Acts 19:37 Robbers of churches
KJB: "For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither ROBBERS OF CHURCHES, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess."
NKJV (NASB, NIV, Jehovah Witness NWT) - "For you have brought these men here who are neither ROBBERS OF TEMPLES nor blasphemers of YOUR goddess."
ESV - "For you have brought these men here who are neither SACRILEGIOUS nor blasphemers of OUR goddess."
Some Bible correctors criticize the King James Bible for translating the word hierosulos as "robbers of churches", and insist the word should properly be translated as "robbers of temples" instead of "robbers of churches". Others tell us it should be "SACRILEGIOUS".
With all the very serious errors found in the multitude of conflicting modern versions that depart from the Hebrew texts in scores of places and use very different Greek texts than those that underlie the King James Bible, this seems to me and many others as a case of "straining at gnats" in a vain effort to find just one little "error" in the King James Bible.
The NKJV, NIV, NRSV, Holman, NET, Catholic St. Joseph NAB, Jehovah Witness New World Translation, and NASB all unite in saying "ROBBERS OF TEMPLES", rather than "ROBBERS OF CHURCHES."
Actually, the word can have a wide variety of meanings, as is shown by the different ways various bible versions have translated this word. The Greek word ιεροσυλους comes from two different words, one meaning to rob or plunder, and the other word - hieros- can signify anything holy, consecrated, or hallowed.
According to Kittle's massive lexicon the word can refer to a pagan shrine, a temple or a synagogue, or anywhere people meet for religious rites or services.
Likewise Liddell and Scott's lexicon says the word can refer to any holy place, a temple, anything hallowed, consecrated, or holy and it can describe sacred objects or rites.
The Baer, Arndt and Gingrich lexicon tells us the word hierosulos (ιεροσυλους) can also have the general sense of "one who commits irreverent acts against a holy place; a sacrilegious person."
There are also several versions that translate this word as neither "robbers of churches" nor as "robbers of temples" but as "SACRILEGIOUS", following the Latin Vulgate -"sacrilegos." Among these are the Catholic Douay Rheims 1582, New Jerusalem bible 1985 and the Catholic Public Domain Version 2009, RSV, ESV 2001- 2011, Douay 1950, Geneva Bible, and the New English Bible 1970.
ESV 2011 - "For you have brought these men here who are neither SACRILEGIOUS nor blasphemers of our goddess."
Other bible versions translate this word in yet a different way.
The Thomson bible 1808 - "have NEITHER VIOLATED THINGS SACRED"
The Wakefield N.T. 1820 - "neither GUILTY OF PROFANENESS"
The Dickenson N.T. 1833 - "neither PLUNDERERS OF SACRED PLACES"
The Ainslie N.T. 1869 - "who are neither ROBBERS nor blasphemers"
New Life Version 1997 "DO NOT ROB HOUSES OF WORSHIP"
Bible in Basic English 1961 "NOT DOING DAMAGE TO THE HOLY PLACE"
New English Bible 1961 "HAVE COMMITTED NO SACRILEGE"
Goodspeed 1923 "NOT BEEN GUILTY OF DISLOYALTY"
Concordant Version 2009 - "neither DESPOILERS OF THE SANCTUARY"
The Hebraic Transliteration Scriptures 2010 by Yerusha Shen has "neither ROBBERS OF ASSEMBLIES"
Lexham English Bible 2012 - "neither ROBBERS OF TEMPLES"
"neither ROBBERS OF CHURCHES"
Other Bible versions that read exactly like the King James Bible saying "neither robbers of churches" are Tyndale 1525 - "whiche are nether ROBBERS OF CHURCHES", Miles Coverdale 1535 - "nether CHURCH ROBBERS", the Great Bible (Cranmer 1540) - "which are nether ROBBERS OF CHURCHES", Matthew's Bible 1549, the Bishop's Bible 1568, the Bill Bible 1671, the Clarke N.T. 1795, The Revised Translation 1815, Webster's 1833 translation, The Hussey N.T. 1845, The Dillard N.T. 1885, The Word of Jah 1993 - "robbers of churches", the KJV 21st Century Version 1994, the Third Millennium Bible 1998, God's First Truth Yes Word 1999, The Evidence Bible 2003, the Bond Slave Version 2009 and The Conservative Bible 2010 - "who are neither CHURCH ROBBERS".
Among foreign language Bibles that translate this as "robbers of churches" are Luther's German Bible 1545 "Kirchenrauber" = "CHURCH robbers" and the Modernized German Bible - "Ihr habt diese Menschen hergeführet, die weder Kirchenräuber", the Dutch Staten Vertaling bible - "die noch KERKROVERS zijn, noch uw godin lasteren.", = "CHURCH robbers", the Romanian Fidela Bible 2014 - "care nu sunt nici jefuitori de biserici" = "which are neither robbers of CHURCHES", the Finnish Bible 1776 - "jotka ei ole kirkon varkaita" = "CHURCH robbers", the Chinese Union Traditional Bible - 他 們 並 沒 有 偷 竊 廟 中 之 物 ， 也 沒 有 謗 讟 我 們 的 女 神 。= "They are not ROBBERS OF CHURCHES nor blasphemers of our goddess."
Some well known commentators in the past have had no problem with the wording of the King James Bible.
Matthew Henry notes in his commentary: (v. 37): "You have brought hither these men, and are ready to pull them to pieces; but have you considered what is their transgression and what is their offence? What can you prove upon them? They are not ROBBERS OF CHURCHES (caps mine), you cannot charge them with sacrilege, or the taking away of any dedicated thing."
John Calvin's translation and commentary reads Acts 19:37 as: "For ye have brought men which are neither CHURCH-ROBBERS, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess." Then Calvin remarks: "He doth both truly and well deny that they be CHURCH-ROBBERS."
Another reason why this phrase is correctly translated as "robbers of churches" is the simple context of the whole passage. The Greek word includes anywhere people met for religious purposes, whether pagan or Christian. The city was Ephesus. Were there Christian assemblies in the city of Ephesus at this time? Yes, very definitely.
At the beginning of Acts 19 we see the apostle Paul coming to Ephesus where he finds twelve disciples whom he baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Paul continues there in Ephesus and preaches for three months in the synagogue. Then he separates the believers and continues another two years of preaching "so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks". Acts 19:18-20 tells us of "many that believed" and "so mightily grew the word of God and prevailed".
Part of the complaint made by Demetrius against Paul was that "not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away MUCH PEOPLE, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands." There were at this time in Ephesus a great many Christians who were meeting daily in Christian home churches.
So, when the townclerk of Ephesus arises to quell the uproar in the city, he appeals to the known character of Paul by saying he was "neither a robber of churches, nor yet blasphemers of YOUR goddess." This would include both the Christian churches and also their pagan religion. Also keep in mind, that when many modern versions translate this as "robbers of TEMPLES", there was only ONE "the temple of the great goddess Diana (Artemis), and it was located near Ephesus. There were no such thing as other temples of the goddess Diana in other parts of the world.
See more about the temple of the goddess Diana/Artemis here if you like -
The apostle Paul was not a robber of churches. He wasn't taking financial advantage of the many Christian believers who lived in Ephesus and everyone knew this. In fact, in the very next chapter of Acts 20 it is recorded that Paul later sent for the elders of Ephesus to come to him so he could give them one last charge. There already were established churches in Ephesus and the surrounding regions with elders feeding the flock.
Paul reminds them that he had been preaching among them for three years. He says: "Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons...I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me...It is more blessed to give than to receive."
It was well known that Paul was no robber of churches. The King James Bible is correct.
It is more than just a bit hypocritical for the modern versionist to insist the word hieron must be translated only as "temple". All the modern versions frequently translate the same word in a wide variety of ways. The word hieron itself in the NASB is variously translated as "temple, sanctuary, and shrine". The NIV has both "temple" and "shrine".
A couple more examples of how the modern versions give a variety of meanings to a single word is shown in the following. In Hebrew, the word binar # 1002, is used 17 times and always translated as "palace" in the KJB. The NASB complete concordance defines the word as "a castle or palace", and then translated this word as "capital" 10 times, "capitol" 1 time, "citadel" 1 time, "fortress" twice and "temple" 2 times.
The word ekklesia is usually translated as "church" yet the NASB, NIV, ESV have also rendered this word as "assembly" and "congregation", when the word has absolutely nothing to do with a Christian church.
In this same chapter of Acts 19 in verses 32, 39 and 41 the word ekklesia is used three times to describe a mass of unconverted people coming together in a public protest against the apostle Paul. "Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for THE ASSEMBLY (η εκκλησια) was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together." (Oh, wait. Maybe is DOES sound like a lot of churches after all ;-)
It is used again in Acts 19:39 "But if ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful ASSEMBLY." (η εκκλησια) And again in v. 41 "And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed THE ASSEMBLY." (η εκκλησια)
So, in this very chapter we have another example of a particular Greek word that has a different meaning that the usual one we find it associated with.
Likewise the word naos is usually translated as "temple", yet the NASB has also translated this word as "sanctuary" and "shrine".
There is nothing wrong with the way the KJB and several other Bible versions have translated this word as "robbers of churches". It fits the context of the whole chapter since there were many Christians meeting in this city and the character of Paul was well known by everyone. Those who insist that it is wrong, are straining at gnats and swallowing a camel.
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