Critique of KJV Onlyism (including PDF download)

Lately I’ve been getting into a lot of conversations about whether or not the King James Version of the Bible is the only valid English Bible translation. Back in 2005, Dr. Robert Plummer had his hermeneutics class put together an overview sheet addressing the issue, so that we could later appeal to it in ministry situations such as the ones I’ve been finding myself in lately. I decided to update that sheet and provide it here for download in case someone else might find it useful in answering KJV only proponents that they come across in their ministries.

The major critiques are as follows (much of the information here is based on James R. White’s book, The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations? [Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1995]):

1) Holding the presupposition that the KJV alone = the Word of God alone and then attempting to prove from that presupposition that the KJV alone is the Word of God is a circular argument, and thus a logical fallacy. One should not assume what one sets out to prove.

2) Throughout church history, there have been Christians who have rejected changes to the translations or versions of the Bible that had become the accepted texts of Scripture. One example is Erasmus’ Greek New Testament. Much of the church was unwilling to accept it because they believed the Latin Vulgate alone was the Word of God. The irony here is that Erasmus’ Greek New Testament was the basis for the KJV. This shows that while KJVers are against change in the traditionally accepted text, it was change in the traditionally accepted text of Erasmus’ day that made the KJV possible in the first place.

3) One of the best arguments against KJV onlyism is the testimony of the KJV translators themselves. In the preface they promote other translations (something that modern KJV only advocates would never do) saying, “a variety of translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures.”  Thus, as James White correctly notes, “The position requires the translation to be something its own authors never intended it to be” (White, 77).

4) Most of the incidents in which KJV only advocates have accused modern translations of “omitting” or “deleting” important words can be explained by the simple absence of the word(s) in the original languages (see PDF download above for examples).

5) The Hebrew and Greek sources used for translating the KJV are significantly inferior to those available today. As scholar Jack P. Lewis states,

Of the five primary uncial manuscripts now received as authority for the purity of the text of the New Testament, only Codex Bezae was then available, and there is no evidence that it was used. Papyrus discoveries came three hundred years later. The King James scholars could have known fewer than twenty-five late manuscripts of the New Testament, and these were carelessly used. Today there are 5,358 known New Testament manuscripts and fragments. . . . The 1611 situation for the Old Testament was even poorer. The Complutensian Polyglot (1517) and the Antwerp Polyglot (1572) would have been the sources from which they would have known the Old Testament. Where these two differ, the KJV agrees with one or the other except in about a half-dozen places where it agrees with neither. . . . About 800 Hebrew manuscripts have now been studied. (see Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible from KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation, 2d ed. [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991], 41-42; quoted in Paul D. Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1999], 311.)

6) There are many instances in which the KJV translators obviously got it wrong in their translations of various words and phrases from the original languages, whereas modern translations get it right (see PDF download above for examples).

7) It is simply not true that the KJV was the first full English translation of the Bible (something KJV only proponents often claim). The first full English translation was the Wycliffe Bible, which was completed in 1382. The next full translation was the Coverdale Bible (1535), then the Matthew Bible (1537), followed by the Great Bible (1539), after which came the Geneva Bible (1560). But that’s not all; two more full English translations appeared before the 1611 KJV—the Bishops’ Bible (1568) and the Douay-Rheims Bible (1609-10).

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