Have you ever noticed how some generations can hear someone say one thing while another generation hears something totally different? For example, my kids enjoy watching the old Flintstones programs, but they always giggle at a certain point in the theme song. It says:
“When you’re with the Flintstones
Have a yabba-dabba-doo time
A dabba-doo time
We’ll have a gay old time”
Now, in 1960, the primary definition of gay meant “lighthearted and carefree.” In 2018, with the perverting of our culture, even down to the smallest child, everyone recognizes the word “gay” to mean “a homosexual, especially a man.” So, while kids in the 60s heard “We’ll have a light-hearted, carefree time,” today’s generation hears “We’ll have homosexual sex!”
Generations hear words differently, so we should expect nothing different to occur when studying a comparison of the KJV and NKJV. The KJV translates into English an ancient language into the English of 1611 and later on updates it to the English of 1769. Most KJV bibles that you will find being used in churches today are from the 1769 update. The NKJV attempts to translates into English an ancient language into the English of 1982. They don’t always update the language perfectly in my opinion, but I respect them for using the correct Greek New Testament text and attempting to make the Word understandable to a new generation. I certainly was blessed by God when I picked up a NKJV many years ago and saw how the Word became more accessible to me as a young man when I read it in the English of 1982.
Today I am going to look specifically at two Greek words in today’s passage: ἀναστροφή anastrophē and μάταιος mataios.
1 Peter 1:15 King James Version (KJV) 1611
But as hee which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all maner of conuersation;
1 Peter 1:15 King James Version (KJV) 1769
15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;
1 Peter 1:15 New King James Version (NKJV) 1982
15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,
Conversation or Conduct?
Our first Greek word is ἀναστροφή anastrophē. The KJV translates this word as conversation every time it appears in the Textus Receptus Greek New Testament. The problem is, though this Greek word clearly means behavior, all 13 times this Greek word appears, it is rendered as conversation. Is it a conspiracy on behalf of the 1611 translators to render this word as something different? No.
So then, why would the KJV translators use the word conversation for a Greek word that means behavior? It would be misleading to tell someone that God is only concerned that you be holy in your, as Merriam Webster defines conversation, “oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas.” God certainly wants us to be holy in those things, but ἀναστροφή anastrophē goes deeper than that. There is no doubt it is referring to how you live your life and the behaviors that you engage in. While that certainly includes oral correspondence, it also includes actions.
The KJV isn’t attempting to mislead you. It is just using the language of 1611. In 1611, conversation meant your conduct and behavior. If you pull out your Webster’s dictionary, you will see that that definition of the word is now obsolete. The KJV isn’t wrong, no more than it was wrong for a children’s television show in 1960 to tell the children to have a “gay, old time.” Neither is the Greek word wrong because that is the God inspired word that God gave Peter to write down. The NKJV merely updates the Greek word to the English equivalent for this generation to understand it.
1 Peter 1:18 King James Version (KJV) 1611
For as much as ye know that yee were not redeemed with corruptible things, as siluer and golde, from your vaine conuersation receiued by tradition from your fathers;
1 Peter 1:18 King James Version (KJV) 1769
18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;
1 Peter 1:18 New King James Version (NKJV) 1982
18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers,
Vain or Aimless?
The Greek word is μάταιος mataios. It means, according to Strong’s concordance, empty, in other word profitless, devoid of force or truth or success, useless, or of no purpose. The KJV consistently translates this word (the six times that it appears in the Textus Receptus Greek New Testament) as vain or vanities.
Now, the top definition in Webster’s Dictionary for Vain is “having or showing undue or excessive pride in one’s appearance or achievements.” If you read this verse thinking of the two primary definitions for vain and conversation, you will hear that you were redeemed from arrogant speech. That isn’t what the Greek is saying.
Now, in this instance, the secondary definition for the word vain isn’t obsolete today, like the word conversation was, and it does mean exactly what the Greek word is conveying: “marked by futility or ineffectualness.” The NKJV just updates the English word to an instantly understandable word here. The KJV again, isn’t wrong, it just isn’t as clear because a new generation will “hear” the word differently today.
Finally, I want us to pay attention to the point of this passage. It says that we have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ from the aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers. This passage is saying that these Jews were once bound by tradition, a tradition that was aimless, devoid of force, empty, profitless, vain, useless, and/or of no purpose. Have you been redeemed of that? A good way to see is to ask this question of yourself: Is tradition what you are willing to die for or the gospel?
I find that many who claim the name of Christ are more concerned with their tradition than they are with the fact that God wants to see the world saved and understand how much He loves them. They don’t care if the correct message is clear or not. They only care that the tradition received from their fathers continues. These types of people would not care that this word update would help someone more clearly see how God loves them or understand what He desires for their lives more clearly.
It must always be “vain conversation” for them.
I am certain we all have found ourselves acting like that before. I know that I have found myself holding to tradition and then realizing I was doing that because of me and not because of how it would help God and others. When we find ourselves with attitudes like that, we need to remember that traditions that don’t lift Christ up are more like the “tradition of our father that were aimless conduct.” Who wants to base their lives on aimless conduct? I want to base my life on the only thing that matters: Receiving and Sharing the gospel.
I recently preached a message on the topic of why people do not accept change from Jonah 4. I would encourage anyone reading this to watch it and ask yourself the question, “Will I not change something because of me or because of HIM?” The honest answer to that question can make a lot of things very simple in your walk with Christ and keep you from “vain conversation” in either definition of those words.