What is a False Friend?

If you think you know somebody but you really don’t there can be two reasons for this: 1.) They are lying to you and so you believe something about that person that is not true. For example, Judas Iscariot. 2.) They are telling the truth and acting consistent with who they are but you are not able to understand who they are by what they say and do. For example, a girl who believes a homeless meth addict who is obviously lazy and a self-professed liar is the kind of guy that she should marry. Certainly, the guy is in all kinds of moral trouble and in need of loving intervention is a host of ways, but the desire to marry this guy rest solely on the girl’s poor judgment and lack of understanding, at a minimum. She’s not really his friend if she won’t, at a minimum, call him out about his sin. As I’m sure you remember, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” [Prov. 27:6].

So, let’s talk about words. Which of the two above scenarios makes a word a false friend? Which is it, is the word “halt” or “apt” lying to us? Is “halt” a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world? COBRA!! No, of course not. The word is the word. Some people may use the word to harm or lie but the word itself is a specific series of inert English symbols with no desire to mislead, or rule the world for that matter.

The reason “halt” and “apt” may be false friends to us is because we do not understand them. We don’t hang out together at church or the homeschool co-op. When “apt” wants to go get drinks we don’t go because we are teetotalers. If we aren’t going to go hang out with “halt” and “apt” and the rest of their false friends how else could we get to know them? Well, by reading, of course. And here is the rub. We in America don’t read very much.

According to Statista the average time an American reads per day is 20.4 minutes with minors and young adult [ages 15-19] reading only 8.4 minutes per day. It’s hard to make true friends out of friends you don’t understand when you only hang out somewhere between 8 and 20 minutes per day, especially when you need to divide your attention between all your true friend words while mingling with some of those other friends you are trying to get to know. I mean, who has time to make new friends of misunderstood friends when you only hang out with your regular friends 8 minutes a day?

But you say, “We learn words not only through print but also through hearing these words spoken.” Agreed, but when it comes to Scripture can anyone just say some words and call those words Scripture? No, they may not. The Scripture words we get must come from Scripture, from the printed page. So, when we say there are some false friends in Scripture, we are saying that we haven’t been hanging out with the Bible. There are words in there that we could know but we don’t. They are strangers to us and they are strangers to us not because they cannot be known, but because we have not put forth the effort to know them.

Some say that we need to change them. “These friends can’t be friends” or “It’s too hard to be friends with these friends.” These false friends need to be updated and that will fix the problem. Of course, this is silly and stupid to conclude in part because it sounds like a part out Mean Girls: The Text Critical Version. If the problem is that people won’t acquaint themselves with the Bible then the mere changing of words is not going to heal their akrasia, their weakness of will.

Perhaps the Bible can help us with the false friends dilemma. The Scripture teaches us that if a man wants to have friends, he must himself be friendly [Proverbs 18:24]. If we want to reduce the number of false friends in Scripture, we should start being friendly with Scripture. Friendships are difficult to build. They take time and sometimes the relationship can be rough. The wounds of a friend are faithful, are they not? If you are to be a friend to Scripture and Scripture to you then you must spend time with Scripture, ask questions of Scripture, study Scripture, know what Scripture likes to drink with its steak. Scripture is ready to stick closer to you than a brother. It is the living word of Christ, and Christ is friend and brother to all Christians. The question is, are you ready to return the favor with your scanty 20 minutes?

4 thoughts on “What is a False Friend?

  1. Peter, if my will to know the Bible were stronger, would I have come to realize before checking the ESV (at age 32 or so) that “halt” in 1 Kgs 18:22 meant “limp” in 1611? I’m struggling to understand your point. I’ve checked with dozens of mostly seminary educated men and women, and all but four or five of them committed the same error I did. Did all of these folks suffer from akrasia? That seems to be a rather uncharitable assessment.

    I perform a little exercise every time I hear people defend the KJV against my charge that language change has produced dead words and false friends in it: I try to take their arguments and apply them to the Latin Vulgate. I do feel that your arguments here apply equally to the KJV as to the work of Jerome: *People just need to make friends with the Latin. They need to get over their weakness of will to read what was the Standard Sacred Text for the entire church for well over a millennium. It is silly and stupid to ask for a Bible in their own language when there are so many Latin dictionaries available.*

    Brother Riddle handled one of my false friends in his review. You have mentioned two. You’ve both said the same thing, I think, to readers frustrated by false friends: *try harder.* And I’m still left wondering: how am I supposed to look up words I don’t realize I’m misunderstanding? That’s what a false friend is. Should I look up in the OED every English word in the KJV? That’s the only way I know how to take what you’re saying.


    1. Thanks for your remarks, Dr. Ward. I think you are missing a few fundamental elements to my brief argument here.

      1.) The charge of akrasia is aimed at those who say “dead words” and “false friends” cannot be known or should not be known. Such injunctions are implicit in your call for another translation because of the existence of “false friends” in the KJV. Such words can be known and should be known seeing they are Scripture. Why someone would demur on this point is a bit baffling to me given the internet and the speed at which we can acquire information as well as the deontic responsibility to search the Scriptures. Maybe something of the argument that some words don’t matter because they don’t affect doctrine has seeped into your false friends argument.

      2.) It seems odd to me that you single out “dead words” and “false friends” as words that need to be “looked up.” A faithful student of the word of God looks up all kinds of words. The one’s they think they know, the ones they know, and the ones they do not know. Looking up “false friends” falls within one of these three categories. Maybe some of this lack of attention to words points to the fact that exegetical verse by verse preaching seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years in many churches.

      3.) On the point of the Vulgate, I think you have fallen prey to atomism. It does not appear that you know the number of words that are false friends compared to the number of total words in the KJV, and yet you clearly call for a new translation because of them or at least in part because of them. I looked up the ones in your book and counted all the times they appear in the KJV and I came to a figure something like 1 in 18,000 words are a false friend as mentioned by you. There are entire books in the OT and NT that are shorter than 18,000 words. To compare the KJV to the Vulgate on this point is a bit silly. So few of the Medieval Church knew the Latin while so many current English speakers can read the vast majority of the KJV even if I admit the false friends without study. Still, I admit that my figures may be off. I’d love to see your figures posted on your blog on how many words among all the words of Scripture count as false friends as you mentioned in your book.

      4.) Misunderstanding “halt” or “apt” and misunderstanding “emptied” in Philippians 2 and “free” in the term “free will” are of the same genus though not of the same species. The former terms are misunderstood because of a lack of etymological/vocabulary training while the latter are misunderstood because of a lack of theological/philosophical training. People who believe “free” means only “contrary choice” do not understand “free,” but they think they do. People who believe “halt” means “stop” instead of “limp” do not understand “halt,” but they think they do. In both cases I would encourage the saint to continue their study. Why would I be such a Roman Catholicesque ogre or an OED fanatic in your eyes for encouraging the student to seek out greater understanding regarding “halt” but not “free”? I would encourage you to read a book by Anthony Esolen, Angels, Barbarians, and Nincompoops…and a lot of other words you thought you knew. Even with your education I think you will find words in there you thought you knew but do not.

      5.) The “try harder” statement is strange unless of course you equate what I said in my post [i.e., reading the word of God, studying the word of God, becoming a friend to the word of God] = “Try harder.” I certainly don’t and I find it hard to believe that you do either.

      Thank you again for your comments. If you need any further clarification I am at your disposal. I know you bowed out of the last chance to debate me but I want you to know that the opportunity for public debate is still open if you’re up for it.



      Liked by 1 person

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