Article: Is "cousin" wrong in Luke 1:36 by Will Kinney

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Is “cousin” a wrong translation in the King James Bible?

Luke 1:36, 58 “cousin(s)” or “relatives”?

I recently received a short letter from another Christian regarding the use of the word “cousin” in the King James Bible. This brother writes:

“Hello, Mr. Kinney. I hope this e-mail finds you well. First, let me say that I am a KJV only guy. So let me get to my question. In Luke 1:36, the KJ translators used the word "cousin". It is my understanding that the word they translated "cousin" just means "relative". So why did the KJ translators translate it as "cousin" and not "relative"? This seems to have led to some confusion in the geneology of Mary.”

Thank you, and may God Bless, Steve

I enjoy getting questions like this because they always cause me to learn more about God’s precious words as found in the Authorized King James Holy Bible.

King James Bible - Luke 1:36 “And, behold, THY COUSIN Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.”

There is also another verse this man did not mention where the word “cousins” appears. It is Luke 1:58. There we read: “And her neighbours and her COUSINS heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.”

The Greek word used in these two places is sungenees, and it is found 12 times in the New Testament. It is translated in the King James Bible as “cousin, kinsfolk (Luke 2:44; 21:16), and kinsmen (Luke 14:12)”.

The apparent problem this brother is having is not that the King James Bible (and others as we shall soon see) has ‘mistranslated’ this word as “cousin”, but rather in understanding our own English language, and in the wide variety of meanings that this single Greek word contains.

Simply look up the English word “cousin” in any good, modern dictionary, like Websters, American Heritage or Cambridge International Dictionary and you will find the following definitions of the word.

Merriam Webster Dictionary = Middle English cosin, from Anglo-French cusin, cosin, from Latin consobrinus, from com- + sobrinus second cousin, from soror sister — 1 a: a child of one's uncle or aunt b: a relative descended from one's grandparent or more remote ancestor by two or more steps and in a different line c: kinsman, relative 2: one associated with or related to another : counterpart 3—used as a title by a sovereign in addressing a nobleman 4: a person of a race or people ethnically or culturally related

Cambridge International Dictionary - 1. a child of a person's aunt or uncle, or, more generally, a distant relative.

American Heritage Dictionary - 1. A child of one's aunt or uncle. Also called first cousin. 2. A relative descended from a common ancestor, such as a grandparent, by two or more steps in a diverging line. 3. A relative by blood or marriage; a kinsman or kinswoman.

So we can see clearly that the King James Bible is NOT in error when it translates this Greek word as both “cousin” and “kinsman”, because that is what the the words mean. Elisabeth may in fact have been Mary's cousin, just as we normally think of the word, or she may have been a more distant relative. In either case, the English word "cousin" covers and includes all possibilities of this relationship. I personally have asked a native Greek speaker about the meaning of this word, and she told me that it can mean either a relative or a cousin.

Not only does the King James Bible translate Luke 1:36 as “behold, thy COUSIN Elisabeth” but so also do the following Bible translations: Wycliffe 1395, Tyndale 1525, Coverdale 1535, Bishops’ Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1587, Mace’s N.T. 1729, John Wesley’s 1755 translation, the Douay-Rheims bible, Webster’s 1833 version, the 1969 New Life Bible, the New Berkeley Version in Modern English 1969, the New Jerusalem Bible 1985, the KJV 21st Century version 1994, and even Eugene Peterson’s 2002 The Message! - “And did you know that your COUSIN Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is?”

The same people who put out the NIV, the International Bible Society, have made a new translation into the Spanish language. It is the 2003 Castilian Spanish New Testament, and it also reads “cousin = prima - “Desde hace seis meses, tu PRIMA Elisabet, la que todos tenían por estéril...” So too does the 2000 United Bible Societies Biblia en Lenguaje Sencillo version - “Tu PRIMA Isabel, aunque ya es muy vieja...” The NIV (International Bible Society) has also been translated into Italian and the 1997 La Parola e Vita reads “cousin” as well - “tua CUGINA Elisabetta”

As another example of a single word having many meanings, let’s look at the NIV’s treatment of a single Hebrew word - 0278 ah (according to the NIV complete concordance).

The NIV has twice translated this Hebrew word as “cousin” (Lev. 10:4; 1 Chron. 23:22), and yet has also translated this same word as “brother, relative, countryman, family, friends, associate, fellow Jew, companions, and uncle!

The King James Bible is not at all wrong when it translates the Greek word sungenees as both “cousin” and “kinsman”. All one needs to do is to learn more about our own rich and varied English language.

The King James Bible is always right.

God bless,

Will Kinney

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