivener, The Authorized Edition of the English Bible (1611), available as a photocopy from the Dean Burgon Society.

 

Although Nachimson is totally wrong in his accusation that I maligned the KJV translators when I discussed Matthew 14:9, I will gladly comment upon their supposed inerrancy. In my paper, on page 15, I observe that the KJV 1611 contained a marginal note at Luke 17:36 which stated, “This 36 verse is wanting in most of the Greek copies.” Obviously the translators were not sure if the verse should be included in the New Testament. They did not believe themselves to be inerrant. It is my firm conclusion that they knew more about their work than Mr. Nachimson does. I could expand this issue to great length, but one example has proven the point. I will also note that “47 men reading each passage 14 times” did not prevent the translators from calling the Holy Spirit an “it” in four passages: John 1:32; Romans 8:16; 8:26 and I Peter 1:11. These passages border on blasphemy. I discuss this at greater length on pages 21 and 22 of my paper.

 

More frogs for Pharaoh

 

In chapter eight of the book of Exodus, the Bible tells us that God demonstrated his power and vindicated his servants Moses and Aaron by sending a plague of frogs upon the land of Egypt. The response of Pharaoh’s magicians is rather curious. Instead of removing the frogs which God had sent, they demonstrated their power by producing more frogs. Hardly what Pharaoh needed. Mr. Nachimson appears to have his own frog business. He defends the lack of the apostrophe at Matthew 14:9 in the 1611 edition by producing other examples of missing apostrophes and asserting that this mark of punctuation was not used by the 1611 KJV! His every example adds to the list of deficiencies contained in the King James Bible of 1611 as compared to the current KJV and to modern Bibles. Perhaps Nachimson is suggesting that the hands of the KJV translators were tied and that they had no way of indicating whether the word “oath” should be singular or plural. I have not the slightest idea when apostrophes were introduced into the English language, nor have I the least inclination to pursue such an arcane question, but one thing is clear: If apostrophes were unavailable in 1611, the translators could have easily specified whether the text was singular or plural. All they needed to do was either translate “because of the oath” or “because of the oaths.” This is clearly a deficiency in the King James translation, and all of the huffing and puffing in the world will not make it otherwise. Nachimson can keep his frogs;--- we have enough already.

 

Oaths and crows

 

In the following three paragraphs Mr. Nachimson introduces us to his new doctrine of plenary revelation. According to this novel teaching, the Scripture narratives never leave out any details. If the Bible does not say that something happened, it did not happen.

 

May’s second ERROR is a manifest failure to read simple English. The A.V. 1611 told you in no uncertain terms in Matthew 14:7 in the context, that the OATH was indeed SINGULAR! Note:

 

“Whereupon he promised with AN OATH to give her whatsoever she would ask.” (Matthew 14:7)

 

There isn’t one word in the context about more than one oath being made, thereby warranting plural possessive punctuation. The only way someone could come to such a ridiculous conclusion is by spending their time in Greek texts that they evidently don’t know how to read, (p. 13).

 

Contrary to Mr. Nachimson’s accusation, I have been reading the Greek New Testament longer than he has been alive. Should I ever have the unfortunate circumstance of meeting him, I believe that we could discover very quickly who can read Greek and who cannot. At any rate, Nachimson wants us to believe that if Matthew mentions one oath, but no others, there cannot have been any others. It appears that Nachimson has not spent much time comparing the four Gospels with one another. A good harmony of the Gospels might be an excellent addition to his library. I have taken Mr. Nachimson’s words and applied them to another incident in Matthew’s gospel:

 

May’s second ERROR is a manifest failure to read simple English. The A.V. 1611 told you in no uncertain terms in Matthew 26:74 in the context, that the crow was indeed SINGULAR! Note:

 

“And immediately the cock crew.” (Matthew 26:74)

 

There isn’t one word in the context about more than one crow being made, thereby warranting a claim of multiple crows. The only way someone could come to such a ridiculous conclusion is by spending their time in Greek texts that they evidently don’t know how to read, (p. 13).

 

Actually “someone” might have come to such a ridiculous conclusion by reading Mark 14:30 and 14:72. In the book of Matthew there is no hint whatsoever that in connection with Peter’s denial the cock would or did crow more than once. Mark, however, tells us of two crowings, “And the second time the cock crew.” There are actually many examples in the Gospels where one Gospel omits interesting information that is contained in another, which proves beyond all controversy that the Gospel narratives often leave out details that we might expect them to include. Mr. Nachimson is correct that there is a “ridiculous conclusion,” but it is his conclusion, not mine.

 

Wallace & Turner

 

Nonetheless, because James May isn’t a faithful student of the Bible (II Tim. 2:15) or a decent student of Greek syntax, he failed to notice the most egregious error of all in his tirade against the most magniloquent book in history; that this phenomenon of a Greek plural being rendered with an English singular is a viable rule with a reasonable syntactical point to it:

 

“A difficult pl. which may be explained in this way is Mt. 2:23 prophets: the reference is to one prophet only. Zerwick calls it pluralis categoriae (4a) and he further suggests it as an explanation of Mt 27:44 (after Jerome, Aug., Ambrose): both robbers are said to reproach Jesus whereas it was only one, and we need not call in another tradition to help us out. OTHER DIFFICULTIES ARE THUS SOLVED: MT 14:9 MK 6:26 horkous oath. . .” (Moulton/Turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Vol. III-Syntax, pg. 26)

 

I am rather certain that Mr. Nachimson is oblivious to what he has accomplished with these two paragraphs.  From two recognized grammarians (he also quotes Daniel B. Wallace), he has demonstrated that it is quite possible--perhaps likely--that we should translate the plural Greek “orkous” as the singular “oath’s” in Matthew 14:9. What Nachimson fails to notice, or at least bring to our attention, is that as Drs. Turner and Wallace apply this grammatical observation to a variety of passages in the New Testament, they cite numerous verses where the KJV itself fails to translate properly. In the very paragraph quoted by Nachimson, Nigel Turner suggests the deficiency of the KJV in Matthew 2:23 and 27:44:

 

Matt 2:23. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. (KJV)

 

Turner’s analysis suggests that “by the prophets” as found in the KJV, would be better translated “by the prophet.” So if we indeed grant the point that Turner is making, then the King James translators were wrong, which according to Nachimson’s thinking would mean that they were not “faithful students of the Bible (II Tim. 2:15” nor “decent students of Greek syntax.” Consistency deals a fatal blow to Nachimson’s argument.

 

Matt 27:44. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth. (KJV)

 

Since Luke 23:39-41 makes it clear that only one of the thieves “cast the same in his teeth,” the Greek plural “thieves” in Matthew 27:44 should have been rendered by the King James translators as a singular, at least according to Turner/Zerwick. Once again, this “rule” indicates error in the KJV. Remember, according to Nachimson, this is a “viable rule.” He will, no doubt, soon be telling us that the rule can only be applied to certain passages, namely the ones where it validates the KJV. It is not difficult to understand why I entitled my paper, “The Great Inconsistency of King James Onlyism.” It is also worth noting that the Greek text here says nothing about anyone’s teeth. Modern readers should not be restricted to such obscure phrases in their Bibles, and it is no surprise that Christians are flocking to updated translations.

 

There are many more examples given by Turner than the ones reproduced by Nachimson. A brief survey may prove illuminating. Of course in every instance where the rule indicates error in the KJV, Nachimson and the rest of the KJV Only crowd will argue against it. In so doing, they demonstrate that no amount of evidence will persuade them from their false position. Any appeal to Greek grammar on their part is simply a ploy.

 

Matt 2:20. Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life. (KJV)

 

God had Joseph and Mary take Christ into Egypt, the land of preservation, until the death of Herod. After his death, an angel informed Joseph that “they are dead which sought the young child’s life,” (Matthew 2:20). In the context, the one person who was seeking the child’s life was Herod. To reuse some of Mr. Nachimson’s words, “there isn’t one word in the context about more than one person seeking Christ’s life, thereby warranting the plural ‘they.’ The only way someone could come to such a ridiculous conclusion is by spending their time in Greek texts that they evidently don’t know how to read.” According to the analysis of Turner, the translation here should be “he is dead who sought the young child’s life.” Mr. Nachimson’s rule would again find error in the KJV.

 

Matt 16:18. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (KJV)

 

The “gates of hell” as found in Matthew 16:18 of the KJV should be “the gate of hell” according to Turner. Too bad the KJV translators were not better students of the Bible (to apply Nachimson’s reasoning).

 

Matt 22:7.  But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. (KJV)

 

Matt 22:7. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. (NIV)

 

Where the king “sent forth his armies” in Matthew 22:7 of the KJV, the correct translation, according to Turner, would be “sent forth his army,” which is how the passage is translated in the New International Version.

 

Matt 24:33. So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. (KJV)

 

Matt 24:33. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. (NIV)

 

Matt 24:33. even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. (NASB)

 

Where Matthew 24:33 in the KJV tells us that “it is near, even at the doors” Turner would translate, “it is near, even at the door.” Both the New International Version and the New American Standard avoid what Turner suggests is an error in the KJV.

 

Matt 28:9. And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. (KJV)

 

We are informed that “Zerwick (4b) suggests that the women of Mt 28:9 is a pl. of category referring only to Magdalene, in view of Jn 20:14-18.”[4] To follow this rule, the KJV must be corrected from, “And as they went to tell his disciples . . . “ to “And as she went to tell his disciples.”

 

Mark 2:20. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. (KJV)

 

Turner would have the first clause read “But the day will come,” thus indicating error in the KJV.

 

Luke 5:21. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? (KJV)

 

Luke 5:21. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, "Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (NIV)

 

Christ had made but one statement which the Jews would consider blasphemy. According to Turner, when the KJV in Luke 5:21 quotes the scribes and Pharisees as, “Who is this which speaketh blasphemies?” the rendering should be, “Who is this which speaketh blasphemy?” Once again, the NIV has the corrected reading.

 

John 13:4. He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. (KJV)

 

John 19:23. Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. (KJV)

 

In both of these verses, according to Turner, the plural “garments” should be a singular in English, thus indicating two more errors in the KJV.

 

Acts 21:28. Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place. (KJV)

 

The Jews made this accusation against the Apostle Paul based upon their supposition that he had taken one Greek, namely Trophimus, into the Temple. Turner, following Abel, suggests that the KJV is in error here because the plural “Greeks” should be translated as a singular.

 

Rom 9:4. Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; (KJV)

 

Eph 2:12. That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: (KJV)

 

In both of these passages, Turner suggests that the Greek plural of “covenants” should be rendered as singulars in English, which the King James translators failed to do.

 

Nachimson also quotes Daniel B. Wallace in support of translating Greek plurals as English singulars in certain passages. Dr. Wallace, of Dallas Theological Seminary, has written one of the newest and most helpful Greek grammars, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, from which Nachimson quotes.

 

John 6:26.  Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. (KJV)

 

In the context of John 6:26, the Jews had just seen one miracle, namely the feeding of the 5000 (compare 6:14). Wallace sees this as a clear example of a categorical plural, thus suggesting the translation, “because ye saw the miracle.”

 

Mark 15:32. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him. (KJV)

 

Here Wallace recognizes, as Turner did at Matthew 27:44, that only one of the two thieves reviled Christ (Luke 23:39-41). Such analysis suggests the translation, “And he who was crucified with him reviled him,” which once again indicates a flaw in the KJV.

 

Conclusion

 

Although Nachimson advocates a grammatical principle to vindicate the King James translation of Matthew 14:9, the consistent application of the principle to other similar passages in the New Testament provides a powerful argument against the perfection of the KJV. Nachimson imagines that those of us who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and yet reject his view of the KJV are on some desperate mission to find error in the version of 1611. In reality, our belief in the inerrancy of the Greek text as given by the Holy Spirit compels us to reject a manmade English translation that contradicts both itself in its various editions and the Greek text. We would be delighted if the KJV provided us with a perfect translation of God’s word. We must, however, live in the world as it is, not as we might like it to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Copyright 2004, James Richard May. This paper may be reproduced in its entirety for free distribution. All other rights reserved.

[2] Available at KJVOnly.org.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Nachimson are from his paper, “The Rudimentary Factor Underlying Infallibility: Alleged ‘Errors’ in the A.V. 1611.”

[4] Nigel Turner, Syntax, Vol. 3, James Hope Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963), p. 26.