Do Turtles Talk?

By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen

    Do turtles “talk” to one another, or make other verbal sounds? After some internet research, I could not find anything that says they do, but I will play it safe and say I don’t know for sure.

     You might be wondering why this is a subject of discussion on a blog about Biblical subjects. Here is the reason: In the King James Version of the Bible, in the Old Testament we read a statement that can be understood to mean turtles talk or make some kind of verbal sounds. The statement is found in the Song Of Solomon, in chapter 2, verse 12, which says this: “The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” Note once again that last clause: “the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”

     Doesn’t this statement imply that turtles do, indeed, talk, at least to one another? That they make some kind of verbal sounds? Well, several years ago I saw on the cover of a daily devotional booklet a picture of a turtle, and by the picture was this statement: “the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” That picture and the Biblical statement that accompanied it certainly revealed that the editors(s) of the devotional booklet thought turtles do, indeed, talk or make some kind of verbal sounds. But their conclusion was based on a misunderstanding of what the King James Version means by the word “turtle.” They did not know that it does not mean a turtle as we Americans commonly understand that word. They did not know that it means “turtle dove,” which is a bird.  

     In the King James Version, we find that the same Hebrew word is translated 2 times as “turtle,” 3 times as “turtles,” 3 times as “turtle-dove,” and 6 times as “turtle-doves.” Whenever the King James Version uses the word “turtle” it refers to a bird. The Hebrew word itself always refers to a bird commonly called a “turtle-dove.” The translators of the King James Version understood this to be true. But at that time (in the 1600’s), they sometimes referred to this bird as a  “turtle” and as a “turtledove.”

     There are some lessons to be learned from these facts: 1) We can easily misunderstand many statements in the beloved King James Version simply due to the fact that how English words were understood in the 1600’s is not how we understand them now in the 21st century. This is a primary reason many younger persons prefer to read a modern English translation instead of the King James Version. That being so, I recommend the New King James Version to them. 2) Another lesson we can learn from this is that if one insists on reading the old King James Version, it is important to read one which gives explanations of of its antiquated words, and or modern English equivalents in the margins or in the footnotes, or maybe in a glossary in the front or back of the Bible. A Bible which helps with the old English words is called “The King James Study Bible,” and is published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. It is one of the best study Bibles available. It will strengthen your Christian faith in these days when Bible-believing Christianity is being attacked from many directions. Another good one is called “The Henry Morris Study Bible,” formerly called “The Defender’s Study Bible,” which was edited by Dr. Henry M. Morris. And there is the very helpful study Bible called “The Ryrie Study Bible,” named after the famous Bible scholar, Charles Ryrie. This one is available using the King James Version and other versions. 3) A third lesson is that a misunderstanding of a Biblical word can lead to a false interpretation of a Biblical statement. A good example of this was found on the front cover of the devotional book referred to above. The editor(s) mistakenly thought Song Of Solomon 2:12 referred to turtles as we Americans usually think of them.

     All of us can make mistakes when interpreting the Bible. That is why it is important to have study Bibles and other books that will help us as we read the Bible. But we must be sure those study Bible and books will strenghten, not weaken, our confidence in the Bible as the Word of God.

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