The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations?
By James R. White
Bethany House, 2009, 364 pages
I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior way back in 1983. There were many people and things that pointed me to the Savior along the way, including a couple of guys at work. Jose and Ray knew I was interested in God and spiritual matters and would eagerly stop me in the hallway to strike up a conversation. I must admit, sometimes when I saw them coming from a distance, I turned and walked the other way. Can anyone else relate? But the Lord had been drawing me to Him for quite a while, and I eventually accepted Christ as my Savior.
Jose and Ray were thrilled that I had accepted Christ but cautioned me that I needed to immediately plug into a good, Bible-believing church that only used the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. They advised me that all of the modern Bible versions were corrupt. Although I had just received Christ, I was no stranger to Christianity. I had done much reading and was already aware of the claims of the KJV 1611-only advocates.
Jose and Ray invited me to their church, First Bible Baptist* in Rochester, NY, and I visited a couple of times, but the church’s strong stance on the KJV bothered me. I asked Ray, “If the KJV is the only legitimate translation, then what about all the other people in the world who can’t read English? What do they do?” Ray answered that if modern translators used the KJV as their source-text for non-English Bibles then everything would be fine. Well, no translator is going to translate a translation when the ancient manuscripts are available. I also knew enough about translating to know that no two individuals would translate the KJV’s 17th-century English into another language using the EXACT same wording. Who then would judge which of the translations would be the “authorized” one? If the KJV 1611-only view was correct, then it appeared that God preferred English-speaking Christians over non-English-speaking Christians. We Americans often have a myopic view when it comes to the rest of the world and I saw the KJV 1611-only mindset as another example of that.
Not wanting to attend a KJV 1611-only church, I looked through the yellow pages and chose another independent Baptist church close to our home. The pastor there used the King James Version but he wasn’t dogmatic about it. Not once in the 8 years we attended did he preach about the sole legitimacy of the KJV. I used the KJV at church like most everyone else in the congregation but I read from my New American Standard Bible (NASB) at home. The archaic 17th-century English of the KJV seemed to me to be unnecessary baggage to have to carry while reading the Bible.
I observed the KJV 1611-only controversy from a distance. Peter Ruckman spoke at week-long services at First Bible Baptist a couple of times. Anyone else remember him? Pastor Ruckman was based down in Florida and was one of the standard bearers of the KJV 1611-only movement. Ruckman’s weekly church services were televised in our area and his sermons always seemed to bring up the inerrancy of the KJV and the corruption of the modern translations. His messages usually included ad hominem attacks on anyone who didn’t agree with his KJV 1611-only viewpoint. Ruckman even went so far as to claim that if a particular text was found in the KJV but not in the Byzantine manuscripts (and there are examples), then the additions to the KJV were divinely inspired!
So, I’ve been aware of the KJV 1611-only controversy for quite some time but never gave it too much attention. After having walked away from the Lord for a very long “season,” I returned to Him two years ago. I continue to use the NASB in my daily Bible reading but also have a New International Version (NIV) since that is the translation used by our pastor. I began this blog last July and I’ve noticed from reading other blogs that there are still very strong advocates of the KJV 1611-only viewpoint. To educate myself a bit better, I recently read “The King James Only Controversy” by apologist, James R. White. I was already familiar with White because of his outstanding work defending the Gospel against the errors of Rome.
I enjoyed “The King James Only Controversy” and found it to be very informative. I sincerely doubt those who hold to the KJV 1611-only viewpoint would consider it, but the reader who is curious about the controversy might find White’s book as helpful as I did.
Some thoughts from the book:
- The English language Bible has a long history. The KJV translators relied heavily on the previous work of earlier translators such as Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza. The KJV translators never considered their work to be inerrant and inspired but only the best possible translation at the time. Early KJV Bibles referenced textual variations in the margins.
- KJV 1611-only advocates are actually using a revision published in 1769.
- Several passages in the KJV are shown to be errors or extremely poor translations.
- Variations in the ancient manuscripts can and should be examined objectively.
- Modern translations (NASB, NIV, ESV, NKJV) are dependable. There are good reasons for the differences between the KJV and modern translations but no translation is perfect including the KJV.
Emotions run high on this issue. This post will surely offend some. Because KJV 1611-only advocates see the KJV as the inerrant, inspired translation of the Bible, they see any disagreement with their view as a direct attack on God’s Word and an attack on God Himself. There are actually many in the KJV 1611-only camp who go so far as to claim that anyone who does not use the KJV exclusively is not a genuine Christian. I’m not a Bible manuscript scholar, far from it, but I offer White’s book as a thoughtful rebuttal to the KJV 1611-only argument. This post is NOT an attack on God’s Word or an attack on God although, if you’re a KJV 1611-only advocate, I’m sure you’ll see it that way.
I’m not claiming that all translations are equal. Christians need to be discerning and must do a little homework. I would never recommend that anyone use a paraphrase Bible as their primary Bible but I occasionally check a paraphrase Bible as a resource.
The Pilgrims and Puritan Protestants came to America with the Geneva Bible, not the KJV. The translators of the KJV were high-church Anglicans and the Protestants viewed the KJV with great suspicion. The article below gives an interesting history of the English Bible for those who don’t want to go to all the trouble of buying and reading White’s book.
* The pastor of First Bible Baptist church at the time was James Modlish, a key figure in the KJV 1611-only movement.