The King James Only debate played a major role in my journey out of extreme independent Baptist fundamentalism (IFBx). I’ve written my story elsewhere. But I want to focus here on my journey with respect to the King James Only debate.
I grew up with the King James Version, but I don’t believe my church was always officially King James Only. In the late 80’s or early 90’s King James Onlyism was on the march. Some area churches were decidedly Ruckmanite, and while we didn’t attend those conferences we fell under the sway of their influence.
I remember knowing only the KJV was acceptable. At age 12 I was given a Thomspon Chain Reference Bible (KJV), and my uncle showed me how to use it. His was an NIV, however. And I was uncomfortable with that already. His explanation that it is easier for people today to read, just didn’t sway me. I was already prejudiced in favor of KJV Onlyism.
I didn’t know all the reasons why, however. Why not the NIV or the New King James? At age 14, my dad surrendered to be a missionary and we started deputation. As we traveled around, I’m sure we had the chance to pick up some tracks or pamphlets describing why the King James was the only version to be trusted. I can remember being in a Christian bookstore in an indepedent Baptist church and seeing Gail Riplinger’s new book: New Age Bible Versions. I flipped through the book, and I found the freaky cover with the Satanic symbols quite intriguing.
As a teenager, and even earlier, I was privileged to be invited over to my grandparent’s house frequently. And we would often discuss Biblical topics among other things. My grandfather was a class mate with Norman Geisler for a time at William Tyndale College (Detroit Bible Institute). He used the KJV too, but thought other versions were helpful for study. His father, a missionary to the upper peninsula of Michigan with the Hiawatha Land Mission (from the GARBC, now Continental Missions or something), owned a copy of the Berkley Version and evidently approved of referencing it for study purposes.
It wasn’t until at age 16, when I came across a copy of The Way of Life Bible Encyclopedia by David Cloud, that I really read up on the topic at all. We also had many pamphlets, booklets, O Timothy papers, Sword of the Lord papers, etc. On the mission field, there wasn’t much else to read so I devoured much of this kind of literature. Cloud’s position on the King James Only debate made sense. The Encyclopedia referenced other articles within it, so I read of the text issue, the doctrine of preservation, Westcott and Hort’s dubious beliefs, Erasmus and the history of the TR, the copying rules for the Masoretes, etc.
I had visited Northland Baptist Bible College while on deputation, and was surprised at their lack of a stand on the King James Version. My brother and I researched all the College Catalogs we could find. Hyles Anderson was not an option for us, but everything else in fundamentalism was fair game. I mailed requests for catalogs from every college I knew about practically. Pillsbury, BJU, Tennessee Temple, PCC, Northland, Maranatha, Oklahoma Baptist, Texas Baptist, Trinity Baptist in Florida, Piedmont, Fairhaven, and others I don’t remember. I studied all their positions and learned which ones were KJV Bible schools and as I became more convinced of my position, I preferred those schools.
God lead me to Fairhaven and they were one of the better KJV Only schools I could have chosen. The offered Greek, and taught that the KJV was not inspired. They preferred the Textus Receptus as the preserved Words of God, and the KJV was the only faithfully translated copy of it in wide use. We learned of Dean Burgon and the majority support for the KJV. We didn’t learn exactly all the ins and outs of the new Majority Text exactly. I think some of the material we were lectured on was dated. At the college bookstore, I picked up a copy of D.A. Waite’s Defending The King James Bible. At one of their conferences, I picked up some other books by David Cloud. I devoured the material and became more strengthened in my convictions in this matter.
A turning point began in the fall of 1999 for me. That was when I started learning Greek. I had some good friends and we discussed the Bible version debate. I began to encounter the more ignorant version of King James Onlyism that looked down on any Greek study at all, and felt each and every translational choice of the King James Version was perfect and without need of improvement. I began to see the value of Greek, and I started to disagree with that other view. And this was when I read more on the issue with some new elements of discernment.
In late 1999 and throughout 2000, my brother and I came together a few times, and I learned he had departed from the KJV Only position, and another new element in my journey began. He attended Northland and had abandoned what was at one time for him, a fierce loyalty to KJV Onlyism. We were both so busy in our respective colleges, and with my parents on the mission field or traveling on furlough, we didn’t see each other all that much. When we did we clashed. The more we learned at our respective colleges, the more positions we clashed over. King James Onlyism was a big part of our disagreement, and arguing with him out of the goal of convincing him of my position caused me to dig deeper into my understanding of this issue.
My senior year of College was where my mind was opened in full to the problems with my position. Our Greek professor had us read and evaluate 2 books on the King James Only debate. One pro and one con. I welcomed this as I saw the value in reading what the other side had to say. The books chosen for us were Edward F. Hills The King James Bible Defended on the pro side, and James White’s The King James Only Controversy for the other. I believe we started with Hills’ book (my memory is bad!). I was armed with a lot of facts that hitherto had been ignored or not adequately explained in other works. Hills actually had a Ph.D. in textual criticism from Harvard Divinity School. He was not afraid to address the tough questions in the debate. He dealt with passages in the KJV that were supported solely or almost exclusively on the Latin manuscript tradition. He explained passages where the majority of Greek manuscripts disagreed with the KJV reading. He pointed out a few errors in the TR and in the KJV itself. He discussed the problematic KJV 1611 footnotes. He wasn’t afraid of these things, and he maintained the common faith in the Word of God and felt it led one to prefer the KJV, even with its few imperfections, as the best form of the Word of God we have today.
This didn’t go down without some qualms from the peanut gallery, however. Many of us took issue with Hill’s conclusions. We were forced to think, and most of us in the class loved to do that. But I remember how 1 John 5:7 in particular became a problem that none of us in the class had a uniform view on. Most of us quietly kept a few questions and figured we’d find answers. We knew of some defenses for 1 John 5:7 and I was convinced with Hills’ teaching that in God’s providence both Latin and Greek readings were combined in the KJV. God mysteriously preserved His Word that way. After reading Hills, however, I was secretly fearful of reading White. I didn’t want to be convinced against the KJV Only position due to all the stake I had in toeing the line in that regard. I remember a similar fear when I read Robert Van Kampen on his pre-wrath rapture position. I wanted to read the other side, but I was fearful lest I be taken in since I didn’t have a good grasp and confidence in my own position.
White wasn’t extremely careful, in my mind, to distinguish those of us who preferred to call ourselves TR Onlyists from the likes of Riplinger, Ruckman and Samuel Gipp. That being said, I wasn’t prepared for his arguments. He showed how the KJV in passages like Titus 2:13 fails to declare the deity of Christ as clearly as the modern versions like the NASB and NIV do. He explained how the majority of Greek manuscripts actually did not support the TR until the 9th century and later, when copies were being made again and again in the Byzantine empire where they spoke Greek still. He educated me more on some of the ins and outs of textual variations and criticism. But I remained unconvinced. I did go away from the book with more sympathy for non-KJV Only folk. I also had a desire to be sure we articulate our position accurately and not use arguments that are self serving and not valid. And I came away desiring all the more to get all my questions answered satisfactorily. I began to have doubts that the TR was really and truly perfect, and I didn’t know if I could accept that fact.
Debates with my brother continued in 2001 and beyond. He challenged me to read an article by Will Combs on The Preservation of Scripture in the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary journal. He gave me some articles by Dan Wallace. All the arguments I had which seemed so persuasive to me, when used against my brother proved worthless. They fell to the ground. He brought up things I hadn’t considered. This wounded my pride, as I liked to be right. But I had to be honest with myself and continue to study more. I prayed sincerely for him as I feared he was moving away from God in part because of his new found Bible position.
I believe it was my senior year or maybe my Master’s year (M.A.) when D.A. Waite first came for a Bible seminar. I had high hopes that he would answer some of my questions. I respected him and thought he would have some answers for me, but already I had found his works a bit lacking when compared with Hills. I was disappointed. I should have known he would primarily focus on those not as versed in the debate as myself. And the questions I did approach him with were not fully addressed. I did receive a big stack of books from the seminar and so I dug in. For my Master’s course, I was writing a paper on any theological issue, and I chose the doctrine of Preservation. We had to read 750 pages or so for the paper, and I got every book I could think of and find on the topic. I read and read and read. Over 1500 pages worth. I read Waite, Cloud, Hills, Strouse, Pickering, Moorman, Van Bruggen, Sightler, and others on the KJV side. I read Will Combs, D.A. Carson, and Dan Wallace (I think) on the other side. These are just the ones I remember. I discussed all the passages in Scripture I could muster supporting preservation, and I wrote a polemic for why verbal preservation should be at least given a chance at being taught in these various passages.
After graduation and marriage, we moved out west to San Francisco and were under the ministry of Kent Brandenburg at Bethel Baptist Church. Brandenburg was finishing up his book on the King James debate which is primarily a Scriptural argument for perfect preservation. I was able to read the manuscript and eagerly ate it up. I had a few suggestions and questions. It was so far along I doubt they were able to be implemented, but this was the best work I had seen so far on the issue. I enjoyed the privilege of hearing expository preaching from someone who studied the Greek and Hebrew, for the first time in my life. He had an open door policy to ask questions about the message and learn. I did. From time to time I would bring up some of the few questions that were nagging me on the KJV issue, and I really wanted to accept the answers given. Sometimes the answer was “we have to do some more work on this”. And book #2 was promised to go into these particulars with more depth. I found the Latin support argument wasn’t preferred by Brandenburg. And another scholarly friend there sought to find Hebrew support for some of the issues Hills brought up. Translational freedom was espoused for why the TR had God, but the KJV Lord in some places in the NT.
In all of this it should be remembered that nagging questions were not really allowed to be dealt with in full. I was under lots of pressure to stay conformed to the positions of the church I was in. Both in college and out, I was an independent Baptist and a fundamentalist. We separated over doctrine and positions like these, and I had every reason in the book to just accept the position of the church and be content. At times I thought I had the answer to my question, and would convince myself all was well, but I had not really considered objectively the option that the correct position and the true answers would be found outside my theological grid. Another factor concerns the tendency to conclude that if one Greek or Hebrew manuscript had the KJV reading, then we were good. The answer is given, there is original language support. But this is just a small step from saying, well we don’t have any support at all, but we just assume it was there at some point, because after all, we don’t have the KJV translator’s notes — those were burned up in a fire. We may not have manuscripts today that they knew of then. This reasoning is not fair with the evidence and really is totally biased. But if the bias comes from an understanding of the Biblical teaching of preservation, who can question it?
The debates with my brother continued. And soon I was on the internet and found arguments there. I came across more articles by Combs and many by Doug Kutilek at kjvonly.com. When we moved to Minnesota, I was closer to my brother and was able to pursue my studies without as much scrutiny as I may have faced in California. I don’t really think it was a serious study prior to coming to Minnesota. It was more about getting answers and preparing myself for continued discussion with my brother. When we left California, we were still committed fundamentalists and KJV Only. We didn’t want to change. But God had other plans. As I mention in my story, I became filled with unease at our new church. And I think I came across more internet articles on fundamentalism and KJV Onlyism at this time. I was also figuring out my position on Calvinism at the time.
One article by Kutilek really helped me, it was his critique of Sorenson’s book, which I had by this time. He explained many of Sorenson’s errors, and gave a history of King James Onlyism which resonated with all that I had read, and experienced in my life in many fundamentalist churches. I was also exposed to Benjamin Wilkinson’s influence on King James Onlysim, which we’ll talk about on this blog at some point, I’m sure. And I agreed with Kutilek’s assessment that King James Onlyism is relatively new and started with a series of textual arguments for the superiority of the KJV, and later was codified by the position that the Bible teaches perfect preservation. It wasn’t a historic position held by God’s people down through the ages.
By now I was finally willing to admit that the evidence is true. I couldn’t explain it away; and so with E.F. Hills, I admitted that the TR and the KJV, as well as the Hebrew Masoretic Text had errors. Given that the KJV disagrees with the TR and the MT in places, any KJV Only person should be able to agree with this assessment. And when we resigned from our last independent fundamentalist church in January of 2005, I concluded my discussion of KJV Onlyism, in my resignation letter to the pastor, with these words:
In light of these errors and facts, I am not KJV only. I do at this time, however, prefer the KJV and lean toward the position that the TR is the best text available.
I continued to study however, and I obtained a copy of One Bible Only? Examining the Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible. This book pushed me over the edge. It was an excellent treatment of King James Onlyism from leaders intimately connected with the movement. The authors all taught at Central Baptist Seminary in Minneapolis a fundamentalist school, albeit not KJV Only. Kevin Bauder’s work was superb in the book. He shows how Scripture contradicts the KJV Onlyists tactics and beliefs. It’s the best single book on the topic in my opinion. We’ll review it on this blog in the future. I shouldn’t leave out the influence of articles by Dan Wallace either. He deals with the Majority Text position and shows how and why the textual evidence we have today does not support it.
So I soon picked up an ESV Bible and with caution began to read it. As a student of the King James, I figured I was not affected by its archaisms and old language. Boy was I wrong. The Bible came alive to me in the ESV. Many places had a new meaning to me as I was misled by the KJV language. I thought I understood the meaning expressed in 400 year old language structures, but often the true meaning of a passage was obscured. The ESV has proved a great blessing to me.
This issue is complex and I have Christian charity for those who haven’t made the journey I have. My journey freed me from exclusive allegiance to a 400 year old text, and it let me learn the wonder of objectivity. I don’t hold to a position because I have to. I hold my position because it’s what my conscience can agree is right. I hope our blog will help others find this freedom, and learn with us as we discuss this often thorny topic. If you stick around long enough, you’ll find there is ample Biblical support for our position, and many of the arguments for KJV Onlyism don’t hold up to scrutiny.