The King James Only Controversy, Part 4
I have covered quite a bit of territory in the first three parts of this article. Now I seek to wrap things up, and offer some further reading to those who are interested if they want to learn much more about this from some helpful, reputable and reliable sources.
-The KJV is a beautiful book in so many ways, and much beloved by millions. I grew up on it when I first became a Christian, and I memorised entire chapters from it. But I now also read and enjoy other translations such as the ESV, and see no problem whatsoever in using a number of translations and versions to help get a better grasp of God’s Word.
-Only the original autographs – which are now lost to us – are divinely inspired, not any human translation. Every version we have in English is a human product, not a divine product. Thus all will have strengths and weaknesses, and none can be claimed to be perfect or without error. However, the invaluable science of textual criticism exists to help us get as close as we can to those original, infallible autographs.
-Some of those who have penned books and articles seeking to make the KJVO case did/do know something about the original languages and the like. Sadly however that cannot be said of most of their enthusiastic followers today. I suspect that the great majority of these folks not only do not know anything about ancient Hebrew or Koine Greek, but they know basically nothing about translation theory, textual criticism, manuscript evidence and the like.
Overwhelmingly they just seem to regurgitate stuff they have found on highly suspect websites, including unhelpful conspiracy theory sites and rabid anti-Catholic sites. Or they simply rehash the discredited nonsense found in books like those of Riplinger.
Sadly these folks are usually quite clueless, and have very little nous or discernment. And the more extreme they get, the more cultic and heretical they become, and the more of an embarrassment and danger they become. Some of the more extreme adherents of this are often rather uninformed, or under-educated, or sadly just nutty zealots.
-As already mentioned, no one speaks 17th century English anymore. All Christians should seek to communicate biblical truths as clearly as possible, not just to other Christians, but to non-Christians as well. Assuring that most folks today will struggle greatly in trying to understand what you are saying by using Elizabethan English is hardly being a good witness, an effective teacher and evangelist, nor likely to get good results.
-More important than going on a cultic hobby horse about which Bible alone we can use, we should be concentrating on living out and fully obeying the Bible. Sure, good translations are quite important, and some are better than others. But too many folks will fight to the death over their beloved KJV while living just like unloving and ungracious unbelievers.
-Finally, let me lay my cards on the table here. I make no claims to being an authority on textual criticism, translation theory, and so on. I have tried to do some serious study on this over the years, as evidenced by my recommended reading list. I have had two years of NT Greek, but that is the extent of my knowledge of the biblical languages. So I write this mainly as a concerned layman.
I close with the words of James R. White. His very well-researched and documented critique of the KJVO movement finishes with these words:
King James Onlyism is a human tradition. It has no basis in history. It has no foundation in fact. It is internally inconsistent, utilizing circular reasoning at its core, and involves the use of more double standards than almost any system of thought I have ever encountered. And yet it is embraced by fellow believers, and as such must be addressed if I am to follow Christ’s command, “Love one another”.
That has been my motivation as well. I have seen way too many believers who are either woefully uninformed or outright deceived peddling some of these reckless and false positions. Even if many believers mean well and want to do what is right, when they promote that which is patently false, mischievous and even dangerous, they are doing great harm to the Christian faith.
For further reading
Books directly on the King James Only Debate:
Ankerberg, John and John Weldon, The Facts on the King James Only Debate. Harvest House, 1996.
Beacham, Roy and Kevin T. Bauder, eds., One Bible Only? Examining the Claims for the King James Bible. Kregel, 2001.
Carson, D.A., The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Baker, 1979.
Corner, Dan, A Critique of Gail Riplinger’s Scholarship and KJB Onlyism. Evangelical Outreach, 1999.
Price James, King James Onlyism: A New Sect. James D. Price Publisher, 2006.
Ward, Mark, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. Lexham Press, 2018.
White, James, The King James Only Controversy, 2nd ed. Bethany House, 1995, 2009.
White, James, New Age Bible Versions Refuted: A Review and Rebuttal of Gail Riplinger’s “New Age Bible Versions”. Alpha and Omega Ministries, 1994.
Books on the canon, translations, textual criticism, English Bibles, etc.:
Aland, Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament. Eerdmans, 1995.
Beckwith, Roger, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church. Eerdmans, 1986.
Beekman, John and John Callow, Translating the Word of God. Zondervan, 1974.
Black, David Alan, New Testament Textual Criticism. Baker, 1994.
Brake, Donald, A Visual History of the English Bible. Baker, 2008.
Bruce, F. F., The Books and the Parchments. Pickering & Inglis, 1950, 1963.
Bruce, F. F., The Canon of Scripture. IVP, 1988.
Bruce, F. F., The English Bible: A History of Translations. OUP, 1961.
Brunn, Dave, One Bible, Many Versions. IVP, 2013.
Comfort, P. W., A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament. Kregel, 2015.
Comfort, P. W., The Complete Guide to Bible Versions. Tyndale House, 1991.
Comfort, P. W., Early Manuscripts and the Modern Translation of the New Testament. Tyndale, 1990.
Comfort, P. W., Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism. B&H, 2005.
Comfort, P. W., English Bible Versions. Tyndale, 2000.
Comfort, P. W., ed., The Origin of the Bible. Tyndale, 1992.
Dewey, David, Which Bible? IVP, 2004.
Earle, Ralph, How We Got Our Bible. Baker, 1971.
Fee, Gordon and Mark Strauss, How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth. Zondervan, 2007.
Greenlee, J. Harold, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, rev. ed. Baker, 1964, 2012.
Greenlee, J. Harold, Scribes, Scrolls, and Scriptures. Eerdmans, 1985, 1996.
Grudem, Wayne, et. al., Translating Truth. Crossway, 2005.
Harris, R. L., Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible. Zondervan, 1957.
Hill, C.E., Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy. Oxford University Press, 2010.
Jobes, Karen and Moises Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint. Baker, 2000.
Kostenberger, Andreas and David Croteau, eds., Which Bible Translation Should I Use? B&H, 2012.
Kruger, Michael, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. Crossway, 2012.
Kruger, Michael, The Question of Canon. IVP, 2013.
Kubo, Sakae and Walter Specht, So Many Versions? Zondervan, 1983.
Lawton, David, Faith, Text and History: The Bible in English. Harvester, 1990.
Levi, Peter, The English Bible: From Wycliff to William Barnes. Constable, 1974.
Lewis, Jack, The English Bible from KJV to NIV, 2nd ed. Baker, 1991.
Lightfoot, Neil, How We Got the Bible, 3rd ed. Baker, 1963, 2003.
McDonald, Lee Martin, The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority. Hendrickson, 2007.
McGrath, Alister, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture. Doubleday, 2001.
Metzger, Bruce, The Bible in Translation: Ancient and English Versions. Baker, 2001.
Metzger, Bruce, The Canon of the New Testament. OUP, 1987.
Metzger, Bruce, Lexical Aids For Students of the Greek New Testament. Theological Book Agency, 1969.
Metzger, Bruce, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible. OUP, 1981.
Metzger, Bruce, The Text of the New Testament. OUP, 1968.
Metzger, Bruce, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. United Bible Societies, 1971.
Nida, Eugene and Charles Taber, The Theory and Practice of Translation. Brill, 1964.
Patzia, Arthur, The Making of the New Testament. IVP, 1995.
Porter, Stanley, How We Got the New Testament. Baker, 2013.
Porter, Stanley and Andrew Pitts, Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism. Eerdmans, 2015.
Rhodes, Ron, The Complete Guide to Bible Translations. Harvest House, 2009.
Ryken, Leland, Bible Translation Differences. Crossway, 2004.
Ryken, Leland, The ESV and the English Bible Legacy. Crossway, 2011.
Ryken, Leland, The Legacy of the King James Bible: Celebrating 400 Years of the Most Influential English Translation. Crossway, 2011.
Ryken, Leland, Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach. Crossway, 2009.
Ryken, Leland, The Word of God in English. Crossway, 2003.
Scorgie, Glen, Mark Strauss and Steven Voth, eds., The Challenge of Bible Translation. Zondervan, 2003.
Thomas, Robert, How to Choose a Bible Translation. Christian Focus Publications, 2005.
Wallace, Daniel, ed., Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament. Kregel, 2011.
Wegner, Paul, The Journey from Texts to Translations. Baker, 1999.
Wegner, Paul, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible. IVP, 2006.
Wilson, Derek, The People’s Bible: The Remarkable History of the King James Version. Lion, 2010.
Some useful articles
-John Ankerberg, et. al., “The King James Controversy Revisited” in seven programs: http://jashow.org/wiki/index.php/The_King_James_Controversy_Revisited
-Fred Butler, “Confessions of a King James Only Advocate: My Journey through King James Onlyism”: https://archive.is/X4J4l
-Butler has a number of solid articles on KJV Onlyism: https://hipandthigh.wordpress.com/?s=kjv&submit=Search
-James May, “The Great Inconsistency of King James Onlyism”: http://www.kjvonly.org/james/may_great_inconsistency.htm
-Rick Wade, “The Debate Over the King James Version”: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/kjvdebat.html
-Daniel B. Wallace, 2004, “Changes to the KJV since 1611: An Illustration”: https://bible.org/article/changes-kjv-1611-illustration
-Daniel B. Wallace, “The Conspiracy Behind the New Bible Translations”: https://bible.org/article/conspiracy-behind-new-bible-translations
-Daniel B. Wallace, “The Majority Text and the Original Text: Are They Identical?”: https://bible.org/article/majority-text-and-original-text-are-they-identical
-Daniel B. Wallace, “Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible Is the Best Translation Available Today”: https://bible.org/article/why-i-do-not-think-king-james-bible-best-translation-available-today
-Trevin Wax, “The King James Only Controversy”: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/the-king-james-only-controversy/
-James R. White, “Is Your Modern Translation Corrupt? Answering the Allegations of KJV Only Advocates”: https://alwaysbeready.com/images/stories/alwaysbeready/dk115.pdf
In addition to these articles, there are well over 60 books to choose from here. My advice to those who really do not know much about these issues is to actually do some careful study on these rather complex and detailed matters. If you have not read Bruce, or Ryken, or Greenlee, or Metzger, or Comfort, or Wallace for example, who are world class scholars and authorities on these issues, you really are short-changing yourself.
Simply passing along all those unhelpful video and website falsehoods, misinformation and wild accusations is not only embarrassing, but actually dangerous, and it does great harm to the body of Christ and the cause of the Kingdom. Christians really need to grow up here and use their brains for the glory of God. Either that, or they should remain silent on those matters that they clearly know little or nothing about.
A necessary afterword
Given how intense this debate can get, often with more heat than light being generated, let me add to the general commenting rules already found on this site. If you identify as a gung-ho KJV Onlyist who thinks everyone else is deceived and of the devil, I will not run with your comments. Nor will I post a comment by some zealous soul who insists on offering an 8000-word point-by-point refutation.
If however you are more moderate and reasonable in your views, you can submit a comment. But if you are just rehashing the same old tired objections and criticisms found so readily elsewhere, I am not interested to be honest. It is not my intention to debate this matter ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
The main reason I wrote this piece was to offer a short and succinct summary of where I stand on the topic, so that when folks ask for my views, I can point them here, instead of having to constantly restate my views. It was not to turn this into an extended WWIII!
Finally, you should carefully read all four parts of this article before commenting, so that you know what I have actually and fully said. Thanks for respecting my wishes here.
Part 1 of this article is found here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2018/05/07/the-king-james-only-controversy-part-1/
14 Replies to “The King James Only Controversy, Part 4”
Thanks kindly for your extensive coverage of this sensitive subject Bill. Like you, I cut my teeth on the KJV and actually still love reading it – in the New KJV – but also enjoy other versions as well. However, I’m a great believer of the need for the bible to be translated into other languages and realised long ago it would be an impossibility for all those tribes who joyfully clutched their newly printed translations, to ever get a copy-cat version in their native language of the old King Jim. Common sense says that we who want to read and learn, must be communicated to through the language which we speak. Whoever still prattles on in 17th century English any longer?
Wow, that was a lot to get through, but thank you. It does concern me to hear that Christians out there actually believe ones salvation entirely depends on what version of the bible is read. Again, my naivety or over hyper-optimism has gotten the better of me. That is not to say I am in any way judgemental, no, just a little wiser. I happen to own a KJV bible [merely coincidental] as it was my first bible, in fact, I still enjoy regularly reading the KJV, but in no way would I assume or promulgate that one should only read this to be saved. As a layperson, I don’t get bogged down with such controversies, [for me] the most important thing is to seek God’s word and draw closer to Him, be it through the ESV, NIV or KJV etc. Now, knowing what you have penned, to some, this would make me an heretic, thankfully I do not fuss nor care honestly, like you, over such things. Praise God for your compassionate heart and intelligence to bring this sensitive issue to the surface.
Note my little KJV linguistic joke with the indefinite article lol.
One thing we have lost in having so many English translations is consistency in memorisation of scripture, for two reasons:-
1. Elizabethan English is more poetic and thus easier to memorise (but for that to be useful you should understand what it says.
2. Lack of consistency. It used to be that if we had a ‘memory verse’ it would be KJV so that over a lifetime as you re-encountered the same verse the wording would be the same and thus reinforce previous learning. It would be good if we could all agree to a ‘standard’ translation, like we essentially had with the KJV.
My personal preference is the ESV as it is a scholarly translation backed by a Bible society rather than a corporation/company.
Yes Thanks Bill.
Well distilled, could have been double the size easy.
I hardy use the KJV at all now, but it is the translation behind Strongs, Youngs, Crudens, Naves etc. etc. etc.
I recently spent time in Vanuatu and contacted SIL which have audio versions of the Bible (or parts of it). Likewise GRN “Global Recordings Network” (previously “Gospel recordings”) have an app “5fish.mobi” with the gospel in some 6000 languages.
One always is enthused when a person’s eyes light up upon hearing the message in their own language. Our mother tongue is usually our heart language, and God want to speak in that language to reach our heart.
This debate reminds me of the divisions spoken of in 1 Corinthians, just substitute Paul, Apollos and Cephas with KJV, RSV, and NIV.
Thanks for your article, Bill.
A quite recent book on how we got the bible was published in 2015 and is by Timothy Paul Jones. It’s called How We Got the Bible.
Thanks Marcus. That is one volume on this topic I do not have. Are you saying you want me to buy even more books!?
Many good points you make in these articles and the responses covering aspects like those about language as well as Scripture memorisation in regard to the way the God’s word is handled are very important too. The number of books you’ve consulted on the topic is huge, wonder whether or not you can point out one in particular which considers worldview and more specifically Christian Worldview as a reason for these phenomena please?
In Creation Regained by Albert M. Wolters on p78, the author writes about “An almost ineradicable tendency exists among Christians to restrict the scope of the kingdom – a tendency that parallels the persistent inclination to divide the world into sacred and profane realms.
Perhaps the most common example of this restriction is found in pietism. Pietists restrict the kingdom of God to the sphere of personal piety, the inner life of the soul. They prefer to translate Luke 17:21 as “behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (KJV) rather than “among you” (NEB)
Other traditions curtail the scope of Christ’s kingship by identifying the kingdom with the institutional church. This view holds that only clergymen and missionaries engage in “full-time kingdom work” and that the laity are involved in kingdom activity only to the degree that they are engaged in church work. This restriction has given rise to the misleading phrase “church and world,” which suggests that all of human affairs are in fact divided into two spheres.
One Christian church in particular considers focus on the affects of sin as more important than say focusing on our eternal inheritance for instance, while the work of the church and supporting missionaries outside church is seen as fulfilling the great commission of Jesus. Understanding the world in view of living “all of life for Christ”, certainly gives one a well informed Christian worldview which is different to a Biblical worldview or any other secularist worldview. Most importantly we need to remember that sin corrupts everything and everyone in this world, even different translations of the Bible.
Faith comes by hearing the word preached by which I pray many more experience the power of the Holy Spirit by the grace of Christ our Saviour so the book may live to you and I.
Thanks again Bill
I didn’t fall for your booby-trap—asking people to read to the end before commenting, but putting that request at the end!
It amazes me to see some of the arguments made by the KJV-only crowd. I was once sent a book authored by Keith Piper which purported to show how modern translation were in error, but it was more of a lesson book in illogical arguments. One claim was that “you cannot copyright God’s Word”, thereby dismissing all the modern, copyrighted, translations. Yet in England, the AV is copyright! And it is riddled with arguments of the form “Modern version X is different from the KJV; therefore the modern version is wrong”, as though the KJV, and not the Greek manuscripts, is the standard by which to judge.
And you have to wonder about some people’s grasp on reality when they write that “900 million copies of the KJV have been printed in over 300 languages”!
But I’ve had an even crazier encounter online with an American pastor who claimed that it was wrong to translate God’s Word (so how did we get the KJV?). He was also quite belligerent so I challenged him to observe 1 Peter 3:15, to give an answer “with gentleness and respect”. He countered that he does not need to be respectful. First, the KJV says “with meekness and fear”, not respect, and that Acts 10:34 (in the KJV) says “that God is no respecter of persons”. So there—if God doesn’t respect people, why should we?!
For me, I was brought up on the AV/KJV, and learnt to mentally translate to modern English, such as flesh=meat, meat=food, charity=love, etc. The problem as I see it is that there are some obvious changes in meaning such as these, but there are many more subtle ones that you’d need to be a language expert to know about, and therefore using an outdated language like that in the AV/KJV is almost worse than using a foreign translation that you don’t understand, because with the foreign-language version, you at least realise that you don’t understand it.
As for White’s comment that KJVOnlyism “involves the use of more double standards than almost any system of thought I have ever encountered”, I’ve encountered more than a few atheists who could hold their own against them.
Some time ago, I picked up a copy of Adam Nicolson’s When God Spoke English: The Making of the King James Bible (Harper Press paperback edn, 2011). The blurb on the back cover includes the following: “…How did this group of near-anonymous divines – muddled, scholarly, drunk, self-serving, ambitious, pedantic, ruthless and obsequious – manage to bring off this astonishing translation?”!
Moving in circles which include both KJVOers and non-KJVOers, I plead guilty to using KJV or NKJV in situations where there is potential for causing “certain scruples” to be offended!
19th Century expert on the Greek New Testament text, S.P. Tregelles wrote: “The subject of …textual criticism, … the meagre and superficial manner in which this is treated is only a symptom of the partial character of all biblical learning, and of the need that there is, if possible, to revive it in its widest extent amongst those who know in their own souls the value of divine truth, and wish to use it for Godas applicable to themselves and others.” – Tregelles, An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament with Remarks on its Revision upon Critical Principles… (Samuel Bagster and Sons, London, 1854), p. 273f.
Good stuff Bill. Thanks for taking on this subject and covering it in a reasonable length!
I can’t find this Bible translation around anymore, except in used bookstores, etc. Is it even published anymore? The Good News Bible, with those simple black line drawings in it (popular in the 1970’s) when I first came across it after discovering the Bible as a teen (an old KJV which was unreadable for me).
The “Good News” translation was so simple, but solidly written — and easy to read for those whose language is not English. This was the Bible we used for multi-cultural Bible Studies I attended a few years ago… I still think it makes for an excellent “starter Bible”. Does anyone else feel the same way about this Bible Translation?
Monica, the first translation of the Bible that I read all the way through was the Good News Bible. I have fond memories of reading it in my mid-to-late primary school years. In fact, the Good News was the Bible I read all the way through when I was in Year 6 (it took me 6 months, 3 months of that was spent on the last three book of Moses, and the Chronicles genealogies etc.). A couple of years ago, I helped an Indian friend with her English. Several years earlier, she had become a Christian in the Greek Orthodox Church, so that’s the Bible translation she had. She admitted to me that she had great trouble understanding what it said and this frustrated her. I still had my CEV Bible from my early high school years, so I gave it to her the next time I saw her, knowing that it included simple sentences and would make for a great Bible for non-English speaking people, especially for those who weren’t natural readers. Now my friend not only reads her Bible more readily and has grown in her faith, she also has a stronger grasp of English, all because she better understands the message the Bible is communicating. Praise God!
I favour the KJV because of its poetry but appreciate how much quicker and easier the new translations are to digest and understand. For me and others of the KJV brigade it is a personal preference. I get the impression from historic letters that many English speaking people in the reign of King James 1st were fluent in Latin and French and took care with their copper plate handwriting. Today a translation can be had electronically at the press of a keystroke. I like to delve back in time and get the flavour of earlier eras, just as I prefer the traditional version of the Lord’s prayer (about which we hear, mad conspiracy or not, that the current pope would like to alter one word – which would change the meaning). I see no point in division among people who are searching for truth in the bible as the two approaches can work in harmony. I have learned some Hebrew Aramaic words – Yeshua ha Mashiach.
In my younger days, in the early 1980s, I regularly flicked through my sister’s GNB, until I was old enough to receive one of my own from my church’s Sunday School. I was also fascinated by the simple line drawings throughout.