the KJV’s built-in dictionary? there’s no such thing

[Originally posted with the title ‘Collective howls of derision’]

Among my spam today was something promising “a wonderful study in and of linguistics,” with a message addressed “Dear Linguist Enthusiast” from someone in Michigan saying he’s sure it would be a blessing to me to take a look at some website.

As it happened, there were three of us checking emails in the office at the same time, discovering we were all the happy recipients of the same invitation. On the principle of safety in numbers this allowed us to visit the site – and on the principles of common sense it allowed us to be aghast together at its desperate misguidedness.

Basically, it’s a self-important advertisement for a book which makes a number of somewhat astonishing claims. [1] It claims you can find the meaning of each Bible word inside the Bible itself. [2] It claims that leading computational linguists from the world’s leading universities have discovered the fountainhead of letter meanings. [3] It claims that research tools from Edinburgh University prove “the purity of the King James Version and the depravity of the new versions.” And in case you’re not suitably aghast yet, it claims [4] that only the King James Version can teach and comfort through its miraculous mathematically ordered sounds. (It’s here, by the way, just to prove I’m not making it up.)

Let me hold my hands up and admit that the King James Version is my own bible version of choice – but please also allow me to make it very clear that each of these things that are claimed for it are simply not true. They’re either incoherent, or misleading, or both, and I can only hope that the people who wrote this are only clueless, as opposed to being deliberately deceptive.

[1] For one thing, it doesn’t make sense to say that you can find out the meanings of words from the words themselves. It doesn’t matter what you’re reading: words don’t have inherent meaning, as you can tell as soon as you start learning another language (or indeed thinking calmly about your own). The word ‘dog’ has an arbitrary relation to its meaning, if you’ll excuse me resorting to the textbook example – there’s no reason why we couldn’t use the word Hund or chien just like they do in Germany and France. In addition, supposing the bible happened to contain a verse which mentioned ‘dogs and canines,’ this would not define ‘dog’ for you (contra pretty much everything said in the pdf about the KJV’s so-called built-in dictionary, which I’m enough of a sucker to have browsed far enough to have read). You can’t define words by other words – at some point, you come full circle and discover you’ve ‘defined’ it by itself. This much is fundamental.

[2] It’s also pretty easy to dispute what’s said about computational linguists. Without being one myself, I’m still fairly sure they don’t make it a large part of their research endeavour to discover the fountainhead of letter meanings. Letters, for one thing, don’t have meanings. Fountainheads, meanwhile, are a hitherto unknown technical term whose use may in fact be restricted to the domain of avpublications.com. Either way, it doesn’t inspire confidence in their scholarship.

[3] Nor am I familiar with the research tools provided by Edinburgh University for deciding what bible versions are pure or depraved – especially not on the basis of age. This may be a good place to say that while I prefer the King James Version, it’s generally recognised that it is not “pure” in any absolute sense – it has unfortunate translations, it hasn’t benefited from any scholarship subsequent to the 17th century, and in any case, it is only a translation, one which the translators themselves fully realised was as error-prone as any other human effort, however carefully undertaken. Alternative versions, some of which are, indeed, “modern,” vary both in terms of the manuscripts they’re based on and in their closeness to those manuscripts, but the mere fact that they’re (a) modern or (b) not the King James Version is no reason to dismiss them all as depraved. And I’m still not sure what kind of “tool” you’d be looking at in order to reach a conclusion on this, one way or the other.

[4] Finally (from me – there’s plenty more on the website) – it isn’t remotely instructive or comforting to think of the KJV consisting of “‘miraculous’ mathematically ordered sounds.” Note: printed texts don’t consist of sounds. They’re only audible when you turn the pages, or perhaps when they’re being used to bash people. Note 2: the only mathematical ordering I’ve found in the bible is that of the positive integers used to number the pages, chapters, and verses. Note 3: the words which the King James does consist of were put together by a series of honest men who used their scholarly knowledge of Greek and Hebrew to bring the scriptures within the reach of people whose native language happened to be English. If arcane mysteries emerge from some distortion of the words or their letters, that’s neither here nor there in terms of getting teaching or comfort from the bible: you’d uncover pretty much the same wondrous revelations by applying the same techniques to any other tome of your choice.

By making such grossly over-inflated claims (not to say dishonest ones) these people make themselves a laughingstock – whether you have an academic interest in linguistics or not. But they also don’t care about dragging other Christians down with them. It’s not absurd to prefer the King James version for your daily readings – but it is most decidedly absurd to believe it’s inspired, or infallible, or somehow linguistically “pure”. Again, it’s not absurd to believe that the scriptures are inspired and infallible and (morally) pure – but you can’t equate the King James version with inspired scripture. God’s word is perspicuous and compelling, and God’s word is perfect, converting the soul, and God’s word is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword – but these things are not true in any absolute sense of any translation, including the King James. The claims of King James Onlyites, regrettably, do far more damage to the reputation of the bible by their hyperbole-not-to-say-fraudulence than the plain confessions of ordinary Christians can do in its favour.

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47 thoughts on “the KJV’s built-in dictionary? there’s no such thing

  1. You’ve only just now heard of Gail Riplinger? Her New Age Bible Versions has sold upwards of a half million copies. She gives lectures and some of these talks can be found on the internet.

    This particular book, In Awe of Thy Word, is not all chaff. There is alot of wheat in it. If you value the AV 1611 you’re likely to find many interesting sections.

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  2. Having read your entire post I’d suggest gently that you reconsider some of the things you’ve written, or just hold off a little until you know more of what you criticize. Riplinger is mocked relentlessly (a bit too relentlessly) by those who champion the Alexandrian texts and who, even when they deny it, basically have a ‘thing’ against the King James Version. Riplinger, it has to be said, exposes much in their camp. They don’t like it.

    With all influences use discernment to separate the wheat from the chaff. I wouldn’t write off Riplinger any more than I’d buy everything someone like James White says about the manuscript issues. Discernment. And don’t be afraid to go against the opinion of the world…

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  3. Um, hi Robert.

    No, I’d heard of Riplinger before – the only reason I wrote this post was after our whole department was spammed about the avpublications.com site.

    You’ll also notice that even tho my post is quite (inordinately!) long, I didn’t mentioned the Alexandrian texts or any manuscript issues at all. All four of the claims I’m disputing are on the front page of the site we were spammed about, and each of them is spurious.

    The title of the post, perhaps, I admit, might do with some toning down – but I’m standing by the rest.

    Cath

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  4. “it doesn’t make sense to say that you can find out the meanings of words from the words themselves.”

    Well, whether one has or sees any practical application in what is being talked about regarding ‘built-in dictionary’ this isn’t what it is. And what Riplinger is talking about was known by translators such as Wycliffe and Tyndale.

    “Note: printed texts don’t consist of sounds. They’re only audible when you turn the pages, or perhaps when they’re being used to bash people.”

    Words consist of sounds though. The Word of God is not only to be read but to be proclaimed. Yet even when read silently words certainly carry or project their sounds. “The silent, slithery snake” can’t be read silently without the s sounds making an impact.

    Anyway, as I said, there is chaff in Riplinger’s book(s), but there is a surprising amount of wheat as well. She digs things up. Of course it is de rigeur to mock Riplinger and to not admit that anything she’s written is worth a serious person’s time, but I don’t live in that particularly political-correct environment. I admire her zeal; she has a real faith; and as I stated above, she DOES expose things in the Alexandrian camp that they just simply don’t like being exposed.

    One aspect of her book In Awe of Thy Word that is worth engaging is some of the history of the various translation (not just English) along with some of the things the older translators knew of that have been lost in time.

    A side note: Riplinger is not a Calvinist, obviously. Yet if you listen to her talks she references Calvinists as being the most zealous for the Word of God (at least prior to the 19th century), and she references people like Foxe (I mean she really admires Foxe) acknowledging his Calvinism. Basically, though, she has a home base in a certain Baptist church culture and stays there. One gets the sense she is so beseiged she doesn’t mind having a home base to lean on…

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  5. ‘Letters, for one thing, don’t have meanings. Fountainheads, meanwhile, are a hitherto unknown technical term whose use may in fact be restricted to the domain of avpublications.com.’

    :D

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  6. Robert,

    the so-called “built-in dictionary” is a farce, I’m afraid. There *is* no practical application, because it doesn’t make sense. In the pdf I linked to in the post, this claim is made:

    My examination of the 1000 most difficult words in the KJV reveals that God defines all of them, in the context, in their first usage, using the very words of the Webster’s or Oxford English Dictionary.

    One example of this, provided on p5 of the pdf, is the word ‘adamant,’ which happens to occur in two places in the OT, once in the phrase “an adamant harder than flint,” and once in the phrase, “an adamant stone.” The argument then goes: (a) Webster’s dictionary defines ‘adamant’ as “a very hard stone,” (b) the words ‘hard’ and ‘stone’ occur in the bible in the same place as it uses the word ‘adamant’, (c) therefore the bible provides its own built-in definition of the word ‘adamant.’

    The problem with this is, firstly, that the phrase “an adamant harder than flint” does NOT define the word ‘adamant’ (it’s simply a phrase which happens to contain that word) and, secondly, it’s not particularly interesting or insightful to notice that words often collocate with other words which mean roughly the same thing. — So when Webster’s happens to define this word using another word which just happens to collocate with it in the prophecy of Ezekiel, well, so what.

    (This is of course quite apart from the two obvious methodological problems with the so-called research – how the words were identified as ‘difficult’ in the first place, and how the choice of these two dictionaries, Webster’s and the OED, was arrived at. Unless you’re doing lexicography, you just don’t do serious linguistic research relying on dictionaries.)

    Btw – re the “words consist of sounds” thing – it’s actually a very fundamental principle of language-related studies that spoken language and written language should be kept separate. If you want to study them together, it needs to be done carefully. But using terms like the KJV’s “‘miraculously’ ordered sounds” is such a clanger – it makes it clear that the basic understanding of this fundamental principle is very much lacking in these publications.

    So altho I’m not part of a circle where it’s de rigeur to mock Riplinger, I do know that making incoherent claims like these is one of the best ways known to mankind for ensuring that serious people don’t take you seriously – whether they’re overdefensive about the Alexandrian texts or not.

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    • I know this reply is a little late, but…….Incoherent claims? It was pretty coherent to me and I’m no scholar. I read her books referenced and I understand it. She does in fact tell how she arrived at using the said dictionaries. In fact she makes clear in her writings and speaking that the OED and Websters that she is referring to got their definitions from the bible as it was the English reference of the day. The KJV was the common bible for many years and was part of the culture. It was how most people got an education. You guys make the wild claims that the KJV has such gross errors and translation blunders, additions, etc. but can’t back a one of them up. (I’m not pro KJV for any other reason than I’ve done my homework and the anti-KJV only’s just haven’t proven their claims). Your answers sound good but have no substance, it just sounds good and that’s about all. You guys poo poo stuff like this but offer no answers to us who have questions about where is absolute truth about God. You believe in a God who really and truly split the Red Sea but that the same God is not capable of preserving his word as promised. If you do believe in a God who is capable to keep that promise, you believe that He just didn’t do it. Its probable therefore, when you read passages about the purity of God’s word or his promise to preserve it for generations, you relegate that to translators’s errors or additions too. The author of this article are like so many in that they believe the bible to be the same as any other book. To them it is not a supernatural book. So, its no surprise that you couldn’t accept the kjv (or any translation for that fact) as possessing “miraculously’ ordered sounds”. Does God hide his word to babes or the wise and prudent? The mantra from the author is typical of unbelieving believers…”if you want to know the truth, you must go to the scholars”, God certainly wouldn’t give us little people the truth, we have to go to the Strong’s or Vine’s et. al. Phooey! Its all there in the KJV. It is not hard to read, it makes perfect sense, its very accurate. A challenge: Give me one error in the KJV. Be glad to answer it if I can. They’ve all been answered.

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  7. ‘Adament’ would be singled out as difficult by the anti-KJV people. This is the only reason why it would be made an example. And the example given very much does give a general meaning of the word, as it is being used by Scripture.

    You’re bringing your background to this and I would suggest reading more into it than the book or the is claiming for itself or for the things it’s presenting (many of which though were things known to folks like Tyndale and Wycliffe). Basically, the argument for the built-in dictionary is to counter claims by the Alexandrian folks that the KJV (and really, implied by them, the Bible itself) is just ‘too hard to undertand’ and what not.

    Anyway, lexicons are not infallible authorities themselves for the meanings of words.

    As for the sounds of words (written or spoken) that is discussed more in the realm of poetry and how words communicate rather than in any more sterile discipline of language study.

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  8. Okay, so firstly, i’ll pretend not to notice you writing off my whole discipline as sterile 8-0

    Secondly, i agree that lexicons (i take it you mean dictionaries) aren’t infallible authorities … but then isn’t it a bit strange how they’re so crucial for the claims made in chapter 1 of that book – they’re cited as authorities which validate those claims, yet now we agree that they’re not even all that authoritative.

    Thirdly, if the point is *only* that the KJV isn’t as hard to read as people make out, then that would be great. But it is completely unnecessary, as well as counterproductive, to dress up and surround that very reasonable statement with all the rubbish on that site! (I only picked FOUR claims which jumped out straight away – the rest is equally nonsensical and equally ripe for exactly the same kind of dismantling.) It’s a bit like children doing long division in primary school – sometimes they get the right answer, but by completely the wrong working. Except it’s not really like that, is it, because children struggling with long division usually get over it in the end, whereas Riplinger’s strategy, judging by what you’re saying, has only been to make her mistakes wilder and wilder as time goes by.

    Finally, can i suggest that the only reason why people might think that the word ‘adamant’ is DEFINED in a phrase such as “an adamant harder than flint” where it’s only being MENTIONED, is because they already know what the word means (and it’s only because it’s one of so many similar examples that they don’t stop to wonder whether it isn’t in fact tautologous to say “an adamant harder than flint”).

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  9. Good… I completely agree with this point:

    “The claims of King James Onlyites, regrettably, do far more damage to the reputation of the bible by their hyperbole-not-to-say-fraudulence than the plain confessions of ordinary Christians can do in its favour”

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  10. I think people discern the truth through all the noise from either side (and whatever more sides are making noise) when they can discern the truth. For me, any overstatement from the pro-KJV (or, speaking of manuscripts, pro-Traditional Text side) is mitigated by the fact that what the other side is presenting is ‘half pregnancy’ (which is full pregnancy) and the child in that womb has strange, red-colored eyes…

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  11. You seem to be saying that you like this stuff even though it’s rubbish, just because it’s not anti-KJV.

    But I honestly think you could set your sights a lot higher! That’s a very very low standard of acceptance for the arguments the Riplinger side is presenting – surely it would benefit everyone to recognise that nonsensical puffed up claims like these should be dismissed out of hand – then those of us who like the KJV wouldn’t be burdened with apologising for them, while people who have problems with the KJV could be met on some more intellectually viable basis.

    Nobody should feel obliged to tolerate gibberish, when so many of the criticisms of the KJV can be countered on much more solid grounds than these. We don’t need to make things up in order to defend it!

    (And note that I’m only saying “many of the criticisms of the KJV can be countered” – it would also be helpful to recognise that it really isn’t perfect! ‘The best we’ve got so far,’ is a big enough claim to be going on with.)

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  12. Once again: think wheat and chaff. Think ‘degree’. Riplinger isn’t all chaff. And her faith is real. Refreshingly zealous. Stands her ground against many fools and the opinion of the world. And she really, really does expose the Alexandrian side. And she really, really does dig up some interesting things in the realm of the history of English (and other languages) translation of the Holy Sciptures. And look up her responses to James White and other critics regarding ‘solid ground’ and ‘intellectually viable’…

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  13. I haven’t read In Awe of Thy Word yet, but I do have a copy. I have been testing the “built in dictionary” to see if it works. Riplinger states that it will be defined in its first usage. I found froward in psalm 101, I don’t have a clue what froward means. I look it up in my lexicons and it says crooked or perverse, etc, etc. Most of them didn’t elaborate too much on the subject. Anyway, I looked up the first instance of froward and couldn’t find anything in the surrounding verses to back it up(Deuteronomy 32). So I’m thinking she’s out of her mind. However, Riplinger states to look at the peg words (words surrounding the difficult word) one of the pegs with froward is generation. I search generation in the chapter and in verse five we find crooked. I’m not saying it works everytime like is claimed, but I’m investigating it. We can’t knock something before we try it or read it. can we?

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    • Pro 4:24 Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.

      Looks pretty simple to me. Actually, it’s quite cool. My kids grew up reading KJV and they used the built-in dictionary. They have quite a vocabulary, today.

      Froward = Perverse

      In case you are still not convinced: Here are two more.

      Pro 8:8 All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them.

      Pro 17:20 He that hath a froward heart findeth no good: and he that hath a perverse tongue falleth into mischief.

      Now, what is so hard about that. The Holy Spirit is the best teacher. Explains words and re-emphasizes the point constantly.

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      • Rick,

        This adds nothing new to the discussion.

        If froward = perverse, what does perverse mean?

        No irony intended.

        See point [1] in the original post, and the first part of this comment https://ninetysixandten.wordpress.com/2007/03/05/collective-howls-of-derision/#comment-62, for why Riplinger’s claims remain utterly unconvincing. You call it marginalisation, we call it ‘life is too short’.

        Let me also give notice here that I won’t have much patience with any further postings which merely reiterate what has previously been said: from now on they’re unlikely to make it through comment moderation.

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  14. I don’t really have much to say about the book itself – my reaction is based on the claims which were advertised on the site.

    I think the point numbered [1] in the original post, in conjunction with my reply #6, covers what you’re alluding to with this example.

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    • The book is actually very good. I had no idea about the things she talked about, but when explained, I could see what she meant. Especially, regarding the natural syncopation and rythmn of the KJV. Very easy to memorize. Robert K., has very reasoned and level-headed things to say. I agree that Riplinger has taken an inordinate and unexplainable amount of criticism. It just seems way over the top for the “wheat” that she produces.

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  15. Just going to leave the words of our Lord and Savior
    Jesus Christ with you. You just read this and pray.

    John 5:39 KJV
    ==========
    Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have
    eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

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  16. good grief. I never read all this before. they’re serious!

    8-0

    Still, one step ahead of the woman this chap I know got talking to at a bus stop in Oxford – he couldn’t work out for ages what was odd about the conversation, until he worked out that she thought that the AV was the Bible, that is, the original version, not a translation!

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  17. Just going to leave the words of our Lord and Savior
    Jesus Christ with you. You just read this and pray.

    John 5:39-40 RSV
    ==========
    You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

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  18. I’m reluctant to say publicly exactly how astounded I was when someone told me about KJV-Onlyism several years ago (reluctant because it would probably only add to their existing martyr complex). But yes, they really do seem to be serious.

    And that choice of verses from John 5 are decidedly ironic, it did strike me at the time :)

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    • I too think KJV onlyism has it’s extremists, but if you could just see yourselves and how ridiculous you look in the way that you are marginalizing the KJV crowd. It really does not help your side to be so poisonous. You probably have such a bad attitude against Riplinger that your bias would not even allow you to read In Awe of Thy Word and get anything out of it.

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      • Amen. I am not KJV-Only and I just have to agree with all your reasoned posts, Rick. A friend sent me New Age Bible Translations and I was absolutely astounded how the New Age Versions actually change the meaning of long held orthodox doctrines. Well, that was my intro to Riplinger. On my own, I did purchase In Awe of God’s Word which is really astounding and edifying. I have also noticed the inordinate amount of criticism and poisonous attacks against her. That by itself, caused me to stand up and wonder if she was hitting some nerve or uncovering something that someone was trying to protect. Who knows, maybe sales from Bibles. I also find it interesting that Modern Christendom will agree that the Adversary has a counterfeit for everything from God, but stop short when speaking of the Bible. Yet, the first thing he did in the garden was to change God’s word.

        I have personally learned quite a bit from her books and also see her as a very brave person.

        As I said, I am not KJV-Only but I am certainly KJV-Preferred, now. I personally just don’t like how the meaning of scriptures have changed with the “New Age” Bible versions as she calls thems. Which is pretty accurate since the doctrines of these Bibles do support New Age beliefs. Anyway, that is what bothers me the most.

        Joe

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      • Amen Rick, The demonization for Riplinger is astounding. Mostly, her detractors focus on her sarcasm or things she interjects that have nothing to do with her case she’s made. Like it or not, she has done her homework, she has collated tons of material, yet is called a “shoddy scholar” (but can’t point out the shoddiness). At least they recognize her as a scholar. She does not consider herself one. I personally don’t give a flyin flip about what scholars think. You can read and understand the Bible for yourself without a degree from a seminary or bible college…and without the aid (band-aid) of a commentary or Heb/Gk lexicon or what the majority of scholars say or what “orthodoxy” says (what has been decided by the church to be true for centuries. Hey scholars, If it ain’t Bible, its ain’t orthodox!!) The KJV was translated correctly and it means what it says. Its simple to understand. School children have cut their teeth on it for centuries. I have had Sunday School children read and understand it. They prefer it. They love to memorize it since it has rhythm and rimes. Jesus said we must be as children, not full of dead men’s ideas and beliefs. Our human heroes should first be Bible Characters (for lack of a better word) before Christian ministry, scholars, missionaries, etc., etc. All that call yourself Christians…free yourself from the Heb/Gk trap (Strong’s and Vines is no viable authority) and what the scholars have determined to be true…so it must be true nonsense. Most of that stuff is a study in unbelief and keeps the word of God hidden and also stifles what God is trying to say to you.

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        • I have Gail Riplinger’s book regarding the KJV’s built-in dictionary, but I find it to be more of a built-in Thesaurus (which is a kind of dictionary). Of that, it is undeniable, but technically, I would not call it a “built-in dictionary” but rather a built-in Thesaurus. A Thesaurus presupposes you know your source word and are looking for similar words or looking to understand similar words. But, a dictionary presupposes that you are not ignorant and can read and understand, too. Otherwise, you won’t understand the explanation you look up.

          Eze 2:10 And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.
          lamentations, mourning and woe.

          Pro 30:2 Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.
          brutish, no understanding

          Ecc 2:2 I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?
          Laughter and mirth.

          I can’t say it gives a direct explanation, but it does give a clue to the meaning.

          Pro 14:13 Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.
          Laughter and mirth

          Pro 18:15 The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.
          Prudent and wise

          The KJV defines words using several other words and merely sheds some light on the term in question, since no two words are absolutely identical in meaning and tone.

          It must always be remembered that we read the Bible to learn of and draw nearer to our beloved Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. His name is called, The Word of God. It is not an academic exercise. Only He can open the scriptures to us. “Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures…” (Luke 24:45)

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          • I concur completely. Some time ago I started reading the KJB for just what’s there, as generations before us did, with the premise that it was accurately translated. What I have found is it makes perfect sense just like it is. I stopped attaching modern grammar rules, and claims of Heb/Gk grammar rules among many other claims of reasons for mistranslation, ad nauseam. What is there in English can, not only, be understood just as it is, but it has meaning all its own. This is being downplayed by the academic approach (for lack of better term) that offers a different view than what is there. Endless commentaries (new & old), scholars (which ones?), Heb/Gk linguists & Lexicons,, “oldest and best” MSS, plethora of differing modern versions, numerous and ever changing editions of critical texts, etc. is supposed to be a preponderance of evidence to look in that direction for interpretation. What you get though, is not bread from heaven, but ENDLESS study of sawdust. It takes you from personal BIBLE (only) study – relationship with God who is the only who can open our understanding by the Holy Ghost, TO the “Scholars” (like they have this direct connection to God, via academics) who have made understanding the living word of God a science. So to understand the God of the Bible you have to learn (or attempt to learn) the science. The bottom line is that Scholars just want us to keep going to them for the answers. I thank God through Jesus Christ that I am free from the scholars and roughly a hundred and fifty years of their voluminous sidetracking gobbledygook. “…And the common people heard him gladly.” Mk 12:37. One thing I have found consistent with the latter is that only the KJV is questionable, but, they all get a pass and are rarely if ever under scrutiny.
            It is very subtle. Most people will never think to question it. But when someone dares to question them, there is a huge uproar. Studying your BIBLE & praying for understanding of it is somewhat of a novelty among us, yet so simple.

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  19. Hi Cath, wandering around here after seeing you at the Outhouse. Great site here. This post fascinates me on a number of levels. (And I haven’t even followed the link to go marvel at the craziness yet!)

    First off, I LOVE Edinburgh. I spent two years at Imperial (lived in Reading), and my wife & I spent Easter 2000 in Edinburgh. If I had been Reformed at the time, I would have gone to St. Giles to gawk, but instead we went to a tiny (psalm-only) church I couldn’t appreciate. I recall it being on the south side of High st, about halfway up the hill. And we bought our celtic wedding bands at a little shop on a little street that curved downhill south from High st. Fantastic city, one of my favorites that I’ve ever visited!

    Second, being a phonologist from Edinburgh, do you associate with the computer speech guys there? I was looking at text-to-speech stuff recently (my church is planning to TTS a lot of old Reformed/Puritan writings and host the mp3 on our website), and Edinburgh seems to be a leading center (excuse me, centre) for that research.

    Third, as a linguist, you might be very interested to hear this debate I moderated. I’m currently looking for a KJV-onlyist (or Textus Receptus fanatic) to take on Mark Strauss in another debate.

    Fourthly, you struck a nerve with this comment:

    You can’t define words by other words – at some point, you come full circle and discover you’ve ‘defined’ it by itself. This much is fundamental.

    This is somewhat true. If you look at a dictionary, I’m sure you find that the word “banana” is defined using other words, but few to no other words are defined using the word “banana”. I.e. there is a dependency structure. For many years now, I’ve been wanting to make time to computationally determine the dependency structure of a language, by taking a dictionary (like this one), create the dependency graph that represents “word A is defined using word B”, and compute what is called the sink connected component of the graph (like f,g in this picture)

    The result would undoubtedly include simple words like a, the, and, is, etc., but how many more words? This set could also be understood as the “core” of a language; the minimum set of words you need to understand to understand the rest of the language — to be able to read a dictionary, since all definitions will eventually resolve down to this set of words. Of course, you can’t really compute the “core” of a language per se, but only of a particular dictionary. So I’d want to get ahold of softcopies of many english dictionaries and compare their cores; and expand to other languages, see how core size is a measure of intrinsic language complexity. Also, I’d be curious as to the relationship between the core of a language, and the growth of vocabulary in early child development (how close is the core of a language to the set of a words a 3-year old knows? A 5-year old?)

    Do you know, is this an existing concept already within linguistics? Maybe somebody’s done this already and I can just read about it instead of doing the work?

    Anyways, nice to “meet” you, sorry for the novella of a comment, keep up the good work on the blog!

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  20. Hello!

    Interesting stuff. I had to go home and read a book on lexical semantics before I could reply.

    TTS isn’t really my thing, but Tim the Friendly Humanist who comments here sometimes might be able to tell you more (Tim?). I’ve worked (= played a fringe role) on a project with Simon King, who does a lot of stuff on speech synthesis, and our phonology research group has close links with CSTR, which is sort of cross-disciplinary between informatics and linguistics, and is all about synthesis and speech recognition — but that’s about as close as it gets I’m afraid! And one of my best phd-buddies started off in speech technology, before recovering enough to do her thesis on something acousticy and phonological instead. Wouldn’t it be fun to collaborate with some historical linguists to synthesise what an actual C17th London preacher might have sounded like. (Apart from completely incomprehensible, of course.)

    (There seems to be a problem with the mp3s on your site – I don’t seem to be able to download them?)

    I also wish I knew more about corpus linguistics. I’m trying to remember what I was thinking when I wrote that sentence, and I think it might have been something to do with the problem in semantics that using language to refer to itself can only take you so far, before you need to break out of the language system and make connections with the real world, the extra-linguistic reality. (Quite apart from the absurdity of sitting down, being already literate, and attempting to use any specific text to define, truly define, words you truly don’t know: obviously you learn a lot from context, and collocations, but texts other than dictionaries and textbooks rarely offer strict definitions of any of the terms they use.)
    But as an exercise in dictionary analysis: I don’t know. If the aim was to find a core of words that have real ecological validity as a language’s core vocabulary, excluding function words, it might be better to use a corpus of conversational speech. Or if it’s a question of the minimum terms someone would need to know in order to interpret a dictionary assuming no other world knowledge, hmm, I don’t know – it might only tell you something about the lexicographical conventions observed by the compilers of the dictionaries you used, but it’s bound to be doable. Maybe it’s just not my cup of tea, but dictionaries seem to be useful as sort of disembowelled lists of things, and very searchable etc, but they’re not so good for giving you a feel for what’s really going on when people speak/write to each other – even on the level of sense relations – synonymy, antonymy, metyonymy, etc, which dictionaries can’t really convey even if they do notate the more obvious ones.

    As for child language: it would depend which core vocab we’re talking about – the core vocab of everyday conversation, which you’d establish from a corpus of everyday conversation, and might well expect to be early acquired, or the core vocab of dictionary language, which you might not expect to be acquired till dictionaries became a fact of life, in primary school, maybe. ‘Age of acquisition’ is a property of words that psycholinguists care a lot about, along with frequency, animacy, imageability, etc, etc – the words in the MRC Psycholinguistic Database (http://www.psy.uwa.edu.au/mrcdatabase/uwa_mrc.htm) are tagged for AOA and various other measures – not sure how precise/exhaustive it is, but that would be one kind of source for establishing what children know or are thought to know by various ages. Or there’s CHILDES, http://childes.psy.cmu.edu/ , a collection of transcripts of children in conversation, from the youngest possible ages.

    Come back and visit Edinburgh again sometime!

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  21. using language to refer to itself can only take you so far, before you need to break out of the language system and make connections with the real world

    Yes, and I was thinking that dictionary analysis might provide some insight into where that “so far” ends. As you say though, dictionaries might be inherently flawed, because the type of language you find in a dictionary definition is nothing like natural spoken language; and dictionaries are probably no analogy of how language is acquired anyways!

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  22. Pingback: the linguistics of inspiration* « ninetysix and ten

      • Yeah, she is a College Professor. How can one not recognize the built-in dictionary. Well, it’s more like a Thesaurus. Using a Thesaurus you can often arrive at the meaning of a word. New Age Bible versions destroy the KJV Thesaurus.

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  23. SORRY , You are wrong on two parts – First ” For one thing, it doesn’t make sense to say that you can find out the meanings of words from the words themselves” “You can’t define words by other words” This was very un-educated.

    Then why do we have a dictionary? to find the definition(s) of a word among words.

    The first law of Biblical hermeneutics is, always compare Scripture with Scripture: Anything you deal with there are rules.

    Example: the word sin, what does it mean? Let’s compare Scripture with Scripture (word’s with word’s).

    1 John 5:17 All unrighteousness is sin…

    1 John 3:4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the
    transgression of the law.

    Websters 1828 -1. The voluntary departure of a moral agent from a known rule of rectitude or duty, prescribed by God; any voluntary transgression of the divine law, or violation of a divine command; a wicked act; iniquity

    Secondly “printed texts don’t consist of sounds” Yes they can they are called onomonopias. The Old Batman show used them.
    Example “the rustling of the purple curtain”.

    Really, it’s not hard unless there is an addenda.
    Cheers

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  24. Honestly, it’s true, I promise: the *meaning* of words refers to something *outside* the language system, *not* other words.

    Equally honest: printed texts don’t consist of sounds. They really don’t. The symbols have conventional associations with sounds, but they’re visual, not audible.

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  25. Hey, just to let ya’ll know, I find that the meaning of something obscure (or not obscure) in the KJV Bible is usually found in the context. While many are tearing down Riplinger’s claims, many people are getting understanding from just reading their Bibles…without a Heb/Gk dictionary. It works. I no longer use Strong’s except for its concordance. I may use a dictionary occasionally but with wariness. I am thankful to now save a lot of time, money that is so unnecessary in Bible interpretation. I have added my knees to my arsenal of study material. I have found out that interpretation comes from God (not so-called godly scholars). 1 Cor 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (yeah, I read and know the context here, I don’t need a dissertation on how I have possibly misused this verse). May you also get to know the Lord better as you prayerfully read his word without commentaries and lexical dictionaries.

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  28. A quick comment on the following statement (which Cath rightly objects to): “It claims you can find the meaning of each Bible word inside the Bible itself.”

    The first question that arises is, from whence did the translators of the Authorised Version get the meanings of the words, so as to translate them from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, into English? I am presently working on a Master’s degree at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. I am taking a course entitled ‘The History of Biblical Hebrew Grammars and Lexicons’. It is taught by Professor Yosef Ofer, who himself edited the official Hebrew Bible of the Israeli Knesset, the Keter Yerushalaim. Professor Ofer fully believes in the plenary inspiration of the Hebrew Bible, that the author of it is God, and that it is inspired in every word and that all the original letters of each word have been faithfully preserved in every generation.

    With regards to the above statement – ‘one can determine all the meanings of the Biblical words merely from the context of the words themselves only within the Bible, without having any knowledge whatsoever of the languages themselves’ – there was a man during the tenth century by the name of Menachem ben Saruq, who had that very philosophy. He considered it blasphemous to make any comparisons of Hebrew words with Aramaic of Arabic words. He also considered that it was only valid to consider the use of the Hebrew words as they occur in the Bible itself. Extra-biblical literature, according to him, was not even to be considered.

    This man then wrote a lexicon called ‘Machberet’. It is full of errors. Many of the errors occur because Menachem failed to note parallel grammatical structures, particularly in verb roots, that occur in Arabic. Menachem’s work was proven wrong by a man named Dunash Labrat. Because Dunash’s proofs, the Jews destroyed Menachem’s house, and drove him out.

    Later, a man named Yehudah Hayyuj (of whom the Puritan John Owen writes) wrote a brilliant grammar that explained the weak letters in Hebrew, based upon his knowledge of parallel structures in Arabic. Through this brilliant book, the secrets of Hebrew grammatical structures was unlocked for succeeding generations. Prior to this time, the Jews had depended entirely on oral tradition. But through Hayyuj’s brilliant work in linguistics, documentation of the grammatical rules was possible.

    Subsequently, the knowledge of Hebrew grammar blossomed, culminating in the work of the famed David Kimchi, who wrote a grammar called ‘Michlol’. Johannes Reuchlin then translated a simplified version of this grammar into Latin, and from Reuchlin’s work, the Protestant Reformation learned Hebrew grammar. Prior to this time – from 500 A D to 1500 A D – not a single Christian had copied even one Hebrew manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible, and the knowledge of the Hebrew language, had entirely been preserved by the Jews. And the Jews exerted great pains in order to the preservation of the knowledge of the sacred language! It took linguistics. It took knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, Mishnaic Hebrew, and Arabic. Many words there are in Isaiah and in the Minor Prophets which can only be known from their Arabic counterparts.

    So – in answer to the above – it is nonsense to say you can understand the words of the Bible only from the Bible itself. The Bible uses words from languages. The original languages must be learned and mastered, just as the preservers themselves of the languages had to master them.

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