Which vs. That and the King James Version

A friend and co-worker who is an avid Bible student shared a discovery with me. He noted the similarity between two verses in Proverbs:

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.  Proverbs 14:12

There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.  Proverbs 16:25

(I use the King James Version here because it is an important part of the story; trust me.)

Notice that the only difference between the two verses is that “which” becomes “that.” My friend went on, at some length and with much enthusiasm, about the different shades of meaning between these two verses and how they reveal an important truth (a truth that, sadly, I cannot remember). He concluded by singing praises about how “every jot and tittle” in the Scripture has been placed there for a reason. 

Now, I enjoy finding “nuggets of truth” (his description) like this. Intrigued, I rushed home and looked up the verses in my trusty NIV. I found this:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.  Proverbs 14:12

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.  Proverbs 16:25

Puzzling. No nugget there. I looked at my New American Standard; same thing. The verses were identical.

I do not read Hebrew, but I can at least recognize the characters enough to compare two verses side-by-side. So I went to the Hebrew:

Proverbs 14:12 —

יֵ֤שׁ דֶּ֣רֶךְ יָ֭שָׁר לִפְנֵי־אִ֑ישׁ וְ֝אַחֲרִיתָ֗הּ דַּרְכֵי־מָֽוֶת׃

Proverbs 16:25 —

יֵ֤שׁ דֶּ֣רֶךְ יָ֭שָׁר לִפְנֵי־אִ֑ישׁ וְ֝אַחֲרִיתָ֗הּ דַּרְכֵי־מָֽוֶת׃

(Apologies if some Hebrew characters do not render properly.)

At this point I began to doubt the value of my friend’s “discovery.” Apparently the “which” and “that” distinction was unknown to even to Solomon, who (under inspiration of the Holy Spirit) wrote these two verses using absolutely identical wording.

The King James team of translators ought to have noticed this parallelism and rendered the verses identically — as every other translation does, before and since. The most plausible explanation for the difference is a simple lack of attentiveness, an honest mistake.

What my friend had discovered is not a “nugget of truth.” It’s just a strange quirk of the particular translation he favors.

Now, I must point out that my friend is a King-James-Onlyist, who has preached to me on several occasions about the superiority – no, the inspired status – of the KJV. His take on these verses revealed to me the disturbing assumptions that underlie the KJVO philosophy.

In his mind, this cannot be a mistake. The only alternative explanation, for the KJVOists, is that the translators, working under divine guidance, produced a new thing: a perfect version of the Scriptures. The “nugget of truth,” unknown prior to 1611, was given to the world on that day. This would imply that the Hebrew they used as a source text (and, in fact, every Bible in existence) was imperfect, and they “perfected” it in the process of rendering it into English.

This belief requires faith in the sort of “new revelation from God” that the cultists are always claiming. I reject that idea. I believe this kind of thinking will lead one directly into a quagmire of false revelations and “nuggets of truth” that have no nutritional value.

I believe this: The Scriptures should periodically be re-translated, directly from the oldest and most reliable texts, into the current language of the people. This is the principle for which John Wycliffe, among others, gave his life. To force the world to read a Bible that is couched in archaic language that no one on earth speaks is to shroud God’s revealed Word in confusion and mystery, and to hinder the Gospel.

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One Response to Which vs. That and the King James Version

  1. Denes House says:

    Hear, hear! Good points. The KJV was awesome for its time, and probably no other translation before or since had as profound an effect on the world. But language has moved on, and our understanding of Biblical Greek and Hebrew (and Aramaic) has increased exponentially just in the last 100 years, due to enormous archaeological findings.

    I love the KJV. But the ESV is the one I study.

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