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.

King James Only?

A young man approached our table at the park last year and began trying to convince me that the KJV of the Bible is the only correct version we should use. He attends a KJV-Only Baptist church nearby.

Many denominations have a few KJV-only churches. I recently received a newsletter with an article on the front page: “Are Modern Translations Dangerous?” I checked out their website and found a consistent, extensive KJV-only teaching (with a few shout-outs to the ASV). The editors of this paper are from the Leoni Church of Christ in McMinnville, TN.

Some quotes from their paper:


Another of the multiplicity of the so-called Bibles that has added to the confusion of God’s word is the New American Standard Version.

I will not be vacating the KJV or ASV for the ESV. There is nothing I need to know, believe, obey, preach and defend to please God that I cannot find in my beloved KJV and the time tested ASV.

This article in this series will maintain that the King James Version is superior to all other English translations.

It is one thing to love your KJV. It is quite another to assert that folks cannot get to heaven following other versions.

When was the KJV written? In 1611. That, my friends, is 1500 years after the apostles wrote the New Testament books and letters! No doubt the KJV is a masterpiece and is a faithful translation in many respects, but to believe the translators of 1611 did what no other board of translators can do seems to me prideful and unrealistic.

Were the motives of those men more pure than those who gave us the NKJV, the NASB, the ESV, etc.? I cannot believe that.

Did the KJV translators have more perfect Greek and Hebrew texts than we do today? In fact, the Greek text they were using was one compiled by Erasmus called the Textus Receptus (Received Text), and it was a bit of a rush job. Erasmus’s did not have access to some of the older, and therefore more reliable, manuscripts which later Greek scholars would be able to use.

The KJV Bible gave us the word “Easter.” The KJV includes extra material in 1 John 5.7-8:

ESV: “7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”

KJV: “7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

Why do modern versions leave out the extra wording? Because those words are only found in a very few and very recent Greek manuscripts. From the NET Bible notes, “the evidence—both external and internal—is decidedly against its authenticity.” The more recent translations have tried to faithfully render God’s original word.

Daniel Wallace (a well-known and respected Greek scholar) wrote:

…those scholars who seem to be excising many of your favorite passages from the New Testament are not doing so out of spite, but because such passages are not found in the better and more ancient MSS.

I recommend you read all of Wallace’s article because he makes a clear, reasonable case for why the KJV is not the most reliable translation today!

Someone said to me with regard to the KJV, “If it was good enough for Peter and Paul, it’s good enough for me.” I assure you, Peter and Paul did not use the KJV!

I suspect that most who have studied a foreign language understand the difficulties in attempting a word-for-word translation. Layers of idioms, ranges of meaning, contextual clues, etc. must be taken into consideration. Most of our modern KJV-only advocates do not understand language.

Also, the KJV is difficult to read today because so many words have changed meanings over the past 400 years. God gave His word to the common people in their common language. It seems appropriate to keep His word in the common language of our people.

It seems absurd to view the KJV as a second inspired text. Do we think the Bible should only be translated into English? I asked a guy once how someone in Thailand would read the “correct” version? He told me we should translate the KJV into Thai! No joke. But it is a joke. Do you see the flaws in that reasoning? What if a group of Thai scholars took the Greek and Hebrew texts and translated them straight into their own language? That seems appropriate. Perhaps we English speakers have gotten a little too big for our britches, thinking we have a corner on correct translations.

Certainly, not all translations are created equal. Some do reveal biases. Some were translated by a single man or just a few men. The best translations were created by teams of Hebrew and Greek scholars working within strict standards and checks and balances. You can read about how your favorite version was translated in your Bible’s preface.

And remember–no perfect version exists, so it’s best if you can compare several different translations side-by-side, if you want to do a careful study.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions!