Over a month ago, Erik posed the question: Does King James Onlyism come out of imperialism? over at the Fundamentally Changed blog. The discussion spilled out onto this site as well. My answer to that specific question was, “no.” I do not believe King James Onlyism is a result of imperialism. I have never found imperialistic tendencies within the arguments I’ve read supporting the KJVO position. However, I do believe that imperialism was a factor contributing to the rise of the King James Version (check out the links for the discussion).
Apparently, so did others. Even those who support the KJVO view chimed in at the comments section to give a nod to the idea that English imperialism aided the King James Version’s rise to prominence. Of course, none tried to justify the abuses of the imperialistic system nor everything that ensued during the height of the British Empire. However, the use of imperialism to spread the gospel, the Bible (particularly the KJV), and the modern missions movement was seen as a justifiable mean on the basis of the fact that God providentially used this situation for the furtherance of His cause.
Here’s what some of our King James Only commentators said about this:
Erik’s puerile argument could be easily turned on him as the Critical Text view was propogated at the zenith of the British Empire by the Anglican Establishment, I would not be so crass as to couple this incidental fact with the rise of imperialism. If anything, the RSV is tainted more with imperialism as it is the translation propagated by the imperialists. – PS Furgeson
If we believe that God is in charge and that history unfolds according to His sovereign will, then we are happy to see several points.
1. The Bible had an important place in English History: Alfred, Wycliffe, Tyndale, KJV.
2. God blessed England: the sinking of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the spread of British culture all over the world in the 18th and 19th centuries, which included the spread of the Bible.
3. The Bible spread to all the British colonies.
4. The Bible was preached to the world by British and American missionaries: China, India, and Africa.
5. The Sovereign God providentially used Great Britain to spread His Word all over the world—Praise the Lord!
6. We recognize God’s sovereignty, we see His providence, and we see that the King James Version was the Bible of this people. – Kent Brandenburg
In 1611 the English language was spoken by a mere 3% of the world’s population, but today English has become the closest thing to a universal language in history. He used the King James Bible to carry His words to the far ends of the earth, where it was translated into hundreds of languages by English and American missionaries for over 300 years. The sun never set on the British empire. It was even taken to space by American astronauts and read from there. God knew He would use England, its language and the King James Bible to accomplish all these things long before they happened. It is the only Bible God has providentially used in this way. It is the only Bible believed by thousands upon thousands of believers to be the inspired, infallible and 100% true words of God. – Will Kinney
I for one certainly recognise the perfection of the KJB and the greatness of the British Empire, and see a link between the two; I certainly argue for English to be used in missionary work and for people everywhere to eventually use the KJB; I certainly argue for a national view which is based on the KJB. However, I probably would not accept descriptions of my view as put forward by those who are not for it. – Bibleprotector
I interpret this as saying the English speaking people are not more specially important in the history and development of Christianity in the civilised world than any other language group. But, hasn’t the great modern push for cross-cultural evangelism since William Carey been largely born by the English-speaking peoples, as they took the Gospel (and the KJV as an integral part of that) to every corner of the globe, in the wake of English imperial ‘conquests’ ? – Edwin Clive
Now, I agree. History certainly is His Story. God is in sovereign control, and He uses all sorts of means to accomplish His ends. Of this there is no doubt. But the double standard that I see is this: how can we allow ourselves to think that God providentially uses some historical circumstances for good, when those circumstances involve evil, but not allow the same in other situations? I’m referring to the rise of Bible versions. The King James Onlyist is basically saying, “Yes, imperialism, and all its ills, were used of God for the rise of the King James Version.” But then he turns around and says, “(The means by which) the modern versions rose to popularity are evil, and therefore the modern versions are evil.”
What can we put in those parentheses?
Based on things I’ve heard (others may add more), I would include: the Enlightenment period (and post-Enlightenment thinking); an overzealous fondness of Alexandrian texts; unbelieving critical scholarship; an expensive marketing campaign; intellectualism.
So imperialism gives rise to the KJV and this proves God providentially wants the KJV to be the only acceptable Bible, but if an expensive marketing campaign gave rise to the NIV, that means the NIV is to be shunned. We can do this with other factors leading to the KJV’s rise:
Byzantine scriptoriums preserve much of the underlying text of the KJV. Despite monastic theology, practice and state-churchism, God used it and blessed the results. But a monastery on Mt. Sinai is used to preserve an ancient codex that sheds light on Bibles of old, and the resultant versions are henceforth to be rejected.
Despite more state-churchism and Anglican theology (which is not very compatible with a wide variety of King James Onlyists’ theological convictions), the translators of the KJV were used providentially and God blessed the King James. But, Westcott and Hort were Anglican, and many modern versions are ecumenical, so the they’re all evil.
I could go on. The question is, how do we determine which parts of history were used by God despite the errors contained therein and which parts automatically disqualify their products as a result of the errors contained therein? I submit that you cannot determine it biblically; you need a bias. If your bias is for the KJV, then every historical situation that helped give rise to the King James Version will be seen as a time in which God providentially moved despite that time period’s weaknesses and blessed the results. If you are anti-modern versions, you will disqualify them on the basis of these factors, despite the fact that many are more popular than the KJV at this time. Souls are getting saved by means of modern versions. Missionaries are still being sent out, but with modern versions in hand. So we see that the ends are good; the means aren’t always good. Who’s to say what the will of God is in this situation?
I do not think this standard makes or breaks the KJVO view. My only conclusion is to say this: the argument that the means necessarily disqualify a version because those means contained unbiblical problems should be thrown away in this debate. We do not know why God used imperialism to spread the gospel anymore than why He continues to use modern versions to accomplish the same end. We can only deal with what we have.