So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? (1 Corinthians 14:9a, KJV)
King James Onlyists often claim the KJV is, without question, the easiest of all translations to read and understand. They’ll cite articles claiming modern translations require an 8th or 9th grade reading ability, while alleging the King James requires little more than a 5th grade education. Now, these studies are questionable (and perhaps worth debunking), but lets first evaluate the practical reality of this claim.
Suppose you were a middle-aged man, and have had your mind washed in the Word of God for nearly 50 years. Each year, you read the King James Bible cover to cover. So confident are you in your understanding of it, you decide to make a life of ministry to others. For decades, you stand before multitudes, and lead many thousands to the Lord.
One day, during a routine online broadcast, a young Christian woman by the name of Amber writes-in regarding a verse that gives her some confusion. “I love the King James, and read it only” she says, but she has encountered an odd passage:
…I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7, KJV)
You read the passage on the air, but you struggle to form an answer. In hopes of being rescued, you reach for Peter Ruckman’s Errors in the King James Bible, and begin fanning through the pages. After a moment, you find Ruckman’s book to be dumb (in the traditional sense, of course).
What now? You quickly defer to a joke, and move on to the next question.
The tragic ending to this story is the young woman is left wondering whether God is directly involved in committing moral evils. After all, isn’t that what the King James Bible says in the book of Isaiah?
I wish I could say the above story was purely a work of fiction, but it is not. Today, on his evening YouTube broadcast, Kent Hovind was unable to clear up this minor semantic issue. Rather than turn to other translations or commentaries for clarity, he turned to Ruckman.
When critics of King James Onlyism ask if the King James Bible could be improved in any way, this is precisely the type of thing we have in mind. When Dr. James White sat across from Steven Anderson, and inquired about the conflation of hades and gehenna, this is the type of thing he had in mind. Sadly, advocates of onlyism refuse to concede the point.
So what does Isaiah 45:7 say, exactly? Well, lets seek out a multitude of counselors, per Proverbs 11:14, and see what we learn:
New American Standard Version
The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.
English Standard Version
I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.
New King James Version
I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things.
1599 Geneva Bible
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.
What we find by looking at other translations is that “calamity” is a very popular alternative. It’s also worth noting that “calamity” serves as a meaningful parallel to well-being, and peace. This adds even more to its weight as an alternative reading.
When we consult older translations, such as the Wycliffe (from the Vulgate), or the Geneva (from the Masoretic), we see the same terms are used that are found in the King James Bible. This suggests the term “evil” floated through each English translation since Wycliffe, and may have once enjoyed a broader semantic range.
Imagine for a moment that the tables were turned, and “calamity” appeared in the King James Bible while “I […] create evil” appeared in the modern versions. Gail Riplinger and Kent Hovind would take every opportunity to declare this to be heretical, and attribute it to Satan.
Blue Letter Bible is a great resource for those of you who wish to continue digging beyond this point. Utilizing this resource, we learn that the Hebrew term here is רַע (raʻ, rah), and has the following semantic range:
- evil, distress, misery, injury, calamity
- evil, distress, adversity
- evil, injury, wrong
- evil (ethical)
For completeness, I’ll close with Calvin’s commentary from the mid-1500’s:
Making peace, and creating evil. By the words “light” and “darkness” he describes metaphorically not only peace and war; but adverse and prosperous events of any kind; and he extends the word peace, according to the custom of Hebrew writers, to all success and prosperity. This is made abundantly clear by the contrast; for he contrasts “peace” not only with war, but with adverse events of every sort.
Fanatics torture this word evil, as if God were the author of evil, that is, of sin; but it is very obvious how ridiculously they abuse this passage of the Prophet. This is sufficiently explained by the contrast, the parts of which must agree with each other; for he contrasts “peace” with “evil,” that is, with afflictions, wars, and other adverse occurrences.
If he contrasted “righteousness” with “evil,” there would be some plausibility in their reasonings, but this is a manifest contrast of things that are opposite to each other. Consequently, we ought not to reject the ordinary distinction, that God is the author of the “evil” of punishment, but not of the “evil” of guilt.