KJV-Onlyism November 11, 2012

Libby Anne has posted an entry on her blog about that movement which claims that the King James Version of the Bible is the best, the only true Word of God. Since she gave me a mention in her post, I thought I should give her a shout out here – and also share a comment I left on that post. Click through for the broader context.

Here’s what I wrote:

Thanks for blogging about this – and for mentioning me in your post! I think you do a great job of highlighting the fundamental (pun intended) problem with KJV-onlyism. It actually represents a rejection of the only sort of Bible there is in any meaningful sense, which is a set of texts which were for the most part copied carefully, but nonetheless imperfectly, and then collected by human beings and turned into a collection to serve as Scripture. For some, this fallible process involving fallible human beings does not meet their own standard which demands a fixed text that is word-for-word precise, and can thus be claimed to be inerrant. And so not surprisingly they have to choose a modern text created since the invention of the printing press, because ones copied by hand in ancient times simply will not do.

This is what Christians who embrace learning and reflection call idolatry – setting up a human image in the place of God, that ultimate which is indescribable and incapable of being tied down in words or images. Because ultimately it is not just the actual Bible that KJV-onlyists have problems with, but also with any sort of God that would fail to provide them with the absolute security and certainty they demand.

And so despite the Bible-loving rhetoric of KJV-onlyism, it is a stance that is about as antithetical to and opposed to the Bible as it is possible to be.

Fortunately I have for the most part been spared having to deal with this sort of KJV-only nonsense. I have no idea how widespread or fringe this viewpoint may be. But it certainly serves as yet another illustration of a crucial point, which needs to be made over and over again until people grasp it: Just because a person or movement speaks in a seemingly positive way about God or the Bible, and uses superlatives, doesn’t mean they are speaking the truth. If one’s defense of what they believe the Bible ought to be leads them to reject the only sort of Bible there is, or leads them to pretend that this or that translation is something more than it is, then that stance is not merely bizarrely self-contradictory, but an idolatrous setting up of their own imaginary idea of the Bible in the place of the real thing.

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  • DuJour

    Ooh, thanks for this – made me smile!

  • I first came across the phenomenon during a lay leader’s Bible study aboard a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship. Later, I noticed it was rampant in the Pensacola, Florida, area, in no small part due to the influence of Bible Baptist Church’s Dr. Peter Ruckman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Ruckman). (Dr. Ruckman, whose sermons appear on local TV regularly, is quite an artist! Check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4x6TLmCi0k)

    While I’m one to receive frequent signals from the Holy Spirit, I did feel a significant amount of what one might call “spiritual oppression” when I visited the church’s bookstore to purchase a few of Dr. Ruckman’s books when I was studying up on the KJV-only phenomenon. I saw quite a few marriages ruined in that church as a result of their cultish behavior.

    When it comes to Dr. Ruckman, KJV-onlyism isn’t his only distinctive doctrine. He’s got some other “interesting” views: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfx9uvZlGec

  • Kaz

    If memory serves, I think that I’ve only met one KJV-onliest in my life, and I’m not sure that that person even realized that the original writings that have come to be known as Scripture weren’t even written in English. This is going back a long time, but it seems to me that when I mentioned this to the person, he responded by stating that the KJV was the Bible God had made for the English speaking world. It was never made clear why God would have only endorsed the KJV but not Bibles by Wycliffe, Tyndale, Coverdale, the Geneva Bible, etc.

    Question: Would you consider Majority Text advocates like Hodges and Farstad to be the educated counterparts (figuratively speaking) of the KJV-onliests, or do you think that MT advocates are in a completely different category?

    • I wouldn’t say completely different, since claims about the Majority Text often underpin the arguments of the KJV-onlyists. And both are trying to find a way to have a text about which one can meaningfully claim verbal inspiration, without all the difficulties caused by different manuscripts or translations.

      • Kaz

        “I wouldn’t say completely different, since claims about the Majority
        Text often underpin the arguments of the KJV-onlyists.”

        That’s how I see it as well. I don’t automatically assume that the oldest reading is correct, but I certainly don’t consider the MT approach sound. I prefer an eclectic text, and in at least one case (Jn 1:18) I favor the reading with the least support, because I think that it best explains the emergence of the two more popular alternatives.

        “And both are
        trying to find a way to have a text about which one can meaningfully
        claim verbal inspiration, without all the difficulties caused by
        different manuscripts or translations.”

        Agreed again, except that I don’t consider the manuscript problem to necessarily undermine the notion that the originals were “God breathed”. It certainly removes certainty, but God seems to favor allowing us work out uncertainties.

  • Scott H

    Growing up in extreme pentacostalism, I used to feel this way about the KJV. I would venture to say that this viewpoint still exists in remote rural areas, especially with older generations who grew up with pastors and evangelists preaching this type of message. This viewpoint goes hand-in-hand with infallibility of scripture, as people who believe the KJV is superior often believe that the specific words used in the KJV were inspired by God, ignorant of the fact the words were actually written in a different language. After all, those were the words they grew up hearing quoted from the pulpit time after time. Those KJV words have deep emotional ties for some people.

    Seems hard to believe this type of ignorance exists, but I’ve personally seen it in older generations in sheltered rural areas among uneducated church-goers.

  • mrbriskers

    “King James onlyism” originated from the Hampton Court Conference January 14th 1604 with King James. History books claim that Christians at home studied using a Geneva Bible and church service lessons were read from the Bishop’s Bible. One of the points the Puritans stressed at the conference of 1604 was that “Good pastors be planted in churches to preach the same”. They wanted a standard bible for all to use which would be known as the Authorized Version because it alone was authorized to be read in Churches. Christians since before the 1611 King James Bible expressed and wanted a final authority or single book to be used by all for unity so all could be of the same mind. The King James Version Bible is the only bible ordered and authorized by a king in history and the bible says in Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” Praise God that he turned the king’s heart to have his book translated to be completed in 1611 for a standard that English speaking Christians can grow by and be in unity. Philippians 2:5 “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:”