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Straining at Brass

Genesis 4:22 And Zillah, she also bare Tubalcain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubalcain was Naamah.

On the whole, Bible critics are a desperate group of people who go to desperate lengths to champion themselves and their learning in a desperate attempt to remove themselves from under the authority of God’s written revelation. Should you doubt the depth of their desperation, consider for a moment that the word “brass” is one of the chief “evidences” offered by critics to “prove” that the Bible contains errors and therefore should be in subjection to he whims and desires of God’s critics. Here, for instance, is what one critic says about the word: 

“There are other clear errors in the translation of the original languages in the KJV. For example, … “brass.” … While the Church of England translators did the best they could for their time, great improvements have been made in the accurate rendering of the original languages.”

Almost every time the word “brass” shows up in the Bible, perversions like the New International Version and the “New King James Version” change it to “bronze” because the King James translators supposedly “confused brass for bronze.” Using the same “reasoning” as any evolutionist, Bible critics make statements such as this: 

“The process for making brass [melting copper with zinc] was unknown in Old Testament times, whereas bronze smelting [copper with tin] was widespread at an early age.”

Such a statement flies in the face of both history and language.

Bronze and Brass

The 1981World Book Encyclopedia defines “brass” as “an alloy (mixture) of copper and zinc…Other elements may be added for special use.”

This means, of course, that in the 21st century an alloy containing copper, zinc, and tin would qualify as bronze or brass (even though, for commercial purposes, as it will probably be called “bronze” even if it’s really brass)! Since “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1Timothy 6:10), Bible believers shouldn’t be surprised that the Bible’s critics champion a commercial usage of the word “bronze” instead of the actual historical usage of the word “brass.”

The Supposed History of Bronze and Brass

Like the Bible’s critics, the 1981 World Book Encyclopedia claims that “Bronze made of copper and tin is the oldest alloy known to human beings” and was discovered about 3500 B.C. (a date roughly in keeping with the Genesis account of history between Adam and Noah.) But notice what this encyclopedia says about the origins of brass:

“Some historians [not all] believe [it’s a matter of faith, not evidence] people made the first brass accidentally by melting copper ore that also contained a small amount of zinc. Brass was made on the island of Rhodes as early as 500 B. C. The ancient Romans were the first to make extensive use of brass [notice the qualifier: this is not the first use of brass but the supposed first extensive use of brass] shortly before the beginning of the Christian era. They made a variety of brass objects, including coins, kettles, and ornaments.”

Of course, the fact that some critics believe that brass was an accidental discovery and probably didn’t exist very long before 500 B. C. does not mean that brass didn’t exist before that time and that it wasn’t known and used in the Old Testament. By the critics’ own admission, brass existed during at least part of the Old Testament period and was extensively used by the Romans before the birth of Jesus. Indeed, the World Book’s mention of Roman brass coins would certainly corroborate Matthew 10:9.

Matthew 10:9  Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses,

And its mention of Roman brass kettles would certainly corroborate Mark 7:4.

Mark 7:4  And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.

The Colors of Bronze and Brass

One other thing about the history of brass and bronze needs to be pointed out. Bronze has a brownish color; the color of brass varies according to how much copper it has. According to the 1981 World Book Encyclopedia,

“When the alloy contains about 70 percent copper; it has a golden yellow color and is known as yellow brass, high brass, or cartridge brass. When it contains 80 percent or more copper, it has a reddish copper color and is known as red brass or low brass.”

In 1 Kings 7:45 the Bible mentions “bright brass.” Brownish bronze isn’t bright, but “yellow brass” is. Furthermore, notice something recorded in 2 Chronicles 12:9-10 (and also mentioned in the parallel account of 1 Kings 14:25-27):

2 Chronicles 12:9-10 So Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, and took away the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king's house; he took all: he carried away also the shields of gold which Solomon had made. Instead of which king Rehoboam made shields of brass, and committed them to the hands of the chief of the guard, that kept the entrance of the king's house.

Yellow brass looks exactly like gold (notice the 1981 World Book Encyclopedia’s mention of “golden yellow color”), and unlike brownish bronze, it would be a perfect metal to cover up the loss of wealth and prestige following the theft of gold shields. Passages such as these certainly show that brass was used prior to 500 B.C. and in places other than Rhodes.

“Going Back to ‘the Greek’”

One of the favorite ploys of Bible critics is to “prove” a point by appealing to the languages in which God originally caused the Bible to be written. But appeals to the Bible’s “original languages” do not “prove” that the word “brass” is a “mistake,” despite claims such as these by another Bible critic:

“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 King James Bible uses the word brass to translate the Hebrew word for copper. Unless we can understand the original Hebrew of the Old Testament and the original Greek of the New Testament, ...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.”

Depending on its context, the Greek word translated as “brass” in the King James Bible New Testament can also be correctly translated as “copper” (as in 2 Timothy 4:14). Walter Bauer’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (one of the “standard references” for Bible critics) says that the Greek word “chalkos” can be translated into English as “copper, brass, bronze” and mentions “an idol of brass” as well as “a mostly (brass) gong” (compare 1 Corinthians 13:1). The Oxford English Dictionary agrees that the Greek word ”chalkos” can mean both copper and brass and then points out that it provides us with the English prefix “chalco-.” (“Chalcodite,” for example, is a “hydrous silicate of iron, found in velvety coatings” and named for its “brass-like luster [sic].”) I have faith that in the King James Bible God gave us the exact and correct English words needed to translate Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic words. The Bible’s critics have faith that God didn’t.

Consider what else the Oxford English Dictionary has to say:

“To distinguish alloys of copper and tin [from other copper alloys], the name BRONZE has recently [notice that word!] been adopted … (dictionary maker Samuel Johnson 1755-1773 explains the new [notice that word!] word bronze as ‘brass’). … [The word ‘brass’] was, usually at least, an alloy of copper and tin (=BRONZE); in much later times the alloy of copper and zinc came gradually into general use, and became the ordinary ‘brass’ of England; though in reference to ancient times, and especially to the nations of antiquity, ‘brass’ still meant the original alloy. When works of Greek and Roman antiquity in brass began to be critically examined, and their material discriminated, the Italian word for ‘brass’ (Bronzo, bronze) came into use to distinguish this ‘ancient brass’ from the current alloy.”

In other words, Europeans of the middle ages and the Renaissance began to use different materials in their brass than did the ancient Greeks and Romans. When later men discovered that “ancient brass” was metallurgically different from “current brass,” they decided to change the name of “ancient brass” to “bronze” and then some of them accused the Bible of not being able to distinguish between the two!

The Critics and Copper

Since the false claims about “brass should be bronze” can’t be substantiated, other Bible critics still attack the word but claim that it should be copper. Typical of such attacks is this one from William Smith’s 1863 Dictionary of the Bible:

“The word nechosheth is improperly translated by ‘brass.’ In most places of the Old Testament the correct translation would not be copper, although it may sometimes possibly [three conditional qualifiers in a row!] mean bronze, a compound of copper and tin. Indeed a simple metal [notice the evolutionary world view] was obviously [as opposed to ‘may sometimes possibly’!] intended… Copper was known at a very early period. Genesis 4:22.”

Deuteronomy 8:9 is the verse most often cited as “proof” that the Bible word “brass” should be changed to “copper”.

Deuteronomy 8:9  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.

As one critic puts it, “Brass is an artificial composite and cannot be found in nature.” Too bad he didn’t notice that in the Oxford English Dictionary, sub-definition “d” of the first definition of “brass” is “copper”!

Nevertheless, I suspect that Deuteronomy 8:9 isn’t referring to copper anyway. Notice again a statement quoted earlier from the 1981 World Book Encyclopedia:

“Some historians believe people made the first brass accidentally by melting copper ore that also contained a small amount of zinc.”

Where does copper ore come from? It is dug from the earth! And what is the name for copper ore containing a small amount of zinc? “Brass” – just like the Bible says! This is confirmed by a verse from the oldest book in the Bible:

“Job 28:2  Iron is taken out of the earth, and brass is molten out of the stone."

Although they attempt to remove all the “brass” from the word of God, by presuming to correct the language and vocabulary of God Almighty, Bible critics show that they have plenty of brass of their own. Yet in all their attempts to change the words of God, their “corrections” are not worth a brass nickel or a brass farthing. Bible believers will continue to do well if they ignore the faulty “suggested renderings” of the critics and continue to believe the words that God Himself has given them to live by (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4).