Calvary or Skull?
To translate or to transliterate?
That is a question!
From the Greek or the Latin?
That is the question!
Question received from fellow pastor and seminary classmate (17 APR 2014):
“Hi Jack. Got a question for you. All 4 Gospel accounts, in speaking about the place of the crucifixion, use the Gk. word for skull (kranion), but the KJV translators translated it "Calvary" (from the Latin for skull, seemingly from the Vulgate) only Luke. Any idea why the KJV translators did so? Possibly because Luke was a Gentile??? But what difference would that make?
Gromacki (NT Survey) suggests Luke probably researched material for his gospel either during Paul's 2-yr . imprisonment at Caesarea & wrote it during the voyage to Rome or in the early months of Paul's first Roman imprisonment. If that is the case, perhaps he used the Roman/Latin term for skull for that reason.
Except that, he used the Gk term kranion. It was the KJV translators who used 'Calvary.' Maybe for that reason????”
1. The KJV English, the Nestle-Aland Greek, and the Clementine Vulgate Latin texts for the four Gospel verses involved in this translation issue are as follows:
Mt. 27:33 - And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull,
Καὶ ἐλθόντες εἰς τόπον λεγόμενον Γολγοθᾶ, ὅ ἐστιν Κρανίου Τόπος λεγόμενος,
Et venerunt in locum qui dicitur Golgotha, quod est Calvariæ locus.
Mk. 15:22 - And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull.
Καὶ φέρουσιν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὸν Γολγοθᾶν τόπον, ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Κρανίου Τόπος.
Et perducunt illum in Golgotha locum: quod est interpretatum Calvariæ locus.
Jn. 19:17 - And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha:
καὶ βαστάζων ἑαυτῷ τὸν σταυρὸν ἐξῆλθεν εἰς τὸν λεγόμενον Κρανίου Τόπον, ὃ λέγεται Ἑβραϊστὶ Γολγοθα, 
Et bajulans sibi crucem exivit in eum, qui dicitur Calvariæ locum, hebraice autem Golgotha:
Lk. 23:33 - And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
Καὶ ὅτε ἦλθον ἐπὶ τὸν τόπον τὸν καλούμενον Κρανίον, ἐκεῖ ἐσταύρωσαν αὐτὸν * καὶ τοὺς κακούργους, ὃν μὲν ἐκ δεξιῶν ὃν δὲ ἐξ ἀριστερῶν.
Et postquam venerunt in locum qui vocatur Calvariæ, ibi crucifixerunt eum: et latrones, unum a dextris, et alterum a sinistris.
2. BLUF (“bottom line up front”), my simple assessment, is:
Given that the words in consideration in these verses (Κρανίου/ Κρανίον and Calvariæ) are identical in both Greek and Latin in all respects - apart from the accusative case ending in Greek in Luke differing from the genitive in the other three Gospels - then there exists no reason to render them differently. To do so has the inevitable negative effect of needlessly and inexplicably obscuring this identity in the original to the English reader.
3. The operative principles that should be insisted on are:
1) If you are going to translate the Greek, then translate it, and do so consistently.
2) If you are going to transliterate the Greek, then you better have a very good reason for doing so, and should do so consistently.
3) If you are going to translate the Latin, then translate it. However, if that is what you are doing then don't present it as a translation from the original languages, especially when sufficient manuscripts were extant to do otherwise. In any case, do it consistently.
4) If you are going to transliterate the Latin, then do so consistently. In other words, render the Latin Calvariæ by the English "Calvary" in every instance, not just one out of four.
5) When a place name is being translated or interpreted, as the Marcan text indicates is the case here, then that should be understood as how the name would be spoken and written in the target language. In other words, in this instance, the place name is Golgotha, which is untranslated (transliterated) from the Aramaic and Hebrew in the Greek. The meaning in Greek is kρανίον, in Latin is calvariæ, and in English is “skull”. For those who did not speak either Aramaic or Hebrew the corresponding Koine Greek name for the place would therefore have been Κρανίου Τόπος, as in Matthew, Mark, and John’s account, or simply Κρανίον, as Luke has it.
4. My concluding assessments based on the principles above:
In this case, it is quite obvious that the King James Version translators transliterated from the Latin rather than either translating from the Greek, or the Latin, and opted to do so only in one of the four occurrences. In so doing, they clearly violated principles #1, #3, and #4 above.
If the KJV translators had at least translated the Vulgate Latin, we would not be aware of it, since they would have been forced to render it just as the Greek was in the other three Gospels, since the meaning of the Latin noun calvaria or calvarium is “skullcap” in English. Perhaps the more accurate translation of the Greek term would have been the Latin cranium, but that is not what the Vulgate translators opted for. Be that as it may, the name of the place being referred to was not understood by anyone to be “skullcap”, so the KJV translators would have had to render the Latin as “skull”, which is precisely what they opted not to do here. This is just another example of their explicit inconsistency or license in “translating” (see the multiplied renderings of the Greek verb μενῶ in 1 John for a prime example), and their inexplicable anachronisms (another example is “Easter” in Acts 12:4).
Caveat: In taking this position, I realize that I incur the wrath of the “KJV Only” cult members who defend their "inspired" translation by interpreting the original manuscripts from their hymnals. I wish I were kidding when I assert this, but documentation for this desperate and ignorant method is readily available. When your head is buried in the sand by such obscurantism my advice is to be very careful about taking deep breaths! So, oh ye 1611ites, it is your paint, and your brush, and now it is your corner that you have painted yourself into. If you insist on camping out in this corner of your own creation in defense of “Calvary” here, you may think that you have solved one problem. However, from that corner you cannot explain the rendering in the other three Gospels, so don’t bother attempting to do so! You can’t spare the breath!
Sadly, the New King James Version preserved this untranslated Latinism, and neither of the two study Bibles based on the New King James Version that I checked offered any criticism of this decision. This may be due to the fact that the publisher for each of these study Bibles is also the copyright owner of the New King James Version.
5. Some other resources on this place name:
“Golgotha is an English transliteration of the Greek, itself a transliteration of the Aramaic gulgoltâ, which means ‘skull’. Our more common ‘Calvary’ derives from Latin calvaria, which also means ‘skull’ and which was used in the (Latin) Vulgate version in all four Gospels. The place of the Skull probably derived its name from its appearance, though this is uncertain. The site is in doubt. Gordon’s Calvary is not an option. The most likely site is near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, just outside the northern wall, and not far from a road (Mt. 27:39; Jn. 19:20).”
“33. Golgotha. An Aramaic word, Gulgoltha, = the Hebrew, Gulgoleth, and translated skull in Judg. 9:53; 2 Kings 9:35. The word Calvary comes through the Latin calvaria, meaning skull, and used in the Vulgate. The New Testament narrative does not mention a mount or hill. The place was probably a rounded elevation. The meaning is not, as Tynd., a place of dead men’s skulls, but simply skull.”
See also Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, one-volume ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., n.d.; 1971 reprint), Part Two, Book V, pp. 585-586.
Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria,
John T. “Jack” Jeffery
Pastor, Wayside Gospel Chapel
17 APR 2014
18 APR 2014
Biblia Sacra juxta Vulgatam Clementinam, ed. electronica (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005).
D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1991).
Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, One-volume ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., n.d.; 1971 reprint).
John T. Jeffery, “Pastor’s Sermon Notes: Herod Attacks the Apostles” (Acts 12:1-19), a sermon preached at Wayside Gospel Chapel, Greentown, PA (23 MAR 2014); on Wayside Gospel Chapel at http://waysidegospelchapel.blogspot.com/2014/03/pastors-sermon-notes-herod-attacks.html [accessed 17 APR 2014].
Novum Testamentum Graece, eds. Eberhard and Erwin Nestle, 27th ed., eds. Barbara and Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, and Bruce M. Metzger (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1898, 1993).
“The Translators to the Readers: Preface to the King James Version 1611”, on Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) at http://www.ccel.org/bible/kjv/preface/pref10.htm [accessed 17 APR 2014].
M. R. Vincent, Word studies in the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1881).
Calvary or Skull?
by John T. Jeffery
Copyright 2014 by John T. Jeffery.
All rights reserved.
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Email: waysidegospelchapel at yahoo dot com
 Novum Testamentum Graece, eds. Eberhard and Erwin Nestle, 27th ed., eds. Barbara and Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, and Bruce M. Metzger (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1898, 1993), pg. 83.
 Biblia Sacra juxta Vulgatam Clementinam, ed. electronica (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005), s.v. Mt. 27:33.
 Nestle, op. cit., pg. 144.
 Biblia Sacra juxta Vulgatam Clementinam, op. cit., s.v. Mk. 15:22.
 Nestle, op. cit., pg. 312.
 Biblia Sacra juxta Vulgatam Clementinam, op. cit., s.v. Jn. 19:17.
 Nestle, op. cit., pg. 239.
 Biblia Sacra juxta Vulgatam Clementinam, op. cit., Lk. 23:33.
 “Reasons Inducing Us Not To Stand Curiously Upon An Identity Of Phrasing: Another things we think good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that we have not tied ourselves to an uniformity of phrasing, or to an identity of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe, that some learned men somewhere, have been as exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not vary from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified that same in both places (for there be some words that be not the same sense everywhere) we were especially careful, and made a conscience, according to our duty. But, that we should express the same notion in the same particular word; as for example, if we translate the Hebrew or Greek word once by PURPOSE, never to call it INTENT; if one where JOURNEYING, never TRAVELING; if one where THINK, never SUPPOSE; if one where PAIN, never ACHE; if one where JOY, never GLADNESS, etc. Thus to mince the matter, we thought to savour more of curiosity than wisdom, and that rather it would breed scorn in the Atheist, than bring profit to the godly Reader. For is the kingdom of God to become words or syllables? why should we be in bondage to them if we may be free, use one precisely when we may use another no less fit, as commodiously?....”
Source: “The Translators to the Readers: Preface to the King James Version 1611”, on Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) at http://www.ccel.org/bible/kjv/preface/pref10.htm [accessed 17 APR 2014].
 23 occurrences: 1 Jn. 2:6, 10, 14, 17, 19, 24 (3x), 27 (2x), 28; 3:6, 9, 14, 15, 17, 24 (2x); 4:12, 13, 15, 16 (2x). Rendered variously as “abide”, “continue”, “remain”, and “dwell”. In one instance, 2:24, this Greek verb is translated with three different English verbs in the same verse.
 “This is an inexcusable and indefensible bad “translation”! Indeed, it is not a translation at all, and hardly qualifies even as a dynamic equivalent due to following: 1) the inherent anachronism, 2) the covenantal discontinuity between the Jewish Passover and the Christian celebration of the crucifixion of Christ, and, 3) what many refer to as “Easter” corresponds neither to the Jewish Passover nor the crucifixion since it is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. There was no such thing as “Easter” at this time, and certainly not among the Jews of the 1st century! Any one of these objections would be sufficient to rule out this translation. Therefore, in agreement with all translations since the 1611 KJV, “Passover” is the only valid English rendering! Furthermore, what many find offensive about the term is its Old English basis in ancient idolatrous beliefs. This would have been equally offensive to both the first century Jews still observing the Passover, and the early Christians. This is one of those times when I am reading the King James translation publicly when I do not hesitate to correct it!”
See “Ēostre” on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%92ostre [accessed 24 MAR 2014].
Other sources on this issue: Doug Kutilek, “As I See It”, 11:10 (OCT 2008), on The King James Only Resource Center at http://www.kjvonly.org/aisi/2008/aisi_11_10_08.htm [accessed 24 MAR 2014]; Fred Butler, “Easter, Passover and the KJV”, on Fred’s Bible Talk at http://www.fredsbibletalk.com/fb024.pdf [accessed 24 MAR 2014]; and Fred Butler’s blog post, “The King James Only Easter Bunny Trail” (5 APR 2012), on Hip and Thigh at http://hipandthigh.blogspot.com/2006/04/king-james-only-easter-bunny-trail.html [accessed 24 MAR 2014].
Source: John T. Jeffery, “Pastor’s Sermon Notes: Herod Attacks the Apostles” (Acts 12:1-19), a sermon preached at Wayside Gospel Chapel, Greentown, PA (23 MAR 2014); on Wayside Gospel Chapel at http://waysidegospelchapel.blogspot.com/2014/03/pastors-sermon-notes-herod-attacks.html [accessed 17 APR 2014].
 New Geneva Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), pg. 1,651; and John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), pg. 1,564.
 D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), pp. 609-610.
 M. R. Vincent, Word studies in the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1881), s.v. Mt. 27:33.