Can You Explain the “Coasts” of Caesarea?

By Wayne Jackson

“Recently an unbeliever charged the Bible with an error because it speaks of the ‘coasts’ of Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13), and also the ‘coasts’ of Decapolis (Mark 7:31). Both of these regions are inland and have no coasts. Can you explain this?”

Our modern word “coast” means “land along side the sea; seashore.” However, in the seventeenth century, when the King James Version of the Bible was translated (from which the above translations were taken), the term “coasts” signified “the frontier or borderland of a country.” That English term obviously has changed in its meaning.

In the Greek New Testament, the word rendered “coasts” in Mark 7:31 is horion, which simply means a “boundary, district, region, etc.” (Arndt and Gingrich 1967, 584-85), hence the King James Version translators selected a word from their vernacular which corresponded to that idea, namely “coasts.” Later versions have utilized terms that are more in keeping with twentieth-century language. And so, horion is translated “borders” in the American Standard Version of Mark 7:31.

In Matthew 16:13, the Greek is ta mere, which was used of the “parts of a country, region, district” (Arndt and Gingrich, 507), and so in the later renditions the term is translated as “the region” (New King James Version).

The problem perceived, therefore, is not real. It merely involves the fact that some English words change in their meanings with the passage of time; it has nothing to do with an error in the biblical text.

Sources/Footnotes
  • Arndt, William and F. W. Gingrich. 1967. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.