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King James Only

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If your original Hebrew disagrees with my original King James --- your original Hebrew is wrong. If your original Hebrew agrees with my original King James, your original Hebrew is right.
—AV1611VET[1]

King James Only is a belief found among some English-speaking Christians that the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible is either the best translation, or the only reliable or genuine translation of the Bible. It is most prominent among fundamentalist Independent Baptists and is also found in other churches from the Mormons to the snake handling sects to some ultra-conservative Anglicans.

Motives[edit]

Some people may just like the KJV's text better than other texts (e.g. they were raised with it, or think its language has more gravitas as in "Judge not, lest ye be judged. . ." as opposed to "Do not judge, or you too will be judged"[2]), but the usual justifications for this position are that the modern translations were from "corrupted" manuscripts, or were done by a conspiracy of Bible-denying satanists, liberals and secular humanists, or some combination thereof[3]. The most likely reason, though, is they like all the "thees" and "thous" and God saying "behold!" like the world's most powerful used car salesman, and believe them to have some kind of mystical woo when speaking of the deity that modern English does not have. This is exactly why the KJV was written in language that was a bit archaic even for 1611.

In the original preface to the KJV, the translators themselves wrote:[4]

the very meanest translation of the Bible in English ... containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God.[5]

and

we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, ... but to make a good one better ...[6]

Implicit in these statements is the translators' belief that the KJV, like older translations, was not perfect, but was an improvement.

The position of some King James Onlyites is that God not only inspired the original texts in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic on which it is based, but reinspired the King James Version as an inerrant English translation, in order to transmit His Word faithfully to the end times.[note 1] No one bothers to explain why God would "inspire" only the KJV translation, while also allowing numerous "erroneous" translations to be published. And this, of course, runs into trouble right away when we open the KJV and find the Jews observing Easter (not Passover, which is meant) in Acts 12:4.[7] A few Christians defend this as a combination of "Easter" being an originally Pagan festival, not anachronistic with respect to Acts;[8] however, this is based on the assumption that "Easter" is derived from the Akkadian goddess Ishtar, rather than a West Germanic goddess named Ostara.[note 2] It runs into further trouble when the KJV contains several instances of wild oxen mistranslated as unicorns (Psalm 22:21, Psalm 29:6, and Psalm 92:10, as well as Job 39:9-10, Isaiah 34:7, Numbers 23:22, and Deuteronomy 33:17)[note 3], and the use of words in the KJV now considered vulgar, such as 'piss' (newer translations substitute more genteel words for the urinary act.) On the other hand, the KJV is less prone to covering up the intent of the more filthy passages of the Bible such as Ezekiel 23:18-21 or 2 Chronicles 10:10, which are often bowdlerised in more recent translations.

Another problem with the KJV only position is the KJV was revised in 1629, 1638, 1762, and 1769. Most KJV-onlyists use a modern printing which means the last revision, not the original 1611 KJV. KJV-onlyists counter that these revisions were negligible and to correct minor errors and archaic typeface, but doesn't the fact that errors had to be corrected from the 1611 version say a lot about the inerrancy of the original KJV? Indeed, a few KJV-onlyists on the fringe insist on only a 1611 KJV and claim that it, typos and all, is inerrant, but most don't. Of course who else should "refute" this blatant hole in logic with a good ol' Conspiracy theory Than Davie?[9]

A better approach used by some KJV-onlyists is to defend the accuracy of the texts the KJV was translated from (the Textus Receptus) over that of the texts used by most modern translations (the Wescott-Hort text, usually), as well as over other texts like the Latin Vulgate. This could be argued either way although a majority of Bible scholars favor Wescott-Hort. However, several English translations were translated from the Textus Receptus, including the popular 1982 New King James Version as well as several more obscure translations, and as most KJV-onlyists balk at supporting any of these it calls their good faith in using this argument into question. In fact, the 21st Century King James Version is just the King James Version with minimal revisions to replace obsolete terms that nobody understands anymore, but few KJV-onlyists accept even it.

Some KJV-onlyists have gone one step further and declared that English itself is the only proper language for Christians, being the language the KJV was written in (despite the fact that Jesus predates English itself).

One must consider that the KJV features the "thee" and "ye" pronouns which were already obsolete by the time the KJV was written, but they were used because they matched the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts. Modern English does not distinguish between "you singular" and "you plural", or "you formal" and "you informal" but the original texts did, and the KJV uses these pronouns so that a simple "you" does not serve to confuse people, as is the case of the NKJV or any other new English translation, which shows the reliability of the KJV in preserving the ancient sentence structure. Some more recent translations make this distinction in other ways without using "thou", such as the New World Translation that writes "you" in lowercase when singular or "you" in small caps when plural.

There was also a criticism from Dutch biblical scientists that was leveled at the Herziene Statenvertaling (Revised State Translation, or if you want it paraphrased in a less literal way, the Revised King James Translation) that the King James translation is a translation of the Textus Receptus, a not-so-optimal variant of the original Byzantine text. In this 400 year passage there have been way older texts found that have a more accurate representation of what was actually written in the Bible such as the Codex Vaticanus, the Codex Sinaïticus, the Bodmer papyri 66 and 75, the Chester Beatty papyri 45, 46, 47 and many others. [10]

New Age Bible Versions[edit]

One textual analysis written by Gail Riplinger, a strong proponent of King James Only and a trained interior decorator, is The New Age Bible Versions, which compares various contemporary translations side by side with the King James. It is a barking mad paranoid rant that exploits variant readings and translation errors, along with sketchy gematria and argumentum ex culo, to make the point that the Bible is being corrupted by translators who are attempting to slowly remove the name of God from the Bible.

Criticisms abound, from the obvious (Riplinger is a kook with tortured-at-best logic) to the technical (older, closer-to-the-source manuscripts are better than the ones the KJV was based on; variant readings are not inherently corrupt) to the spurious (Riplinger, as a woman, should not be teaching about the Bible).

Alexandrian manuscript[edit]

KJV Onlyists claim that the Alexandrian manuscripts were corrupted by Egyptians which they maintain is the source of all heresies which arose.[11] The reality is that none of the Alexandrian manuscripts are of Alexandrian origin. Rather, Alexandrian it is a classification given to manuscripts which use the uncial script type named after the Codex Alexandrinus (Manuscript A) which was written in this text type.[12] The uncial text type is was supplanted by the Byzantine minuscule text in the 9th century. Most Alexandrian manuscripts are of Greek origin including Codex Alexandrinus.

KJV Onlyists claim that the KJV is based on Antiochian manuscripts, a non-existent manuscript type.[13] The Textus Receptus itself is based on six Byzantine manuscripts obtained by Erasmus from Greek emigres for the purpose of created a prepared text from which to make translations. None of the manuscripts used for the prepared text were complete. Erasmus translated the text from the Latin Vulgate into the Greek to make up for missing portions of the manuscripts. The oldest manuscript used for the prepared text dates to the 14th century. The Byzantine manuscripts were known for the accumulation of errors over time and inclusion of glossed notes by the Greek copyists much of which are absent in the older manuscripts such as Manuscript א‎ and Manuscript B.

KJV onlyists claim that the New Age bibles delete from the word of god who is presumably Erasmus. Scholars and academics are in general agreement that these were additions made from gloss notes by copyists. The KJV is 12% longer than even a wordy minority text bible such as the NIV.

Parallel movements[edit]

There is a parallel movement to King James Only among some traditionalist Roman Catholics who hold to a Douay-Rheims Only position.

The Douay-Rheims bible was translated from the Latin Vulgate, rather than the original Greek and Hebrew versions, and many Catholic traditionalists believe that to translate the Bible from anything but the official Latin Bible of the Catholic Church is heresy. That Douay-Rheims includes so many obscure Latin and Greek-derived words (many long obsolete, or never even really established in English) as to be near-incomprehensible to the modern reader — indeed, far more so than the merely archaic King James Version — apparently doesn't matter.

Literary mega-critic Harold Bloom has recommended secular use of the King James due to its superiority as a Bible translation having achieving "the sublime summit of English Literature". He also notes that the atheist Faulkner, (Manichean? Gnostic?) equally unorthodox Melville, and Emily Dickinson having learned nearly all they knew of prose and poetic cadence from the King James translation, and a good knowledge of this translation is necessary for understanding their work.

Certain sects of Dutch protestant fundamentalists have come to revere the 1637 Statenvertaling in much the same way that their English-speaking counterparts treat the KJV. The Statenvertaling, like the KJV, was based on the Septuagint and the Erasmian Textus receptus, and just like with the NKJV, there has been a revised Statenvertaling issued recently that updates the translation to use modern Dutch but purposefully ignores the results of any post-17th-century textual criticism.

Notable Christian supporters of the King James Only Belief[edit]

Frontispiece of 1611 Bible
  • Jack Chick
  • Texe Marrs
  • Jack Hyles
  • Alberto Rivera
  • William Branham
  • David J. Stewart of the Jesus Is Savior ministry
  • Charles Worley
  • Gail Riplinger - author of New Age Bible Versions
  • Eric Jon Phelps - racist white-supremacist fringe of the KJV Onlyist movement whom other KJV-onlyist just hope becomes a some-other-bible-onlyist because when he's around they have to travel incognito just in case he want to say "hi".
  • Peter Ruckman - the lunatic fringe whom even the rest of the KJV-onlyites avoid. (Ruckman promotes the rather daft conspiracy theory that the Septuagint, the Tanakh of Hellenistic Judaism and the Old Testament of Eastern Christianity, was a hoax.)
  • Bryan Denlinger - another crazy Ruckmanite
  • Amazing Grace Baptist Church of Canton, North Carolina gained international media attention in 2009 for announcing a Halloween book burning of all Bibles except the KJV, plus "Satanic" authors like Billy Graham, Rick Warren, and Mother Teresa.

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. A few King James Onlyists go even further, and claim that the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic were imperfect, and that the differences in meaning between some KJV passages and the original were actually God correcting the earlier mistakes.
  2. In actual fact, Ostara is cognate with Latin Aurora and Greek Eos, meaning "dawn", and may in fact have come from the same Proto-Indo-European deity; to the extent that Ishtar had a Germanic counterpart at all, it probably would have been Freyja. Not to mention that totally fails to explain why "Easter" and cognates only appears in a couple of West Germanic languages and nowhere else in the world; most other languages use either a derivative or calque of the Hebrew pesach, and use the same word to refer to Passover.
  3. KJV-onlyists to the contrary have to believe this wasn't a mistranslation at all, and unicorns are real because "it's in the Bible!"

References[edit]