Any that pisseth against a wall

Came across this in devotional reading the other day (1 Samuel 25:22, cf. v34.):

NASB95: "May God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if by morning I leave as much as one male of any who belong to him.” (ftnt for male: “who urinates against the wall”).

At least the KJV rendered it right: “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.

Verbal plenary inspiration includes how men urinate (i.e. women don’t piss against walls). We really need a Bible translation that isn’t prudish…


If this is your concern, try reading Ezekiel 23 … in the NIV.


When I was a very new Christian someone gave me a box of tapes by MacArthur preaching through Romans 1. He said that “pissing against the wall” was a euphemism for being a homosexual. Seems like a stretch now but it stuck with me for the last 25 years.

It means “male.” Or perhaps male old enough to take a leak on his own standing up.

This thread has been coming up rather frequently lately. I’m going to voice a disagreement.

I think we need to recognise how language works rather than thinking the most word-for-word literal interpretation is necessarily the most accurate. Take the Old Testament description of God’s patience. ‘Literally’, it means God has long nostrils. Actually, it means God is patient. ‘Patient’ is neither an inaccurate nor a squeamish translation of the word(s) in question. Thus ‘patient’ is equally as literal and accurate as ‘has long nostrils’.

While continually frustrated by how modern translations mask or subdue the original text, let’s also be careful to understand how language and translation actually work.


There’s an infamous Steven Anderson rant about this on YouTube.

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I’ve noticed this about MacArthur’s preaching. Everything gets cleaned up to fit American Baptist sensibilities, even if history has to be invented from whole cloth in order to do it. He does this also with his views on alcohol, saying that ancient Greek and Roman wines were basically grape juice and that you couldn’t feasibly get drunk on them, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The other week I was home in NC where the pastor of my mother’s church used to be a pastor at Grace Community Church. While preaching, he said that 1 Thessalonians 5:26 must have meant a kiss on the cheek, because in ancient Rome it was customary for men to kiss on the cheek – but certainly not on the lips, because that would be sensual and homoerotic. A quick Google search demonstrated that to the best of our evidence, he was wrong, and men did often kiss one another on the lips as a cultural sign of affection, and so Paul was likely enjoining this practice to the Thessalonians. So with things like this, either these pastors don’t do even a bare minimum of research before declaring their gut feelings to be absolute truth to their flocks, or there’s a widespread sort of Trumpian “Anabaptish” complex that allows people to reject all evidence out of hand for anything that isn’t how they want it to be, and fully believe that they’re right and all of the archeology, literary data, scriptural arguments, common sense, etc etc just must be wrong somehow. But then also not have to humility to tell anyone that.


Anthropomorphic language for God isn’t the same as this case. I agree, we don’t always have to go with the most literal interpretation, most especially in poetry. But this verse, and words used elsewhere, aren’t poetry. David literally says those who urinate against walls. David could have said men. He didn’t. God recorded those words, not the word “man.”

Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that we need to use the word “piss” just as we don’t need to call donkeys asses. Urinating against a wall works just fine. But without the footnote I would have missed this, and I believe it’s important enough to keep in the translation. Men pee standing up. Women don’t.


Wow, I didn’t do a deep dive on the chapter, but NIV seems to be pretty straightforward.

Broken clock is right twice a day? Or maybe they assumed no one would read Ezekiel :wink:

‘Having long nostrils’ isn’t anthropomorphic, it’s idiomatic. There’s a difference. Describing God as having eyes (‘the eyes of the Lord are on the earth’) is poetic and anthropomorphic. ‘Has long nostrils’ or ‘nostrils burned’ is just how Hebrew describes anger, for God or for men.

1 Sam 25.22 may be divinely intended to emphasise David’s crassly impulsive anger flaring up. Or it may be just a Hebrew idiom for mature men. But translating ‘pisseth against the wall’ as ‘males’ isn’t automatically prudish or neutering God’s word. Idioms have to be understood in the receptor language rather than being automatically translated in a word-for-word from the original, especially in a language like Hebrew.

I agree with the larger concern about modern translations, but let’s not assume every example is all of a type. Translation is complicated work. The point of the verse is that David is going to kill all the men, not that those men urinate in a particular way.


Agreed. We may want to have perfectly accurate translations, and for good reason - every jot and tittle of the Law, one might say. But that is not always the same as it being an understandable translation.

Two more examples from Saul. In 1 Sam 20:30 he refers to Jonathan as ‘the son of a perverse and rebellious woman’. The NIV comments here that the Hebrew idiom is meant to characterise Jonathan, not his mother. Now, when I was first reading the Bible as a ten year-old in the Living Bible (sorry), this was rendered as, “You sonofabitch!” (American - UK, “you bastard!”). I wouldn’t at that age have quite understood the ‘literal’ translation - but I sure understood the paraphrase! And both paraphrases reflect the sense of the Hebrew as well. Also - 1 Sam 24:3 refers to Saul ‘covering his feet’; which is literal, sure; but ‘relieve himself’ (most modern versions) is what people understand.

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Translation of any kind is really difficult work, filled with trade offs between faithfulness to the original idiom and understanding by the intended audience.

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Front pic on best R&R album ever illustrates Matt’s passage.

BTW, Dad once asked a dignified older gentleman of the church to read this passage in Sunday morning worship w/out realizing it contained this phrase. The man was mortified as he read it. Dad was mortified he’d not realized what was in the text and what he’d put the dear man through.


Sure, this can be taken too far, but this example of long nostrils is the exceptional exception. As over years now I have been reading every last footnote in the NASB for what they record as the literal translation, let me say once more that, at least 95% of the time, what they acknowledge to be the literal Hebrew or Greek word inspired by God is superior to their editorial improvement in communicating a meaning lost when the literal is left behind.

One example you might want to use for your argument is Hebrew “kidneys” being replaced by NASB with “heart.” Makes sense if we don’t want to think the way the Biblical authors thought, but if the original is worth studying, I find myself wondering if it would not be better to explain why Hebrew Scripture does not speak of the brain and heart as we do, but of the heart and the kidneys? Here’s an article opening up what we might learn if we humble ourselves to think and consider the original even in this weird usage of “kidney.” But keep in mind that the vast majority of places where the NASB replaces the Hebrew or Greek it idenitifies as “literal,” that literal is (I think) much better. Love,

PS: [quote=“Aaron Prelock, post:10, topic:3975, username:aaron.prelock”]
especially in a language like Hebrew.

But Aaron, why “especially in a language like Hebrew?” Isn’t that precisely the point of argument? Did God inspire His Word to be written “in a language like Hebrew” and is that an integral part of His special revelation, or is Hebrew culture just incidental to inspiration?

I hope you won’t take offense at my making this point since I made the same point a quarter century ago to Vern Poythress who was saying that “adam” was merely the way people “back then” in that “ancient culture” expressed or labelled corporate humanity. To which I responded pointing out that better to think of this as God choosing Hebrew so His Word would have that culture (those cultures, both Hebrew and Greek) habit of male inclusives.

In other words, precisely because we know how language works and that God inspired words, and not merely the meaning underlying those words, I would hope all of us would hold tenaciously to meanings left behind the original Greek and Hebrew words when scholars think they can (I say) cosset us by not translating “pisseth against the wall” or “old wives tales.” Love,


Oh my, you are bold, aren’t you. Love,

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No offence taken at all. I agree with your point, but I think translation has to be clearly intelligible in the receptor language as well as faithful to the original. Your point about kidneys/heart is very helpful, but I think it illustrates what I’m saying. If kidneys represent the internal centre of man in Hebrew, and the English word for the internal centre of man is heart, then heart is a faithful and accurate translation of kidneys.

Personally I’m happy with ‘heart’ in the text and a footnote saying ‘Heb. kidneys’; pastors can explain to their congregants why the original word ‘kidneys’ matters. But I’m also happy without the footnotes as well. This is part of why it’s important for pastors to know Hebrew and Greek, though my languages are admittedly not as solid as they should be. But I think the priority has to be on clarity and intelligibility. Good commentaries can help unearth the nuances of Hebrew or Greek. Given that a perfect 1:1 translation isn’t possible thanks to Babel, I’d rather a translation that sacrifices maybe a little of the depth and colour if it gives the meaning.

Verbal plenary inspiration hardly requires poor translation, and translation is only accurate if the meaning of the original language is truly received in the receptor language.

Heartily agree on Adam/man, just don’t want that emphasis on the original to obscure the meaning of the English.


But Aaron, your arguments are precisely the arguments that have taken away thousands of male inclusives in almost all our modern so-called “translations.” If the important thing is communicating according to the receptor language/culture’s habits and thought patterns, and that’s how we define good translation, again and again and again we will leave the original language/culture’s habits and thought patterns behind. Which is what has now completely run the table among contemporary English Bibles—leaving us with bowdlerized and neutered Bibles.

There’s a reason the best linguist among reformed men today said what he said. There’s a reason that, in that conversation, he went on to defend translating Ioudaioi “Jewish leaders” with the explantion that “the best scholars today now think that it wasn’t the Jews, as a group, but Jewish leaders who were being referred to by John in his gospel.”

Evangelicals have left the historical orthodox doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration behind, and now have a neorthodox doctrine of Scripture. Why no one admits it, let alone makes a forthright argument for it, tells us a lot.

There are times we should not translate literally, sure. But tens of thousands of times less than our patronizing scholars who dumb down God’s inspired words are now habitually doing.

Really, those men reading here need to read Is That a Fish in Your Ear in order to understand why scholars suppress and remove idiomatic expressions in the original such as those who piss against the wall. The book is by a renowned translator at Princeton who understands Bible translators perfectly well because he sees the sin behind their bowdlerization (although he’d not call it “sin”). Love,


Does it matter if I’m opposed to removal of the masculine inclusive? That I think that’s taking the philosophy I mentioned too far?

And those who argued English had changed regarding the masculine inclusive lied. It hadn’t changed, it was being changed.

I’m arguing both receptor language and original language have to be prioritised. I think ‘pisseth against the wall’ and ‘kidneys’ unnecessarily prioritises the original at the expense of the receptor. This results in obscurity for the average reader, and there’s no benefit that I can see. A good preacher should be able to bring out those nuances.

But I’m happy to be a minority report on this.

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Isn’t this kinda the point though? Isn’t it the preacher’s place to explain those nuances, rather than the translator?

Don’t you think the layman is better served by having a faithful translation in his hands which requires a good preacher to come alongside and give him the sense (Nehemiah 8:8) as opposed to having the translator (i.e scholastic copyright holder) assume the role of the preacher?


Dear Aaron, we’re happy for you to argue. What I think is being missed is the significance of approaching translation as a matter of which culture is to be prioritized, and pisseth against the wall is the perfect example. God inspired those precise words. Why remove them?

But we all know why. We’re not even confused about it. Read the comments, also.

Bellos’s Is That a Fish in Your Ear was one of the Economist’s 2011 books of the year, and in it we read what you’ll never find Evangelical so-called Bible scholars ever saying, including Grudem and Poythress:

(There is a) general tendency of all translations to adhere more strongly than any original to a normalized idea of what the target language should be. To put that a different way: translation always takes the register and level of naturally written prose up a notch or two. Some degree of raising is and always has been characteristic of translated texts–simply because translators are instinctively averse to the risk of being taken for less than fully cultivated writers of their target tongue. In important ways, translators are the guardians and, to a surprising degree, the creators of the standard form of the language they use. (p. 195)

And this too from Bellos:

High-flown, pompous, elegant, or regal forms of language in the source are generally represented by terms of corresponding social rank in the target. Real difficulties arise only when the class register is low, and especially when the language of the source represents the speech forms of uneducated folk.

(T)ranslators shy away from giving …uncouth forms of language in the target text. The reason is obvious—grammatical mistakes, malapropisms, and other kinds of “sub-standard” language must not be seen to be the translator’s fault.

(David Bellos, “Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything,” p. 194-195.)

Sorry, but I really must recommend this post on Baylyblog from eleven years ago, “The womanish translators of the NIV (2011) and the ESV…”. Rather than continuing to say it all over again here. Love,