KJV Onlyism is hard to define. And like any grass roots movement, there are many competing manifestations of it. As a former, self-dubbed “KJV-onlyist” I will try to carefully put forth a definition. I know I’m going to say something wrong here and won’t please everyone, but I hope the end result is helpful for those new to the debate.
The KJV-only position holds that the only Bible an English speaking Christian should use is the King James Bible. While some KJV-only proponents bristle at the label viewing it as a derogatory term, most don’t hesitate to affirm it. In KJV-only circles, you cannot disavow the label. Rather, you qualify it.
Now, for study, some KJV-onlyists may allow the use of other translations. But for memorization, church preaching and teaching, and general reading, the KJV should be the only version of the Bible one uses.
Why the King James Bible?
Different KJV-onlyists will offer different answers to this question. These are some of the common arguments used by most KJV-onlyists.
The Better Text Argument — The KJV is the only widely used Bible exclusively based on the Textus Receptus Greek & Masoretic Hebrew Texts.
The Better Doctrine Argument — The differences between the KJV and other Bible versions are examined and the KJV’s readings preserve a superior doctrine and more of Jesus Christ’s divine titles.
The Conspiratorial Argument — The manuscripts that support the newer Greek text were only found recently and were found in areas like Egypt where false doctrine was prevalent.
The Historical Argument — The Reformers and Puritans used the KJV and it launched worldwide missions and the Great Awakenings.
The Better Manuscripts Argument — The manuscripts that support the text behind the KJV agree with one another closely, don’t show signs of textual corruption and represent the vast numerical superiority – 90% of the manuscripts.
The Better Translation Argument — The KJV translators were masters of English and knew Greek and Hebrew and multiple other languages far better than translators today, plus they used a literal translation technique instead of the dynamic or loose method in vogue today.
Groupings of KJV-Onlyists
I mentioned before that there are numerous manifestations of KJV-onlyism. Sometimes the different groups are treated like one entity. I want to be careful to distinguish terms and not broad-brush the entire movement by the crazy antics of Peter Ruckman or Gail Riplinger, for example.
Generic KJV Only Position — Most KJV Onlyists find themselves here. They haven’t thought out a more specific position, or just believe the KJV is the only Bible that should be used and leave it at that.
English is Inspired View — This view takes issue with anyone correcting the KJV English. Since the Bible seems to show translations of the OT as being treated like they were inspired, the English is treated like it is inspired. Some versions are more strict than others, but all bow to the KJV as the final authority before they would trust a lexicon or dictionary.
Double-Inspiration View — This view goes further and says the English corrects the Greek. In some sense the KJV was inspired directly by God. People with this view (and some of those in the previous view) would hold that translations of the Bible into other languages must be guided by the English of the KJV.
Pure Seed View — This idea comes from 1 Pet. 1:23-25 and basically claims that the use of the KJV is essential for people to be saved. No one can be saved from an impure seed (the NIV, for instance). Any of the first three positions above could hold to this view as well, but no one in the next three camps would.
TR Only View — This view holds the Greek and Hebrew as superior to the English, but also holds that they were word-perfectly preserved. The text behind the KJV usually is the text held to be the word-perfect copy of the original text. The word of God is “intact” in English, and while they would correct the sense of the KJV through scholarship and original language study, they still would not see this as any kind of overt error in the KJV. Few if any, TR-onlyists use the NKJV however.
Ecclesiastical Text — This view places greater stress on church confessions and the historic use of the Textus Receptus by the church of the Reformation period and afterward. Some in this view would hold to errors in either the TR or the KJV, and some would use the NKJV or 21st Century KJV.
Majority Text — This view should be distinguished from the previous views. Proponents of the Greek Majority Text may or may not use the KJV or NKJV. They hold to a textual theory of the superiority of the Byzantine view, but they acknowledge the merits of careful, believing scholarship and textual criticism. As the Majority Text as such didn’t exist prior to 1980, they don’t see adherence to that text as a binding matter of faith for all Christians.
King James Preferred — This view is held by some who see some weaknesses with the King James Only position, but still believe the TR is the best text we have or else use the King James primarily for traditional or other reasons.