Article: 1 Samuel 13:21 "a file" a "pim" or "two-thirds of a shekel"? by Will Kinney

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“A file” or “a pim” or “two-thirds shekel"?


1 Samuel 13:21 “Yet THEY HAD A FILE for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads. “


There is much confusion and a wide variety of ways the various Bible versions have translated this verse. The reason I bring it up is because at one of the Bible clubs I belong to an NIV user posted it as an example of an indisputable “error” in the King James Bible.


The NIV and some other perhaps surprising modern versions, like the NKJV, have a very different translation in this verse. The NIV reads: “THE PRICE WAS TWO THIRDS OF A SHEKEL for sharpening plowshares and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads.”


Then they have a footnote that presumptuously says: “Hebrew pim; that is, about 1/4 ounce (about 8 grams).” Why do I say presumptuously? Because the meaning of the Hebrew in this verse is not at all so cut and dried as the NIV editors want you to think it is.


For instance, the King James Bible has a marginal note that says: “Hebrew - a file with mouths.” This helps explain why the KJB is correct. Even some of the modern critics admit that the word translated as “file” comes from a root that can mean to cut, to rub hard or to sharpen. The word “pim” was seen by the KJB translators, and many others as well, as being a Semitic cognate in the plural for the usual word “peh” which has multiple meanings that even the modern versions translate as: “edges, devour, ate, beak, and sharpen.” The little grooves or edges on the file would be the “mouths” that gradually ate away at the blunted metal in the sharpening process. Thus, to translate this phrase literally as “a file of mouths” would be superfluous; the simple translation of “file” is much better.


As we shall soon see, even the modern versions have to add or omit words in order to come up with the meanings found in them.


The RSV also reads similarly to the NKJV, NIV with: “and THE CHARGE WAS A PIM for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads.” But then their footnote says: “The Hebrew of this verse is obscure.” Keep in mind that this is long after the early 1900’s when somebody found some rocks with the word “pim” on them and the new theory had been advanced. Not everybody was convinced it was right. They still aren’t.


The NKJV also reads very differently than the King James Bible. It basically goes along with the liberal RSV and reads: “AND THE CHARGE FOR A SHARPENING WAS A PIM for the plowshares, the mattocks, the forks, and the axes, and to set the points of the goads.” Then the NKJV has a footnote that reads like the NIV saying that a pim is “About two-thirds shekel weight.”


Other versions that read like the NIV (“two-thirds of a shekel”) are the NASB, RSV, NRSV, ESV, the recent Catholic versions and the Holman Standard. However as we shall soon see, this interpretation of the meaning of the verse is a fairly recent development and one that is not at all shared by many other Bible translators.


Some versions just omit the phrase altogether, with no mention of a file, a charge or a pim. Such is the case with Darby’s translation. It says: 13:20-21: “And all Israel went down to the Philistines, every man to get his ploughshare, and his hoe, and his axe, and his sickle sharpened, (21) when the edges of the sickles, and the hoes, and the forks, and the axes were blunted; and to set the goads.”


The so called Greek Septuagint LXX version is, as usual, quite different from them all. It says: “And it was near the time of vintage; and THEIR TOOLS WERE VALUED AT THREE SHEKELS for a ploughshare, and there was the same rate for the axe and the sickle.” OoooKaaaay ;-)


The Catholic Douay-Rheims also omits any referrence to either a file or a pim, or any two-thirds of a shekel to be paid and reads: “So that their shares, and their spades, and their forks, and their axes, were blunt, even to the goad, which was to be mended.” But since 1950 all new Catholic versions like the St. Joseph New American Bible 1970 and the New Jerusalem bible 1985 read like the RSV, NASB, NIV and NKJV.


It is also very interesting to see what the ancient Syriac version says. Lamsa translated the ancient Syriac (Aramaic)version in 1936 and it reads very much like the King James Bible. It says: “And there was A BROAD FILE for the sickle and for the ploughshare and his axe and to sharpen the goads.” The ancient Syriac translation gives a lot of weight to the accuracy of the King James Bible reading. Here is a related Semitic language that views the Hebrew text as having the same meaning as that found in the King James Bible and many others.


The Hebrew word translated as “file” in the King James Bible and many others is a combination of two words. That is why the KJB margin says “Hebrew - file of mouths. One word is used only once in all the Old Testament - petsirah (“file” in KJB, “charge” in NKJV, NIV, NASB). The other word is the one that gives rise to all the controversy. What makes it worse or even more confusing, is that several interlinear translations and reference works like Wigrams and Strongs label the word in question as # 6310 which it the common word for “mouth, or edge”.


Many Bible study sources apparently still consider the word “pim” to be a plural Semitic cognate for the word “mouths”. Wigram’s Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament page 1012, Strongs concordance page 93, The Complete Word Study Old Testament, and the AMG publishers 1994 by Zodhiates on page 752 all continue to list the word “pim” under the Hebrew word # 6310 peh, which occurs hundreds of times.


The common word for “mouth” is “peh” and has the assigned number of 6310. This word is generally translated (or often the translation is omitted as being superfluous) as mouth, commandment, word, according to, hole, edge, sharpen or parts. The NIV concordance shows that they have not translated this word at all ten times, and have given it over 60 very different meanings including “jaws, edge, fruit, collar, neck, face, number, double-edged, hunger, share and taste”.


However the actual Hebrew word found here seems to be “pim” and it is used only one time in the entire Old Testament. The early Jewish Hebraists like Rashi and Radak and other Bible translators considered this unique Hebrew word to be directly related to the other common Hebrew word “peh” meaning ‘mouth’ or ‘edge’. Some modern scholars, including several Jewish ones, still do.


Others have taken the view that the true meaning of the word pim was unknown until the early 1900’s when some rocks were found inscribed with the letters ‘pim’, and so a new theory arose that what was being talked about in 1 Samuel 13:21 was some sort of a unit of weight equalling two-thirds of a shekel. And so we have many modern versions like the RSV, NKJV, NASB and NIV adopting this view.


However not all are in agreement with their line of reasoning. Others think that the letters ‘pim’ recently found on those rocks was an abbreviation for something else, and there are still those who think the word “pim” is simply a Semitic cognate in the plural form for the common Hebrew word “peh” meaning “mouths or edges”.


So for them to dogmatically affirm, as does the NKJV as well, that the Hebrew says “two-thirds of a shekel” is more than a little presumptuous. Even Daniel Wallace’s NET version notes that “THE MEANING OF THE HEBREW IS UNCERTAIN.”


Bible commentators are often at odds with each other as well when it comes to what they think this verse means.


Adam Clarke says in his commentary: “Yet they had a file - The Hebrew petsirah, from patsar, to rub hard, is translated very differently by the versions and by critics. Our translation may be as likely as any: they permitted them the use of files, (I believe the word means grindstone,) to restore the blunted edges of their tridents axes, and goads.”


John Gill sticks to the translation found in the King James Bible saying: “Those that would not go to the Philistines kept files by them to sharpen those several instruments with upon occasion... when the mouths, or edges, of the mattocks, coulter were dull or "blunt" and so needed sharpening.”


Jamieson, Fausset and Brown agree with the KJB reading as well - 19, 20. Now there was no smith found throughout . . . Israel--”The country was in the lowest state of depression and degradation. The Philistines, after the great victory over the sons of Eli, had become the virtual masters of the land. Their policy in disarming the natives has been often followed in the East. For repairing any serious damage to their agricultural implements, they had to apply to the neighboring forts. 21. Yet they had a file--as a kind of privilege, for the purpose of sharpening sundry smaller utensils of husbandry.”


Agreeing with the King James Bible translation of “YET THEY HAD A FILE for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads.” are the following Bible translations: the Bishops’ Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1560-1602, Webster’s 1833, the Revised Version 1881, the American Standard Version 1901, Rotherham’s Emphasized bible 1902, the Hebrew Names Version (which is so new, the translation is still in progress), the 1936 Hebrew Publishing Company version, the recent Judaica Press Tanach “And there was a file for the mattocks...”, the 2001 Sacred Scriptures Family of Jah, The Ancient Roots Translinear Bible 2008 - “They had a station to file the mouth of the mattocks, plowshares, three pitch-forks, axes, and goads.”, the 2008 Torah Transliteration Scripture, and the 2001 Urim-Thummin Version done by a Jewish Christian translates the passage as: “Still they had a file for the mattocks, and for the diggers, and for the forks and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads.”


Still others that match the meaning found in the King James Bible are the 1898 Young’s ‘literal’, the World English Bible, the Bible in Basic English 1960, the 21st Century KJV 1994, the 1998 Third Millenium Bible, the 2005 Spanish Reina Valera Gomez, the Portuguese Almeida, and the 1649 Italian Diodati.


In the recent Judaica Press Complete Tanach, published by Orthodox Jews in 1963, they often use the commentary of the well known early Hebrew scholar Rashi, and they translate the whole verse as it stands in the King James Bble. 1 Samuel 13:21 - “And there was A FILE for the mattocks and for the colters and for the three-pronged pitchforks and for the axes, and to set the goad.


Not only that, but there is another very recent Hebrew translation of the Bible done in January of 2005. It is the Artscroll Stone edition of the Hebrew Scriptures. These Orthodox Jewish scholars have translated the verse as: "There was a MULTI-GROOVED FILE for the mattocks..." So, whatever the Hebrew word pim means, it should be obvious that not everybody agrees on how it should be translated.


As we can well see, many other Bible commentators and Bible translators agree that the King James Bible translation found in 1 Samuel 13:21 is the correct one.


Daniel Wallace’s (and company) Notes are very confusing. They translate 1 Samuel 13:21 as: “ They CHARGED(29) TWO-THIRDS OF A SHEKEL (30) to sharpen plowshares and cutting instruments...”


He then footnotes: 29tn Heb “the price was.” The meaning of the Hebrew word (ptsirah) is uncertain. This is the only place it occurs in the OT. Some propose the meaning “sharpening,” but “price” is a more likely meaning IF the following term refers to a weight


So right here even the NET version folks admit both that the meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain, and the condition of “IF the following term refers to a weight.” In other words - lots of conjecture, guesses and supposition. He then goes on to say:


30tn This word (pim), which appears only here in the OT, PROBABLY refers to a stone weight. Stones marked (pim) have been found in excavations of Palestinian sites. The average weight of such stones is 0.268 ounces, which is equivalent to about two-thirds of a shekel. This PROBABLY refers to the price charged by the Philistines for the services listed. See P. K. McCarter, I Samuel (AB), 238; DNWSI 2:910; and G. I. Davies, Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions, 259.


I also have another interlinear Hebrew-English translation that presents the same confusing phenomenon as many modern versionists do. I have right here in front of me The Interlinear Hebrew-Aramaic Old Testament by Jay P. Green, copyrighted 1985, the 15th printing done in 1991.


In 1 Samuel 13:21, found in Volume Two on page 742 his Hebrew TEXT says the word in question is #6310 - peh,(mouths) but his translation says “the charge was a PIM for the plowshares...”


Some very well know Jewish scholars such as Rashi and Radak and other Bible translators believe pim is a plural cognate of the word peh which is # 6310. This word is found hundreds of times with a huge variety of meanings. Both the NIV and NASB give it many meanings including “mouth, accord, apt, as much as, BEAK, boast, collar, commandment, counsel, EDGE, evidence, face, from one end to another, HUNGER, intent, JAWS, lips, mouth (289 times in the NASB), parts, portion, promised, settled, so, speech, sound, taste, terms, TWO- EDGED, whenever, wishes, hole, tenor, skirt, and words”!!!


I suspect that the modern versionists who tell us that the King James Bible translators and others “didn’t know how to translate the Hebrew text” and that some recent discovery made in the early 1900’s about the word pim being found on some rocks suddenly sheds “new light” on the passage as it has stood for hundreds of years is a bunch of baloney.


Their new theory fits right into the modern and widespread mentality of unbelief in the existence of any Bible in any language that is or ever has been the complete, inspired and 100% true Holy Scriptures. In their way of thinking there never has been a complete and 100% true Bible in any language. They think the sovereign God of the universe is still trying to piece together His perfect Book and we still do not have it. Not one of these people believes that any Bible in any language IS the perfect, preserved and infallible words of the living God. Don’t believe me? Just ask them.


The King James Bible translators were by no means perfect or sinless; but it should be pointed out that neither were the men used by God to give us the long lost originals in the first place! They were merely the clay vessels God chose to bring into the world His perfect “book of the LORD” in the English language.


The King James Bible translators expressed no doubt or uncertainty about what the words mean in 1 Samuel 13:21. They said nothing remotely close to “Well, we’re not really sure what this means” or “The Hebrew is uncertain”, but rather stated in no uncertain terms “Hebrew - a FILE with mouths” - and they were right.


Even Daniel Wallace, one of the biggest guns in the modern version movement, shows some very real uncertainty about the whole pim theory. Remember the NET version crew themselves stated: “The meaning of the Hebrew word (ptsirah) is uncertain. This is the only place it occurs in the OT. Some propose the meaning “sharpening,” but “price” is a more likely meaning IF THE FOLLOWING TERM REFERS TO A WEIGHT.” He also tosses in a couple of big “PROBABLY”s to boot.


There is absolutely no overwhelming proof, reason or evidence to think that the modern versions (that are so wrong in so many other places and are only getting worse and not better) have suddenly managed to find some kind of an error in the King James Bible. We have seen that there are at least 6 modern day Jewish translations that still believe the Hebrew texts are best translated as they have stood in the King James Bible for almost 400 years now. This Holy Bible, to which even the NASB testifies in its Preface - “In the history of English Bible translations, the King James Version is the most prestigious.” - has unshakably withstood the tests of both time and its critics. It is the ONLY Bible believed by thousands all over the world to be the complete, preserved, inspired and infallible words of God, and the Standard by which all others are to be measured.


Will Kinney


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