List of misunderstood words in the King James Bible

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This page is a list of words in the King James Version of the bible that will most likely be misunderstood by a modern reader either because the word is no longer used in modern English or because the word no longer means what it meant when the KJV was made centuries ago. The purpose of this list is not only to help modern readers of the KJV better understand what they're reading, but also to demonstrate to those who believe the King James Version is the "best" translation that, unless you're an ancient English scholar, you will misunderstand much of it.

This list is by no means complete, and I will add to it over time.

Changed Meanings

Words in this section are no longer used in the way they were used when the KJV was written. This is especially confusing because readers might assume they understand the passage, but have actually misunderstood it.

Word Modern meaning Archaic meaning Passages Notes
accursed detestable, hateful devoted Jos 6:17-18; 7:1, 11–13, 15; 22:20; 1 Chr 2:7 Since this is practically the opposite meaning, it will be quite confusing.
addicted dependent upon; obsessed with devoted 1 Cor 16:15 Fairly similar, although "addicted" usually has a negative connotation in modern English.
allow grant, permit approve of Luke 11:48; Rom 14:22; 1 Thess 2:4 In modern usage "allow" often means you will let something happen even if you don't approve of it, but here it specifically means approval.
allow grant, permit understand Rom 7:15 This is a substantially different use.
amazement wonder, surprise fear, terror 1 Pet 3:6 Just like "amazing," people pretty much only use this word when they're shocked in a positive way.
bowels intestines; innermost area metaphorical heart Gen 43:30; 1 Kgs 3:26; Ps 109:18; Isa 16:11; 63:15; Jer 31:20; Lam 1:20; 2:11; Phlm 7, 12, 20 Where we might say, "I love you with all my heart," an ancient Hebrew might say, "I love you with all my bowels." People are less-frequently using "bowels" to refer to the innermost parts, so it's less likely a modern reader will think of the metaphorical heart instead of the intestines. This makes Song 5:4 seem especially funny, "my bowels were moved for him."
bowels intestines; innermost area compassion Isa 63:15; Phil 1:8; 2:1; Col 3:12 Because it referred to the metaphorical heart, "bowels" also referred to compassion, which also doesn't fit with modern usage. To confuse things further, when modern English speakers talk about their metaphorical "gut" they mean their intuition, not compassion.
bowels intestines; innermost area affection 2 Cor 6:12 This passage is especially confusing because it reads, "straitened in your own bowels." "Straiten," often confused with "straighten," means to narrow (as in the Straits of Magellan), and a "narrowing of the bowels" is a common medical ailment.
bowels intestines; innermost area anguish Jer 4:19 If you heard someone today cry, "My bowels, my bowels!" you probably wouldn't understand this the same way!
by and by eventually immediately Mat 13:21; Mar 6:25; Luk 17:7; 21:9 Another phrase that has flipped to the opposite meaning.
careful aware of danger anxious Luk 10:41; Phil 4:6 The difference is subtle, but it matters. "Be careful for nothing" doesn't mean be reckless, but rather, don't worry.
charity help to those in need love 1 Cor 8:1; 13:1–4, 8, 13; 14:1; 16:14; Col 3:14; 1 Thes 3:6; 2 Thes 1:3; 1 Tim 1:5; 2:15; 4:12; 2 Tim 2:22; 3:10; Tit 2:2; 1 Pet 4:8; 5:14; 2 Pet 1:7; 3 Joh 6; Jud 12; Rev 2:19 A common narrowing of definition. See also "closet" and "tutor."
closet small storage room private room Joel 2:16; Mat 6:6; Luk 12:3 In the past, any room not open to the public, like a person's bedroom, could accurately be called a closet, but the usage has narrowed. Additional confusion comes from the modern phrase "coming out of the closet."
conversation speaking together way of life 2 Cor 1:12; Gal 1:13; Eph 2:3; 4:22; Phil 1:27; 1 Tim 4:12; Heb 13:5, 7; Jas 3:13; 1 Pet 1:8; 2:12; 3:1, 2, 16; 2 Pet 2:7; 3:11 A fairly dramatic change in definition.
conversation speaking together citizenship Phil 3:20 Here, the "conversation" in heaven is not about talking, but being allowed entry.
discover find expose, to bare Lev 20:18; Deut 22:30; 2 Sam 22:16; Ps 18:15; Isa 3:17; 57:8; Jer 13:26; Ezek 13:14; 16:57; 23:10, 18, 29; Hos 2:10; Nah 3:5; Hab 3:13 The prefix dis- means to remove, so, "discover" literally means to remove a covering. Today, it is usually used in an exploratory context, like finding a new island or star, but in the 1600s, it was mostly negative, like dis-covering (exposing) a person's nude body for public shaming.
discover find reveal, disclose 1 Sam 14:8, 11 Jonathan doesn't expose his nudity to the men, but reveals his position to them.
discover find remove Psa 29:9, Isa 22:8
dragon fictional fire-breathing lizard various Deu 32:33; Job 30:29, Neh 2:13; Psa 44:19; Isa 13:22; 34:13; 35:7; 43:20; Jer 9:11; 10:22; 14:6; 49:33; 51:37; Mic 1:8; Mal 1:3; Rev 12:3 (many more) The KJV translates several animals of varying vague descriptions to dragon. Depending on the passage, the animal would better be translated to "venomous snake," "jackal," "sea monster," or any number of other things.
fast rapid secure Gen 20:18; Jdg 4:21; Rth 2:8; 2 Ki 6:32; Ezr 5:8; Job 2:3; Psa 33:9; Pro 4:13; Jer 8:5; Jon 1:5; Mat 26:48; Act 16:24; 1 Cor 16:13; Gal 5:1; Phl 1:27; 1 Th 3:8; 2 Th 2:15; 2 Ti 1:13; Tit 1:9; Heb 3:6; Rev 2:13 (many more) This form of fast is where we get the word "fasteners" and "fast asleep." However people rarely use the word in this way anymore.
flagon of wine bottle of wine raisin cake Song 2:5; 2 Sam 6:19; 1 Chr 16:3; Hos 3:1 This is actually the result of a mistranslation. The Hebrew 'ashiyshah `enab doesn't mean flagon of wine, but is rather a raisin cake used in rituals.
imagination creativity stubbornness Deut 29:19; Jer 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 13:10; 16:12; 18:12
instrument musical device, tool weapon Isa 54:16 Fairly obvious considering the context, but, unless you're involved in martial arts. most people today wouldn't call a sword an "instrument."
leasing renting; letting go; gathering; gleaning lying Psa 4:2; 5:6
lewd lascivious, sexually promiscuous vile, evil Act 17:5 In the past, "lewd" pertained to the lowest of class groups meaning uneducated, base, and vulgar. The definition has shifted to refer primarily to sex.
liquor distilled alcohol liquid Num 6:3 "Liquor" used to just mean liquid (hence the similar spelling), but over time it narrowed to just distilled alcoholic liquids.
listed recited, enumerated wished for Mat 17:12; Mar 9:13 It's from this usage of the word that we get "listless," or, lacking desire or enthuseasm.
quick fast living Lev 13:10; 13:24; Num 16:30; Ps 55:15; 124:3; Isa 11:3; Act 10:42; 2 Ti 4:1; Heb 4:12; 1 Pe 4:5 The phrase "the quick and the dead," popular in gunslinger fiction, actually only means, "the living and the dead."
rude impolite untrained 2 Cor 11:6 Saying you're "rude in speech," doesn't mean you speak inappropriately, but rather, you're not trained in oration.
sod cut grass turf; contempt, disgust; sodomize boiled Gen 25:29 Totally different from modern use, although an Australian might at least connect it with cooking.
sore painfully sensitive; a wound dire Gen 19:9; Exo 14:10; Num 22:3; Deu 6:22; Jos 9:24; Jdg 10:9; 1 Sam 1:6; 2 Sam 2:17; 1 Ki 17:17; 2 Ki 3:26; 1 Ch 10:3; 2 Ch 6:29; Ezr 10:1; Neh 2:2; Psa 2:5; Ecc 4:8; Isa 27:1; Jer 13:17; Lam 1:2; Eze 14:21; Dan 6:14; Mic 2:10; Zec 1:2; Mat 17:6; Mar 6:51; Luk 2:9; Act 20:37; Rev 16:2 (many more) Although not unheard of, this definition is on its way out. Today, people rarely use terms like "sore afraid," "sore amazed," or "sore displeased."
tutors teachers guardians Gal 4:2 "Tutor" used to mean anyone who tended after something else, a groundskeeper for example, but it has narrowed to refer to someone tending after a pupil's education.

Many of the words in this list came from the Grateful to the Dead blog (Part 1, part 2, part3).

Dropped From Use

Words in this category are so archaic that they have essentially been dropped from use in everyday speech. This is actually less of a problem because most readers will have to look them up and therefore won't accidentally misinterpret them.

Some of these words are still used by specialty occupations or in certain dialects of English.

Word Archaic meaning Passages Notes
bruit noise Jer 10:22; Nah 3:19 Some British speakers might misinterpret this to mean rumor or hearsay.
chode simple past tense of "chide" Gen 31:36; Num 20:3 Dangerously similar to the vulgar slang, "choad."
ephod apron or breastplate in a uniform Exo 25:7, 28:4; Lev 8:7; Num 34:23; Jdg 8:27; 1 Sa 2:18; 2 Sa 6:14; 1 Ch 15:27; Hos 3:4 (many more) Although not that uncommon among Orthodox Jews.
gat simple past tense of get Gen 19:27; Exo 24:18; Num 11:30; Jdg 9:48; 1 Sa 13:15; 2 Sa 4:7; 1 Ki 1:1; Psa 116:3; Ecc 2:8; Lam 5:9 (many more)
cracknels a hard biscuit 1 Ki 14:3
cruse an earthen pot for liquids 1 Sa 26:11-12, 16; 1 Ki 14:3; 1 Ki 17:12, 14, 16; 1 Ki 19:6; 2 Ki 2:20
habergeon a coat of chain mail Exo 28:32; 39:23; Job 41:26 People who enjoy Medieval reenactment or fantasy RPGs might understand this one.
murrain plague, pestilence Exo 9:3 A veterinarian might understand this word.
neesings sneezing Job 41:18
ouches broaches or clasps Exo 28:11, 13-14, 25; 39:6, 13, 16, 18 Seems like it should be the plural of "ouch."
pottage a thick soup or stew Gen 25:29-30, 34; 2 Ki 4:38-39; Hag 2:12
trow to trust, to have confidence in Luk 17:9
wroth full of anger, wrathful Gen 4:5-6; Exo 16:20; Jos 22:18; Psa 18:7; Mat 2:16; Rev 12:17 (many more) Not entirely archaic, but on its way out.