Translation Errors In The KJV: Acts 27:17 (fall into the quicksands?)

If you found yourself here looking for errors in the KJV please feel free to also visit the others in the KJV errors archive.

In this series (Translation Errors in the KJV) we have sought not to show that the KJV is a bad translation but that it’s clearly not perfect. There is no reason to throw out your KJV. Many people grew up memorizing the KJV and know the vocabulary well. However, the KJV is not without it’s errors. That being said, the movement seeking to prove the KJV as perfect has placed a burden upon unknowing Christians who are not equipped to determine what is properly translated.

As such, I have endeavored in this series to combat the KJVO movement which has take great strides to push myths and half-truths off as facts, in an effort to prove that the KJV is perfect. Which I would conclude is impossible since the underlying manuscripts are flawed for ALL English translations.

Let us now examine the evidence.

Acts 27:17 “fall into the quicksand” or “run aground“?

Some have pointed out that the KJV and the NIV (as well as other modern translations) altered the text in Acts 27:17, where the ship the Paul is on heads into troubled territory and storms. The translations differ only slightly, yet I would submit that the difference is important.

And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat: Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, strake sail, and so were driven. (Acts 27:16-17, KJV)

As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. (Acts 27:16-17, NIV)

The problems apparent in the KJV English

Very quickly one can see that falling into quicksand and running a ship aground are very different issues. For starters, ships don’t fall into quicksand. It’s entirely possible for them to get stuck in it as they would a sandbar but they certainly do not fall into anything.

They must refer to the people right?

The only possible solution to this problem of falling into the quicksand is that “they” must be referring to the people, right? But this rendering is not faithful to the Greek in the underlying text, which we will soon examine. Furthermore, one would have to be in the water and walking on high enough shoals that they would be putting body-weight on top of the quicksand. However, nothing about the passage leads us to believe that anyone was in the water. That would have been suicide and there would have no logical reason for anyone on the ship to be in the water, much less walking on the shoals. What would they possible be doing? Clearly “they” is referring to the group of people contained on the boat.

Difference between falling into quicksand and running aground

To be run aground means that the ship went into shallow waters and hit either ground, a sand bar, or rocks. It prevents the ship from moving and often it could wreck the hull of the ship. Ships build with wooden planks would see the planks separate and start letting in water. It was a sailor’s worst nightmare to run aground in a bad storm.

Falling into quicksand implied that something is (first of all) falling or has the ability to fall. Secondly, it implies that the fear is generally that they will sink into the quicksand and not be able to get out. This was clearly not the issue since just before they approached the area they under-girded the ship. This means they passed a rope around the boat a few times in and effort to hold the wood planks tightly. This was done in ancient times when one feared that the ship might crash into something or run aground. We will prove this out in the Greek as well.

The underlying Greek text and translation problems

The Greek phrase used (μὴ εἰς τὴν Σύρτιν ἐκπέσωσιν/lest they should be cast away on the Syrtis) is not one that appears often in literature unless it’s nautical. Without using comparative literature from the 1st century the (which they did not always use in 1611) it would seem to the translators that falling into quicksand would be a perfectly acceptable translation, even though  συρτιν(Syrtis)  does not mean quicksand in the literal sense. Rather, it was a location in the Lybia sea that was known for having a lot of shallow water, sandbars, and quicksand. On the sandbars and rocks ships were often wrecked. It was also known to have quicksand that could suck a person under. However, no people were walking in the water so falling into could only refer to the ship.

The reference to under-girding the ship reinforces this idea. Since they were worried about the hull of the ship being damaged the passage should be understood as the worry was about the ship doing something, not the people. So what was the ship about to do?

One thing I do know is that the ship was definitely not going to fall into quicksand. Furthermore, the verb in Greek that was used was εκπεσωσιν which literally means “they should fall away” or “they should be cast away.” This rendering of the Greek is backed up in countless other Greek texts of the times(Apollonius of Rhodes, Plato, etc.). In the NT it is used to indicated a falling away or a destruction of something. It’s never used to mean falling “into” something. Greek already has a phrase to describe falling into something, and this ain’t it.

We should also look at the Greek phrase ἐχρῶντο ὑποζωννύντες which means “they used supports/helps.” This was used to refer to a nautical expression that we call “frapping” in English. Frapping is the act of taking a rope or chain and wrapping the hull of the boat. Both the KJV and the NIV do fine with translating this but I bring it up to point out that the worry was about damaging the boat by running aground, not falling into quicksand. Frapping was only helpful if one fears that the hull of the ship would be struck or damaged. It would not prevent anything from getting stuck in quicksand.

In conclusion, the KJV should be corrected to reflect the text and context more accurately. No one was worried about falling into anything. They were worried about hitting sandbars and/or running aground.


4 thoughts on “Translation Errors In The KJV: Acts 27:17 (fall into the quicksands?)”

  1. John Gill explains it quite nicely, with source– and fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands: which were on the African coast, here called “Syrtes”; either from the conflux of sand and slime, and such like things, which made them very dangerous for shipping, and being covered with water, could not be seen and guarded against, and especially in a storm; or from their drawing of vessels into them, which they retain, suck in, and swallow up; and such the mariners might know were not far off: there were two very remarkable ones on the coast of Africa, the one is called the greater “Syrtes”, the other the lesser b; the greater was more to the south than the lesser, and also more to the east, and the lesser was to the west: of these “Syrtes”, Jerom c says, they are sandy places in the great sea very terrible, and to be feared, because they use to draw all into them; they are near the Egyptian sea; the Lybian sea, which washes the African shore, is by Seneca called from them the “Syrtic sea” d: wherefore,

    • John Gill’s 18th century understanding of the text is based on fiction and also it ignores the translation that I mentioned above.

      For starters, ships don’t “fall into quicksand”. Even if quicksand was an adequate translation of the Greek word Σύρτιν one still has to explain the peculiar phrasing of “fall into”. The modern translation of “run aground” is more faithful to the translation and also to the context of th passage.

  2. interesting, God Bless, I favor Bible translarions rhat were revised after The Dead Sea Scollls were found in 1948, of the 66 chapters ,63 chaptees in The Book Isaiah
    nice work, bless you much

    • I agree. I think newer manuscript discoveries really help to provide understanding to how we interpret certain words and to understand how scripture was transmitted through history.


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