2 Corinthians 2:17

"For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ."

The Executive Secretary of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation, the late Dr. Edwin H. Palmer, lists 2 Corinthians 2:17 as an obscurity in the King James Version (The NIV: The Making of a Contemporary Translation, Kenneth Barker, editor. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986], 149). The "obscurity" is the English word "corrupt." Most modern versions use the word "peddle." Thus we have the reading as found in the NIV, "Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God."

This becomes a strange translation because it not only removes the idea of Biblical corruption, but it is printed in a version published by Zondervan which owns the copyright to the New International Version. And, as far as I know, Zondervan does peddle (via retail sales) the NIV for a profit. I am not suggesting that it is wrong to sell the Bible for a profit, but if the translation of this verse claims it is wrong to do so it seems disingenuous unless Zondervan does not consider the NIV "the word of God."

The Greek word in question is "kapeleuontes," and does mean a peddler or retailer. However, it connotates one who sells with deceit, a corrupter. Dr. Walter Bauer points out that the word came to mean "to adulterate" (A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament And Other Early Christian Literature, p.403). Dr. Joseph Thayer agrees and states, "But as peddlers were in the habit of adulterating their commodities for the sake of gain . . . (the word) was also used as synonymous with "to corrupt, to adulterate."" (A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament, [Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1977 edition], 324-325). And Dr. Gerhard Kittle states concerning "kapeleuontes;" "It also means 2. to falsify the word (as the "kapelos" purchases pure wine and then adulterates it with water) by making additions . . . This refers to the false Gospel of the Judaizers." (Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament, Vol. III., p. 605).

The early Church Fathers understood the verse to refer to those who corrupt God's word. Athanasius (373 AD) wrote:

"Let them therefore be anathema to you, because they have, 'corrupted the word of truth.' It is an Apostolic injunction, 'If any man preach any other Gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.'" (Apologia Contra Arianos [Defence Against The Arians], III:49.)

Gregory-Nazianzus (390) alludes to 2 Corinthians 2:17, Isaiah 1:22 and Psalm 54:15, using the word "corrupt:"

"And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as the many, able to corrupt the word of truth, and mix the wine, which maketh glad the heart of man, with water, mix, that is, our doctrine with what is common and cheap, and debased, and stale, and tasteless, in order to turn the adulteration . . ." (In Defence Of His Flight To Pontus, II:46)

James R. White makes an interesting claim concerning this verse. "Surely" writes White, "if the KJV translators were alive today they would gladly admit that 'peddle' is a better translation than 'corrupt,' and would adopt it themselves." (The King James Only Controversy, 114). In my critique of White's book, I refer to such argumentation as "speaking for the dead." It is one thing to cite those who have died and present what they themselves believed about a certain subject. It is quite another to draw conclusions for those who have died and insist that this would be their view if they were alive today. For the most part one cannot justly refute such invalid argumentation because those who have died cannot speak for themselves.

However, this is not the case in this instance. One of the treasures left behind from the translators of the KJV are a few notes by Dr. John Bois, who helped in the translation of the KJV Old Testament Apocrypha and assisted in the final revision of the KJV New Testament (Romans through Revelation). In his note for 2 Corinthians 2:17 he wrote:

"Ibid. v. 17. kapeleuontes] [being a retail dealer, playing tricks, corrupting] i.e. notheuonetes [adultering]. kapelos is derived apo tou kallunein ton pelon [from glossing over lees] by corrupting and adultering wine." (the full note was written in Latin and Greek. Translating For King James, trans. and ed. by Ward Allen. Vanderbilt University Press, 1969, p. 51)

Apparently, the translators of the KJV were more aware of the meaning of the word than what James White and others give them credit. If we are indeed going to speak for the dead, we best learn to do so correctly.


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