Tags: Dynamic Equivalence, essentially literal translation, John 12:44, problems with dynamic equivalence, problems with NIV, translation of John 12:44, translation techniques
I received a very interesting question recently regarding the translation of John 12:44. The English Standard Version (ESV) translates the passage this way: “And Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.’”
The New American Standard Bible (NASB) renders it: “And Jesus cried out and said, ‘He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me.’”
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates it: “Then Jesus cried aloud: ‘Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me.’”
The King James (KJV) renders it as follows: “Jesus cried and said, ‘He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me.’”
Okay, okay, there is not a lot of difference to be found in the translations above; yet look at how the New International Version translates this passage: “Then Jesus cried out, ‘When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.’”
For what it is worth, the New Living Translation (NLT) and the Contemporary English Version (CEV) render this verse in a similar way to the NIV.
When I was initially asked about this, the person was doing a Bible study and comparing different translations—an excellent habit to get into—and the variation between the NRSV and the NIV was what caught her eye. She said, ‘this seems to change the meaning.’
My initial instinct was to check my Greek testament to see if there was a textual variant in play, but that was not the case. This case has to do with translation methodology. There are different philosophies in Bible translation—at one extreme being a literal translation where every word from the original text is rendered as closely as possible into English. Then, at the other extreme you find paraphrasing, where the author of the translation communicates what their understanding of a particular passage happens to be. In the middle is a philosophy called “dynamic equivalence,” which seeks to translate the passages concept for concept as closely as possible. Now there is certainly a spectrum that these philosophies cross as some are either more literal or more paraphrased than others, but this presents the broad categories at least (for more on translation philosophies see some of my other blogs in this category).
Now back to John 12:44. In the case of this verse, the word “only” is not in any of the Greek manuscripts that are available to us. But instead, the translation committee of the NIV (and other dynamic equivalence translations) felt that the inclusion of the word “only” would help to clarify the meaning of Jesus’ statement. Yet, rather than clarify the statement, it seems to confound it. In the passage, Jesus is saying to his disciples that if we believe in Him, we are not really setting our faith in him but in the Father, who sent Christ. God is one, it is impossible to put one’s faith in Jesus Christ without resting one’s faith in God the Father, and visa-versa. The same applies to the Spirit as well, the three persons of the Trinity are not separable. Jesus is speaking of the unity of the Godhead.
When you include the word “only” in the translation, the passage loses this sense of unity that Jesus is speaking of and interjects the idea that it is possible to believe in one member of the Trinity and not the others, potentially even suggesting a divisibility in the Trinity. This is opening the door to serious Trinitarian error, suggesting a divisibility within the Godhead, a form of polytheistic error.
My purpose in writing this is threefold. First, I think that it serves as an excellent example as to the differences between an essentially literal translation like the ESV or NASB translations and the dynamic equivalence models like the NIV and the NLT. My second purpose is to illustrate the value of reading multiple translations side by side in your Bible study (unless you are going to learn the original languages. While my third purpose is not to knock translations like the NIV, it is to remind folks that the NIV is not the best Bible to be working from for serious Bible study.
Please do not misunderstand me, if you love the NIV and that is the only Bible you have or the only Bible you can understand, then please read it. Read it with gusto! God will bless your reading of the NIV, the NLT, or even my least favorite, the Message. God will bless the reading of anything that approximates his Word. Even the NASB and ESV have flaws. My point is simply to say that for Bible study, where you are trying to get as close to what John (or whoever the writer happens to be) is actually writing. To do that, you ought to seek to have several essentially literal translations at your disposal to compare so that you can get a clear sense of what is being said.
One final note: as pastors we have the responsibility of teaching and guiding our flocks on the path of truth. But this responsibility does not lie with pastors alone. It resides with church leaders, with parents, and with every Christian believer. We must teach ourselves to recognize error in our culture and in our churches so that we can take a stand for the faith that was once and for all time delivered to the saints.
Are Christians “Peculiar” or “Possessed”? (1 Peter 2:9) July 23, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Bible Translation, Reflections.
Tags: ESV, idiom, King James, KJV, modern translations, peculiar people, people, people for His possession, Translation
In a conversation that I had recently with a friend, we stumbled across an excellent example of why we ought to use modern translations and not the old King James. In this case, we were looking at 1 Peter 2:9, and we struck on a significant difference in translation between the King James and the ESV (which I typically use to preach and teach from). I found that the results were both interesting and useful, dealing with the question: “are we a peculiar people” or “are we a people in Christ’s possession” as we go through life?
Initially, I compared the Greek of the Majority Text (from which the KJV is drawn) to the NA27 (from which modern translations are drawn) to see whether the difference in translation lay within a textual variant (please note that while there are variations between ancient manuscripts, they are largely minor linguistic nuances, and none of them place in question any orthodox doctrine that has been held by the church). Yet, both Greek Texts are identical in terms of this verse. Here is how the verse is literally translated (nuances of the words in parentheses):
“But you are an elect family, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for possession (could also be a people for preservation), in order that you might proclaim the moral excellence of the one who called (or summoned) you from darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
The language of “a people for possession” is the language that the King James Version translates into “a peculiar people.”
To understand this, we must recognize that the word “peculiar” in English is a word that has changed its use in meaning over the last 400 years since the KJV was translated. Today, we use the word “peculiar” to refer to something that is a little odd or strange—unique or outside of the mainstream. We might say something like, “This tastes peculiar,” to suggest that there is something disagreeable with the meal that has been set before us—in other words, it tastes odd.
But this is a more modern usage of the term and it was not what the KJV translators intended to communicate. In the 17th century, the term “peculiar” referred to something that was the exclusive property of something or someone else. When you understand this, the modern translation of “a people for possession” is synonymous with what the 17th century translators understood when they wrote, “a peculiar people.” It is only in a modern sense that we have tended to misunderstand what the KJV was saying because we no longer typically understand the word “peculiar” in the same way.
We do still have remnants of this old usage in modern English when we say things like, “the antiseptic smell that is peculiar to hospitals” or “he speaks in an accent that is peculiar to the Cajun culture of New Orleans.” Yet, even this use of the word “peculiar” seems to be falling away from common vernacular.
For what it is worth, the English word “peculiar” comes from the Latin, peculiaris, which means, “private property.” This is exactly the sense that Peter is using the term—we are the private property of Him who has delivered us from darkness and into his marvelous light—we are Christ’s exclusive property—a people peculiar to Him.
(Note: to its credit, the New King James Version translates this as, “his own special people,” which does a better job of capturing the idea in modern vernacular. The point: language changes as it is used one generation to the next and being bound to translations that use outdated language can easily lead to misunderstandings of the Biblical text.)
Family Tree of Modern English Bible Translations April 19, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Bible Translation, Reflections.
Tags: Bible, Bible Translation, English Bible, Family Tree, History, Translations
Here is a visual history of English Bibles and their historical/philosophical family trees. Note that these studies are works in progress as they were begun a number of years ago and as new translations of the Bible are always being developed.
Bible Translation Philosophies April 19, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Bible Translation, Reflections.
Tags: Bible, Dynamic Equivalence, Formal Equivalence, Literal, Paraphrase, Translation
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All translations are interpretations. This is for two reasons. First is that English grammar is different than Greek or Hebrew grammar. A truly literal word for word translation would prove extraordinarily difficult to read. Secondly, in Greek and Hebrew, as with English, words often carry a variety of meanings depending on the context in which they are used.
Translators must make the decision as to what English words best represent the original text and they must write the grammar in such a way that the translation reflects the grammatical emphasis of the original. In doing so, it is impossible to translate without being influenced by your religious biases. The other challenge that you face in translation is in how you express a first century idea in twenty-first century language. This depends on how well you understand not only both cultures but also in understanding the context that surrounds the text.
And, you must also have an understanding of the Bible as a whole. God planned out history in intimate detail, and he wrote his scriptures and preserved them for his people. Thus, how we interpret scripture ought to reflect God’s decisive hand in its creation but also the consistency and inerrancy that belongs to his written word. That being said, there are Three general philosophies behind Bible translation: Formal Equivalence, Dynamic Equivalence, and Paraphrasing.
Formal Equivalence: This is as close to a literal translation as you will find. The philosophy is to translate the original text on a word for word basis into contemporary language. The main advantage of this approach is that it gives you a more accurate word for word correspondence with the original text. This makes word studies, where you trace a particular word’s usage through the Bible, more straightforward. The drawback is that the language can often become fairly wooden and awkward to read.
There is another issue regarding formal equivalence translations that is hotly debated as to whether it is a strength or a weakness. Because the English language is often vague and sometimes less precise than the Greek and Hebrew languages, sometimes a literal translation on a word for word basis leaves important theological concepts open to the reader’s interpretation. These concepts are usually clear in the original text, but become less clear when translated on a word for word basis into the English. Formal equivalence tries to minimize the translator’s interpretation of the text.
Dynamic Equivalence: The response to the problem of ambiguity within formal equivalence translations is dynamic equivalence. Rather than translating on a word for word basis, dynamic equivalence translates on a thought for thought or a concept for concept basis. This does involve more interpretation of the original text, but often can deliver a reading that is closer to the original intent. This translation often provides a more fluid reading of the text, but it does sacrifice a degree of precision when it comes to word studies.
Paraphrase: Sometimes called “free translation,” this mode of Bible translation is hotly debated. A paraphrase is the converting of the original text, or for most paraphrases, as translation, into your own words. Oftentimes this kind of translation can be very approachable for pleasure reading, but is not precise enough to do serious Bible study. Also, this kind of translation involves a great degree of interpretation, and depending on the translator’s biases, biblical doctrines may be obscured or given undue weight.
Obviously, these are very broad categories and they allow a great deal of overlapping. It is probably most accurate to picture these definitions on a chart with formal equivalence on one end and paraphrasing on the other, with dynamic equivalence being a middle ground. Each translation, then would fall somewhere on the chart, leaning toward one of the definitions, but being influenced by the others.
Regardless of their strengths and weaknesses, all three have their value. Formal equivalence translations are often best for serious Bible study, but dynamic equivalence is better for more casual reading and public reading of scripture. It is far more accessible both to younger people and to new Christians. While paraphrases are not my particular cup of tea, many find that they are quite good for pleasure reading. It just must be cautioned that a more technical translation of the Bible should be accessible for worship and study.
Regardless of your translation philosophy, the end goal is the same. We want the word of God to be read and understood by the people of God. People have different educational backgrounds and are at different levels of faith when they go to pick up this wonderful book. As Paul writes in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God to salvation.” If the word of God is to be brought to bear on the lives of God’s people, it must be understood. Different translations for different seasons in different people’s lives is the reason that we have so many versions to choose from when we go the Bible book store.
Difficulties with Gender Neutral Translations April 19, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Bible Translation, Reflections.
Tags: Bible, Gender Neutral Bible Translations, TNIV
This is a major hotbed of debate within evangelical circles, particularly since the new revision of the New International Version (NIV), Today’s New International Version (TNIV), has gone this route. Most evangelicals consider this move to be a sell-out to the liberal feminist movement, but some hotly argue that it better reflects current language usage. Currently, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), Today’s New International Version (TNIV), the Revised English Bible (REB), The New Century Version (NCV), the Contemporary English Version (CEV), and the New Living Translation (NLT) are the translations that have opted toward gender neutral language.
The philosophy behind gender neutral translations is that the use of the masculine “he” as a generic term to refer to both male and females is no longer the commonly accepted usage in the English language. The solution that they propose is to make the language plural. “He” becomes “they” and “his” becomes “their.” References that are specific to a particular person are left alone, only the general references are changed. Admittedly, there is a move within the liberal community to incorporate gender neutral language to refer to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, but to the best of my knowledge, none of the above translations mentioned as gender neutral have adopted this philosophy.
The danger of pluralizing the language is important to discuss. In some instances, the change is quite harmless. For example, James 1:26 reads in the NIV:
“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
In the TNIV, it reads:
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. “
Yet, in many cases, the gender neutral language either obscures doctrine or the personal nature of salvation, allowing for a reading that is more acceptable to the Roman Catholic church.
For example, John 14:23 reads:
“If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (RSV)
Yet, the NRSV reads:
“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
This may seem to be a slight change given the overall intention is that this verse is addressed to both men and women, yet it has profound implications. First, Jesus did not speak in plurals, he spoke in singulars. He wanted to make a point of emphasizing the personal nature of salvation. Salvation is an individual thing, not a corporate thing as the Roman Catholic church would teach. Jesus did not generically die for every believer, he died for each believer, and pluralizing the language obscures this important fact.
Making the pronouns plural also obscures many of the Old Testament prophesies about Jesus. For example:
“He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.” (Psalm 34:20, RSV)
The gender inclusive version renders this verse:
“He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.” (Psalm 34:20, NRSV)
This completely obscures the messianic prophesy that David is making in this psalm.
At times, changing the singular to plural completely changes the meaning of the verse. For example, Psalm 19:12a is changed from “who can discern his errors” (NIV) to “who can discern their errors” (TNIV). At first glance, with this verse entirely out of context, this change does not seem too threatening. Yet, when you realize that the preceding verses of Psalm 19 are dealing with the perfection of God’s law. Verse 12 is taking that law and then applying it to the individual, as Paul does in Romans, to remind us that we cannot know our errors without God’s good and perfect laws. Yet, the TNIV, when “he” is translated “their” shifts the meaning of the verse to look as if God’s laws are the ones that have errors. The TNIV reads like this:
“The Law of the Lord is perfect…,The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy…, the precepts of the Lord are right…, the commands of the Lord are radiant…, they are more precious than gold…, who can discern their errors.” (Psalm 19: 7-12, TNIV)
Oftentimes, the word “man” is simply omitted. In verses where the text reads “men and brethren,” the TNIV simply omits the term “man” altogether. Also, of the 61 times that the term “Saint” is used in the New Testament, the TNIV has omitted 53 altogether in favor of “God’s people.” The term saint carries connotations of holiness and being set apart. It is a term of endearment given to the saved people of God. The change does two things. First of all, it reduces changes the emphasis from personal salvation to a corporate sense, as the Roman Catholic church likes to teach. Secondly, it emphasizes the Roman Catholic belief that “sainthood” is only for a privileged few.
Our salvation comes from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, not membership within the church. The church is a sacred institution because individuals who make up the body of Christ are saved and sanctified by the work of Christ. Christ did not die to save an institution, but to save a people who gather together as part of an institution. As Martin Luther cried out, we are saved by grace and grace alone! There is no coincidence that the gender neutral translations are accepted by the Roman Catholic church, for these gender neutral translations obscure many of the holy doctrines that the protestants fought and died to proclaim.
There are nearly 2000 citations that evangelical scholars have addressed showing the dangers of gender neutral translations. In terms of casual reading, these changes may or may not be particularly noticeable, but for serious Bible study, they are a definite stumbling block. We need to hold translators to the highest standards of translations and be very careful of the biases that they bring to the table of interpretation. We also ought to ask ourselves, has the English language really changed that much as to make terms like “mankind,” that use the masculine in an inclusive way, offensive to the average person? Personally, I don’t think so.
This philosophy is not restricted to the liberal left, but is even sneaking into more respectable circles. Thomas Oden, the general editor of the highly acclaimed Ancient Christian Commentary on Scriptures wrote in his book on pastoral theology, “taking special note of the maternally nurturing images associated with the third person of the Holy trinity in its classical, orthodox, ecumenical formulation, I will speak of the Holy Spirit in the feminine …” See: Oden, Thomas. Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry. San Francisco: Harper, 1972. It is worth noting, that the ancient texts not only refer to the Holy Spirit in masculine terms, but there are a number of times that the personal pronoun “he” is used to refer to the Holy Spirit. Yet, as I mentioned above, theological interpretations will enter into any Bible translation. Sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.
Some Background to Modern English Bible Translations April 19, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Bible Translation, Reflections.
Tags: Bible, English, modern translations, Translations
There are a plethora of different Bible translations available for the Christian to choose from. Some are better and some are worse. All come from a devout desire to make the written word of God accessible to people of all cultures, languages, and walks of life. This is not meant to be an exhaustive overview, but is meant to be more of a snapshot of the available options.
The Revised Version of 1881 and the American Standard Version of 1901: With new archaeological and linguistic evidence available, it was deemed appropriate that the King James Version be revised and reworked. This lead to two versions being published: the Revised and the American Standard Versions in England and America respectively. These reflected both more modern speech and the most current linguistic scholarship of the day.
Scofield Bible: In 1909, Cyrus Scofield published the King James Version of the Bible with his own footnotes much in the same way as the earlier Geneva Bible had done. Scofield was a Congregationalist pastor but had been ordained in the Southern Presbyterian church (although he never served a Presbyterian congregation). Scofield was a dispensationalist in this theology, which set him apart from the Covenantal theology of his Reformed heritage. This becomes quite apparent when you begin to study his notes on the Second Coming of Christ. It is important that the Christian be aware of his biases before committing to the use of his notes. Regardless of your theological bias, Scofield’s theology has had a tremendous influence on the American church. His influence is can especially be seen in the Southern Baptist church and in the literature of the Moody Bible Institute.
Moffat Bible: Scottish theologian and Oxford professor, James Moffat completed his translation of the Bible in 1924. He also served as editor of a New Testament commentary series that utilized his translation. His translation never became widely circulated, but copies still turn up from time to time. While Moffat was not always orthodox in his thinking, his translation often grasps the literary intent as well as the meaning of the poetic books of the Old Testament.
Revised Standard Version: In 1952, the American Standard Version was revised in a somewhat less literal, but more readable form. The intent of this translation was to provide a more ecumenical translation that would be acceptable to Catholics and Protestants alike. The RSV and the later revision in 1989, the New Revised Standard Version, are probably the most widely used texts in mainline Protestant denominations.
New American Standard Bible: Another revision of the American Standard Version is the New American Standard Bible, published in 1960. This is probably the most literal translation of the original texts available today. It is the result of the work of 58 evangelical scholars from a variety of denominations so carries a good balance of literal translation as well as keeping doctrinal intent sound. This is one of the best study Bibles available today.
Amplified Bible: Because many words carry wider connotations in the original languages than in the English translation, in 1965, scholars were led to create the Amplified Bible. This translation includes in italics the various synonymous words that the original word implies. Readers then can insert one or more of these words to hopefully better convey the original intent of the text. While it can be awkward to read for personal edification and study, it has been often used by revival preachers who want greater emphasis on particular words in the texts from which they are preaching.
Today’s English Version (Good News Bible): In 1966, the American Bible Society published a new translation in contemporary English. This version intentionally uses colloquial language in its translation. In 1991 it was revised to become the Contemporary English Version. The CEV similarly uses colloquialisms and is written on about a 5th grade level to make it accessible to a broader audience.
New English Bible: This 1970 translation done in England carried a heavy British flavor. Its revision, the Revised English Bible, in 1989 removed many of these idioms, but still kept an English flair. It is a popular translation for public reading as it keeps much of the traditional poetic flair of the older King James Version.
Living Bible: In 1971, the American Standard Version was paraphrased to create the Living Bible. The New Living translation, published in 1996, was not a paraphrase, but a new translation although it kept much of the readability of its predecessor.
New International Version: In 1978, the New International Version was published which has turned out to be one of the most popular translations amongst evangelical Christians. It maintains a good balance between readability and technical accuracy. The latest revision of the NIV, Today’s New International Version, published in 2002, has created a stir in the evangelical churches who were loyal to it because it went to a gender neutral translation (see above).
Readers Digest Condensed Version: While this translation, published in 1982, sounds somewhat humorous to more mature Christians, this translation was headed up by Bruce Metzger, a respected Bible scholar, with the intent of making the scriptures more accessible to un-churched people. Better than half a million copies were sold of this translation, but leaves open questions as to the dangers that abound when you edit and condense the word of God.
New King James Version: Another 1982 publication was more well received than the Readers Digest Version. The New King James Version offers more contemporary language than the Earlier King James Version.
International Children’s Bible: This translation of 1986 was the result of the collaboration of translators that worked on the New American Standard Bible, The New King James Version, and the New International Version of the Bible. Their plan was to create a translation that is specifically designed for use by children. It is written on a third grade educational level and uses short sentences with easily understood language. Its revision, the New Century Version of 1991 was marketed more for adults, but kept the third grade reading level.
The Message: In 1993, Eugene Peterson published his own New Testament. While this is technically a new translation of the Ancient Greek, stylistically it is closer to a paraphrase as many thoughts are added to convey the meaning of the text and it is written to read like a novel. Peterson also dropped the verse notations from his translation which makes serious Bible Study more challenging. Many Christians enjoy reading this translation casually, but it is not meant to be a primary Bible for study and worship.
Holman Christian Standard Bible: Published in 2000, this English translation was commissioned by the Southern Baptist Publishing House and was produced by a team of 90 scholars from a variety of denominations. This translation tries to balance Formal and Dynamic Equivalence methods to create a readable but literal translation.
English Standard Version: Published in 2001, the ESV is an evangelical revision of the RSV. Its design was to provide an essentially literal translation without the “woodenness” that is found in many literal translations. Its language has much of the fluidity of the NIV, but it proves to be much more accurate in its translation. While it is an excellent Bible for study, it can be daunting particularly for younger Christians as it is written on an eleventh grade reading level.
Foreign Language Translations
With a vision to place a Bible in their native language in the hands of every man woman and child on the planet, groups like the Wycliffe Bible Translation Society are working at a feverish pace. Currently, there are complete Bible Translations in better than 500 languages worldwide as well as Bible tracts, which contain portions of scripture, in more than 2000 different languages. And the process continues. In some cases, translators must go into a region and create a written language for the culture before translation can even begin. It is a long and arduous process, but with the aide of computer communication and database technology, the missionaries that God has called into his service are spreading God’s written word even to the most remote regions.
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Admittedly, the flood of translations can be confusing and misleading at times. Yet, we are privileged to live in a culture where reliable translations are available to us as we have the resources to study more than one translation if we choose. All too often we take this privilege for granted. Don’t. Rather, as you are mourning the flood of less than perfect translations, pray for those who are diligently seeking to provide a complete Bible for cultures who have none. And pray that those translations, as well as the English translations that we are presented with, would be faithful to the wonderful God we serve.
The specific Bible that you choose for Bible study should be a good one, but the particular version that you choose is less important than that you fill your life with God’s word. There is no excuse for the Christian to be ignorant as to the scriptures, but many professed evangelical Christians are. Find a translation that you can understand and perhaps a reliable commentary (I recommend starting with Matthew Henry) to help you through tricky verses and to enrich your study. Then read it, study it, and fall in love with it.
Differences between the KJV and NIV in 2 Corinthians 6:7 April 16, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Bible Translation, Reflections.
Tags: 2 Corinthians 6:7, gladiator, interpretation, KJV, NIV, sword
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A friend emailed me a question about a variant he found between the King James Version and the New International Version of 2 Corinthians 6:7. As there were no textual variants, the difference is purely interpretive. Never-the-less, I thought that it was an interesting discussion. Here was my reply to my friend:
This is a good verse for a word study, because as you found, there is quite a difference in translations. A literal translation of the Greek would look like this:
2 Corinthians 6:7
In truth of word, in power of God: through the weapon (hoplon) of the righteousness of the right (dexion) and the left (apisteron).
The term hoplon, which I agree with the NIV and translated as “weapon”, can refer to a weapon or a tool of some sort. Literally, dexion means “right” and apisteron means “left” but both carry military connotations. Dexion can refer to the weapon of attack that is held in the right hand and apisteron can refer to the defensive weapon that is held in the left hand.
Perhaps this is the idea where the KJV got the idea of armor, but that does not seem to work well. If you make the argument that a shield is a defensive weapon, you can perhaps make the argument that this is military language. I would argue that this is likely gladitorial language, where two weapons were common. Certainly in history, by the time Paul was writing this letter, Nero was happily throwing Christians into the ring with lions in Rome. I expect that the Corinthians would have had familiarity with the Roman games.
While I think that the KJV was a very good translation for its day, we have a better understanding of Koine Greek due to archeological evidence within the last century or so. And even though this variation in translation is not due to a variant reading of the text, there are also many more manuscript variants that we have found that help us to understand the context of the passage better.