Tuesday, January 24, 2023

KJV Translation Errors at Mark 6:20

One place where a relatively small error in the King James Version can be found is in the translation of "συνετήρει αὐτόν" (preserved him) as "observed him."

Mark 6:20 - (KJV) For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.

Mark 6:20 - (‘16) because, Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and protected him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.

Mark 6:20 (TR) ὁ γὰρ Ἡρῴδης ἐφοβεῖτο τὸν Ἰωάννην εἰδὼς αὐτὸν ἄνδρα δίκαιον καὶ ἅγιον καὶ συνετήρει αὐτόν καὶ ἀκούσας αὐτοῦ πολλὰ ἐποίει, καὶ ἡδέως αὐτοῦ ἤκουεν

Other Scripture uses of "Observe" with a Human Object

  • 2 Samuel 11:16 And it came to pass, when Joab observed the city, (שָׁמַר) that he assigned Uriah unto a place where he knew that valiant men were.
  • Hosea 14:8 Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him:(שׁוּר) I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found.

There are not a lot of examples, but those that there are defy this "protect" interpretation of "observe."

Interestingly, the Hebrew of 2 Samuel 11:16 is the verb samar (שָׁמַר), which is variously translated, but can have the sense of saving or protecting.  In that particular context, it is plain that "observed" means "inspected."

The Hebrew word used in Hosea 14:8, sur (שׁוּר), only has the sense of watching. Moreover, like the use in Mark 6:20, it is immediately adjacent to a reference to hearing.  So, it is only natural to understand the intended meaning as being one of inspection. 

How was the phrase, "observed him" used in English books from 1511 to 1711?  My initial survey of the Google books from that era seems to confirm that "observed him" was generally used to mean "watched him" or the like.

The fact that the alternative readings in the margin (reproduced above) are "kept him" and "saved him" is the conclusive evidence that such is not the main text reading.  

Furthermore, we see that the "saw" sense of "observed" is the very sense understood by Edward Reynolds, Fellow of Merton College in Oxford (1632) (link to relevant page). Likewise we see Ralph Browning, Lord Bishop of Exceter, (1661) suggesting that "observed him" means that he watched John almost reverentially (link to start of Sermon on Mark 6:20)(link to substance)(Poole seems to concur).  Nathaniel Vincent (1681) seems to think that "observed" means something like "obeyed," (link)(so likewise Matthew Henry) but I was not able to find anyone who remotely contemporary who interpreted the words of the KJV as proposed by the Error-Free KJV folks.

Moreover, the same Greek word is elsewhere translated by the King James translators as "preserved" or "kept".  In fact, the following is the remainder of uses of the Greek word in the New Testament:

Matthew 9:17 Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved

Luke 2:19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 5:38 But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.

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