What About the KJV’s Condemnation of “Debate” ?

The King James Version of the Bible (KJV) was translated in 1611. Some words have changed in meaning since then. For example, I’m sure the reader doesn’t think it is wrong to have what we call a “banquet” today, just because I Peter 4:3 condemns “banquetings.” That word then was talking about an alcohol drinking party. In our day and time, it usually just means eating a meal together, as in when a little league ball team eats at a restaurant together at the end of the year to hand out trophies.

The same thing is true of the word “debate” in II Corinthians 12:20 and Romans 1:29 (Strong’s #2054). Thayer’s definition for the Greek word is “contention, strife, wrangling.” That is not what is done in formal religious debates today. Instead what is done can better be described by what the modern day word “debate” means. The following definitions for “debate” come from Dictionary.com:

v. intr.

  1. To consider something; deliberate.
  2. To engage in argument by discussing opposing points.
  3. To engage in a formal discussion or argument. See Synonyms at discuss.
  4. Obsolete. To fight or quarrel.

v. tr.

  1. To deliberate on; consider.
  2. To dispute or argue about.
  3. To discuss or argue (a question, for example) formally.
  4. Obsolete. To fight or argue for or over.


  1. A discussion involving opposing points; an argument.
  2. Deliberation; consideration: passed the motion with little debate.
  3. A formal contest of argumentation in which two opposing teams defend and attack a given proposition.
  4.  Obsolete. Conflict; strife

Notice what is done in formal religious debating today is described by the # 3 definitions above.  # 4 above gives the obsolete (not used anymore) definition, which is the one being used in II Corinthians 12:20 and Romans1:29.

New Testament examples showing that public religious debating is scriptural include Acts 15:2,7 and 17:17.  Even if we don’t like it (Proverbs 14:12), since Paul and other faithful Christians did it, then we should follow their example (I Corinthians 11:1).

Discussing the scriptures and what they have to say is held in very high esteem by God (II Timothy 3:16, 4:2).  But if we are just arguing over “fables and endless genealogies” (I Timothy 1:4) and such like, things that have no bearing on our service to God, then we are wasting our time and God disapproves.

Another definition given by Dictionary.com is: “a discussion in which reasons are advanced for and against some proposition or proposal; ‘the argument over foreign aid goes on and on.’”  Surely the reader doesn’t think there is anything wrong with that.  That is done in schools and in politics every day.  Proverbs 25:9 commanded people to “debate thy cause with thy neighbor.”  Surely the cause of Christ and what his word teaches is a cause much greater than “foreign aid” or any other such political issue.

Notice that Paul was “set for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:17).  Shouldn’t we try to be like Paul (Philippians 4:9) and do the same?  We should all obey the command in Jude verse 3 to “contend earnestly for the faith.”  In Acts 19:8-10, Paul disputed daily for two years.  And some Christians think it is a bad thing, or a waste of time?  Try telling that to the apostle Paul.  He was obsessed with persuading people to obey the truth (II Corinthians 5:10-11).  Jesus himself was involved in some of the greatest debates/disputes in history (Matthew 22:15-46).  And we should follow His example (I Peter 2:21).

Here again we come across another instance where many Christians want to decide about the merits of an issue by what they think or want, instead of what God says on the matter.  As with all religious questions, man’s wisdom is not worth a hill of beans (I Corinthians 2:4-5).  Just like we preach to the denominations, God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9) on the issue of whether or not we should debate doctrinal questions with denominationalists and other fellow Christians.  We should take every opportunity to defend the cause of Christ publicly and/or privately as our abilities warrant.  And we should make the time to encourage and support debates within driving distance of where we live (II Timothy 4:16).


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