Summarizing KJV-Only Arguments

 



Introduction

In the first post in this series,  I gave three reasons why I actually like the King James Version. However, I also argued that the King James Version is often idolized rather than simply understood and respected. In the previous post, we briefly explored the purpose of Bible translation.

In this post, I would like to explore some of the claims and arguments made by King James Only advocates. The primary purpose of this post is not necessarily to evaluate the arguments being presented. That will be saved for later posts. Instead, the purpose of this post is simply to help us understand the arguments being put forward by advocates for the King James Only position. I will organize these into three groups based on whether or not they are modest claims, moderate claims, or massive claims. Modest claims are those make the smallest claims for the King James Only position, and have only modest implications if true. Massive claims are those that make the largest claims for the King James Version, and have the largest implications if true. Moderate claims are those that lie somewhere in the middle--They are significant claims about the King James Version, but do not have the implications of massive claims. It is also important to note at this point that I will not be able to explore every argument that has ever arisen on either side of this debate in this series. What is contained here should be seen, then, as a survey rather than an encyclopedia.

Modest Claims

One of the more modest arguments for using the King James Version of the Bible has to do with the quality of English that is used. In short, some have argued that the English that was used in the translation of the King James Version represented the pinnacle of the English language. "If we want to give God the best," the argument goes, "then we should use the King James Version, since it represents the best English available in our history." I have commented in the previous post that I actually think that there is something wonderful about older English. It does not follow from this, however, that it is the only inspired English translation. To use the quality of KJV English as the basis for this argument doesn't permit the conclusion to follow from the premises.

Another modest claim that has been made is that there is little to no change between older versions of the King James Version and recent editions of the King James Version. Whether this is correct or not is of secondary importance, however, since, even if it were, it would not follow logically that the King James Version is therefore the only inspired English translation.1

One final modest claim that we will examine is simply this: The claim that God speaks to a person when he or she reads the King James Version. I don't deny that this happens. Some of us grew up on the King James Version, and can recall times when we studied Scripture and saw our faith in a new light because God spoke to our hearts. However, it doesn't follow from this that the King James Version is the only inspired translation of Scripture. After all, God has also spoken to people through the NASB, NIV, NRSV, RSV, NAB, ESV, and countless others. Rather than being an argument for the King James Only position, this argument actually undercuts it!

These are all modest claims that, I think, may be well intentioned. However, they do not permit the KJV-Only conclusion to follow from the premises.

Moderate Claims

Moderate claims are stronger claims regarding the King James Version, but do not rise to the level of the massive claim.

One of the more moderate claims made by advocates of the King James Only position is that the majority of ancient manuscripts agree with the King James Version.2 The hidden implication is that the majority of ancient manuscripts agree with the King James Version against the readings of modern translations. While some more nuance is needed here, suffice to say for now that this, in and of itself, still doesn't establish the claim that the King James Version is the only inspired English version. If this fact is true, and if there is no nuance to be had to this claim, then all it would do is establish a better textual basis for the King James Version. It would not establish inspiration.

Another moderate claim often made is that certain passages of the Bible were intentionally removed by modern translators in a deliberate attempt to undercut the Christian faith. Actually, this is one of the more frequent arguments that I hear. While a full treatment of this will have to be saved for another post, suffice for now that the idea that every single modern translator (literally hundreds, if not thousands of Christians) were all so corrupt that they couldn't wait to undercut the faith they professed goes too far. The only reason this is in the "moderate" category and not the "massive" category is that there are, indeed, verses in the King James Version that do not appear in some other versions. This is not because they were arbitrarily selected to be removed because of the biases of the translators. Instead, it is because these verses were likely not part of the original Greek and Hebrew texts to begin with. These particular verses only show up in late manuscripts, but are absent from early manuscripts. In other words, they don't appear in most modern translations because they were being removed from the King James Version, but rather because they appear to have been added to the underlying textual basis that was used to translate the King James Version. Most modern translations are not removing verses from Scripture. Rather, they are rightly recognizing that these verses were likely not part of the ancient texts in the first place!3 

A third moderate claim that is sometimes made is based on Psalm 12:6, which states, "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." This passage is interpreted as referring to God's preservation of his written word, although the context of the Psalm may cut against that interpretation. However, with this interpretation in place, the King James Version Only Advocate starts to make his case. The logic behind this claim goes like this: Psalm 12:6 states that God's word is like gold that is purified seven times. They then count seven "stages"4 and arrive at the King James Version. Thus, they arrive at the conclusion that the King James Version is God's inspired word in English. The problem with this is two-fold. First, the context of Psalm 12 is not primarily about a written word. More likely, the "words of the LORD" mentioned in verse 6 is the promise that God makes in verse 5 to arise and help the poor and needy. The Psalm is likely emphasizing the trustworthiness of this promise. The second problem is that, even if verse 6 refers to the preservation of God's written word, it doesn't follow that the King James Version is, therefore, the perfect Bible in English. In fact, the passage could not refer to the King James Version, since the author would have had no concept of English, much less of a translation of a complete body of Scripture into the English language. The concept simply would not have existed in the mind of the author of Psalm 12. It cannot be assumed, then, that the author was referring to a future translation of his words into a language that he would not have been familiar with.

Massive Claims

This brings us to what we might call "massive claims." These are claims that have massive implications if true. Many, if not most, of these claims are not made by the majority of King James Only advocates, but are usually made among those in some of the more zealous groups.

The first massive claim that should be mentioned here is the King James Version of the Bible should be permitted to correct the Greek and Hebrew where there is disagreement.5 While this is not a position that is held by all advocates of the King James Only position, it is a view that has been held by prominent individuals within the movement. A major issue with this position boils down to context. It fails to recognize that the authors of Scripture wrote in a language that was familiar with them rather than the English used in the King James Version. To argue that the King James Version should be permitted to correct the words of the authors of Scripture is to imply that Scripture was insufficient until the King James Version arrived. It calls into question the sufficiency of Scripture for nearly 1600 years prior to the arrival of the King James Version. Indeed, it implies that the Scriptures, as the Church has had them for the vast majority of Church history, were inferior to the translation choices of a handful of people in the 17th century. That is an incredibly bold claim with massive implications.

A second massive claim that is sometimes made is that no one who does not have a King James Bible can actually say that they have read God's Word.6 This would include people who read other versions of Scripture, but it also applies, in the minds of many King James Only Advocates, including individuals such as Jeff McArdle, who has written a defense of this position. A basic issue with this claim is that it implies that no one actually had the "real" Scripture for almost 16 centuries of Church history. This creates an additional problem for those who believe that Psalm 12:6 is about the preservation of the words of Scripture, since it would imply that God did not, in fact, actually preserve his words for the vast majority of Church history.

The final massive claim that I would like to bring up is the claim that the King James Version is able to save. To my knowledge, only one person has made this claim, but it is perhaps the biggest claim that I have seen anyone make for the King James Version. Peter Ruckman writes, "If you pray in the name of Jesus and talk about worshipping Jesus, that Book says He has magnified that word above His name."7 Later, Ruckman goes on to make several comparisons between Christ and the King James Version, at which point he argues that, "Christ can save you; so can this book."8 While there is inconsistency in Ruckman's expressed view on this point, it is alarming that such a claim would be made in the first place.\

Conclusion

In conclusion, we see that the arguments for the King James Only position are various. However, these each have major flaws. In the upcoming posts, we will explore and evaluate the arguments presented. We will also examine some misconceptions and misunderstandings that undergird the King James Version Only position.



1 Perhaps a thought experiment would help us out here. Let's say that we have an ancient Greek copy of Homer that matches exactly to a particular copy that we currently have in our possession. Does it follow from this that the Iliad or the Odyssey are somehow divinely inspired? Of course not! In the same way, a lack of change is not sufficient to make the case for the KJV-Only advocate. That case must have something else as its basis. 

2 For example, see Marianne Manley, "Why The King James Bible Is The Holy Bible", p. 14.

In this work, Manley claims that "The majority of all ancient Bible texts found (over 5,000) agree with the KJB." There is some nuance that needs to be added to this claim, as it is partially correct, but this will have to wait for another post. For now, it is important to understand that this is the claim that is being made.

3 Just as it is wrong to take away from Scripture, it is just as wrong to add to Scripture. Hence, why Christians reject modern claims to Scripture. If the King James Version did, in fact, use a textual basis that contained added material, the only proper thing to do is to recognize this and make note of it, which is exactly what most modern translations do. Most modern translations will note where a contested verse is in the text, or will place the verse in brackets. As Daniel Wallace, an expert in Biblical Greek and an expert in the analysis and preservation of the Biblical text, notes here, "Most biblical scholars—both conservative and liberal—would say instead that the KJV added words and verses, rather than that the modern ones have removed such. And this is in part because the oldest and most reliable manuscripts lack the extra verses that are found in the KJV." 

4 These seven stages look different, based on the person you ask. For example, Dr. Peter Ruckman, who was a prominent voice in promoting the KJV-Only position, argued that these seven stages were seven revisions of the King James Version, which "result in a purified book--The book of books". See Peter Ruckman, "Differences In The King James Version Editions", p. 19. Marianne Manley, on the other hand, argues that these seven "stages" represent the seven English translations leading up to the King James Version (ie, the Tyndale, Geneva, Bishop's, etc).

This view was promoted especially by Peter Ruckman, although I have heard it elsewhere. For example, Ruckman claims "If the mood or tense isn’t right in any Greek text, the King James Bible will straighten it out in a hurry." See Peter Ruckman, "The "Errors" in the King James Bible," p. 353. He has also made it clear that the Greek text is to be thrown out completely if it conflicts with the King James Version. Or, more accurate to his meaning, the Greek text is to be thrown out if it shows his interpretation of a passage from the King James Version to be incorrect, claiming, "Where the Greek says one thing and the AV says another, throw out the Greek." See Ruckman, "The Christian's Handbook of Manuscript Evidence," p. 151.

6 The implications is that, if a person wants to know what Scripture says  they must learn English first. And not just any English. They must learn the English that was used to translate the King James Version. Modern English will not do. This claim is laid out expressly by Jeff McArdle in his book, "The Bible Believer's Guide To Elephant Hunting." Writing of a Spanish translation, he writes, "There is only one correct position to start from when dealing with Spanish Bibles. The correct position is this: If the King James Bible is superior to even the Greek text in regards to omissions and additions (and by 'the Greek text' we mean any Greek NT extant), then certainly it is superior to any Spanish Bible.....If the King James can correct the Greek, it can certainly correct the Spanish." See McArdle, p, 18. This is a view that has also been expressed by Peter Ruckman and other prominent leaders in the King James Only movement. 


8 Ibid, p.21. In other places, however, Ruckman appears to contradict this. For example, see "The Simplicity of Salvation," Kindle Edition, Locations 77 and 156. While Ruckman has made this claim, he is inconsistent about the way he expresses his views on this.

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