This article is intended to reveal that “KJV-onlyism” is founded upon fallacious arguments, and, consequently, should be rejected.
But that is not to say that the KJV should be rejected. It is the Word of God. What is to be rejected is the faulty argumentation used to support a faulty view of the 1611 KJV. While my reasons will generate heat from some, I hope they will also shed some light on this topic.
First, I cannot follow KJV-onlyism because it seems to imply that the Bible was not in English prior to the KJV.
KJV – only literature emphasizes the idea that only the KJV is God’s Word in English. If that be true, what were pre-KJV (before 1611) English Bible translations? Are we to assume that they were not really Bibles? Or, are we to assume that they ceased to be Bibles when the KJV was printed in 1611?
If one admits to the fact that there were English Bible translations prior to the KJV, it would seem equally true that they still are Bibles. And if that be true, then it is saying too much to say that only the KJV is God’s Word in the English language.
What are the pre-KJV English Bibles?
The Wycliffe Bible (1382); Tyndale’s Bible (1525-1534); Coverdale’s Bible (1535); Thomas Matthew’s Bible (1537); the Great Bible (1539); the Geneva Bible (1557-1560); the Bishop’s Bible (1568); all of these were prior to the KJV.
If these translations were the Word of God, they still are! And if that be true, KJV-onlyism falls flat on its face, for we are forced to conclude that the Word of God has been preserved in English in pre-KJV Bibles as well as in the King James Version.
Second, I cannot follow KJV-onlyism for the simple reason that the KJV generally used today is different in substance from the 1611 KJV.
Followers of KJV-onlyism make much of using the “1611 KJV.” But most of them seem unaware of the fact that most of them do not use it. The commonly-used KJV is different from the 1611 edition in substance, not just in spelling, and type-style, and punctuation.
On page 217 of his book, THE KING JAMES VERSION DEFENDED, E. F. Hills wrote:
Two editions of the King James Version were published in 1611. The first is distinguished from the second by a unique misprint, namely, Judas instead of Jesus in Matthew 26:36. The second edition corrected this mistake, and also in other respects was – more carefully done. Other editions followed in 1612, 1613, 1616, 1617 and frequently thereafter. In 1629 and 1638 the text was subjected to two minor revisions. In the 18th century the spelling and punctuation of the King James version were modernized, and many obsolete words were changed to their modern equivalents. The two scholars responsible for these alterations were Dr. Thomas Paris (1762) of Cambridge, and Dr. Benjamin Blayney (1769) of Oxford, and it is to their efforts that the generally current form of the King James Version is due.
Note that the text was subjected to revisions!
Evangelist Gary Hudson wrote a valuable article called, The Myth of No Revision [available from BBH] in which he listed over seventy examples of how the text of the 1611 KJV differs from what is used by most KJV readers today. Four examples of textual changes are given here:
- 2 Kings 11:10 (1611 KJV: “in the temple”)
- 2 Kings 11:10 (current KJV: “in the temple of the Lord”)
- 1 Chronicles 7:5 (1611 KJV: “were men of might”)
- 1 Chronicles 7:5 (current KJV: “were valiant men of might”)
- Matthew 12:23 (1611 KJV: “Is this the son of David?”)
- Matthew 12:23 (current KJV: “Is not this the son of David?”)
- 1 John 5:12 (1611 KJV: “he that hath not the Son, hath not life”)
- 1 John 5:12 (current KJV: “he that hath not the Son of God hath not life”)
Have you ever seen stickers on envelopes that say, “Use the Bible God Uses: 1611 KJV”? Or, have you seen advertisements for churches which say something like “Standing for the 1611 KJV?”
Well, it is very likely that they think they are using the original KJV. A simple comparison of their Bibles with the original might reveal something they will be surprised by.
While there is nothing wrong with standing for the King James Version, we should not make claims that probably are not accurate. Facts are stubborn things, and one can easily verify the accuracy of those who claim to be using the original King James Version.
[Editor’s note: I once ordered a Bible published in Ohio which claimed to be the original KJV. I made it clear I wanted the original edition. They could not supply it!]
Since it is easily proven that the KJV usually used today is substantially different from the 1611 edition, KJV-only advocates are faced with a dilemma: they must decide which edition is God’s Word in English.
Third, I cannot follow KJV-onlyism because it attributes infallibility to the KJV, something not done by its Translators.
The KJV has some very interesting and informative introductory material which enables us to see what the Translators thought of their own work. I am referring to THE EPISTLE DEDICATORY, and to a lengthy piece called The Translators to the Readers.
In THE EPISTLE DEDICATORY, the Translators dedicated their translation to King James. In their dedication we discover that they did not consider their work to be infallible, as the following quotation proves:
There are infinite arguments of this right Christian and religious affection in your Majesty: but none is more forcible to declare it to others than the vehement and perpetuated desire of the accomplishing and publishing of this work, which now with all humility we present unto your Majesty. For when your Highness had once out of deep judgement apprehended how convenient it was, that out of the original sacred tongues, together with comparing of the labors, both in our own and other foreign languages, of many worthy men who went before us, there should be one more exact translation of the holy Scriptures into the English tongue; Your Majesty did never desist, to urge and to excite those to whom it was commended, that the work might be hastened, and that the business might be expedited in so decent a manner, as a matter of such importance might justly require.
Since the Learned Men considered their work to be “one more exact translation of the holy Scriptures into the English tongue,” should we make more of it than they did?
In THE TRANSLATORS TO THE READERS, we find that they did not look upon their translation the way many do now. For instance, page seven says:
Now to the latter (the Puritans) we answer that we do not deny, nay we affirm, and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession (for we have seen none of theirs of the whole Bible as yet) containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God.
No cause therefore why the word translated should be denied to be the word, or forbidden to be current, not withstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in the setting forth of it. For whatever was perfect under the Sun, where Apostles or Apostolic men, that is, men endued with an extraordinary measure of God’s Spirit, and privileged with the privilege of infallibility, had not their hand?
Should we attribute to their work what the translators themselves denied?
A fourth reason why I am unable to follow KJV-onlyism is that the marginal notes in the 1611 edition reveal that the translators themselves were often uncertain of how words and verses should be translated into English.
Most KJV Bibles have few or none of these marginal notes. One should purchase a 1611 edition from Thomas Nelson Publishers so that the notes can be read. They are very interesting, informative, and perhaps unnerving to advocates of KJV-onlyism.
On page 216 of his book, THE KING JAMES VERSION DEFENDED, E. F. Hills said some important things about those notes. Consider his statements carefully:
The marginal notes which the translators attached to the King James Version indicated how God guided their labors providentially. According to Scrivener (1884), there are 8,422 marginal notes in the 1611 edition of the King James Version, including the Apocrypha. In the Old Testament, Scrivener goes on to say, 4,111 of the marginal notes give the more literal meaning of the Hebrew or Aramaic, 2,156 give alternative translations, and 67 give variant readings. In the New Testament 112 of the marginal notes give literal rendering of the Greek, 582 give alternative translations, and 37 give variant readings. These marginal notes show us that the translators were guided providentially through their thought processes, through weighing every possibility and choosing that which seemed to them best.
Two paragraphs later, Hills wrote,
“As the marginal notes indicate, the King James translators did not regard their work as perfect or inspired, but they did consider it to be a trustworthy reproduction of God’s holy Word, and as such they commended it to their Christian reader.
The conclusion to be drawn from their many notes is obvious: If they were often unsure of themselves, should we attribute infallibility to their translation? No, we should make neither more nor less of their work than they did.
A fifth reason why I cannot subscribe to KJV-onlyism is that it condemns modern translators for doing what the KJV translators themselves did by putting marginal notes in the Bible.
In reading KJV-only literature, one soon learns that it is unacceptable to put any notes in Bible margins that can make the reader “uncertain” of how a verse should be translated, or that can make one question whether or not a verse should be in the Bible at all.
For instance, one pamphlet concerning the NIV says:
Even though NIV includes a weaker translation of this (Matt. 21:44) in the text, the footnote says, ‘Some manuscripts omit vs. 44.’ This is a rather strong suggestion that it may not belong in the Bible at all. Matt. 12:47; 16:3; and Luke 22:43-44 are treated by the NIV in the same shoddy and shameful way. To the uninformed reader, such footnotes will tend to destroy confidence in the Bible as the Word of God.
While I understand this concern, the facts prove that the original KJV was “guilty” of the same thing. For example, the KJV marginal note for Luke 10:22 says, ‘Many ancient copies add these words, “and turning to his disciples he said.’” And the notation of Luke 17:36 says, “This 36 verse is wanting in most of the Greek copies.” We should remember the fact that the 1611 KJV Old Testament has 2,156 alternate translations in its margins, and the New Testament has 582 in its margins.
Aren’t such extensive marginal notes in the original KJV just as likely to “destroy confidence in the Bible as the Word of God” as those in other translations are said to do?
A sixth reason why I cannot follow KJV-onlyism is because the KJV is the product of the Church of England.
As a fundamental Baptist I believe in the Biblical distinctives of Baptists, two of which are (1) the separation of church and state, and (2) the immersion of believers.
I would not have speakers in our church if they deny these doctrines. Therefore, I could not have any of the translators of the King James Version preach in my pulpit. They believed in, and were members of the Church of England, a state church. Furthermore, they believed in baptismal regeneration, whereas Baptists believe in regeneration by the Word and Holy Spirit of God.
In their epistle of dedication of the King James Version, its translators expressed their “great hope that the Church of England shall reap good fruit thereby.”
The fact that the KJV was produced by the Church of England does not mean that it should not be used. But it does mean that if Baptists are going to be consistent with their theology, they must admit that the translators of the KJV would not qualify to join their churches or speak in them.
Consequently, it does not make sense that so many Baptists are crusading for the King James Version. How can Baptists crusade for the infallibility of a translation produced by what we believe is a very fallible and faulty denomination? We would do well to adopt the view of the KJV’s translators about their work. Remember that in their epistle of dedication to King James they stated that their work was “one more exact translation of the holy Scriptures into the English tongue.”
Furthermore, in THE TRANSLATORS TO THE READER, they said:
Truly (good Christian Reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against; that hath been our endeavor, that hath been our mark.
We would do well, too, to remember what E.F. Hills wrote on page 216 of his book, THE KING JAMES VERSION DEFENDED:
As the marginal notes indicate, the King James translators did not regard their work as perfect or inspired, but they did consider it to be a trustworthy reproduction of God’s holy Word, and as such they commended it to their Christian readers…
It is with such an opinion of the King James Version that we, too, can commend it to readers, both Christian and non-Christian.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Have you ever heard a KJV-onlyite ask, “Where is God’s Word today? Where can I find God’s Word?” This is a question of “sophistry,” not intelligence and sincerity. A question set in sophistry may be suitably answered with sophistry: Where was God’s word in 1610? Where could one find God’s Word in 1610? If the sophist can answer this, he can answer his own question. “Answer a fool according to his folly.”
Pastor Bruce Oyen