Noah Webster and the Vulgar King James Version

The King James Bible is too vulgar.

This was the opinion of Noah Webster, best known for his dictionary of American English.

Webster thought there were too many vile things not suitable for reading in the King James Version. He wasn’t talking about the stories of rape and murder; he literally meant some King James phrases.

For instance, the King James’ phrase describing men as those who “pisseth against the wall.” Or the people in Isaiah 36:12 who will “eat their own dung and drink their own piss.”

Webster thought this was crude, so he just called them “males” instead of referring to their direction of pissing. Instead of eating dung and drinking piss, he went with “they devour their vilest excretions.”

Webster also eliminated the names of certain body parts and avoided such words as “stinketh” in order to be pure. He said the King James phrases were “so offensive, especially to females, as to create a reluctance in young persons to attend Bible classes and schools.”

Noah Webster’s Bible initially sold for $3. Then for $2. Eventually it sold for $1.50. It was reprinted once before disappearing from book stores.

It was a nice try. I appreciate the attempt. But, in all honesty, this is where Puritan ideals implode. Humans are humans, and humans are gross.

There’s a lot of stuff in the Bible about bodily discharges. We can puritanically pretend it’s not there, or we can be real.

At the same time, there is too much flippancy and stuff done for shock value over bodily discharges. Finding someone who has enough sense to be polite is nice.

The Hebrew text does say those “who pisseth against a wall.” That’s the literal translation. That’s how men were described. It’s life. Should we then go around referring to other men as wall-pissers?

No, there is decency. Ephesians says we should put away from us foolish talking and jesting. There is a line of decency. There are cultural terms that are offensive to the next generations. But there is also a maturity that understands that and goes with it and treats it as maturely as possible.

I don’t think we should edit God’s word. I think we should rejoice that our God understands humanity and that humanity is represented realistically in the Bible. There is no sentimentalism attached to God’s view of your humanity.

Use this realism about humanity, which is gross, to drive us to God who is pure. Let us all anxiously await the day we can put off this body of our humiliation!

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