The importance of understanding your translation.

If you read it, you ought to know what it means.


If you are going to read the King James translation of the Bible, you ought to know King James English. Such a statement seems almost tautological, but I was recently reminded of its importance, and of the need for versions written in current dialect, in graphic fashion.

I came across a little booklet entitled Our Biblical Right to Keep and Bear Arms, by evangelist Bryan Sharp. My observation on this booklet has nothing to do with its overall argument, which is extremely fundamentalist in perspective.

On page 11 Sharp alternates the King James of Luke 22.36 (which the booklet presents in italicized and boldfaced type) with his own interpretive comments:

[Jesus] was about to depart this earth, so He gave them some final instruction to guide them when His physical presence was no longer with them. "...He that hath a purse, let him take it...." Keep your money with you. It's not the government's money. Your money is yours. "...and likewise his scrip...." That Bible is your Bible. That Bible doesn't belong in a bonfire. That Bible doesn't belong in a Bible-of-the-month club being rewritten. It's your Bible.

Luke 22.36 goes on to advise selling garments to buy swords, which advice Sharp takes quite literally (as the title of his booklet might suggest). But, again, it is not his overall point that is at issue for our purposes here.

My question, of course, as soon as I read this passage, was: How does Sharp get anything about the Bible out of the instruction to take along a scrip? That archaic English word translates the Greek πηραν, which means bag. Does Sharp simply assume that the most important thing that a Christian ought to tote in a bag is his or her Bible?

Alas, the answer is rather more embarrassing than that. A bit further down the same page Sharp writes (emphasis mine this time):

I get this liberal argument [about the sword in Luke 22.36], "He's talking about a Bible--the sword." Well, I think I've refuted that already. He mentioned the script and the sword....

Ah, there we are. Sharp has mistaken scrip for script, then read scripture into it. To give him the benefit of the doubt, he may have looked up the word scrip in a dictionary and found that it can indeed be a variant of script. But even a sideways glance at a current translation would have tipped him off that something in this interpretation was amiss, even if he had other reasons for rejecting the contemporary versions as authoritative.

In this case, it is not the translation itself that is at stake. Scrip is a fine translation of πηραν... if you speak King James English. If you do not, then scrip can be misleading, as we have seen.

Bryan Sharp, by his own words in the above quotation, rejects rewriting the Bible, yet in his neglect of more contemporary translations has ended up doing precisely that. He has, in effect, rewritten πηραν (bag) as γραφη (script). Not even Westcott and Hort can be held responsible for that rewrite.