The Fallacy of King James Onlyism

Walk into your local Christian bookstore and you will find a variety of bibles to choose from. Because of questionable translations that have come out in recent years, a few defenders of the faith have gone to an extreme by declaring there’s only one type of bible that’s the true word of God. The King James Version (also known as the Authorized Version) has been used by the English-speaking world for over 400 years. While I agree the KJV is an accurate translation of God’s word, it’s totally illogical for its advocates to claim it’s perfect and the only bible Christians should use.

Not everybody in the world understands English. Let’s say I grew up in South America and could only read Spanish. A missionary leads me to the Lord and then offers to give me a bible. Which type of bible would work best for me: a King James Version I cannot understand at all or a Spanish translation of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures? The answer to that is a no brainer.

One well-known publisher of cartoon tracts heavily promotes King James Onlyism. Yet in the tracts they print in foreign languages, they obviously don’t quote bible verses from the King James Version.

Did Moses originally present the Ten Commandments in 17th century English? No! How about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or the Apostle Paul’s epistles to the church? Of course not. That language did not exist in the Holy Lands then. Because the English language has changed over the years, you rarely hear people say “thee” and “thou” nowadays except in some churches and Shakespearean plays.

Another fact that should be pointed out is that the King James Version has been revised many times since it first came out in 1611. Because the translators didn’t have computers and a Strong’s Concordance to assist them, errors were occasionally found and corrected. The Apocrypha inserted in earlier versions was also removed. A 21st Century King James Version of the Holy Bible was released over twenty years ago that eliminated obsolete English words no longer used today.

Let me share an example why the King James Version is not a perfect word-for-word translation. Genesis 1:2 in the KJV says, “And the earth was without form and void.” The Hebrew word “hayah” (translated here as “was”) means “became” and is translated that way in other parts of the KJV. Since God doesn't create anything in vain (Isaiah 45:18), that verse would be better translated as “the earth BECAME without form and void” due to Lucifer's fall in Isaiah 14:12.

I'm not attacking the King James Version but simply pointing out no translation is 100% accurate. Even the KJV translators themselves wrote in their original preface, “No cause therefore why the Word translated should be denied the Word, or forbidden to be current, notwithstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in the setting forth of it.” God uses imperfect people to carry out His perfect plans.

Still some Christians judge others more by what bible translation they read than the fruit they produce for the Lord. Years ago I briefly lived with a man who at the time was a King James Only advocate. One night he insisted I watch a video in which a minister touted the King James Version’s superiority to the New International Version (a favorite target of King James Onlyists). The next morning, my roommate got upset when he saw me reading my New King James Version bible. When I tried reasoning with this man, he threatened to kick me out of his house! I moved out voluntarily the next day. A few weeks later when I ran into this man, he apologized and acknowledged that he had been deceived.

Now if the King James Version is your preferred translation, then I encourage you to continue using it. But please don’t get religious by telling me it’s the only true Word of God. If a translation as a whole (not isolated verses taken out of context) doesn't violate basic Christian doctrine, then we shouldn’t be too quick to judge it as corrupt. When we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in our Scripture readings, we can know “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6). Jeremiah 1:12 says that God watches over His word to perform it.

Many ministers use a variety of translations in their studies and to help clarify points in their sermons. Once there were four clergymen discussing the merits of the various translations. One liked the King James Version best because of its beautiful English. Another liked the American Revised Version because it is more literal and comes nearer to the original Hebrew and Greek. Still another liked Mofatt's translation because of its up-to-date vocabulary. When the fourth minister was asked to express his opinion, he replied, “I like my mother's translation best. She translated it into life...and it was the most convincing translation I ever saw.”

“The ultimate translation is one that influences the behaviors in readers' lives and gives them hope...The task of translation is not finished.” - from the Holman Bible Dictionary

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