The King James Only Controversy

HomeChristianity and the BibleThe King James Only Controversy

What is it?

The KJVO controversy is about whether Christians should consider only the King James Version of the Bible to be reliable and trustworthy. While there are a variety of views within the KJVO movement, the basic idea is simple: no other Bible will do.

The King James Only movement is largely built on the claim that modern Bibles are doctrinally corrupt…that they have strayed from responsible and accurate translation of the Greek texts. There are a variety of other claims in the movement. Here are a few:

Which KJV?

There are a number of different versions of the King James Version. Most KJVO advocates do not use the version finished in 1611, but the Blayney version from 1769. Between the two are revisions from 1613, 1629, 1638, and 1762. After many years of discussing this issue, no KJVO person has suggested to me that one is better than the other. This is a serious problem for their point of view, as each differs from the others.

Errors in the KJV

Most KJVO advocates claim that the KJV is better than all other Bibles because it alone is without error. This is absurd, and demonstrably false. The errors in the KJV are too numerous to list here, but it only takes one error to prove them wrong. I’ve made note of a few that should be persuasive for anyone willing to consider the evidence. Unfortunately, I’ve never met a KJVO advocate that was willing to consider the evidence…they usually run away from it. If you’re a KJVO person who wants to discuss the evidence, please leave a comment!

Unicorns

Most adults realize that unicorns don’t really exist. KJVO advocates must overlook the nine times that the word “unicorn” appears in the KJV: in Numbers 23:22, Numbers 24:8, Deuteronomy 33:17, Job 39:9, Psalm 22:21, Psalm 29:6, Psalm 92:10, and Isaiah 34:7 (read on Biblegateway). The Hebrew word is RE-EM, and probably means an auroch or other, now extinct, wild bull.

Easter / Passover

In Acts 12:4, the KJV mistranslates Pascha as Easter, rather than Passover. I’ve written more about this in Easter in the KJV.

Jupiter/Zeus, Mercury/Hermes

In Acts 14:12, the KJV says that the people in Lystra called Paul “Mercury” and Barnabas “Jupiter”. This is in spite of the fact that the Greek uses the words “Zeus” and “Hermes”. (read on Blue Letter Bible)

Don’t trust the demons

In Acts 16 we read about a young lady, possessed by a demon, who followed Paul and Silas. The demon – according to the KJV – said that they were servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. Unfortunately, this is simply wrong. The Greek (the original language of the New Testament) doesn’t say “the way of salvation.” It says “a way of salvation.” The Greek word is Hodos, which means “a way” (see the definition in context). The demon wasn’t agreeing that Paul and Silas taught the only way to be saved…it suggested that they taught one of many ways. The King James is simply inaccurate here.

Listen to the KJV translators

Most Bibles have a preface, in which the translation team explains their motives and methodology. The KJV is no different. The 1611 version of the KVJ had an extensive preface, removed from later versions. Read the full preface. In it, the translators themselves demolish the KJVO controversy:

Questions and Objections

But the NIV takes out stuff

The primary target of KJVO folks is the New International Version (NIV). Their claim is that the NIV translators have removed crucial words and phrases from the Bible, undermining God’s word and leading unwitting people astray. There is a very serious flaw in this argument: they invariably use the KJV as the standard. Any word or phrase that differs from the King James is then suspect.

Is this logical? Of course not. The KJV translators themselves would object to this method. They would never consider the KJV to be the standard by which all future Bibles should be judged. Instead, they would recommend exactly what the NIV translators have done: go back to the manuscripts, in their original languages, and try to improve on the Bibles that already exist.

Trickery: comparing the KJV and NIV

The KJVO folks like to compare verses side by side, to show how the NIV (or other Bible) differs from the “right Bible” – that is, the KJV. That seems reasonable, on the surface. It’s a serious problem, however. It presumes that the KJV is always right, and that other Bibles are corrupt because, well, they’re not the KJV. The proper approach is not to compare one translation or version with another, but to compare all of them with all available ancient manuscripts.

There are more scholarly ways to describe this controversy, involving more complex considerations like different manuscript families, formal vs dynamic equivalence, and so on. This article is meant as an overview…a summary of the controversy and why I believe the KJVO folks have no real argument. If you have specific questions, feel free to ask them.

What I am NOT saying

I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with the King James Version of the Bible. In fact, I recommend it. One could read the KJV and learn all they need to know about being in a right relationship with God. I’m not criticizing the KJV here. I’m only criticizing the idea that the KJV is in any way superior to every other quality Bible. I agree with the KJV translators: it’s good, but not perfect. Those who claim that the KJV is better than any other Bible must not only claim it, but also demonstrate it. Simply put: they cannot.


Join the Conversation

13 responses to “The King James Only Controversy”

  1. Eric Bostic says:

    If you look at some of the others like zondervans new niv afte r I think 1994 or o it was retransllated by a lesbian,and sold by sodomites, which would you trust.Many of the “new Bibles” twist GODs word, if you defend something that is against GODs word then you support it and thus are against GOD.Your exmples of errors are at best sketchy at best. L You evedently dont believe the Bible ie inspired word of GOD, if you did there would be no questions. The world is interjected in new bles to much.Your argument if foolish to me.,GOD bless you and take care

    • Tony Scialdone says:

      Thanks for writing, Eric.

      >> zondervans new niv afte r I think 1994 or o it was retransllated by a lesbian,and sold by sodomites, which would you trust.

      Let’s see…the first person I wouldn’t trust is someone who makes claims, and accusations, without backing them up. “I think” is certainly not enough for me, and shouldn’t be enough for you.

      >> Many of the “new Bibles” twist GODs word…

      Come on, old drummer…give us PROOF, not conjecture. How is anyone supposed to believe you without seeing the evidence?

      >> if you defend something that is against GODs word then you support it and thus are against GOD.

      How silly. A person can be in error about something, and so defend it, while still wanting to please God. It happens all the time. It’s a huge mistake to suggest that someone who is “for God” will have perfect theology, a perfect set of ethics, or a perfect understanding of God Himself. That’s silly, Eric. Don’t be silly.

      >> You evedently dont believe the Bible ie inspired word of GOD, if you did there would be no questions.

      You aren’t paying attention, are you? I certainly do believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. I rely on it fully, and believe it to be completely trustworthy. I do not, however, pretend that it’s magical. KJVO advocates often suggest that the King James is more perfect than the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. When you finish looking up the unicorns I’ve listed in my article, come back and tell me how perfect the King James is. There’s a difference between being perfect and being trustworthy to accomplish its purpose. There is no perfect Bible, but almost every Bible is sufficient to lead its reader to God.

      >> Your argument if foolish to me.

      Neato. Why not do a little homework and set me straight? You’d be doing me a great service…not to mention the millions of people who will read the truth when you’re finished posting it. =)

      • June says:

        OOOOPPPS! You do not like “I Think,” so I am just going to say it plain here: You self-contradicted. You said that if there is one error then the whole thing is messed – it only takes one contradiction to negate the whole Book – with which I agree, then you went on to name a whole load of errors, misinterpretations, fallacies and contradictions; then you conclude that you think the Book is entirely trustworthy and you depend on it. You depend on a Book full of untruths, and half-truths, and misplaced truth, and changed truths? Why would you? [By the way, I will go back and answer in more detail on the post from which you sent me to come and read this KJVO dessertation.]

        • Tony says:

          June:

          You appear to have misread. I did not write that one contradiction negates the whole Book. Here’s what I wrote:

          “Most KJVO advocates claim that the KJV is better than all other Bibles because it alone is without error. This is absurd, and demonstrably false. The errors in the KJV are too numerous to list here, but it only takes one error to prove them wrong.”

          A translation error does not invalidate any Bible, including the King James. Any error invalidates the claim that no errors exist, which is the position that King James Only advocates usually take.

  2. Rob says:

    I’ve been a Christian since 1981. Over the last year I’ve been listening to the bible on my commute via a thumb drive plugged into the dashboard of my car. My round trip commute is 3 hours, though I only listen to the bible on my way into work.

    A funny thing has happened. HEARING the bible is different than reading it. It brings a different perspective. One of those differences is that I no longer describe it as I used to. That is, I used to call it the inspired word of God. I now say that it CONTAINS the inspired word of God. The obvious example is where Paul said, and I paraphrase, “this is not God talking here, it is me.”

    It also drives me NUTS that the KJV translates the word for “rooms” or “dwelling places” as “mansions”. I’m sure the translator’s heart was in the right place trying to embellish it, but still…

    Also, a KJVO friend shared, via facebook, a listing of all the stuff in the KJV that is left out of the NIV. My response was, “Did the NIV leave it out, or did the KJV add it.” Crickets…

    • Tony Scialdone says:

      Rob:

      You’re not alone when you suggest that the Bible contains the inspired word of God. A lot of sincere, committed believers would say the same thing…and some are very well-educated on the subject. I’m not going to specifically disagree with the notion here, but I would like to point something out. The inclusion of personal opinions in the Bible doesn’t diminish the idea that it’s 100% inspired. There are tons of places where people express opinions, from Job to Job’s friends to Paul to Gamaliel and others. The idea that Scripture is inspired by God is very, very old. It’s echoed in 2 Timothy 3, where we read that all Scripture is inspired by God. The word translated “inspired” is THEOPNEUSTIS, literally “God-breathed.”

      That doesn’t mean that God Himself spoke each word, but that the Holy Spirit ‘breathed into’ (inspired) the writers so they wrote what He intended them to write. That includes personal opinions, references to books outside of the Bible, local customs, and even untrue statements spoken by humans. The idea of inerrancy is that God perfectly inspired those writers, and that they faithfully wrote what God intended. We do not consider copies of those original writings to be inspired…it’s clear that translation is a difficult and sometimes vexing process. Our faith isn’t in the written word, or in the men who wrote the words, but in God who superintended the writing in the first place.

  3. Rob says:

    You are really getting where I am coming from regarding throwing in the things about Job.

    One of the biggest issues I have is that if one looks at the history of the bible and its actual content, one finds that a very major issue is also one of the things that makes it so amazing. That is, it is not a book. It is a collection of history books, rule books, documented visions, letters to churches, letters to individuals, prophesies, testimonies, etc.

    And people have “visions” today about near death experiences, 23 minutes in hell, etc.

    But because so much baloney was being thrown out there as “official”, that they guys (council of Nicaea) decided to put a stop to it and collect all the stuff that everyone “knew” was the real deal to stop the nonsense.

    I think that was a good idea.

    However, I take such strong ownership of the comment I made above about it being a collection, that I almost would like to see it published as separate volumes. Of course, some of the letters would be one pagers, but it would allow people to see it for what it really is, and treat each volume could be afforded the respect it individually deserves.

    Sometimes one needs to ask “why do we say God inspired this particular writer? Who was he? What authority did he have that allows us to believe what he said more than Joseph Smith or Muhamad?

    That being said, the reason for this diatribe is that since moving to central KY from Seattle and playing in a touring southern gospel band (we visit a LOT of small southern baptist, separate baptist, baptist, and the other 4,000 different baptist divisions) that I see a lot of fire and brimstone nonsense and what can only be described as “bible worship”. It gives me the willies, frankly. Especially being a strong adherent (for six years now) of CI.

    So this stuff really matters to me. And I try to explain to these folks that, valuable though it is, the bible does not trump prayer and a personal relationship with Him.

    • Tony Scialdone says:

      Rob:

      You’re right: it’s very important to remember that the Bible isn’t a single book. At the same time, it’s one unified story.

      I don’t buy very many of the stories around modern visions, miracles, and so on. It’s not that I don’t believe they actually happen (I do) but that many – or most – people are so eager for such things that they’re willing to lie, or to exaggerate, to get attention or feel special.

      >> the bible does not trump prayer and a personal relationship with Him

      I agree to a point…but after that point, I disagree. The Bible cannot substitute for the Holy Spirit, and the Bible is not the repository of all revelation. Believers can only understand spiritual things because the Holy Spirit reveals them to us…without Him, we wouldn’t understand much (The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.) 1 Corinthians 2:14). At the same time, it would be a mistake to pretend that both aren’t necessary. As the early church had the witness of Scripture, so do we…and its importance can’t be overstated.

      All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17. I want these things to be true of me, so I turn to Scripture for them.

  4. Rob says:

    Wow. Looks like I need to use Word to create these posts. Or at least proofread before posting. The one above is awful.

    Anyway, just one other thing about the churches around me: The sheer misery and terror I see in these congregations is noting like what I experienced in the churches I attended in Seattle since 1981. And judgementalism. Of course, just saying that makes me a little guilty of it. But when so many of the sermons are about the people outside of the church and how they are so wrong and going to burn in hell, etc. kinda wears on a guy. I’d rather hear a message of hope, love, and how those listening to the message can have a closer relationship with their Creator.

    But I’ve also learned that in the rural bible belt, going to church is what people do for entertainment. It’s just what they do. It’s probably why they love preachers that don’t really say much, but risk an aneurysm with their preaching style, if you get my drift.

    But most of it is just cultural differences.

    • Tony Scialdone says:

      Rob:

      I grew up in Seattle, and my family is still there. When I think of home, that’s what I think of.

      I have never understood the judgmentalism in the church. I see no place for it, and believe it’s nothing more than the result of bad teaching over generations. When we read the Bible, we see that we are no better than anyone else, and in no position to judge the unsaved. We’re to be vessels, carrying to them the love and grace we’ve been given. Too many have been wounded by Christians, too few have been truly loved. I wish this weren’t an issue. I believe that rejecting the lost, rather than loving them as God loves them, is the worst thing a believer can do.

  5. Rob says:

    You are spot on. My wife’s first husband died of Leukemia 30 years ago. She had three very young children and he died without life insurance. She is from a VERY strong Irish Catholic family, and her husband was from a VERY strong Polish Catholic family. The church did nothing for her but to say, basically, go and be well. Even her priest called to say he could not do the eulogy because he was stuck at the dentist.

    Meanwhile, her neighbor was AG. They were a HUGE help and actually showed God’s love. She has not been a catholic since.

    I don’t remember where it is, but I believe it was Paul that said don’t hang out with various types of sinners, but then clarifies that he means those within the church, because if he meant “outside the church”, he would basically be telling Christians to not mix with anyone outside their church.

    In my last band, during rehearsal I’d hang out in the rehearsal room while the rest of the band went out to smoke some dope. They knew my feelings on it, and my belief that we are all free to make our own choices.

    • Tony Scialdone says:

      Thanks for your comment, Rob. Your wife’s situation highlights the fact that many – if not most – do not get involved with churches and parachurch organizations and cults because of their theological positions. Most get involved because someone showed that they were loved.

  6. Abby says:

    My take on it is this: every version of the Bible is a translation out of the original Greek and Hebrew.
    Words do not usually translate from one language to another perfectly.
    The arguments that occur between Christians about what Bible to read may cause many to turn away from Christianity entirely. (Because why become a Christian if they can’t even agree on what book to read?) some of the arguments for “KJV Only” are nit-picky sounding. (Only the KJV says, “____” Other versions {usually NIV} render it as, “_____”!)
    The Bible is the inspired Word of God. The Holy Spirit teaches out of whichever Bible is regularly read. [note “regularly”]
    I read The Bible: whatever version is close at hand. I own KJV, NKJV, ESV, AMP, NIV, NASB, and NLT. They all say the same thing, they just use different wording.
    God Bless.

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