King James Only?

I am meeting more people lately who are pure KJV folk. The more I look into the history of the English Bible, however, the more ridiculous the KJV-only position is to me. Consider the following historical points:

1382 – John Wycliffe published the first full English Bible that we know of. However, he did not translate directly from the original languages but from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, so it was a translation of a translation–hardly ideal, but the best he could do at the time. He worked before the invention of the printing press, so his version and early copies were entirely hand written!

1526 – William Tyndale, a contemporary and associate of Martin Luther, holds the award for the first printed English New Testament, and he translated from Erasmus’ Greek text. He produced it under great persecution, and the Catholic Church burned as many copies of his bible as they could find. Eventually, Tyndale was captured, held for over a year, and then strangled and burned at the stake after one last statement: “Oh Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”

1535 – Myles Coverdale, a friend of Tyndale, finished translating the Old Testament into English, and the first Bible was published comprising both old and new testaments together (the Coverdale Bible).

1539 – King Henry VIII commissioned Coverdale to print “The Great Bible” in English, which became the standard text read in English churches. Was this an answer to Tyndale’s last prayer?

1560 – John Knox and the Church of Geneva published the Geneva Bible, which became the standard for several years. The Puritans and Pilgrims brought the Geneva Bible to America, making it the first bible to grace the shores of this land. This was Shakespeare’s bible, as he quoted extensively from it. We might consider the Geneva Bible to be the world’s first “study bible” as it had extensive helpful notes in the margins.

1611 – The first King James Version was printed, the product of about 7 years’ work of 50 scholars. It was heavily influence by the Geneva Bible, but they also took into consideration all the other existing English Bibles and the original languages.

1769 – The KJV was revised (the Oxford Standard Edition) with over 100,000 changes to the original 1611. Most of the changes had to do with spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, but several were significant changes. The KJV Bibles found in most bookstores today do explain to the reader that it is really the 1769 Oxford Edition, instead claiming the 1611 heritage, usually with no mention of the extensive revisions.

Isn’t it interesting that the Bible of the early protestants was the Geneva Bible and today the KJV-only advocates are largely protestant churches?! The early protestants hated the KJV, and the Catholic Church hated the Geneva Bible because of some of the comments in the margins.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the KJV was the first Bible written in English–it wasn’t by a long shot. Neither was the KJV a perfect translation. If it had been, why would it need so many revisions over time?

That’s not to say the KJV is a terrible translation–far from it. It contains the pure gospel just as a good modern translation does, as long as the reader can understand it 🙂


Goodspeed, Edgar J. How Came the Bible? Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN: 1940.