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Brass, Bronze, Copper

Brass is an alloy of copper (60-90%) and zinc (10-40%). There has been some confusion regarding its use in The Bible, primarily because the traditional King James version uses brass to translate the original Hebrew word for copper. To compound the matter, later versions also use bronze, which is an alloy of copper and tin, or copper and certain other metals, instead of brass. They are all correct in referring to the copper content, but technically they are different metals.

The Temple An example of the difference in translation, here for Deuteronomy 8:9, using the King James Version, Revised Standard Version and the New International Version:

  • "A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass." (KJV)

  • "a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper." (RSV)

  • "a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills." (NIV)

In the above examples, the RSV and NIV are more accurate because copper can be dug from the earth, whereas brass is a man-made alloy.

Brass or Bronze?

Another example, using Numbers 21:9:

  • "And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." (KJV)

  • "So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live." (RSV)

  • "So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived." (NIV)

The Lesson?

Unless we can understand the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, and the original Greek of the New Testament, we must depend upon translations into whatever language we speak. The original Scriptures are perfect, whereas human translators are not. Such differences rarely present a serious problem, provided that we are aware that they do exist. They merely show us that it's always a very good idea to check more than one Bible translation when studying in order to get a more accurate understanding of God's Sacred Word.

Fact Finder: What was the large metal "sea" in from of Solomon's Temple (seen in illustration) made of?
1 Chronicles 18:8
KJV and Darby have brass, NIV and RSV have bronze

This Week's Bible Quiz

Who said it? (quotes from the King James Version)

1. "Where is Abel thy brother?"

2. "Draw not nigh hither: loose thy sandals from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."

3. "Look now toward the heavens, and number the stars, if thou be able to number them."

4. "This book of the law shall not depart from thy mouth; and thou shalt meditate upon it day and night, that thou mayest take heed to do according to all that is written therein; for then shalt thou have good success in thy ways, and then shalt thou prosper."

5. "Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do."

6. "I will make you fishers of men."

7. "But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

8. "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged"

9. "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves"

10. "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

For the answers to this May 23 2000 quiz, see the Bible Quiz Answers Page

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