Bible Versions Questions and discussion about the Bible version issue.

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Old 07-10-2009, 04:22 AM
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Will Kinney Will Kinney is offline
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Default 1 Samuel 13:21 "a file" or "charge was a pim"?

1 Samuel 13:21 “Yet THEY HAD A FILE for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads. “

There is much confusion and a wide variety of way the various Bible versions have translated this verse. The reason I bring it up is because at one of the Bible clubs I belong to an NIV user posted it as an example of an indisputable “error” in the King James Bible.

The NIV and some other perhaps surprising modern versions, like the NKJV, have a very different translation in this verse. The NIV reads: “THE PRICE WAS TWO THIRDS OF A SHEKEL for sharpening plowshares and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads.”

Then they have a footnote that (mistakenly) says: “Hebrew pim; that is, about 1/4 ounce (about 8 grams).” Why do I say mistakenly? Because the meaning of the Hebrew in this verse is not at all so cut and dried as the NIV editors want you to think it is.

For instance, the King James Bible has a marginal note that says: “Hebrew - a file with mouths.” The RSV also reads similarly to the NIV with: “AND THE CHARGE WAS A PIM for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads.” But then their footnote says: “The Hebrew of this verse is obscure.”

The NKJV also reads very differently than the King James Bible. It basically goes along with the liberal RSV and reads: “AND THE CHARGE FOR A SHARPENING WAS A PIM for the plowshares, the mattocks, the forks, and the axes, and to set the points of the goads.” Then the NKJV has a footnote that reads like the NIV saying that a pim is “About two-thirds shekel weight.”

Other versions that read like the NIV are the NASB, RSV, NRSV, ESV and the Holman Standard. However as we shall soon see, this interpretation of the meaning of the verse is a fairly recent development and one that is not at all shared by many other Bible translators.

The Hebrew expression translated as “file” in the King James Bible and many others is a combination of two words. That is why the KJB margin says “Hebrew - file of mouths. One word is used only once in all the Old Testament and the other one is quite common. The common word is “peh” and is generally translated (or often the translation is omitted as being superfluous) as mouth, commandment, word, according to, hole, edge or parts. The NIV concordance shows that they have not translated this word at all ten times, and have given it over 60 very different meanings including “jaws, edge, fruit, collar, neck, face, number, double-edged, hunger, share and taste”. The NIV only translated it as “two-thirds” just once, and that is here in 1 Samuel 13:21. So for them to dogmatically affirm, as does the NKJV as well, that the Hebrew says “two-thirds of a shekel” is more than a little presumptuous. Even Daniel Wallace notes that the meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.

Bible commentators are often at odds with each other as well when it comes to what they think this verse means.

Adam Clarke says in his commentary: “Yet they had a file - The Hebrew petsirah, from patsar, to rub hard, is translated very differently by the versions and by critics. Our translation may be as likely as any: they permitted them the use of files, (I believe the word means grindstone,) to restore the blunted edges of their tridents axes, and goads.”

John Gill sticks to the sense found in the King James Bible saying: “Those that would not go to the Philistines kept files by them to sharpen those several instruments with upon occasion... when the mouths, or edges, of the mattocks, coulter were dull or "blunt" and so needed sharpening.”

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown agree with the KJB reading as well - “Yet they had a file--as a kind of privilege, for the purpose of sharpening sundry smaller utensils of husbandry.”

Agreeing with the King James Bible translation of “YET THEY HAD A FILE for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads.” are the following Bible translations: the Bishops’ Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1560-1602, Webster’s 1833, the Revised Version 1881, the American Standard Version 1901, Rotherham’s Emphasized bible 1902, the Hebrew Names Version, the 1936 Hebrew Publishing Company version, the Judaica Press Tanach “And there was a file for the mattocks...”, Young’s ‘literal’, the World English Bible, the Bible in Basic English 1960, Lamsa’s 1936 translation of the Syriac, the 21st Century KJV, the 1998 Third Millenium Bible, the Spanish Reina Valera Gomez, the Portuguese Almeida, and the 1649 Italian Diodati.

It should be obvious that this is by no means an error in the King James Bible.

Will Kinney

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