December 19, 2015

Translation of ‘Anoint’ in the King James Bible: Polysemy in Metaphor

Almost a decade ago, I wrote a research paper on the translation of 'anoint' for my Early Modern English class at BYU. I have adapted this paper to better fit a blog entry and I've grown as a writer in that decade. Enjoy!

"Bible Text" by Petr Kratochvil

A Portrait

Royalty commissioned a portrait of themselves upon their anointing to the crown. One Hebrew sense of ‘anoint’ signifies ‘to paint’ and another sense from Hebrew is ‘to consecrate.’

My purpose is to follow this ancient tradition in painting a portrait of the Anointed King of Righteousness through the various senses of ‘anoint’ from the languages the King James translators referred to: Greek, Hebrew, and English.

My sources include the Bible, Bible Dictionary, Oxford English Dictionary, Authorized Version foreword, and other relevant texts. Word Cruncher assisted me in discovering the various senses and translations of ‘anoint’ employed in the Bible.

History of the Translation of English Bibles

The first English biblical translations began under the Anglo-Saxon King Alfred during the Old English period. These translations probably read similar to Beowulf, since King Alfred facilitated many translations into the West Saxon dialect. Others made short translations mostly from Psalms, including King Alfred, while others made English glosses (side notes) in Latin Bibles (Butterworth 22-23).

Then a period of darkness halted most translation until the 1380s when Wycliffe soon realized that any religious authority lay in the Bible and not the priests. He stated: “it helpeth Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue in which they know best Christ’s sentence” (Craigie, et. al. 135-138). Wycliffe undertook this feat relying upon the Hebrew and the Greek translations instead of the Latin translations (Craigie, et. al. 135-138).

During Henry the VIII’s reign, more Protestant translations propped themselves on top of the last. Since he vacillated from one opinion to another depending on who annoyed him the most at a particular time, translators remained wary of his mood (Worth 13). He had good reason to fear a vernacular translation “for the zeal of some knew no bounds and sometimes caused unpleasant public disturbances” (Daiches 45).

Although Henry the VIII served like a swaying vessel, overall his reign proved favorable. First, he separated England from papal power. Second, his occasional Protestant leaning tenably encouraged more liberal translation philosophies (Worth 13).

Tyndale labored on his translation under Henry’s constant uncertainty, yet Tyndale continued. He adopted Wycliffe’s philosophy toward vernacular translation:

“I defie the Pope and all his lawes, if God spare my lyfe ere many yeares, I wyl cause a boye that dryveth [the] plough, shall knowe more of the scripture than thou doest” (Daiches 2).

Tyndale had few qualifications according to modern standards to translate from Hebrew to English, yet he accomplished a literary masterpiece using only “primitive Hebrew grammars and dictionaries” (Worth 38).

King Henry’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, separately regarded translation quite differently. Queen Mary banned any English biblical translation and any English Bibles being used in Church. Queen Elizabeth had to tread carefully due to Queen Mary of Scots, yet she maintained amiable relations with her nephew King James. Although little translation progress happened under Queen Elizabeth, she instilled political neutrality that enabled James to authorize the next version.

Another precursor included the Rhemes Bible that adhered more to a verbatim translation from Latin. As a result, “Rhemes provoked the production of a better version […] the Authorized or King James appeared” (Sheahan 124).

King James Translation

King James approved the list of translators in 1604, including a wide spectrum of religious representatives (Worth 151-52).

Miles Smith stated the overall attitude of the translators as “greater in other men[']s eyes then in their own […] that sought the truth rather then their own praise” (Butterworth 243).

The translators followed these guidelines: non-verbatim translation enabling a smoother and clearer text; marginal notes explaining alternative translations; and modest cross references enabling wider and holistic comprehension. The translators relied heavily on the Tyndale Bible. Scholars estimate that 80 to 90 percent of the King James Bible originates from the Tyndale Bible (Worth 157).

Translations of Anoint

Most of the original Greek and Hebrew words specifically mean ‘anoint', but not all. These other words share senses with words having the ‘anoint’ sense; therefore, they are included.

The Anointed One

Three words—bēn, māshîach, and Christós—all signify the Anointed One. Bēn is an extension meaning a son who is an anointed one. The Jews call the role Māshîach; the Greeks call the role Christós.

The Modern English equivalents are Messiah and Christ. Before Catholicism introduced Latin Christus from Greek khristos, the Old English term was Hæland "healer, savior" ("Christ" Online Etymological Dictionary).

Completion & Wholeness

Across Hebrew and Greek, several lexemes—téleios, teleióō, ml’, mālā’, millu’, and millû’îm—signify senses such as completion or wholeness. These lexemes represent the growth toward perfection.

We learn line upon line, grace to grace. Grace reveals light and truth in each step (See 2 Ne 28:30). Furthermore, téleois implies phases in maturation, such as developing into full age physically, intellectually, and spiritually.

Similarly, the scriptures recount as Jesus grew from grace to grace, line upon line. He completed each step by obeying eternal truths. When he had completed every jot and tittle, he cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi changed from a boy to a man when he listened then obeyed the Holy Ghost’s voice. He listened to the prompting to kill Laban then obeyed (ml’; see 1 Ne 2:164:18, 31).


The Hebrew root zayith and Greek roots elaía, élaion and aleíphō include oil and its extensions: the olive fruit, branch, and tree.

Jesus Christ or his Church is often compared to a tree (see Romans 11 and Jacob 5). The olive tree is especially fitting since it is a common tree in Israel. It provides the staple of olive oil.

Christ’s Atonement represents the roots of the gospel. Without the Atonement, the plan of happiness would be null. The roots support the tree or the Church.

The branches include the groups of saints spread around the world. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses the literal term branch to describe a small group of members. Like a wooden pole holding up a tent, a stake is a larger group of wards and branches.

Then “ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). Christ’s Atonement yields the delicious fruit when the saints repent. Therefore, we may know Christ through our “fruit meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

The oil is always being acted upon, even in the causative verb phrases: to rub oil, to smear oil, to make oil, to press oil, and to consecrate oil. The King James team translated these verbs from the Hebrew words mėshach, shemen and tshr. Likewise, the sins and sufferings of mankind pressed the blood from Christ’s flesh thus consecrating his suffering on Mount Olivet, or in the Garden of Gethsemane ("Gethsemane" Online Etymological Dictionary).

To Sanctify

Another causative phrase is to sanctify, or the Hebrew causative phrase is qdhsh. The oil that anoints also sanctifies, heals, and cleans. 

Heavenly Father anointed Christ for the purpose of saving us from our sins. Through this event, the Holy Ghost can cleanse and sanctify us if we repent. 

One causative phrase comes from dshn signifies to take or remove ashes. Formerly, people made lye soap from ashes. As a result, to take or remove the ashes, or lye soap, applies the Atonement then wipes the sins away.


Several Hebrew roots—zayith, yitshār, tshr, and shmn—have senses indicating terms of light, such as, to glisten, to shine, illuminating oil. Each of these senses is about making or spreading oil. 

These senses create an analogy of making our own light shine for others to see (See Matthew 5:16). Anointing is the second step in cleansing; therefore, we must be made clean before we can shine--like buffing silver. Thus we can shine too.

Outspread Wings

One Hebrew root—mimshāch—has the sense of outspread wings and expansion. In Luke 13:34, Jesus compares himself: "how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings..." (emphasis added). He has healing in his wings (3 Ne 25:2). His wing expansion covers all pains, sins, sicknesses, and afflictions (Alma 7:11). Additionally, Christ expands our “thoughts as upon eagle’s wings” (D&C 124: 99).

Moses lifted up a serpent entwined staff that if the children of Israel merely looked at, it would heal them from the fiery, flying serpents' venom (Numbers 21:8). The flying aspect evokes the image of wings.

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi, grandson of Helaman, likened Moses' action: "Yea, did [Moses] not bear record that the Son of God should come? And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come" (Helaman 8:14). Thus, this is a symbol of healing in Jesus' wings.

The fiery, flying serpent may be linked to the Mesoamerican Feathered Serpent, Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl (and many namesakes) have similarities to Jesus Christ, but may have been twisted over time. Diane E. Wirth explains this complex matter in her article "Quetzalcoatl, the Maya Maize God, and Jesus Christ."

In An Instinct for Dragons, anthropologist David E. Jones links the Feathered Serpent with dragon symbols from many world cultures, including the Chinese dragon. After teaching English in China, I believe that the dragon may be a symbol of Jesus Christ in Chinese culture and other cultures.

After all, Jesus Christ talked of "other sheep" in his fold to the Jews (John 10:16). When Jesus Christ visited the Americas, he stated that they are his "other sheep" and that their are more "sheep" on earth (3 Ne 15:17). The symbol of the dragon's wings spans the world's cultures where "other sheep" dwell.


The King James translators translated the Hebrew words—bll, chrm, cherem—into curse, doom, destroy, exterminate, confound, forfeit, and defile.

These senses connote the terrible side of the double-edged sword that Jesus yields. It protects the obedient on the right side and destroys the wicked on the left side. Most of these senses seek transitive action against evil. However, the Lord must sanction the curse or destruction.

For example, the Lord flooded the earth in order to destroy the wicked because “all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth” (Moses 8:29).

The Lord commanded Saul to destroy the Philistines and all their livestock. Saul and his army failed to destroy all the cattle; thus, Saul lost his position as the anointed king of Israel (1 Sam. 15).

Some carried destruction too far: Jephthah had promised to God an offering of the first animate object he saw upon returning from his victory. He rashly sacrificed his daughter. (see Judges 11 and “Jephthah” Bible Dictionary).


In biblical times, the Jews anointed their kings upon coronation. The King James translators painted these kings’ portraits through their word choice. Such words include consecrate, crown, appoint, dedicate, confirm, and accept. The Greek root enkainízó translated into consecrate and dedicate. The Hebrew roots are chnkh, chrm, dshn, ml’, nzr, and qdhsh.

First, the prophet appointed a candidate to be king; second, the prophet confirmed the crown upon his head in the act of consecration and dedication; finally, the Lord accepted the prophet’s choice.

Hence forward, the Lord has consecrated the king to righteously serve the people. These earthly kings account for their actions to the King of Righteousness. Once Jesus reigned as the Prince of Peace, then Heavenly Father consecrated Jesus as the King of all Righteousness. He serves his people through the ultimate sacrifice, or atonement.

In return, we consecrate our lives through glorifying God. Christians across the world consecrate their lives when they partake of the Lord's Supper (communion, sacrament; see ml').

Similarly, saints gather inside the temple and consecrate our whole selves to God. The temples and chapels are referred to anciently as qdhsh that is translated as a sacred place or thing. In these sacred places, we separate from the world, forfeit our sins, devote our lives to God, promise to fulfill our covenants, and accept the terms (See nzr, chrm, ml’, and dshn). Our end goal is to be like God—perfect (See téleios).

Semantically, the instruments of ‘anoint’ include ointment, oil, myrrh, confection, perfumed oil, and paint. The roots of these instruments are mėshach, mishchāh, rōqach, shmn, tshr, mýron, and élaion. These instruments serve for healing or cleansing wounds, providing or making pleasure, and anointing or consecrating an object or person.

Jesus received oil, myrrh, and perfumed oil as gifts. Mary rubbed Jesus’ feet with oil; the wise men gave Jesus myrrh; Mary Magdalene and others anointed Christ’s lifeless body with perfumed oil. Through these instrumental gifts, Mary, the wise men, and Mary Magdalene consecrated their time and possessions to the Savior.

To Be Fat

An interesting translation, to be fat, seems strange in our obsessive culture about weight. However, ancient persons desired fat to enable their survival. To be fat represented wealth and health.

Symbolically, Jesus instructed us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Our spirits need to become fat from Jesus’ teachings and atonement. Christ is called the Bread of Life. Like manna from heaven, we ingest the bread in order to make it part of our body; likewise, we symbolically eat from the Bread of Life in order to become like him.

Fishers of Men

Christ called his Apostles to be fishers of men. Figuratively, they fished with a net to gather people to Christ. Cherem means a literal and figurative net. Today, Christians and their missionaries cast out nets to bring people to Christ.

The KJV Translators Consecration

The King James translators truly consecrated their time and talents to create such a masterpiece like the King James Bible. The Bishop of Bancroft appointed them to the positions and committees. King James approved and accepted the large undertaking. The translation committees reached for perfection as a whole. The fruit of this effort is still ripe to this day. Further translations have never completely replaced the King James Bible. It is still a powerful influence across the world.

The translation of ‘anoint’ illustrates the inspiration the translators received. They chose poignant words to portray ‘anoint,’ effectively painting the Anointed One. The metaphors multiply: they apply to each individual seeking to devote him or herself to God. By studying the King James Bible we can come closer to God. It contains much of the everlasting gospel.


Butterworth, Charles C. The literary lineage of the King James Bible, 1340-1611  (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1941).

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the. The Scriptures: Authorized Version Including the Official Study Aids. CD-ROM. 1.1 ed. Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2005.

Craigie, W. A. “The English versions (to Wyclif).” The Bible in its Ancient and English Versions. Ed. H. Wheeler Robinson. Oxford: Clarendon, 1940. 135-138.

Daiches, David. The King James Version of the English Bible. (Chicago: the University of Chicago Press, 1941).

Sheahan, J. F. The English in English Bibles: Rhemes 1582; Authorized 1611; Revised 1881; St. Matthew 1-14. (Poughkeepsie, NY: Columbus Institute).
Full text of original

Worth, Roland H. Church, Monarch, and Bible in Sixteenth Century England: the Political Context of Biblical Translation. (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000).


Hebrew Dictionary of ‘Anoint’

An adaptation from the Transliterated Hebrew Strong Dictionary in LDS Scriptures

Lexeme: bēn
Senses: a son, figurative extension to grandson, nation
Translation: [Lev-]ite, [anoint-]ed one, appointed to, son, +firstborn, worthy, +afflicted, +lamb, (+) man, +spark
Reference: Zechariah 4:14

Lexeme: bll
Senses: to overflow (specifically with oil); implies to mix
Translation: anoint, confound, X fade, mingle, mix (self), temper
Reference: Psalms 92:10

Lexeme: chnk’
Senses: properly to narrow; figuratively to initiate or discipline
Translation: dedicate, train up

Lexeme: chănukkā’
Senses: consecration
Translation: dedication
Reference: Deuteronomy 20:5

Lexeme: chănukkāh
Senses: initiation, consecration
Translation: dedicating (-tion)
Reference: Deuteronomy 20:5

Lexeme: chrm
Senses: to seclude; specifically (by a ban) to devote to religious uses (especially destruction)
Translation: make accursed, consecrate, (utterly) destroy, devote, forfeit
Reference: Micah 4:13

Lexeme: chērem, cherem
Senses: physically (as shutting in) a net; usually a doomed object; abstractly extermination
Translation: curse, dedicated thing, (appointed to) utter destruction, devoted (thing), net
References: Ezekiel 24:29; (Zechariah 14:11)  

Lexeme: dshn
Senses: to be fat, transitive to fatten; specifically to anoint; figuratively to satisfy; to remove (fat) ashes (of sacrifices)
Translation: accept, anoint, take away the (receive) ashes (from), make (wax) fat
Reference: Psalms 23:5

Lexeme: mshch
Senses: to rub with oil, to anoint; by implication to consecrate; also to paint
Translation: anoint, paint
Reference: Jeremiah 22:14 (paint)

Lexeme: māshîach
Senses: anointed; usually a consecrated person (as a king, priest, or saint); specifically the Messiah
Translation: anointed, Messiah
Reference: Leviticus 4:3; Samuel 24:6

Lexeme: mėshach (Chaldean)
Senses: oil
Translation: oil
Reference: Ezra 6:9

Lexeme: mimshāch
Senses: outspread (i.e. with outstretched wings); from mshch in the sense of expansion
Translation: anointed
Reference: Ezekiel 28:14

Lexeme: mishchāh or moshchāh
Senses: unction (the act); by implication a consecratory gift
Translation: (to be) anointed (-ing), ointment
Reference: Exodus 30:25

Lexeme: ml’ or mālā’
Senses: to fill or (intransitively) be full of literally and figuratively
KJV accomplish, confirm, + consecrate, be at an end, fill, fulfill, [over-] flow, full, fullness, furnish, gather (selves, together), presume, replenish, satisfy, set
References: Leviticus 21:10; (Esther 7:5)

Lexeme: millu’ or millû’îm
Senses: a fulfilling, or consecration (also concretely a dedicatory sacrifice)
Translation: consecration, be set
Reference: Exodus 29:22

Lexeme: nzr
Senses: to hold aloof, abstain; to set apart (to sacred purposes), devote
Translation: consecrate, separate (-ing, self)

Lexeme: nezer or nēzer
Senses: properly something set apart, abstractly dedication (of a priest of Nazirite); concretely unshorn locks; also by implication a chaplet, especially of royalty
Translation: consecration, crown, hair, separation
Reference: Numbers 6:7

Lexeme: qdhsh
Senses: to be, causatively make, pronounce or observe as; clean ceremonially or morally
Translation: appoint, bid, consecrate, dedicate, defile, hallow, keep, prepare, proclaim, purify, sanctify
Reference: Exodus 28:3

Lexeme: qōdhesh
Senses: a sacred place or thing; rarely abstractly sanctity
Translation: consecrated, dedicated, or hallowed thing, holiness, holy, saint, sanctuary
References: Psalms 89:20; Joshua 6:19

Lexeme: rōqach
Sense: an aromatic
Translation: confection, ointment
Reference: Exodus 30:25

Lexeme: shmn
Senses: to shine, by analogy be (causatively make) oily or gross
Translation: become (make, wax) fat
Reference: Deuteronomy 8:8

Lexeme: shemen
Senses: grease, especially liquid (as from the olive, often perfumed); figuratively richness
Translation: anointing, X fat (things), X fruitful, oil ([-ed]), ointment, olive
Reference: Leviticus 10:7

Lexeme: svkh
Senses: properly to smear over (with oil), anoint
Translation: anoint (self)
References: Deuteronomy 28:40; Ruth 3:3

Lexeme: tshr
Senses: to glisten; to press out oil
Translation: make oil
Reference: Job 24:11

Lexeme: yitshār
Senses: oil (as producing light); figuratively anointing
Translation: + anointed, oil
References: Zechariah 4:14; Numbers 18:12 (oil)

Lexeme: zayith
Senses: an olive (as yielding illuminating oil), the tree, the branch or the berry
Translation: olive (tree, yard), Olivet
Reference: Deuteronomy 8:8

Greek Dictionary of ‘Anoint’

An adaptation from the Transliterated Greek Strong Dictionary from LDS Scriptures

Lexeme: aleíphō
Senses: to oil (with perfume)
Translation: anoint
Reference: Matthew 6:17

Lexeme: chríō
Senses: to smear or rub with oil, implies to consecrate to an office or religious service
Translation: anoint
Reference: Luke 4:18

Lexeme: chrísma
Senses: an unguent or smearing, figuratively the endowment of the Holy Spirit; “chrism”
Translation: anointing, unction
Reference: 1 John 2:20

Lexeme: Christós
Senses: anointed, an epithet of Jesus
Translation: Christ

Lexeme: epichríó
Sense: to smear over
Translation: anoint
Reference: John 9:6

Lexeme: elaía
Sense: an olive (the tree or the fruit)
Translation: olive (berry, tree)
Reference: (Luke 7:46)

Lexeme: élaion
Sense: olive oil
Translation: oil
Reference: Matthew 25:3

Lexeme: enkaínia
Senses: innovatives, specifically renewal of religious services after the Antiochian interruption
Translation: dedication
Reference: (Hebrews 10:20)

Lexeme: enkainízó
Senses: to renew, inaugurate
Translation: consecrate, dedicate
Reference: Hebrews 10:20

Lexeme: mýron
Senses: “myrrh,” perfumed oil
Translation: ointment
Reference: Matthew 26:7

Lexeme: myrízó
Senses: to apply (perfumed) unguent to
Translation: anoint
Reference: Mark 14:8

Lexeme: téleios
Senses: complete; completeness
Translation: of full age, man, perfect
Note: complete, finished, fully developed
Reference: (Hebrews 7:8)

Lexeme: teleióō
Senses: to complete, accomplish, or figuratively consummate in character
Translation: consecrate, finish, fulfill, (make) perfect
Reference: Hebrews 7:28