WHY DOES THE KING JAMES BIBLE SAY “NEPHEWS” INSTEAD OF “GRANDCHILDREN” IN 1 TIMOTHY 5:4?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Does the Authorized Version contain an error in 1 Timothy 5:4? “But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.” All modern English versions—including the New King James Version—unite in replacing “nephews” with “grandchildren.” Why should we leave the Authorized Version as it stands?
It is the strangest phenomenon, dear friends. You would think preachers and commentators would respect the 400-year-old Authorized Version. Alas, they have been trained to pick it apart—deliberately or inadvertently holding virulent Roman Catholic sentiment toward the Protestant Bible! Such wicked thoughts produce all sorts of vilifying remarks, including, “Our clumsy 1611 translators totally missed the original language here! How unfortunate they did not have the manuscript evidence and expertise we have! This word should be this, or that, or whatever you like. Well, we may disagree on which is the correct word, we all agree that Authorized Version is wrong!” This absurd position—believe it or not—dominates “Christian” thinking in pulpit and pew alike. No wonder few believe the Holy Bible!
Deuteronomy chapter 25 is a valuable passage to settle the abstruseness in 1 Timothy 5:4. We turn to it now: “ If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her.  And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.  And if the man like not to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband’s brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother.  Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her;  Then shall his brother’s wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother’s house.  And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.”
This “levirate marriage” is prominently illustrated in the Book of Ruth. If a Jewish man died childless, his brother (next of kin) was to marry his bereaved wife and have children with her. Those children were to be raised in the name and land of that deceased brother. Why? It was a way of redeeming the dead man’s estate as well preserving his tribe’s bloodline. The male children born to the bereaved woman would be her former (now deceased) husband’s nephews. After all, her husband’s brother had fathered her children. That brother, and the resulting children or “nephews,” were to bear the financial burdens she or their family had—remember what Boaz did to Ruth. Such nephews (King James Bible) would be closer kin to her than her grandchildren (modern versions).
The Christian widows, Gentiles, of 1 Timothy chapter 5 are experiencing economic difficulties. Similar to (though not exactly synonymous with) the principle the LORD God laid out for Israel in Deuteronomy, the widow’s financial support was to come from her children (“children”) or the sons of her husband’s siblings (“nephews”). The children were first in line of kinship, followed by the nephews. In the absence of her children, these nephews could redeem their “brother’s” (loose term) estate from financial ruin. It is reminiscent of how Boaz fulfilled his duty in the Book of Ruth, although there are differences because no Gentile women (1 Timothy chapter 5) were following Israel’s levirate instructions of having children with their in-laws.
If the Christian widow lacked children and nephews, the local church was to then step in and help alleviate her monetary struggles. Remember, there was no governmental welfare system as we in the United States have today. Therefore, the local assembly of Christians was to meet the needs of the truly destitute believing widows who had no surviving family members to come to their aid. See 1 Timothy 5:3-16 for all the details.
Unfortunately for the King James Bible critics, “nephews” is not an error in 1 Timothy 5:4. If the text is altered to read “grandchildren” (as in modern versions), then we lose the connection to Deuteronomy. The passage thus becomes obscure because there is no self-interpretation anymore. Nephews, not grandchildren, are the widow’s next-of-kin after her children. Grandchildren are not in view in 1 Timothy 5:4!
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