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Monday, 10 July 2006

"Peddling" the word of God?

97629 ou gar esmen ws oi polloi kaphleuontes ton logon tou Qeou
"For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God" -NKJV

It's been said facetiously that a good definition of the KJV-only position is the belief that any Bible that doesn't have 'corrupt' in 2 Corinthians 2:17, is. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that, I would like to critically evaluate the ways that kapeyleuontes has been translated into English.

To begin with, kapeyleuontes is a hapax legomenon, that is, a word only used once in the New Testament.
Thus it is difficult to translate without having any other context to help determine meaning. This is some of what the B-A-G lexicon has under this word:
kapeleuo. trade in, peddle, huckster (of retail trade), Isaiah 1:22 also fig. adulterate (so Vulgate, Syriac, Gothic). . .

Let's look at Isaiah 1:22 as literally translated from the Septuagint and the Vulgate:

LXX: Your silver is worthless, thy wine merchants mix the wine with water.

Vulgate: Thy silver is turned into dross: thy wine is mingled with water.

OK, so the LXX is making a passive into an active and supplying the subject, which has been translated into English as 'merchants'. But what is being emphasized in this verse is not the act of selling the wine, but the act of illicitly diluting (i.e. corrupting) it before the sale. It's in parallel with the analogous act of debasing the currency (which also fails to come across in most translations, but that's another point). Thus from this use of kapeyloi in the Greek OT, we see the connotation of selling under false pretenses. Moving on now to 2 Corinthians 2:17, we look again at the Vulgate:

"For we are not as many, adulterating the word of God"

How was this translated in the earliest English Bible? Let's check Wycliffe (All spelling is updated):

"For we be not as many, that do adultery by the word of God."

OK, Wycliffe misunderstood the connotation of adulterantes here as adultery rather than adulteration.

Better move on to Tyndale, who had the advantage of being able to read both Erasmus' eclectic Greek text and his Latin translation & commentary--as well as Luther's translation into German based on Erasmus. He translated:

"For we are not as many are, which chop and change with the word of God"

See the return to the idea of 'adulterate'; Luther had:

"For we are not as the many, which falsify the word of God"

This meaning continued to be carried forward in subsequent revisions of the English New Testament.

Coverdale 1535 left Tyndale as he found it, apparently using an English idiom of the 16th century:

"For we are not as many are, which chop & change with the word of God"

Geneva 1560 changed the wording to reflect the 'merchant' connotation, but left the 'corrupt' connotation in a footnote:

"For we are not as many, which *make merchandise of the word of God" (*that is, preach for gain, & corrupt it to serve men's affections)

Bishops' 1568 removed the footnote, but--significantly--returned to the wording of Tyndale:
"For we are not as many are, which chop & change with the word of God "

The KJV 1611 left out the footnote, but incorporated its meaning into the text, giving a different shade of meaning in a new footnote:

"For we are not as many which *corrupt (*deal deceitfully with) the word of God"

In all of these English versions we see the difficulty of fully expressing the full connotation of kapeleuo. It consists of:

1) Taking a pure product (whether coins or wine) and mixing in a much cheaper product of little intrinsic value;
2) Passing the adulterated product off as the real thing;
3) In order to realize dishonest gain.

Thus Paul is referring to other preachers who
1) Take the word of God & mix into it corrupting elements;
2) Pass this 'new and improved' gospel off as genuine;
3) In order to realize some profit from their audience.

The charge the KJV-only people are making is that this exactly describes what the purveyors of the New Modern Versions are doing--and that they are covering their tracks by mistranslating the verse.

To their credit, I don't think the Modern Versions do any worse of a job at covering the full meaning of kapeyleuontes than earlier ones did:

RV 1881-1901: "For we are not as the many, *corrupting (*or making merchandise of) the word of God"
RSV 1946-1973: "For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word"
NASB 1960-1995: "For we are not like many, *peddling (*corrupting) the word of God"
NIV 1973-2006: "Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit"
NRSV 1989: "For we are not peddlers of God's word like so many"

So we see that regardless of the version, only element #1 or #3 comes across in translation. If we we include footnotes, RV has both, and only NASB has element #2--but at the expense of omitting #3.

Jay P. Green suggests 'hawking' which carries well the idea of #3 and lesser so #2, but gives no indication of #1. The Strong's Lexicon has:
--from kapelos (a huckster); to retail, i.e. (by implication) to adulterate (figuratively): corrupt.

The most succinct way of combining the information found in all of the above versions is:

"For we are not like many--hawking a watered-down version of God's word purely for profit."

Ouch. That does strike a bit close to home, in view of the copyright protection carried by all the big modern versions, each of which, despite their copyrighted distinctions, claims the title 'The Holy Bible'.


  1. .....and if you labored for years translating a copy of the Bible you'd do it all for free??

  2. Funny you should ask that, Gene. For over a year I have been a voluntary member of a translation team. Tyndale and Wycliffe, who brought us the English Bible, certainly did not profit from their efforts. And while their bibles WERE sold, the profits went into making more bibles-not to lawyers they hired to sue those who tried to help publish the fruit of their labours. A friend of mine was recently told by Biblica that he cannot use their translation as the basis for a structured edition of the Psalms, nor will they publish it for him. That's kapeyleuontes for you.


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