TO WIT CONFUSING THE WITLESS
“Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;” (2 Corinthians 8:1)
This verse was among the examples that John Ankerberg and John Weldon gleamed from James White to suggest that the KJV is difficult for modern members of American society to read. On page 16 of his book, The King James Only Debate, he states that “there are a also a number of KJV translations that are actually confusing,” and he includes the verse under discussion among them. I fear that this might be correct, but it isn’t the fault of the Bible; it is the fault of modern society in America.
There certainly is nothing wrong with the way the RSV and most other modern versions handle this verse: “We want you to know, brethren, about the grace of God which has been shown in the churches of Macedo’nia,” but they say exactly the same thing, so what is the problem? I’m not sure why anyone who pretends to be educated and enlightened would have any difficulty at all with this verse. I do understand why some people might have trouble with it, but this is where it is necessary to study as we are told to do in 2 Timothy 2:15. Ankerberg is equally confused by this verse, so it wouldn’t help him much, but it would for those with wisdom.
It also should be realized that it is not necessary that every man, woman and child on earth should be able to understand every single line in the Bible, and no one does. I have led a number of people to the Lord who had severe mental handicaps. They would not understand this verse without having it explained to them, but they would have trouble understanding many verses no matter how they were worded. This verse is not going to affect their salvation or their behavior in any way. As for those with at least average IQ’s and a reasonable level of education, this verse might make them stop and think a little, but there is no reason that it should confuse them for long if they follow the advice given in 2 Timothy. If this verse confuses Ankerberg and White, they need to ask someone to explain it to them or have someone show them how to use a dictionary; they should not defend the dumbing down of the Bible on account of their own intellectual shortcomings.
Wit is not a challenging word. Most people use it from time to time. In modern usage it is most often used in the sense of having or lacking wits, using a biting wit or a quick sense of humor. There is no shortage of occurrences of the phrase “to wit” in English literature. Our dumbed down society may read only what the New York Times wants them to read, or the trash that apostate “Christian” bookstores throw at them, but that will only lead to an even dumber society, not a spiritually more advanced society. I have heard estimates that only 3% of the public read books. It also is estimated that only less than half of the American population ever read a single book after high school. Many American college students cannot identify their own country on a world map, let alone other countries. Libraries across America are becoming more places to borrow Hollywood videos and DVD’s than they are for borrowing books, and they are being transformed into entertainment centers instead of archives of knowledge and storehouses of learning. Not only is the Bible being dumbed down for a population that is becoming increasingly stupid, but Shakespeare is even being modernized to accommodate the meager vocabulary and short attention span of the average American. If men like Ankerberg are confused by such a simple sentence as this one imagine how much Shakespeare might confuse him.
Shakespeare’s vocabulary is more than three times the size of that of the KJV, and he wrote things like “anon”, “sans”, and “how now”, in addition to “to wit”. The problem, unfortunately, goes beyond small vocabularies and short attention spans. It also is a shortage of intellect and a preference for not thinking at all that is bringing about the dumbing down of America. The average American will not read either the Bible or Shakespeare no matter how dumbed down the text becomes because thinking is not entertaining for him. This is the age of sitcoms, sports mania, Big Time Wrestling, top 40 radio, rock and roll, prime time news stories about Britney Spears, and 501(c)3 prosperity churches. The dumber society becomes, the dumber the bible versions will become, and the dumber the bible versions become, the less the dumbed down society is going to understand about God’s word. If we produce a bible that translates this verse ” Moreover, bros, we wish you to dig the grace of God given to the churches of Macedonia;” we are only encouraging more intellectual atrophy. (I hope hip people will forgive my lack of knowledge of current slang.)
The Oxford Dictionary gives a very lengthy history of the word that Ankerberg would have been wise to read, if he had not lacked the wit to do so. I wll only provide part of the definitions for the word, and leave out the long and detailed list of examples going back to Beowulf and other Old English texts leading up until the most modern of times.
“I. Denoting a faculty (or the person possessing it).
1. The seat of consciousness or thought, the mind: sometimes connoting one of its functions, as memory or attention. Obs.
2. a. The faculty of thinking and reasoning in general; mental capacity, understanding, intellect, reason. arch. (now esp. in phr. the wit of man = human understanding).
4. The understanding or mental faculties in respect of their condition; chiefly = ‘right mind’, ‘reason’, ‘senses’, sanity. a. sing.: esp. in phrases in (one’s right) wit, sane, of sound mind; chiefly out of (by, from, of) wit or one’s wit, insane, mad, out of one’s mind; also out of wit advb., madly, furiously. Obs. (or dial.).
6. a. Wisdom, good judgement, discretion, prudence: = SENSE n. 11. Obs. exc. in phr. like to have the wit to, which combines the notions of intelligence and good sense.
7. Quickness of intellect or liveliness of fancy, with capacity of apt expression; talent for saying brilliant or sparkling things, esp. in an amusing way. arch. Formerly sometimes opp. to wisdom or judgement; often distinguished from humour (see quots., and note s.v. HUMOUR n. 7).
11. a. Knowledge; learning; pl. departments of knowledge, sciences. Obs.
c. Knowledge communicated, ‘intelligence’, information, esp. in phr. to get wit of. Sc. and north.
The word wit has a long and complicated history. It shows up in Vedic and later Sanskrit as the root vid (vidati) meaning to know and to find (which branched off as separate words) and shows up in a large number of nouns and adjectives such as veda, vidya, vitti, vidman, and many others, all having to do with knowledge or knowing. It passed into many later Indo-European languages including Gothic (witan), German (wissen), Old English (wittan), all meaning to know, and modern English (wit, wise, wisdom). The Oxford’s definition includes the following:
Many example of the term “to wit” show up in the Bible. Studying these examples should by itself inform the reader with wit and wisdom to determine what the verse in question means.
Genesis 24:21 “And the man wondering at her held his peace, to wit whether the LORD had made his journey prosperous or not.”
Exodus 2:4 “And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.”
Joshua 17:1 “There was also a lot for the tribe of Manasseh; for he was the firstborn of Joseph; to wit, for Machir the firstborn of Manasseh, the father of Gilead: because he was a man of war, therefore he had Gilead and Bashan.”
1 Kings 2:32 “And the LORD shall return his blood upon his own head, who fell upon two men more righteous and better than he, and slew them with the sword, my father David not knowing thereof, to wit, Abner the son of Ner, captain of the host of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, captain of the host of Judah.”
1 Kings 7:50 “And the bowls, and the snuffers, and the basons, and the spoons, and the censers of pure gold; and the hinges of gold, both for the doors of the inner house, the most holy place, and for the doors of the house, to wit, of the temple.”
1 Kings 13:23 “And it came to pass, after he had eaten bread, and after he had drunk, that he saddled for him the ass, to wit, for the prophet whom he had brought back.”
2 Kings 10:29 “Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were in Dan.”
1 Chronicles 7:2 “And the sons of Tola; Uzzi, and Rephaiah, and Jeriel, and Jahmai, and Jibsam, and Shemuel, heads of their father’s house, to wit, of Tola: they were valiant men of might in their generations; whose number was in the days of David two and twenty thousand and six hundred.”
1 Chronicles 27:1 “Now the children of Israel after their number, to wit, the chief fathers and captains of thousands and hundreds, and their officers that served the king in any matter of the courses, which came in and went out month by month throughout all the months of the year, of every course were twenty and four thousand.”
2 Chronicles 4:12 “To wit, the two pillars, and the pommels, and the chapiters which were on the top of the two pillars, and the two wreaths to cover the two pommels of the chapiters which were on the top of the pillars;”
2 Chronicles 25:7 “But there came a man of God to him, saying, O king, let not the army of Israel go with thee; for the LORD is not with Israel, to wit, with all the children of Ephraim.”
2 Chronicles 25:10 “Then Amaziah separated them, to wit, the army that was come to him out of Ephraim, to go home again: wherefore their anger was greatly kindled against Judah, and they returned home in great anger.”
2 Chronicles 31:3 “He appointed also the king’s portion of his substance for the burnt offerings, to wit, for the morning and evening burnt offerings, and the burnt offerings for the sabbaths, and for the new moons, and for the set feasts, as it is written in the law of the LORD.”
Nehemiah 11:3 “Now these are the chief of the province that dwelt in Jerusalem: but in the cities of Judah dwelt every one in his possession in their cities, to wit, Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon’s servants.”
Esther 2:12 “Now when every maid’s turn was come to go in to king Ahasuerus, after that she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women, (for so were the days of their purifications accomplished, to wit, six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours, and with other things for the purifying of the women;)”
Jeremiah 25:18 “To wit, Jerusalem, and the cities of Judah, and the kings thereof, and the princes thereof, to make them a desolation, an astonishment, an hissing, and a curse; as it is this day;”
Jeremiah 34:9 “That every man should let his manservant, and every man his maidservant, being an Hebrew or an Hebrewess, go free; that none should serve himself of them, to wit, of a Jew his brother.”
Ezekiel 13:16 “To wit, the prophets of Israel which prophesy concerning Jerusalem, and which see visions of peace for her, and there is no peace, saith the Lord GOD.”
Romans 8:23 “And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”
2 Corinthians 5:19 “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”
Occurrences in English Literature
The phrase “to wit” is found throughout English literature. Ankerberg may restrict his reading to the reading of the products of dimwitted modern seminary graduates and authors who write at the level of A.A. Milne and the author of Harry Potter, but those who wish to read at a deeper level may want to read books that write with eloquence, and which are more than mere shallow reflections of the reader’s own times.
To wit is found in the standard translation of Erasmus’ The Praise of Folly 21 times. It is found in the English writings of Bunyan 67 times. It is found 16 times in John Cotton’s The Keyes of the Kingdom of Heaven, and Power Thereof, 3 times in a treatise on women by John Knox, and twice in Thomas Browne’s short treatise Religio Medici. I found 3 occurrences in a translation of Boethius from 1918. I went halfway through a 562 page edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and counted 153 verbal uses of with wit, so it should be safe to assume that there is somewhere around 300 occurrences to be found in this important text. Just a few days ago, I chanced upon the phrase “to wit” while reading a translation of Bede, which I was studying for a different article. I read the entire sentence in context for each of these examples, and not one confused me in any way. I find it amusing that men who brag about their education cannot grasp such a simple phrase.
American Lack of Shame for Stupidity
This attitude is a shocking indictment of the modern American mind, and I know of no other culture that has been dumbed down to such a degree that there are few that are even ashamed of their slow-wittedness. There are a massive number of books on the market written for dummies and complete idiots on virtually every topic imaginable, and few Americans are bothered by titles such as Cooking for Dummies or A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Golf. I have warned people about the brain damage caused by aspartame and have on numerous occasions heard replies like “I’m already stupid anyway,” or “I don’t have that many brain cells left anyway.” I find it difficult to imagine a society that proclaims stupidity to have been imaginable before the modern age in America did so, and I doubt that there are other cultures in the world that would do so as Americans have done.
This glorification of being dumb is virtually unique to modern America. Take the Arab world, for just one example of contrast. There are many words in the Qur’an that confuse speakers of colloquial Arabic dialects and Modern Standard Arabic (al-Fusha), but no Arab would ever dream of dumbing down the Qur’an. The Qur’an was the basis for the modern language and is considered the final authority not just as scripture to Muslims, but for grammar in Arabic. How different it is for men like Ankerberg, White, and the scores of modern version producers who think that the King James Bible should be replaced with comic book, cheap novel style prose, and even vulgar street slang jargon. Few Arabs would insult other Arabs by suggesting that they were too stupid to understand the Qur’an due to its unique and more archaic style of writing, nor would they want to imply that their culture has become so stupid that they are incapable of figuring out what the text says.
Indeed, the Arab world, although they are largely misled about God, they are far more sophisticated on an intellectual level than modern Americans on the average. Arabs are being dumbed down to an extent, but this is due to American influence through our puerile television, music, and literature, but they still have cultural pride and at least try to maintain some level of sophistication.
If such passages confuse Ankerberg, I am sorry for him. I do see why he might feel the need to stick to texts that are written for the now generation, such as Today’s English Version with its dumbed down language and the stick figure drawings that look like something out of a 5-year old’s coloring book. However, it would be better for him to let those with deeper insight and a higher level of intellect explain to him those parts of the Bible that he finds confusing. If he did, instead of being a promoter of vacuous and vacant Christianity, he might grow as a Christian; or should I say he might grow into a Christian.
Ankerberg, And John Weldon. The King James Only Debate. Eugene, Orgean: Havest House
Iserbyt, Charlotte Thomson. The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America.
John Hinton, Ph.D.
Bible Restoration Ministry
A ministry seeking the translating and reprinting of KJV equivalent
Bibles in all the languages of the world.