top of page
  • Love and Liberty

KJV Only

Something I have been looking into for myself, in depth, is the Bible version debate. As someone that was ordained in a circle that was KJV only, I know KJV-onlyism. I had it ingrained into me that the KJV is the only Bible that is the Word of God, and that all others are perversions of the scriptures. The problem is, that line of reasoning makes the KJV the gold standard instead of the original writings of the prophets and apostles. Even though I distanced myself from that circle (they would not have me any way since I now have more of a Wesleyan/Moral Government/Free Will Baptist theology), I held on to KJV-onlyism for a while. I confess, that has changed. Though the KJV will still be my preferred translation, I will not criticize others who use other versions, and in fact, I see nothing wrong with consulting more recent versions when attempting to understand certain passages.

KJV-onlyism is not a scriptural doctrine. Period. Two passages are the main go-to texts for KJV-onlyists as they seek to “prove” that God said he would preserve the scriptures perfectly, forever, in one Bible with a specific word order, word selection, and grammar. Those passages are Psalms 12:6-7 and Matthew 5:18. Though I will not attempt to explain those passages at this time, I do not believe they teach what KJV-onlyists claim they do. Even if this were true, there is nothing in the scriptures that teach us the KJV would be that one Bible.

I’ve had to relent on this matter, and it’s not a mere matter of preferring one Bible version over another, or one set of Greek manuscripts over another. I accepted KJV-onlyism as absolute truth, and I never studied the matter – I just accepted it. Once I started reading about the problems with KJV-onlyism and listening to men that have studied the facts related to the preserved manuscripts (such as, there are no two Greek manuscripts in the world that are identical) I can say that I believe KJV-onlyism is a doctrine of men, and not a doctrine of God.

I find the arguments of KJV onlyism to be unconvincing. I am not required to accept anything the scriptures do not teach, and the scriptures do not teach that “God’s only Bible” would be a 17th century English Bible. The “strength” of KJV onlyism is the attacks of its proponents against others, but that is not the way to establish something as truth. KJV onlyists, in my observation, cannot back up their claims with evidence, only rhetoric. The KJV is the Word of God, but so is other faithful translations. Yes, they do differ in some ways, but to claim it is because of a conspiracy is an unfounded argument. Plus, it attacks the character and motives of other Christians, something we are commanded not to do. Unfortunately, many professing Christians get caught up in sensational conspiracies and downright falsehoods.

This is such a large topic, I cannot even scratch the surface of it here, but there are some serious issues with claiming the KJV is the perfect Word of God to the exclusion of all other translations. That is not to say that all Bible translations are created equal, but even the KJV translators acknowledged in their preface that the “meanest” Bible translation not only contains the Word of God, it is still the very Word of God. Translating anything into another language is a challenging task, and there is no such thing as a word-for-word translation from one language to another. It simply doesn’t exist. What is the basis for claiming the KJV is word for word perfect? Where is the biblical passage that tells us it alone is the Word of God?

Of the manuscripts that have been used to translate the scriptures into other languages, none of them are exactly identical, and they have been grouped together in families, with the main two being the Textus Receptus (Received Text) and the Critical text (compilation of Greek texts). Most of the differences, we are told, are copyist errors, or different spellings, different word orders, and yes, some manuscripts have words written that others do not, and vice versa. The significant differences make up less than 2% of the variants, according to theological professor and textual critic, Daniel Wallace. It is important to know that when speaking of the differences, they are found in the manuscripts within the same grouping as well. I repeat, there are no manuscripts, so we are told, that are identical. When the phrase “textual criticism” is employed, it does not mean someone is being critical of the scriptures. Through the process of textual criticism, people are able to determine through these texts (including fragments) what the original writings most likely stated.

As for KJV onlyism, how the KJV translators arranged the letters and words of the KJV did not exist before that translation. They made translation decisions just as others have. If the KJV alone is the Word of God, where was the Word before 1611? And which KJV edition is the perfect Word of God to the exclusion of all others? The 1611 KJV and the 1769 KJV have differences, and its not just spelling updates. Some verses are totally opposite from one another. For example:

In the KJV 1769, the edition that most everyone uses today, Ezekiel 24:7 says this –

For her blood is in the midst of her; she set it upon the top of a rock; she poured it not upon the ground, to cover it with dust;

In the KJV 1611, we read this –

For her blood is in the middest of her: she set it vpon the toppe of a rocke, she powred it vpon the ground to couer it with dust:

It is undeniable that the 1769 says she poured it NOT upon the ground, and the 1611 says she poured it upon the ground. Perhaps an ardent KJV onlyist will say this was a copyist error.

It is also interesting that the KJV translators added marginal notes beside the text. This seems significant to me. In doing so they were providing alternate readings, and some of those alternate readings correspond with the translation of some of the more recent versions of the Bible. I did not know this, until recently. KJV onlyists notoriously attack certain renderings of some of the newer versions. Here is a perfect example:

Isaiah 14:12 in the KJV reads:

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

The NASB reads:

“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations!

The NKJV keeps the KJV rendering, but adds in an interesting margin note:

“How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations!

(Lit. Day Star)

The Christian Standard Bible reads:

Shining morning star,

how you have fallen from the heavens! You destroyer of nations, you have been cut down to the ground.

…then adds the following margin notes:

Or Day Star, son of the dawn

Young’s Literal Translation reads:

How hast thou fallen from the heavens, O shining one, son of the dawn! Thou hast been cut down to earth, O weakener of nations.

Other versions have similar readings. KJV onlyists attack these translations because they say there is a conspiracy to conceal Satan’s identity, and also because they make the Lord Jesus and Satan to be the same since the Bible calls Christ the Morning Star (Revelation 22:16) and Day Star (2 Peter 1:19).

First, the Bible clearly teaches us there is a true and a false, and this holds true with designations that are used of various subjects. Many are not aware that the same Greek word for God (theos) that is used for Christ in John 1:1 is also used for Satan in 1 Corinthians 4:4. Does that mean Paul was saying that the Lord Jesus and Satan are the same? Of course not, God is a generic term for a ruler, and that is why it is used of the one true God (Yahweh, the Father; John 17:3), the Son (who has a God [the Father] but he is OUR God; John 1:1), Satan (1 Corinthians 4:4), and even men (John 10:34).

Furthermore, in the 1611 marginal notes, the KJV translators provided an alternate reading for the word Lucifer. That marginal reading was: “Day Star.” They must have been in on the conspiracy against the KJV too.

Go here and here to read what other men have had to say about the use of the term Lucifer in this verse. The use of the term seems to be unnecessary, and the translators themselves provided the literal meaning in the margin notes. I provided this example to show that outlandish accusations have been made when it comes to KJV onlyism, and people should be aware of the truth.

It is also not true to say that more recent translations have deleted portions of the scriptures. Whereas the KJV was translated from various sources, there have been older Greek manuscripts found that suggest the text underlying the KJV translation had added to what was originally written, though again, no Christian doctrines are affected by these differences. How do we know if the manuscripts that have more words are correct, or the ones that have less? We don’t know, and this is the value of some of the more recent versions. Those versions that provide the text, then tell us in the margin notes that the word or passage in question was included in some manuscripts but not in others is the most honest and transparent way for translators to handle this matter. The reader is then responsible for making interpretation decisions based on the totality of the scriptures.

I do believe that God has preserved his Word and that he has done so through the thousands of manuscripts (some are complete, some are fragments) that exist today. The way I see it, we all have three options.

1. We can trust someone else (or a group of people) to tell us what John, Paul, James, and the Lord Jesus said, by laying claim to one translation to the exclusion of all others, even though the men who translated it were not infallible and may not have always made the best translation choices.

2. We can learn Hebrew and Greek (this isn’t an option for most people).

3. We can utilize the faithful translations available to us today to see how translators have rendered the wording in certain passages and we can make interpretation decisions based on the totality of God’s Word.

Number 3 seems to be the most feasible option for most people.

I will continue to use the KJV and will consider it to be the most reliable translation, though I cannot call it word-for-word perfect. I still believe that when I hold it I am holding the Word of God.

bottom of page