In his classic book, The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul bemoans the absence from our vocabulary of certain, once-familiar, King James Version words. It wasn’t so much the loss of antiquated verb forms like walketh and talketh, or sayest and mayest that bothered him. It wasn’t obsolete pronouns like thou and thee, or thy and thine. It wasn’t outmoded terms for which we now have adequate replacements like morrow and smite, or haply and graf. It wasn’t even those peculiar remnants of Anglo-Saxon like bewray and gainsay, or lucre and scrip.
No, it was those picturesque but now disused terms like adjur, ado, and afore that had gotten Dr. Sproul to reminiscing. It was words like anon, apace, and avouched. These are just some of the forgotten words starting with A! We could make similar lists for every letter of the alphabet. I can’t help but think of: begat, churl, dissembled, execration, fens, glede… well, you get the idea. We could go on and on.
It was the cry of Isaiah in the presence of the throneroom Seraphim that got Dr. Sproul to thinking: “O, woe is me,” cried the prophet. “I am undone. For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
According to Dr. Sproul, Isaiah’s cry, “sounds strange to the modern ear. It is rare that we hear people today use the word woe. Since this word is old fashioned and archaic, some modern translators have preferred to substitute another word in its place. But, that is a serious mistake,” he wrote. “The word woe is a crucial Biblical word that we cannot afford to ignore. It has a special meaning.”
Indeed it does. In fact, it is like any number of other essential, irreplaceable theological terms—terms that sound strange to our modern ears, but are nevertheless vital for our understanding of the Gospel: words like concupiscence, lascivious, and propitiation.
Dr. Sproul’s whole discussion reminded me of Mark Twain’s quip that, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
O, woe. Woe indeed. Forsooth, methinks such modern perniciousnesps doth wreck pilfery upon our troth.