Friday, January 21, 2005

On The King James Only Controversy

Recently I wrote a review of Dr. James R. White's book The King James Only Controversy for a class at Tri-State Bible College (see "ministry links"). White does a good job of putting the arguments of the King James Only crowd to bed. For those of you not familiar with the movement, the basic idea is that the King James is the true word of God, and some even hold that the translators were inspired so even if they made "mistakes" it was really the Holy Spirit restoring the original text (disclaimer: only a minority of KJV Only folks believe this). I don't know how prevalent this belief is elsewhere, but where I live it has a relatively strong presence, so the book is pertinent. If you want to familiarize yourself with this issue, then I highly recommend this book. My full review for my class follows.



Defending the Word of God is one of the most important tasks a Christian can undertake in today’s world. We are faced with attacks from within and without that purport to give us the “truth about the Bible.” Atheists tell us that the Bible is nothing more than the work of men. Cultists tell us it is good, but we need their literature to interpret it for us. Even some who call themselves Christians hedge on the inerrancy of the word, but I suppose it makes sense that the Bible should be one of Satan’s primary targets. It is, after all, one of God’s most powerful weapons (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12).

This all-important desire to defend the Word of God is, I think, the impetus behind the “King James Only” movement. While the motivation is pure, the movement itself is riddled with logical holes, lacking in Biblical foundation, and its proponents often lack the Christian love we should have for one another.

In his book, The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations, Dr. James R. White subjects the KJV Only movement to a withering critique in a thorough, rational, and winsome style. He first writes a short history of Bible translation from Jerome to today. Interestingly, Jerome received criticism from no less than Augustine himself for undertaking a new translation of the Scriptures, though not for the same reasons as the worst parts of the KJV Only movement. Fast forward a few centuries and White shows us that Desiderius Erasmus, the father of the Textus Receptus from which the King James was translated, was heavily criticized for departing from none other than Jerome’s Vulgate. I’m sure Jerome would have understood Erasmus’ frustration.

White then assesses the arguments given by the ‘heavy hitters’ of the KJV Only movement (Peter Ruckman, D.A. Waite, Gail Riplinger, etc.). They assert that modern translations have changed the Bible in order to dilute important theological truths such as the deity of Christ. White points out that their arguments are circular in that they see any departure from the translation of the King James as a deletion (or addition in some rare cases) to the very Word of God. They assume from the outset that the King James Version is the standard by which all translations should be judged, sometimes raising it to inspired status. Peter Ruckman, for instance, advocates throwing out Greek lexicons if they contain definitions different from the King James.

The King James Only Controversy does quite a good job at explaining why certain passages have been translated differently or omitted altogether. White shows that there is no “New Age conspiracy” as Gail Riplinger would have us believe. He also denounces the character assassination of godly men attempted by members of this movement without doing the same to the KJV only crowd, so he is to be applauded for that. Also much appreciated is his concise explanation of Granville Sharp’s Rule, which I had heard referenced but never understood until reading the late chapters of The King James Only Controversy.

As for myself, I fully agree with White’s assessment of the KJV Only controversy. The position is foolish and inconsistent. It unwittingly gives shelter to those critics of Christianity who believe that the only way one can remain a Christian is to completely reject critical thinking. Then the rest of us have to deal with the damage caused. I look forward to the day when it goes the way of “the Vulgate Only controversy.

1 comment:

Johnny-Dee said...

Good review, Josh! I agree that something is wrong with KJV only policy. Of course, I carry my Greek and Hebrew Bibles around, so I pull those out against KJV only people. I've never met one that knew Greek or Hebrew, so it usually puts things in perspective or they don't talk to me any more.