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Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
(Daniel 3:16-18 KJV)

I suppose it is somewhere along the lines of "We do not have to account for our stance on this matter to you." I am not sure however. I would appreciate an explanation and maybe some other examples where "careful" is used in a similar way.

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    What do more modern translations (including the NKJV and CV; see also the GWT and GNT interpretations) say? [BibleHub] I won't CV, as the usage could do with dictionary (OED only I suspect) ratification. Dec 13, 2023 at 13:00
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    "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter." (NKJV)
    – jacob78
    Dec 13, 2023 at 13:02
  • The nearest two definitions in the full OED are #5 Applying care to avoid; on one's guard against, cautious, wary. Obsolete and #6 Causing trouble or fear, dreadful. Obsolete. But given it's a biblical quote that scholars have pored over for centuries producing different translations (while hopefully maintaining the same sense in current English at the time of each revision), I see no point in presenting it here as something for us to chew over. Dec 13, 2023 at 13:10
  • Personally, I was initially inclined to see it as the medieval equivalent of today's We do not care to answer that (usually implying ...so we won't). But that doesn't seem to make sense, because the speaker immediately proceeds to actually answer the question. But I can't see the point of saying We don't need to answer that, but we're gonna answer anyway. Maybe Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn't have very well-developed diplomatic skills! Dec 13, 2023 at 13:18
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    @FumbleFingers The scholars you mention were not just "biblical" scholars: they were highly-regarded because of their linguistic accomplishment, making their results on topic. My answer doesn't mean that I know more than those scholars, but that I understand (more or less) the English results of their translations. The meaning of "careful" hasn't changed so very much since 1611, although the usage here isn't common any more.
    – Conrado
    Dec 13, 2023 at 14:23

2 Answers 2

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It means: "We are not worried [that we will answer you wrongly]".

Careful:

marked by wary caution or prudence M-W

The men in the story are just saying that they don't feel like they need to be cautious to answer the king about this matter, as the simple truth is enough, with the additional implication that it doesn't even really matter what the king thinks about their answer.

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    Similarly in Philippians 4.6 "Be careful for nothing" (as in Purcell's Bell Anthem) - meaning "Do not be anxious about anything". Dec 13, 2023 at 14:40
  • 'Answer wrongly' usually means 'answer erroneously', but you obviously mean 'give an answer you find unacceptable'. Jan 31 at 23:03
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This is an inaccuracy in the King James Version.

The Hebrew word is חַשְׁחִ֨ין (ḥaš-ḥîn), the masculine plural participle of the verb חֲשַׁח (chashach) meaning “need”. This means that an accurate translation of Daniel 3:16 should be similar to the English Standard Version, which has “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.”

The word חֲשַׁח is rare, its forms occurring just three times in the Bible. In the other two cases the KJV uses “need”:

Ezra 6:9 And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs

Ezra 7:20 And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God

In Daniel 3:16, the way to make sense of the KJV is to take “careful” in the archaic sense “full of care, trouble, anxiety, or concern” (OED), so that Shadrach and companions are to be interpreted as saying, “we are not concerned [or troubled, or anxious] to answer you”, which is similar to the Hebrew, but not quite the same. Possibly the KJV translators were puzzled that the men said they did not need to answer, but answered anyway, and chose this interpretation to resolve the difficulty.

The word “careful” is used in this sense in a few other places in the KJV, for example:

2 Kings 4:13 Behold, thou hast been careful for us with all this care

Luke 10:41 Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things

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