The King James Only Controversy

Can You Trust the Modern Translations?


James R. White




The salesclerk never saw it coming. He had just finished unpacking the new shipment of study Bibles and setting up the new display. He had been working at the Christian bookstore only a week. All seemed well. And then it happened. She seemed like any other lady looking for a Bible for her grandson. More than glad to help he pulled a nice NIV down from the shelf and opened the box. He noticed she immediately turned the Bible and looked at the spine. Her countenance changed. She put the Bible back in the box, withdrawing her hands quickly, as a person does when discovering an object is dirty or oily. "I would like a real Bible," she says. "A real Bible?" The salesclerk asks. "Yes," she replied, "a real Bible, the Bible God honors, the King James Bible, the A.V. 1611."

Scenes like this are repeated almost daily across the English-speaking world. Ask any person who has worked behind the Bible counter at a Christian bookstore. Many have been informed in no uncertain terms that the only Bible they should be carrying is the King James Version. The many others they offer are, in fact, nothing but perversions of God’s Word.

The church today faces many difficult issues and questions. It would seem that a controversy revolving around a group of people who embrace one particular translation of the Bible is barely a bump in the rocky road upon which the church travels. One may well ask why we should take the time to examine an issue such as the King James Only controversy. Are there not more important things to do? Certainly it is true that far too much energy, in our opinion, has been expended upon this topic already, but that energy has come almost exclusively from one side of the debate. Most biblical scholars and theologians, even of the most conservative stripe, do not feel the issue worthy of any real investment of time. So why write an entire book on the topic? An illustration might help.

One of our faithful volunteers was on the phone. The pastor of her church had preached on Matthew 18 on Sunday, and had read verse 11, "For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost" (NASB). She and her husband were both using the New International Version, the NIV, which does not have Matthew 18:11. Neither one saw the textual footnote at the bottom of the page that gave the translation of verse 11. Both were quite puzzled and wondered why the NIV would "delete" this verse.

These friends are not alone. Believers who were raised in good, solid Christian churches have to admit to a large measure of ignorance when it comes to the text of the Scriptures. Why are there different translations? Why are there controversies about words, phrases, sentences, even entire passages? Why does my pastor’s Bible have a verse that mine does not? It is this kind of confusion that provides the perfect breeding ground for controversy. Our friends knew they could call upon us to explain the situation. Many do not know whom they can turn to.

The King James Only controversy, by its very nature, brings disruption and contention right into the pews of the local Christian church. KJV Only advocates, due to the nature of their beliefs, are often disruptive of the fellowship in churches, feeling that their message of "God’s one true Bible" needs to be heard by all. Anyone who does not "know what they know" needs to be told quickly, and most often, forcefully. And since much of the KJV Only material alleges grand and complex conspiracies on the part of the modern translations, distrust of others who use (or would even defend) those translations often results in schisms within the fellowship and a debilitation of the local body.

Most important, men of God, pastors and elders entrusted with the care of the flock of God, are inevitably, and often unwillingly, drawn into this controversy. Time that should be spent in ministry to families, the sick, the hurting, has to be invested in explaining to zealous members of the congregation why their salvation is not dependent upon a seventeenth-century Anglican translation of the Bible. Energy that could be devoted to the study of the Word and the proclamation of God’s truth from the pulpit has to be directed toward allaying fears inspired by KJV Only publications. These pastors often have to adopt a defensive posture, for KJV Only advocates are quick to spread suspicion of weakness, or even heresy, against those who do not agree with their position.

Those not familiar with KJV Only publications need only pick up The Bible Believer’s Bulletin from Dr. Peter Ruckman (Pensacola Bible Institute) or books such as Let’s Weigh the Evidence by Barry Burton (Chick Publications, 1983), New Age Bible Versions by Gail Riplinger (A.V. Publications, 1993), or Final Authority by William P. Grady (Grady Publications, 1993), to discover how vitriolic this argument can become. Charges of blasphemy, heresy, and even stupidity, fly thick from some elements of the KJV Only movement. Thankfully, not all who hold to this position engage in such name-calling, but sadly the movement as a whole is marked by this kind of invective. The willingness of individuals such as Peter Ruckman to dehumanize those who disagree with him through personal attack breeds an "us versus them" mentality in those who buy into the KJV Only position. Anyone who would seek to reason with these individuals runs the risk of being identified as an "enemy of God’s Word," i.e., the KJV.

Responsibility must be laid at the door of the KJV Only camp for the destruction of many Christian churches. Church splits have taken place as the direct result of the influence of KJV Only materials on elders, deacons, and other influential members. Many pastors have become quite wary of these materials, having experienced great troubles at the hands of those who become mesmerized by the KJV Only cry.

This book is written because of a desire for peace in the church of Jesus Christ. We are not speaking of a peace that is purchased at the price of compromise, but a peace that comes from single-minded devotion to the things of God. Our relationship with Jesus Christ is not based upon a particular Bible translation. Men and women had fine Christian lives for fifteen hundred years before the KJV came on the scene. Obviously one can live such a life without ever opening a KJV Bible. The church should not be distracted by even well-meaning people who seek to force others to read one particular translation of the Bible.

The KJV Only controversy feeds upon the ignorance among Christians regarding the origin, transmission, and translation of the Bible. Those who have taken the time to study this area are not likely candidates for induction into the KJV Only camp. Having a firm grasp of the issues that arise in transmitting an ancient text to the modern day and then translating that text from a rich foreign language into our less rich English tongue is not only vital in providing an answer to the KJV Only advocates, but it is also extremely important to the Christian mission in our day. As we proclaim the Gospel to an ever more skeptical world, we must be clear on why we believe the Bible to be God’s Word. This calls us to be students of that book, and requires us to study its history and the reasons for our trust in its veracity and accuracy.

The Christian who wishes to "give a reason for the hope" that is within him will be quite alarmed at the logical conclusions that are to be derived from the KJV Only perspective. The body of this work will demonstrate that the KJV Only position is forced to make statements about the Bible that in reality undercut the very foundations of the faith itself. Furthermore, KJV Only supporters have to downplay the importance of properly translating various passages of Scripture that are central to the demonstration of the deity of Christ so as to maintain the alleged infallibility of the KJV (see chapter 8). Christian people who believe that the faith is true and able to withstand scrutiny cannot allow such assertions to pass unchallenged.

It is very important to understand the motivation behind this book. This book is not being written to push one particular translation of the Bible over another. There is no desire to get everyone to read the NASB, or the NIV, or the NKJV, or the RSV, or any other ?modern? translation. On the other hand, I am not in any way seeking to stop those who use the KJV from reading that venerable translation. This book is not against the King James Version. I know many fine Christian people who use the KJV and for whom the translation works just fine. However, 1 do oppose those who would force others to use the KJV or risk God’s wrath for allegedly questioning His Word. / oppose KJV Onlyism, not the King James Version itself.

It is not our intention to provide a history or even a full description of the KJV Only movement. This work is not designed to respond to specific individuals within that camp. Rather, the wish is to provide a broad response to the general claims, providing a reasoned response to the concept that there is any particular translation of the Bible in English that God requires the faithful Christian to use. There will also be an examination of the most commonly cited passages in the Holy Scriptures that are utilized by KJV Only advocates to "make their case."

The author of this work is a biblical conservative. In light of this, there are a number of Bible translations that I would not personally recommend. This work does not seek, by responding to the KJV Only position, to give carte blanche to any and all beliefs or theories that might be put forward under the guise of "academic freedom." I am no friend to those who would seek to undercut the very foundations of the Christian faith. Indeed, it is a concern for the integrity of the faith that drives this reply to the KJV Only position, for the cause of conservative values in the Christian faith is by no means aided by the existence of the KJV Only camp. The willingness of many to sacrifice all semblance of logic and rationality in the cause of defending a great, yet imperfect, translation of the Bible as if it were inspired is used by skeptics as evidence of how "backwards" conservatives as a whole truly are.

Whatever factors have motivated you to pick up this volume, let us ask for this one thing: a willingness to listen, to think, and to consider. Much time has been taken to hear the KJV Only position in its many and varied expressions. I have gone to great lengths to be accurate in representing a many-faceted movement. I ask only the same in return. Critical thought is encouraged, not in a humanistic sense whereby man is set up as some sort of demigod, capable of judging even the things of God by his own puny standards. Rather, I encourage the thinking that is marked by wisdom, a wisdom that examines the facts and holds to the highest standard of truth. Christians should not engage in circular reasoning and unfair argumentation. The KJV Only controversy should be examined in such a way that all of us, no matter what our perspective, seek to be consistent in our thinking, consistent in our argumentation, consistent in our beliefs.

Finally, for those who come to this discussion with deep and long-standing commitments to the Authorized Version (AV, as we shall call it at times), please consider well the necessity of examining your beliefs, no matter how cherished they may be, on the basis of God’s truth. We all have our traditions. Yes, even those who claim to "go by the Bible alone" have their traditions, and the more aware we are of our traditions, the more fully we can test them by Scripture. Those who are blind to their own traditions are the least likely to be fully biblical in their beliefs. We all must constantly test our faith by Scripture, and we must pray for a willingness to abandon those beliefs that are found to be contrary to God’s revealed truth.

The King James Only Controversy. James R. White. 1995. Bethany House Publishers. Minneapolis, MN 55438.

Chapter 1: "King James Only"

The Role of Christian Freedom
The use of a particular English translation of the Bible is surely a personal choice. Many factors can, and should, go into your decisions as you purchase Bible translations. Whether you like a more literal, formal translation, or a more "dynamic," free-flowing translation will impact your choices. Study editions, companion volumes, concordances, even the print style and size, are all issues to take into consideration. What translation is predominant in your local church is important as well, especially if you will be teaching or leading Bible studies. But one thing that should never be a factor is intimidation. You should never have to wonder if you are going to be accepted by others if you use an NIV rather than a KJV (or vice versa!). Fellowship should never be based upon the English translation one carries and studies.

I firmly believe that if people wish to use the KJV, they should feel free to do so. If they find its poetic form, its rhythmic beauty, to be preferable to "modern language," let no one be critical. God made us all differently, for which we should be very grateful. But while quick to grant this freedom to others, it cannot be expected that this freedom would be given by those who have joined the KJV Only movement. For them this is not an issue of freedom, but of doctrine, belief, and faith. While never making their use of the KJV a barrier to our having fellowship with them, sadly, they very often make my use of anything but the KJV an impediment to our relationship. That sharing in the gospel of Christ can be disrupted by such an issue should cause anyone a moment’s reflection, and more than passing concern.

The King James Only Controversy. James R. White. 1995. Bethany House Publishers. Minneapolis, MN 55438.
Pg. 5.

Chapter 2: "If it Ain’t Broke "

And the Beat Goes On
It would be funny, if it were not so serious. Jerome takes the heat for translating the Vulgate, which eventually becomes the standard. Erasmus then takes the heat for challenging Jerome and for publishing the Greek New Testament. Then, four hundred years later, it is Erasmus’ work itself, in the form of the Textus Receptus, which has become enshrined as "tradition" by advocates of the AV! He who once resisted tradition has become the tradition itself. The cycle continues. Will there someday be an "NIV Only" movement? We can only hope not.

There is nothing wrong with tradition, as long as we do not confuse tradition with truth. As soon as we become more attached to our traditions than we are to the truth, we are in very deep trouble. The best tradition is that which is recognized for exactly what it is: a tradition that may help us to worship God or serve Him better, but which is not in and of itself the embodiment of truth. Traditions must be tested, and that includes traditions that touch on the use of particular translations or texts. As soon as we make our tradition the test of someone else’s standing with God (as people did to Jerome, Erasmus, and today to those who would use a translation other than the KJV), we have elevated that tradition to a status that is anti-biblical.

Before we can enter into the specifics of Erasmus’ work, and hence the translation of the KJV itself, we need to lay a groundwork in the history of the biblical text itself, and to this topic we now turn.

The King James Only Controversy. James R. White. 1995. Bethany House Publishers. Minneapolis, MN 55438.
Pg. 17.

Chapter 3: "Start at the Beginning"

A Final Word on the text of the New Testament
KJV Only advocates are quick to assert that those who do not join them in making the KJV the final authority in all things do not believe in the "preservation of the Scriptures." Almost all KJV Only books will contain a section on how God has promised to preserve His words, and they will, of course, assume that these "words" are found in the KJV. At this point they believe themselves to be holding the "high ground" in the debate, fighting for a belief that all Christians would naturally defend: the idea that God has revealed himself, and has done so in such a way that we can continue to know that revelation perfectly today.

The problem with the position taken by the defender of the AV is that he has not demonstrated that his way is the only way to understand the idea of "preservation." Does God have to preserve His Word in the way KJV Only advocates believe? Or might God have done this in another way?

Our brief look at the history of the text of the New Testament suggests that there might be a way other than "re-inspiring" the entire Bible (as some would have us believe God did in 1611), or even supernaturally guiding men to give us a particular translation. What if God preserved His Word in a much less flashy way?

When we look at how God led His people to recognize the canon of Scripture, the listing of the books that were inspired over against those books which were not, we note that God did not engage in any celestial fireworks in the process. No angels showed up with golden tablets marked "Divine Index." Instead, God worked with His people over time, leading them to recognize what He had already done through the act of inspiration. It took time, and some might wish for a more "spectacular" method, but God did it in His way, in His time.

The same thing is true regarding the protection and preservation of the text of the Bible. One might well see a tremendous amount of divine wisdom in the way in which God worked over the years. By having the text of the New Testament in particular "explode" across the known world, ending up in the far-flung corners of the Roman Empire in a relatively short period of time, God protected that text from the one thing that we could never detect: the wholesale change of doctrine or theology by one particular man or group who had full control over the text at any one point in its history. You see, because the New Testament books were written at various times, and were quickly copied and distributed as soon as they were written, there was never a time when any one man, or any group of men, could gather up all the manuscripts and make extensive changes in the text itself, such as cutting out the deity of Christ, or inserting some foreign doctrine or concept. No one could gather up the texts and try to make them all say the same thing by "harmonizing" them, either. If someone had indeed done such a thing, we could never know for certain what the apostles had written, and what the truth actually is. But such a thing did not, and could not, happen. Indeed, by the time anyone did obtain great ecclesiastical power in the name of Christianity, texts like p66 or p75 were already long buried in the sands of Egypt, out of the reach of anyone who would try to alter them. The fact that their text is nearly identical to even the most "Byzantine" manuscript of 1,000 years later is testimony to the overall purity of the New Testament text.

The side effect of this method of preserving the New Testament is the relatively small amount of textual variation that we will be discussing extensively below. But one point must be emphasized. Dr. Kurt Aland has pointed out what he calls the tenacity of the New Testament text. This refers to the fact that once a variant reading appears in a manuscript, it doesn’t simply go away. It gets copied and ends up in other manuscripts. Why is this important? It is important because readings don’t just "disappear" in the New Testament. And that means that we still have the original readings of the New Testament works. You see, if readings could just "disappear" without a trace, we would have to face the fact that the original reading may have "fallen through the cracks" as well. But the tenacity of the New Testament text, while forcing us to deal with textual variants, also provides us with the assurance that our work is not in vain. One of those variant readings is indeed the original. We are called to invest our energies in discovering which one it is.

The King James Only Controversy. James R. White. 1995. Bethany House Publishers. Minneapolis, MN 55438.
Pg. 47-48.

Chapter 4: "Putting it Together"

A Grand Work
Hopefully we can better analyze the claims of the KJV Only movement in light of the facts of how the KJV came into existence. The King James Version is a monument to those who labored to bring it into existence. Of this there can be no question. But as we have seen, it was a human process, and as in all of human life and endeavor, it did not partake of infallibility.

The King James Only Controversy. James R. White. 1995. Bethany House Publishers. Minneapolis, MN 55438.
Pg. 82.

Chapter 5: "The King James Only Camp"

The term "misrepresentation" seems, at times, simply too mild to describe this kind of writing. And when one remembers that this is ‘ directed toward servants of Christ who are working to proclaim His truth in churches and missionary works all over the land and even the world, one has trouble passing over Dr. __________’s invective in silence.
The King James Only Controversy. James R. White. 1995. Bethany House Publishers. Minneapolis, MN 55438.
Pg. 121.

Chapter 6: "Translational Differences"

No Grand Conspiracies
It seems fair to say that, in a majority of the passages examined in the preceding pages, translations such as the NASB and NIV have been seen to surpass the KJV with reference to clarity and ease of comprehension far more often than the reverse. No grand conspiracies have been uncovered, no attempts to hide doctrines or beliefs by mistranslating the text have been found. What we have discovered is that the comparison of various translations of the Bible is often very useful in ascertaining the meaning of the passage being studied, and that the KJV is one of those many fine translations available for just that task. When used in conjunction with such fine modern translations as the NKJV, NIV, and NASB, the KJV adds a noble rendering to the list and is often helpful in grasping the literal meaning of the terms involved.

We hope it has also become clear that we must be very careful to look closely at the claims of those who would attack the work of Christian scholars as found in the NKJV or NIV. Most of the time a translation that differs from the KJV is just as valid and reliable as the one found in the AV itself, and frequently, it is more clear and understandable. When differences are examined in a context of seeking to understand the reasons for the differences, rather than in one of fear and emotion, we learn more about the Word and the original intents of the authors. This is how Christian dialogue and discussion should take place. Whenever you encounter a supposed "change" in the Bible’s text, take the time to look carefully at the available information. You will discover that there are reasons for the differences, and that there is no rationale at all for running to theories of conspiracies or evil intentions on the part of modern translators. Their goal is not to corrupt God’s Word but to preserve it and accurately pass it on to future generations.

The King James Only Controversy. James R. White. 1995. Bethany House Publishers. Minneapolis, MN 55438.
Pg. 146-147.

Chapter 7: "Textual Differences"

Modern Texts Found Innocent
Conspiratorial thinking tends to see the "facts" in such a way as to always support one’s preconceived notions. Once a person has accepted the idea that the ?modern versions? are somehow in league with one another to "get" the KJV and to "hide" God’s truths, every instance of variation between the KJV and those versions is filled with great importance. Rather than examining the facts and gaining a proper perspective on the issue, KJV Only advocates find in the most innocent scribal error a grand scheme to rob Christ of His deity or deny that salvation is by grace through faith. Yet, even a cursory examination of the facts is sufficient to make the reasoning behind the modern versions and their textual choices plain and understandable for those who are willing to listen.

Those who use a modern translation that was produced by godly men who were seeking simply to follow the best texts of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, and to faithfully translate those texts into the English language, can have great confidence that they are reading God’s Word in the best form in which it can be found in their language. The comparison of these translations against one another only serves to sharpen our understanding of the intention of the original authors. And when textual variants appear in footnotes or in comparison with the KJV, believers can be assured that these things arose not because of some attempt to hide the truth from them, but due to the very understandable actions of scribes down through the centuries who were themselves doing their best to accurately copy those precious manuscripts. Rather than being fearful that they can’t be "certain" about what God has revealed, they should rejoice that God has made it possible for them to have and hold His Word, and they should seek to obey His will that is so clearly presented therein. The preacher and teacher can proclaim God’s truth from the pages of such a translation with the full assurance that he is proclaiming the whole counsel of God, and can trust God with the results.

The King James Only Controversy. James R. White. 1995. Bethany House Publishers. Minneapolis, MN 55438.
Pg. 186-187.

Chapter 8: "The Son of God, the Lord of Glory"

Modern Translations Vindicated Again
The doctrine of the deity of Christ is indeed a vitally important issue. But we have seen that KJV Only advocates are, in fact, guilty of using an important doctrine as a brickbat to further their promotion of the KJV. Their arguments have been found, again, to be utterly inconsistent and most often circular. Modern translations such as the NIV and NASB have been cleared of the accusations made against them, not by appeal to emotion or through use of insulting rhetoric, but by examination of the facts themselves. Surely we must decry the use | of such a precious doctrine as the deity of Christ in the way we have seen it used by advocates of the AV. Such is surely not a proper use of such an important Christian belief. And what is worse, we have often seen that passages that do testify to the deity of Christ, and hence should be shared with those who have been deceived on this topic, are often translated more clearly in the modern translations than in the KJV. Followers of the prophets of KJV Onlyism are, therefore, less prepared to defend the faith than those who have not limited themselves to a single English translation from the seventeenth century.

The King James Only Controversy. James R. White. 1995. Bethany House Publishers. Minneapolis, MN 55438.
Pg. 219.

Chapter 9: "Problems in the KJV"

It needs to be emphasized one more time that the preceding information is not meant to "bash" the KJV, but to treat it as its translators would have desired. Any result of human effort will be, in some measure, flawed. And despite the strong assertions of some in the KJV Only camp, the AV is the result of human effort, human skill, human work. As a result, we are able to locate problems, ranging from unclear translations to simple mistranslations, such as Acts 5:30. This is exactly what one would expect given the background of the KJV, but it is not what one would expect if the claims of KJV Only defenders regarding supernatural oversight or even inspiration are true. The presence of errors and mishaps in the text of the KJV is an insurmountable obstacle for those who wish to proclaim the KJV inspired, inerrant, and infallible.

The King James Only Controversy. James R. White. 1995. Bethany House Publishers. Minneapolis, MN 55438.
Pg. 237-238.

Let The Reader Understand

This book has been a plea for understanding. It is my desire that the reader, upon completing this work, will first and foremost have a desire to understand why our English translations of the Bible read as they do. This is the one thing that I have found to be lacking in most KJV Only advocates with whom I have spoken: a desire to truly know why someone might be willing to use something other than the KJV, to really understand why some readings in the modern translations are, in fact, superior to those in the KJV. You cannot get far with a person who does not wish to travel with you. And I well know that many who are in the KJV Only camp will never set foot upon the path I have attempted to clear in the past pages.

I have written this work for the person who has a godly desire to know the truth. I have not attempted to convince the already convinced. I have written for those who are seeking answers, facts, explanations. I have been prompted by the honest inquiries, the concerned questions, of those who wonder about the claims made by KJV Only advocates. 1 have sought to be of assistance to the beleaguered pastor who does not need yet another problem cropping up in the congregation. And 1 admit to a desire to aid in the vindication of men of God who have labored diligently in the field of textual study and translation, a field hardly fraught with riches and glory. The constant denigration of their work, their spirituality, and even their intelligence cries out for a solid refutation and even rebuke, and 1 hope to have provided that in these pages.

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."

The facts of the matter are now before you, the reader. Whatever you decide I pray that your deepest desire will be to believe only what is true, nothing that is false. I hope that you will be challenged to dig deeper, to become a student of the Word who is not dependent upon this writer or that "authority," but one who can draw from the rich supply of wisdom and knowledge that is available to us in our day, doing this solely and only to the glory of God.
Finally, as 1 said at the beginning, my desire is for the peace of Christ’s church. I truly hope that this work will help to quell restless spirits in congregations who are by their zealousness for a human tradition (KJV Onlyism) causing dissension and discord. May the facts of the matter, rather than the emotions of the moment, convince such people to refrain from disturbing the brethren, and may the church focus instead upon the weighty and important issues that face her.

The King James Only Controversy. James R. White. 1995. Bethany House Publishers. Minneapolis, MN 55438.
Pg. 249-50.


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