The “False Friends” Argument and Doing the Math

Having read Mark Ward’s book Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible a couple times now I thought it good to offer a brief but pointed assessment of his main argument, that is, the False Friends Argument. In sum Ward rightfully maintains that the KJV has what he calls false friends. False friends are words that the reader thinks he knows but ultimately does not. As a result, the reader goes on his merry way thinking he understands what the Bible is saying at that point, but in reality, he does not.

Setting aside the critique that what amounts to a false friend differs from person to person and the critique that other versions of the Bible also have false friends and the critique that all of the great books of the western world [e.g., Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s Paradise Lost among others] contain false friends, I thought I would take a more direct approach. Concerning the words deemed false friends by Ward in Authorized, I thought I would count how many times these words appear in the KJV and then see if we can draw the same conclusions that Ward does. The following is a list of these words and the number of times they appear in the KJV according to the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible:

1.) Apt – 4x
2.) Careful – 7x
3.) Equal – 18x
4.) Incontinent – 1x
5.) Enlargement – 1x
6.) Honest – 7x
7.) Heresies/Heresy – 4x
8.) Kindly – 10x
9.) Fell on his neck – 1x
10.) Issues – 2x
11.) Staggered/Stagger – 4x
12.) Heady – 1x
13.) Bowels – 37x
14.) Conversation – 20x
15.) Pitiful – 3x
16.) Swellings – 7x
17.) Necessities/Necessity – 13x
18.) Miserable – 3x
19.) Approving – 1x
20.) Watchings – 6x
21.) Meats – 7x
22.) Overcharge – 1x
23.) Unicorn – 6x
24.) Commendeth – 3x; Commend – 8x; Commended – 6x; Commending – 1x
25.) Convenient/Conveniently – 10x
26.) Remove – 44x
27.) Spoil – 106x
28.) Halt – 11x

Ward also includes “judgement” and “wait on” but both are very much still in use today and in the same sense. The former in court rooms and the latter in restaurants. I excluded these because they are terrible examples of supposed false friends.

Total Number of Sampled False Friends: 353
Total Number of Words in the KJV: 788,137

Percentage of False Friends Among Total Words in the KJV: 0.000447 or 0.045%

What is more, if we remove 3, 14, 24, 26, and 27 [equaling 206 of the instances above], the total number of false friends falls to 147 which is 0.000187 or 0.019%. But to continue our run with Ward’s argument let’s use the 0.045% number.

There is about 100,000 hairs on the average person’s head. 0.045% of those hairs is 45. Are we to shave the head and start over because 45 hairs are yet to be tamed?

This is a 2020 McLaren 600 LT. It costs $256,000+.

0.045% of $256,000 is $115.20. Ward would have us, the owners of the McLaren, sell our car because we think we understand $115.20 worth of equipment, but we really don’t. Is anyone going to sell this car simply because there is some high-performance module, he/she thinks he/she understands but, in the end, does not?

Touching the reading of Scripture, our current calculations allow for approximately 5 false friends for every 10,000 words of the KJV. That said, there are 42 books out of the 66 books of the KJV that are less than 10,000 words and, in many cases, much less. In short, you may have to read multiple books of the Bible before you come across 5of the false friends listed above and yet Ward calls us to choose a different translation.

A proponent of the False Friends Argument might retort, “Well, there are more false friends than those mentioned in Authorized.” Even if we admit them there would need to many many more, more by orders of magnitude. Furthermore, I assume that Ward chose the most obvious and impactful one’s for his book so I am not sure the quality of the examples will improve the False Friends Argument going forward. Even if such an argument were to be substantiated, the False Friends proponent would then need deal with the Relativity argument, the Other Versions argument, and the Western Literature argument mentioned above. Then there is the whole discussion revolving around western philosophy of education which Ward doesn’t even hint toward.

In summary, given the above, I believe the False Friends Argument as stated in Authorized is uncompelling in total or at best about 0.045% compelling. Indeed, there are words in the KJV that people think they understand but do not, but they are so few as construed in Authorized to stand as an argument in favor of abandoning the standard sacred text of the believing community.

5 thoughts on “The “False Friends” Argument and Doing the Math

  1. Very good points and approach to this subject. Also appreciate your pointing out that there are false friends in everything we read. We all have words we think we know and do not. The more obvious times to actually catch this is in conversation, rather than reading — because someone may likely point it out to you, or the way the conversation going makes it obvious someone does not know the meaning of something! Another thing is that once we learn the meaning of a false friend, it can change to a real friend. Finally, it is odd that those who approach Bible readers as not having sense enough to ever figure out false friends seem to think these same readers have sense enough to read five or six versions of the Bible and figure out what they mean (even when they are contradictory).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Dr. Van Kleeck,

    Dr. Ward has published a longer list of false friends on his Youtube channel. He has also counted occurrences of these words and has come up with a much larger number. (Over 50 false friends and over 1,000 occurrences.)

    My understanding of his thesis is not that any one false friend, or even all he has identified, are sufficient reason to discontinue use of the KJV. Rather, the fact that English has changed sufficiently that we are unlikely to notice many of the words whose meanings have died.

    This, combined with word order, punctuation, and of course the hundreds of dead words that KJVO advocates themselves have identified, indicate that revision of the KJV is (Has been) necessary.

    I would be interested to see you engage this aspect of Dr. Ward’s argument.


    1. Caleb, thank you for the comment. Allow me to treat each of your observations in turn. Your words will be proceeded by > and my comment will be in the following paragraph. Beginning with your first observation,

      > Dr. Ward has published a longer list of false friends on his Youtube channel. He has also counted occurrences of these words and has come up with a much larger number. (Over 50 false friends and over 1,000 occurrences.)

      Indeed, Dr. Ward has published a longer list on YouTube than those in his book. The article upon which you commented treats the False Friends in Ward’s book. An additional treatment of Ward’s Youtube list of False Friends can be found in the article entitled, 1,362/783,137 = 0.00174. By my math, which is certainly up for examination, the number of False Friends among Ward’s book list and YouTube list is about .2% of the words of the KJV. Indeed, Ward’s number is larger on his YouTube channel but the number was already so small in his book, it seems he has only moved from shrimp to jumbo shrimp and not from shrimp to shark.

      > My understanding of his thesis is not that any one false friend, or even all he has identified, are sufficient reason to discontinue use of the KJV. Rather, the fact that English has changed sufficiently that we are unlikely to notice many of the words whose meanings have died.

      I agree that Ward’s main argument revolves around “the fact that English has changed sufficiently.” My first observation on this point is in the form of a question, who determines what counts as “changed sufficiently” and by what authority is that person(s) entitled to mark that demarcation? No one has bothered to ask him this question. Ward nowhere has attempted to answer this question. My second observation on this point is that Ward has not offered any meaningful tally of modern versions and words contained therein which readers think they understand but do not and are thusly called False Friends. As such his conclusions concerning the KJV seem biased at best, which reduces the overall credibility of his False Friends argument as it is exclusively aimed at the KJV and not other translations of Scripture. My third observation on this point is that Ward’s main argument, “the fact that English has changed sufficiently” is largely predicated on his treatment of False Friends. Ward writes in Authorized, “The biggest problem in understanding the KJV comes from ‘false friends,’ words that are still in common use but have changed meaning in ways that modern readers are highly unlikely to recognize.” [Loc. 491] But it is his False Friends argument which I find effete, thus I find much of his program to be largely powerless.

      The interesting thing though is that he later admits that he doesn’t “think any Christian doctrines are affected by the undetectable (or the detectable) shifts in English that have occurred in the last four hundred years.” [Loc. 675] As such, it seems fair to argue along with all other textual critics on this point. Which is to say, that no changes in the modern versions affect Christian doctrine and are therefore the word of God. Ward’s admission above regarding the KJV questions his insistence of singling out the KJV by his own lights. If the KJV, even with its supposed False Friends, clearly communicates Christian doctrine, then there is no reason to single out the KJV for revision even with its old words and False Friends.

      One final point though oblique to your comment, Ward’s conclusion seems to me to be something like the story of the Belling the Cat. The short of it is that the mice want to know when the cat is coming and so they decided that the cat should have a bell hung around its neck. Then they would know when the cat is coming. But the problem is no one wants to risk their life to bell the cat and as such it never happens. In like manner, Ward and others have little problem calling for a revision of the KJV but have no robust exegetical or theological means whereby this revision would take place. Rather, it seems, Ward and the like would simply and ignominiously have the KJV fall in with the rest of modern translations and be subject to the evidential and naturalistic processes of modern textual criticism, which is yet another reason why we would like to take this topic up with Ward and those of his persuasion.

      As an aside, I have formally offered to publicly discuss/debate Ward on the virtues of his position no less than twice to see if we could answer some of these questions, but to no avail.

      > I would be interested to see you engage this aspect of Dr. Ward’s argument.

      The above is in seed form how I would engage these aspects of Dr. Ward’s arguments.

      Again Caleb, I appreciate your comments. If there is any more clarity I can give you on these points, please let me know.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dr. Van Kleeck,

        Thank you for your detailed reply. Your graciousness to even the least of these, a random person on the Internet who you don’t know from Adam, is the mark of a brother.

        I wasn’t aware you had published an updated calculation, and now others who find this article as I did will see it.

        I have heard Dr. Ward ask your question about the sufficiency of language change to himself. He believes English has changed sufficiently and He claims to want to have this conversation with KJVO advocates. I would be interested to hear a conversation/debate between you two on this topic. He has also indicated an interest in participating in a KJV revision. Maybe after/along with your discussion you may partner with him in such an effort. I know it would be a monumental project, but I will pray in that direction.

        The data aren’t themselves full proof of Dr. Ward’s claims, they’re more like results from an audit. The full proof can’t be calculated mathematically, that’s not how language works. In his book, he provides a purportedly random sample paragraph comparison between the KJV and a modern version. He does find one or two issues in the example from the modern version, but the difference is striking and, to me, convincing.

        The fact that his argument is aimed at the KJV and not modern versions makes sense to me. The KJV is, by far, the oldest English translation still in popular use. Of course language change will have had an outsized impact on it for this very reason. Its age earns it many commendations such as reliability, continuity, and trustworthiness. But its age also earns it fair scrutiny in the area of language currency. He does place the KJV on the same (High) plane as modern translations. I know that’s a point of disagreement between you two, but I think he’s been forthright about his approach.

        The data Dr. Ward provides in support of his conclusion are convincing to me for a few reasons; two are below:

        1) He has provided data. He has spent considerable time identifying and validating examples of the impact of language change on the KJV.

        2) His conclusion aligns with my experience. And I realize this biases me toward his position. But when I read the KJV, which I do most days and every week, I detect the barrier of language change. Sometimes it is subtle, other times it screams at me.
        I do not speak Greek nor Hebrew, but I do recognize current and outdated English. So when someone says that the word choice, word order, and punctuation of the KJV is a hindrance to intelligibility, I can evaluate that claim. The concepts I read in Dr. Ward’s book gave me a way to describe what I already knew.

        I cannot read the KJV with the same fluency that its original readers did in the 17th century. This is almost completely the fault of language change. The NKJV, MEV, and – if I accept the CT – other modern versions present a standard sacred text of scripture which delivers God’s word in my language.

        This is far too long a comment, but I will impose on your charity and post it anyway. Please continue your work in this field, I plan to follow it. I think this topic is impactful and that its discussion edifies Christ’s body. I hope you and Dr. Ward can arrange a discussion.

        May God bless you and your family.

        – Caleb Richardson

        Liked by 1 person

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