Meat, Flesh or Food?
Some accuse the King James Bible of being inaccurate when it uses the word “meat” to describe any kind of solid food, but is this a correct or valid objection to the accuracy of the King James Bible? Of course not. All one needs to do is to simply learn a bit more about our own English language to see that the King James Bible and many others as well are perfectly accurate in translating several different Greek and Hebrew words as “meat” when it refers to any solid food as opposed to liquids.
The King James Bible uses the specific word “FLESH” when referring either to the meat of an animal or to the fallen, sinful nature of man. As we shall soon see, this distinction has sometimes been lost in many modern versions.
Let’s first define our words.
According to The New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language 1971 page 524 the English word “meat” means: FOOD IN GENERAL; anything eaten as nourishment; the flesh of animals used as food; THE EDIBLE PORTION OF SOMETHING (the meat of an egg). --- The meat of a discourse, book or article, its underlying thoughts or argument.”
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary - Meat -
1. FOOD IN GENERAL; ANY THING EATEN for nourishment, either by man or beast.
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb--to you it shall be for meat. Gen.1.
Every moving thing that liveth, shall be meat for you.
Thy carcass shall be meat to all fowls of the air.
2. The flesh of animals used as food. This is now the more usual sense of the word. The meat of carnivorous animals is tough, coarse and ill flavored. The meat of herbivorous animals is generally palatable.
3. In Scripture, spiritual food; that which sustains and nourishes spiritual life or holiness.
My flesh is meat indeed. John.6.
4. Spiritual comfort; that which delights the soul.
My meat is to do the will of him that sent me. John.4.
5. Products of the earth proper for food. Hab.3.
6. The more abstruse doctrines of the gospel, or mysteries of religion. Heb.5.
7. Ceremonial ordinances. Heb.13.
To sit at meat, to sit or recline at the table.
The 2008 Merriam Webster Online Dictionary 11th edition - Meat -
1. FOOD; esp., SOLID FOOD, AS DISTINGUISHED FROM DRINK: now archaic or dialectal except in meat and drink
2. the flesh of animals used as food; esp., the flesh of mammals and, sometimes, of fowl
3. the edible, inner part: the meat of a nut.
4. the substance, meaning, or gist: the meat of a story
The King James Bible (and many others) and the Hebrew texts use the same word to refer to both “meat” (Food in general) and “food” as we can clearly see when we compare verses like Genesis 1:29 and Genesis 6:21 where the same Hebrew word (#402 och-lah) is used for both “meat” and “food”.
Genesis 1:29 - “And God said, Behold, I have given you EVERY HERB bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for MEAT.”
Genesis 6:21 - “And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for FOOD for thee, and for them.” Thus we see that the words “meat” and “food” are simply synonyms.
By the way, the word “meat” meaning “food in general” is not even archaic. Not only does the King James Bible read “meat” in Genesis 1:29 and such other translations as Wycliffe 1395, Tyndale 1534 (he translated parts of the O.T.) - "to be MEATE for yow", Coverdale 1535, Cranmer 1539, the Great Bible 1540, the Bishops’ Bible 1568, the Douay-Rheims 1582, the Geneva Bible 1560 - 1602 -"and euery tree, wherein is the fruite of a tree bearing seede: that shall be to you for MEATE.", the Revised Version of 1881- "to you it shall be for MEAT", the Douay version of 1950, but it also reads this way in the 1994 KJV 21st Century version and in the 1998 Third Millenium Bible.
A similar word (#400 oh-chel) is translated as “meat” (18 times), “food” (15 times) and “victuals” - (pronounced “vitels”, 3 times). See Genesis 14:11 (victuals), Genesis 41:35 (food) and Deut. 2:6, 28 (meat). Thus we see that these three English words are synonyms for any solid food.
Another Hebrew word (3899 leh-ghem) is translated as “meat”, “food”, “bread”, “loaves” and “victuals”.
In the New Testament we see much the same thing. The King James Bible and many others use several words for both “meat” and “food” and another very different word for “flesh”.
In Matthew 3:4 we read of John the Baptist “...whose MEAT (trophe # 5160) was locusts and wild honey.” Yet the same word is translated as “food” in other passages such as Acts 14:17 “filling our hearts with FOOD and gladness.”; and in James 2:15 “destitute of daily FOOD.”
Other Bible versions that also translate this word as MEAT in Matthew 3:4 and many other places as well are Wycliffe 1395, Tyndale 1525, Coverdale 1535, The Great Bible (Cranmer) 1540 - "His meat was locustes and wylde hony.", Matthew's Bible 1549 - "His meate was locustes, & wilde honye., Bishops’ bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1557-1602, the Douay-Rheims 1582, Whiston's Primitive N.T. 1745, the Douay of 1950, the KJV 21st Century Version 1994 and the Third Millenium Bible of 1998.
Another Greek word is #1033 broma and it is translated as both “meat” and “victuals” and another similar one is #1035 brosis translated as “meat”, “food” and even as “rust”.
There is also found the common expression “to sit at meat”, meaning simply to sit down for a meal, and this meal does not have to include the literal flesh of animals. It can be simply a meal of bread, fruit and water or wine.
You will see this phrase in places like Matthew 9:10; 14:9 and 26:7. “And it came to pass, as he SAT AT MEAT with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.” Luke 24:30.
This phrase is found in all the older English translations like Wycliffe, Tyndale 1525, Coverdale 1535, the Great Bible 1540, Matthew's Bible 1549, Bishops’ Bible - "as Iesus sate at meate in his house", Douay-Rheims 1610, the Geneva 1587, Wesley’s translation 1755, Whiston's Primitive N.T. 1745 - "as Jesus sat at meat in the houseplus the Revised Version 1881, American Standard Version 1901 - "as he sat at meat in the house", Young's literal translation he reclining (AT MEAT) in the house", Lamsa’s 1933 translation of the Syriac, the Douay version 1950, the 21st Century KJV 1994 and the Third Millenium Bible 1998.
There is nothing wrong with the King James Bible when it uses the word “meat” to mean “Food in general”. That is still one of its meanings and it is perfectly accurate. The King James Bible itself is its own best commentary. Notice how God makes it very clear that anything that is solid food is called "meat".
Genesis 1:29 - “And God said, Behold, I have given you EVERY HERB bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is THE FRUIT of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for MEAT.” In the book of Danile king Nebuchadnezzar has a dream in which he sees a very large tree - "The leaves thereof were fair, and THE FRUIT thereof much, and in it was MEAT for all: the beast of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was FED of it." And in verse 21 "Whose leaves were fair, and the FRUIT thereof much, and in it was MEAT for all". The Bible itself is its own dictionary.
Here is where we sometimes run into a problem in many modern versions. In the King James Bible and many others as well, the word “flesh” means either the “meat of an animal” or the fallen, weak and sinful nature of man.
In the Old Testament the Hebrew word is # 1320 bah-sahr. It is found over 250 times and it is almost always translated as FLESH in the King James Bible but a couple times as ‘body”. It is NEVER incorrectly translated as “men” or “persons” as is the case in the NASB and especially in the NIV - (mankind 10 times, men 3, people 5 times, body 21 times and untranslated 12 times).
God knows how to say “men” and “people” but He does not use either of these words when the Hebrew texts speak of “flesh”.
The King James Bible and others use “flesh” in two senses. One is the literal flesh, muscles or meat of either men or animals, as in Genesis 2:23 - “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and FLESH of my FLESH: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. “
Or Genesis 8:17 - “Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee, of all FLESH, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth; that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth. “
But in places like Isaiah 40:6 where the King James Bible and many others read: “The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All FLESH is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field” (Geneva, RV, ASV, NASB, RSV, ESV, NKJV) the NIV reads “all MEN”, the NRSV has “all PEOPLE” and Holman has “all HUMANITY”.
FLESH in the New Testament
Here is where many modern versions begin to go off into wild, interpretive paraphrases. The word “flesh” can refer to the physical body which is subject to death and decay, or to the fallen, weak and sinful nature of man that is in opposition or contrast to the Spirit of God.
The principal word used is #4561 sarx. It is found 151 times in the King James Bible New Testament. Three times it is translated as “carnal” as in “the carnal mind is enmity against God” - Romans 8:7. All other 148 times it is translated as “flesh” in the King James Bible.
There is another word that is found only twice - (#2907 kreas, used in Romans 14:21 and 1 Cor. 8:13) and both times it refers to the flesh or meat of animals. “It is good neither to eat FLESH (kreas) nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. “ - Romans 14:21.
The NASB has translated this single word sarx as “flesh” 128 times, but also as “body” or “bodily condition”, earthly, fellow countrymen, life, man, mankind, nation, on earth and personally.
The NIV is even worse, translating this single word as “flesh” a mere 33 times, and as sinful nature (23), body (20), human, people, nature, man, earthly, physical, the world, birth, external, from a worldly point of view, human ancestry, human effort, human nature, human standards, illness, in this way, met personally, natural, natural selves, outwardly, perversion, sensual, sinful, unspiritual, and worldly manner. Plus 12 times they just left the word untranslated and omitted it.
It should be obvious that these modern translations are getting far more interpretative and loose in their translations of this single word God used in His inspired Book.
In summary, there is nothing wrong or inaccurate about the word “meat” in the King James Bible and many others when they use this perfectly good English word to refer to “solid food in general in contrast to liquids”, and they use the word “flesh” to refer to the meat of edible animals.
Again, English Bible translations that do this are Wycliffe 1395, Tyndale 1525, Coverdale 1535, Bishops’ Bible 1568, the Douay-Rheims 1582, the Geneva Bible 1557 - 1602, the King James Bible 1611, the Revised Version 1881, Douay 1950, the 21st Century KJV 1994, and the Third Millenium Bible 1998.
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