Why does Acts 2:35 use “foes” but Psalm 110:1 use “enemies?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

Psalm 110:1 says, “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” The New Testament quotes this verse six times—Matthew 22:44, Mark 12:36, Luke 20:43, Acts 2:35, Hebrews 1:13, and Hebrews 10:13. In Matthew, Mark, Luke and Hebrews, our King James translators rendered the Greek word ekthros as “enemies.” (That word is related to the Greek term for “hate,” as in “hateful” or “hater.”) Yet, in Acts 2:35, they translated ekthros as “foes.” Unlike the causal Bible reader, who simply skims over the word change (the word change is absent from modern versions), we Berean Bible students pause and use some critical thinking skills by asking, “Why this change in terminology in our King James Bible?”

Furthermore, all the major modern English “bible” translations—NIV, NASB, NKJV, NRSV, Amplified, HCSB, and NLT—use “enemies” in Acts 2:35, as they do with the rest of the New Testament quotations of Psalm 110:1. Why did our King James scholars not render ekthros the same way on all six occasions as the modern translators did? Again, why this change in terminology? Let me share with you what I think is the most likely explanation.

The Holy Spirit’s great sermon through the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost included the following words (Acts 2:34-35): “[34] For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, [35] Until I make thy foes thy footstool.” This was a quote of Psalm 110:1: “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” Why did our 1611 translators have Peter say “foes” instead of “enemies” as Psalm 110:1 had it? It helps to have some definitions.

An “enemy” is someone who is against you, but who may not actually be engaged in combat with you at the present moment. A “foe,” however, is someone who is actively fighting against you in the present. “Foe” is more descriptive because it is related to the word “feud” (as in fight or struggle, prolonged hostility and conflict between two parties). “Enemy” is from the Old French enemi, from the Latin inimicus, from in- ‘not’ + amicus ‘friend.’ These etymologies help us in understanding why Acts 2:35 reads oddly in our King James Bible.

Israel at the time of Acts chapter 2, Pentecost, is not simply against God but has actively opposed God (by killing His Son, Jesus). Israel is not listening to His apostles preach God’s Word in Acts chapter 2. In fact, they are mocking the apostles, claiming they are drunk with wine to be speaking in these various known human languages. They are mocking the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the 12 apostles: “[13] Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine. [14] But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: [15] For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.”

As a little side-note, the King James New Testament uses “foe” one other time besides Acts 2:35. It is Matthew 10:36: “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” This is the Lord Jesus describing unbelieving Jews betraying their believing family members, and turning them over to the Antichrist for imprisonment or death sentencing. Again, this is not simply a case of enemies, but foes, people actively fighting and persistently rebelling against the God of the Bible. Peter was making sure Israel was warned that Jesus Christ was coming back to take care of His enemies, yes, but more specifically, His “foes”—them!

Also see:
» Why did Jesus Christ stand in Acts 7:55-56?
» Is “Easter” a mistranslation in the King James Bible in Acts 12:4?
» Should it be “Christ” or “Lord” in 2 Thessalonians 2:2?