Charles J. Aebi

Dear Aebi: "Why is vain conversation in the King James Version of 1 Peter 1:18 translated aimless conduct in the New King James, futile way of life in the New American Standard, and empty way of life in the New International Version?"

It is because vain is the same as "aimless," "futile," or "empty," and the word translated conversation means "conduct" or "manner of life" or "way of life," which we now popularly call "life-style." Cruden's Complete Concordance lists the word conversation as being used 18 times in the New Testament and two times in the Old Testament in the King James Version. Cruden says the word means "behavior, or manner of life. It does not in the Bible mean discourse with another. The Revised Versions change the word in all cases" (p. 110).

This is because conversation meant "manner of life" in 1611 when the King James Version was published. A passage that shows conversation did not mean speech then is 1 Timothy 4:12, where Timothy is told to be an example both in word and in conversation. Words change meanings over time, but that doesn't make the King James or any other translation made before a word changed a bad translation. It just requires us to recognize what such words meant when the translation was made. We have the same problem with books written only a half-century ago when it comes to words like gay or cool. One reason so many English words have retained their meaning over the last 400 years is because of the widespread use of the King James Version. The lives of this and future generations will be made more complicated by our having so many translations that vary in their use of synonyms.

The word conversation in the King James Version is actually used to translate four different Greek words. (1) The most common one is anastrophe, which means "behavior" or "manner of life" and is used in Galatians 1:13; Ephesians 2:3; 4:22; 1 Timothy 4:12; Hebrews 13:7; James 3:13; 1 Peter 1:15,18; 2:12; 3:1,2,16; 2 Peter 2:7; 3:11. Most of these talk about the good or holy way of life Christians should lead, but some refer to the wrong way of life led by people of the world or by people before they became Christians. (2) A word related to anastrophe is anestraphan, used in 2 Corinthians 1:12 to describe the behavior of Paul and his fellow preachers at Corinth as they worked in holiness and sincerity. (3) Two related word forms meaning "citizenship" are used in Philippians 1:27 [politeusthe] and Philippians 3:20 [politeuma]. The first must be understood as "manner of life" and the second as "citizenship." I found it interesting that the word citizenship was used on our report cards in elementary school to describe the way we behaved. (4) Hebrews 13:5 uses the word tropos, which usually means "disposition" or "habit," to describe the Christian way of life as opposed to covetousness or love of money. Our way of life is the habit of being content with what we have.

Does this mean that conversation is not used in modern versions? No; for example, the New International Version uses the word conversation in Colossians 4:6, and the New King James uses it in Luke 24:17. In these places, the older versions translate it speech or communication; the word in the Greek is logos, which means "word." It is worthy of note that "manner of life" also includes conversation; people's conversations usually portray their life-styles. Our speech needs to reflect our commitment to the gospel of Christ, which should guide our words as well as our thoughts and actions.

The important thing to remember about all this is that Christianity is a way of life, not just a theological concept. God requires that we believe Jesus to be the Messiah (Christ), the Son of God, but He is just as concerned that we live the gospel as that we believe it. Our lives must be in line with our doctrine. We must walk the walk as well as talk the talk. - 2660 Layman Rd, Vincent OH 45784


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