Corrupt or Peddle?
~ 2 Corinthians 2:17 in the Authorized Version ~
“For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”
Modern versions (NKJV, NASV, NIV, AMP, ESV) translate the word as “peddle” while the Authorized King James Version uses the word “corrupt.” The question has been propounded by some as to whether the Authorized Version is correct in its rendering, or which rendering is the better of the two?
The margin of the 1611 KJV reads: “Or, deal deceitfully with.” Geneva translates it as “make merchandise” while Tyndale & Bishops’ translate the word into two words: “choppe & change.” The word “choppe” is an old word used for “make merchandise” while the word change involves turning the word of God into something else from what it should be. It would seem that Tyndale recognized a dual-fold meaning or application of the word and to be honest with the sense translated it as both. But it would seem the KJV translators did not want to translate the single Greek word into two words (three counting the word “and”) and so used the word “corrupt.” Corrupt involves the application of both concepts: To change the word of God is to corrupt its essence while to peddle or make merchandise of the word of God is to corrupt its use. And thus the word “corrupt” is appropriately used here.
Geneva reads in the margin:
“We do not handle it craftily and covetously, or less sincerely than we ought: and he useth a metaphor which is taken from hucksters, which used to play the false harlots with whatsoever cometh into their hands.”
John Calvin took the sense to be primarily that of gain, but recognized both as being applicable:
“For the doctrine of God is corrupted in two ways, It is corrupted in a direct way, when it is mixed up with falsehood and lies, so as to be no longer the pure and genuine doctrine of God, but is falsely commanded under that title. It is corrupted indirectly, when, although retaining its purity, it is turned hither and thither to please men, and is disfigured by unseemly disguises, by way of hunting after favour. Thus there will be found some, in whose doctrine there will be no impiety detected, but as they hunt after the applauses of the world by making a display of their acuteness and eloquence, or are ambitious of some place, or gape for filthy lucre, (1 Tim. iii. 8,) or are desirous by some means or other to rise, they, nevertheless, corrupt the doctrine itself by wrongfully abusing it, or making it subservient to their depraved inclinations. I am, therefore, inclined to retain the word adulterate, as it expresses better what ordinarily happens in the case of all that play with the sacred word of God, as with a ball, and transform it according to their own convenience. For is must necessarily be, that they degenerate from the truth, and preach a sort of artificial and spurious Gospel.”
John Gill also reads it as both senses being applicable:
“[B]y the word of God, may be meant the Scriptures in general, which are from God, contain his will, and which he uses for the good of men, and his own glory, and may be corrupted by false glosses, and human mixtures, and by adding to them, which is the word of truth, of faith, righteousness, reconciliation, and salvation, and which was corrupted by these false teachers, by making merchandise of it; they huckstered the word of God, made gain of it, sought merely their own worldly interest and advantage in it, and so mixed it with their own vain philosophy, to please the carnal ears and hearts of men; business of salvation; they did, as pedling merchants do, mix good and bad commodities together, and then vend them for sound ware; or as vintners, who mix their wine with water, and sell it for neat wine.”
Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Daniel Mayo’s 2 Corinthians) states:
“Though many did corrupt the word of God, yet the apostle’s conscience witnessed to his fidelity. He did not mix his own notions with the doctrines and institutions of Christ; he durst not add to, nor diminish from, the word of God; he was faithful in dispensing the gospel, as he received it from the Lord, and had no secular turn to serve; his aim was to approve himself to God, remembering that his eye was always upon him; he therefore spoke and therefore in sincerity.”