Against King James Onlyism
What is King James onlyism? Simply put KJVOnlyism is the belief that the King James translation (formally known as the King James Version or King James Bible) from the 17th century is the sole translation that any English-speaking person should use. Naturally this leads to the practice of exclusively believing and reading the KJV translation. The primary idea behind this is that the KJV is fully accurate and totally representative of the original autographs of the Christian proto-canon (Protestant canon) of Scripture. From what can gather the movement of people holding this belief began in the United States in the 20th century. I have personally had my fair share of experience with the ideology and was even formally instructed of the “reasons” to believe this. Like all ideologies this comes in different forms and has different types of people using different types of reasons to support this belief. In this article I am attempting to give a brief understanding of what this ideology is and the fallacies that plague its foundations. In doing so I hope the reader will have a healthier and more informed view on the Christian Scriptures and have a basic understanding of this relatively new belief.
When it comes to this ideology there are a few different types of people who hold this view. The most fortunate type of KJVOnlyist is the one who simply reads it because “its just what I like to read”. Can’t argue with that! This type will generally be the older generation who grew up in the days when translations were not as numerous as they are today. We’ll call this type the preference type. Another type of KJVOnlyist is the self-evident loyalist. The self-evident loyalist is the one who by all means will venerate the King James as “God’s only word for English speakers.” Reason and rational are no friends of this type. They will go to any means to the point of twisting Scripture and logic to conclude that this precious belief is true. This being from my experience. Disagreeing with them may lead to being accused of being led astray by Satan. The last type I will mention is the misinformed student type. This type is the one which will be more so dealt with in the article. The misinformed student is the KJVOnlyist who is willing to reason, but has just been led down the wrong path. Their biggest weakness is that they haven’t put the time in to validate the variables that make up the system they hold to. Often the system placed before these students is much better than that of the other types. Discussion of the translation process and the introduction of manuscript theory is introduced leading these students with much more to work with. However, I believe that it is often the case that these introductions are marred with a lack of depth, confusion of basic terms and procedures within the processes, and a dishonest withhold of key information that makes their view look bad.
The K-ing J-ames V-ersion
(I am going to take for granted that the reader knows a little bit about textual criticism and the translation process)
What is the King James version of the Bible? Simple put it’s a translation of the Hebrew Bible and The Greek New Testament into English. That’s very simple right? Well other English translations are that as well so what makes all this translation any different?
As I start to discuss this I want to put a disclaimer out that I will not be discussing the Hebrew Bible and the Kjv’s version of the Masoretic text. Generally this Hebrew Text is used by most translators in some form and when it comes to the KJVOnly adherent the Hebrew isn’t really their stomping ground. They usually don’t know too much about it in my experience. The harping for the KJV is always based on the Greek New Testament. So what does the Greek New Testament of early English translations look like? Well let’s take a look.
Stephen’s 1550 - from Erasmus’ Fourth Edition
So you’re looking at the heading and you are wondering just what these terms mean. I’ll try to make this simple, but it isn’t all that easy. In the early 16th century a man named Erasmus had the desire to publish a Greek text. His text was one of the predominate Greek texts used in the translation process of the KJV’s New Testament. He later would go on to publish several editions of his finished work. A Greek text is the pulling of all sorts of manuscript witnesses together to create the New Testament into one linear book in Greek. Scholars of the past such as Dr. Frederick H. A. Scrivener have viewed the work of Erasmus’ text and below are some of his conclusions on the manuscript and codices believed to have been consulted based on his finished product. Now not all of these may have been used, but they are some which may include renderings that look like the finished work. (See the reference for more of Scrivener’s work on the matter.) Later Erasmus’ work was taken by Robert Estienne in the mid 16th century and he added some helpful textual notes to the mix and nice font. These two works are the same, but generally Stephen’s 1550 is what is referenced as the underlying Greek text of early English translations. This includes the KJV. Many KJV advocates will title this Greek text as the TR or Textus Receptus. They believe this captures the “preserved” nature of the Greek text as in Latin Textus Receptus means “text received.” They would say this is received from the church and ultimately from the original authors. Many adherents of KJVOnlyism are a part of groups that don’t consider the historic churches such as Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Orientals, etc. to even be Christian, so many are left wondering how this understanding helps their case when these groups weren’t “really” the church. Anyhow the Greek text known as Stephen’s 1550 is what was likely mostly considered when the Kjv translators were translating the New Testament into English.
Some of the possible and likely manuscripts of the Erasmus’ Greek Text1
Codex Bezae (5th century)
Codex Regius (8th century)
Codex Victorinus (Minuscule 120) (12th or 13th century)
4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 38, 42, 111, 120, 237, 398, 2817
The Latin Vulgate Influences
It is no secret that the Latin Vulgate (an old 4th century Latin translation of the Old and New Testaments) was used by Erasmus in his Greek text work. He even admits it himself.
“However, at the end of this book (Revelation), I found some words in our versions which were lacking in the Greek copies, but we added them from the Latin”2
The Latin Vulgate holds certain verses and renderings that are scantly found in any Greek manuscripts if even at all. Many people want to go on and on about how this text represents the Byzantine family of text type and for the most part it does, but there are many verses and renderings in this text that are not found in this family. They are found in the Vulgate. One could look at the Revelation 22:16-21 in which Erasmus admits to supplying these verses from the Latin instead of the Greek and compare it to the Majority Text (any Greek text based on the Byzantine tradition of Greek New Testament manuscripts) to see if it is recorded this way. Acts 8:37 and 15:34 are just two more that one could compare and one will not find these in the Majority Text. Below I will show Stephen’s 1550 compared to Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpoint’s Byzantine Majority Text.3 One last thing to note is that Erasmus’ text also omits Luke 17:36 that is found in the KJV. This was done for good reason as outside of Codex D, and Latin texts, this verse is scantly found in the manuscript family.
Do They Actually Read the KJV 1611?
The type of KJVOnlyist that is being discussed in this article generally sees the KJV as mostly the same. Sure some archaic words were spruced up, but it still says the exact same thing, right? This is again where we run into a problem. Today the KJV is published in America by both Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press. These two slightly differ, but are mostly the same. Here are just two references where the 1611 is not the same in rendering as it is today in both the Oxford and Cambridge.
Also he said, Bring the vaile that thou hast vpon thee, and holde it. And when she helde it, he measured sixe measures of barley, and laide it on her: and he went into the citie (KJV 1611)
Also he said, Bring the vail that thou hast upon thee, and hold it. And when she held it, he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and she went into the city. (KJV)
Therefore his sister sent vnto him, saying, Lord, behold, hee whom thou louest, is sicke. (KJV 1611)
Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. (KJV)
Who went into the city in Ruth 3:15? Was it “he” or “she?” Did Lazarus’ “sister” call for Jesus or his “sisters”? These verses have been taken from https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/1611-Bible/ where the reader may compare the verses for themselves.
Formal vs Dynamic Translation
One last argument for KJV Onlyism that I will address is the word for word (formal) vs thought for thought (dynamic) debate. The aforementioned philosophy is one that affirms that we translate words from other languages more so literally. The second affirms that we should translate the entire sentence in a way that carries over the idea of the author, what they are trying to say in a way that makes sense in English. This opposes the stricter literal translation of each word. Before I mention the pros and cons of each let me start out by stating this is a false dichotomy. Every translation of anything does both of these. Sure one may lean more one way than the other, but both are being done. The KJV while classified under the formal philosophy also does dynamic translation as well. It wouldn’t be a translation if it didn’t, but rather it would be more of an interlinear. Also, the KJV is not the most formal translation we have on the market today. It certainly is bested by the NASB.
The pros of a formal translation are that the reader gets access to the base words of a sentence and then can reconstruct the sentence from these primary understands. The big downside to this however is not only does this make it harder to read, this is actually better executed by interlinears of Scripture. If one is relying that their English translation is totally word for word just like the original languages they are uninformed. No one should be relying on translations for the formal process, but rather the original languages or an interlinear. If someone wants to read a translation of Scripture it would be better for them to stick to the more dynamic, so that they can understand the meaning and then go to their interlinear to better understand why the authors constructed the sentences the way they did. Then the reader can judge whether their translation is good or not.
So the purpose of this article is to help the reader who either doesn’t know what KJVOnlyism is or for the one who may believe in it. The evidence of what the KJV is, is laid out and one may cross check the information given. The Greek text underlying the KJV may have been a good attempt for a rushed theologian, but it certainly is not 100% faithful to the Greek manuscript history. To be fair, none are, but many others come much closer than Erasmus’ text. Preservation of the Biblical text was never promised by God, so no one should fear the obvious conclusion of textual criticism. KJVOnlyism is a new belief rooted in American Christianity and should not continue to be adopted.
This post, like all of mine, are meant to be informative and help the Christian better understand more of the subject. I hope my point of view can help. Read my wife’s testimony about her journey away from the movement here.
Scrivener, Frederick Henry Ambrose (1884). The Authorized Edition of the English Bible, 1611, its subsequent reprints and modern representatives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.One may read his works online here.
Scrivener, Frederick Henry Ambrose; Edward Miller (1894). A Plain Introduction to the New Testament. London: George Bell & Sons.
- Copyright © 2005 by Robinson and Pierpont. Chilton Book Publishing