Is It Possible to Be King James Only and Not Be Militant about It?

Over on my primary blog, I posted today about Dr. Kevin Bauder’s eight characteristics of hyper-fundamentalism. One of those characteristics is adopting “a militant stance regarding some extrabiblical or even antibiblical teaching“. Bauder then mentions the King James Only question as an example of this. He concludes that characteristic with: “When individuals become militant over such nonbiblical teachings, they cross the line into hyper-fundamentalism.”

I completely agree with Dr. Bauder, that it is militancy over a nonbiblical teaching which is the sticking point. A commenter on my blog mentioned that he felt Bauder was just trying to paint all King James Onlyists as hyper-fundamentalists. I countered with this: “He specifically mentions being militant over a non-biblical position. So people who prefer the KJV, even with strong convictions, who nevertheless remain non-militant in their stance on that question and who don’t make one’s view of the KJV as a mark of being a legitimate fundamentalist or not (the 6th characteristic), they would not be hyper-fundamentalist. I know several who are KJV only who would probably not be hyper-fundamentalist.”

My question to the readers here is, “Do you agree? Can one be King James Only and not be militant about it?” Certainly one can question the prevailing assumptions of textual criticism and not be militant, but can one be KJV only and be cognizant of the fact that it is a sticky issue and others don’t agree for valid-sounding reasons?

Kevin Bauder Celebrates the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible

Kevin Bauder, who is no friend of King James Onlyism, nevertheless explains why he thinks the King James Bible is the best available translation and the one he chooses to use. His thoughts on the King James Bible are shared in light of the 400th anniversary of the publishing of the King James Bible this year. I have excerpted his thoughts below, but encourage you to read the whole thing over at Sharper Iron. There are some interesting thoughts shared on the subject in the comments there too, which may be of interest to our readers.

The clarity of a translation is important—especially for Holy Scripture. Clarity, however, must not be reduced to mere “readability.” If the tradeoff for clarity is a significant loss of precision, then the price may well be too high. We should not feel obligated to make the Scriptures more clear than God Himself did.

The translator helps nothing when he attempts to resolve vagueness or ambiguity by making interpretive decisions for the reader. To assert that “God says” is miles away from humbly suggesting that, “I think this means….” Translators necessarily do the former, which means that they must resist the temptation to insert the latter.

The King James Version strikes a very good balance between accuracy and clarity. In spite of occasional failures (largely enforced by King James’s own dictates), the translation is remarkable both for its precision and for its intelligibility. Anyone who can understand Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book can understand the text of the King James Version.

The translators of the King James Version went beyond balance, however. What they produced is not merely a good translation. Their work is critically regarded as one of the great literary masterpieces of the English language. By translating at a high literary level, they have followed biblical writers such as Asaph and Isaiah, who were themselves masters of literary excellence. The glories of the Psalms and Prophets must not be lost to abecedarian translational technique. In the King James Version, they are not lost. Indeed, the cadences and locutions of the King James Version have seeped deeply into the heart of the English-speaking world.

Translations should reflect the literary level of the original text, and even the Greek of the New Testament was not really ordinary speech. It was not the Greek that one would hear in the shambles or even that one can read in the papyri. It was more formal, and at times it was crafted carefully according to literary considerations (the writer to the Hebrews is a master of literary technique).

Some are bothered by archaisms in the text of the King James Version. They need not be. Most of those archaisms are fairly easy to decipher. By performing that task, contemporary readers are imitating the original readers of many biblical documents. What is more, the archaisms serve a valuable purpose. They teach us that Scripture did not just come into being yesterday. They underline the truth that Scripture provides enduring answers to permanent questions. The Bible is not a book to be perused for momentary amusement, but one to be studied for life.

In the case of truly obsolete language, the King James Version can and should be updated. It has been before. It can be again. The work should be undertaken with reverence, not merely for the content of what is revealed, but for the locutions of the King James Version itself. No more should be changed than is really necessary. The people who would perform this task would place all readers of English in their debt.

It will never happen. The New King James Version fails by making changes that are unnecessary and sometimes banal. It is the worst of all possible worlds. No other translation, however, is likely to do better. The problem is that a version incorporating only necessary changes could never obtain an exclusive copyright. No publisher could hold exclusive rights to it. With no large sums to be made from a gentle revision, the printing houses will distribute and the pious will receive only a continuing stream of translations du jour.

Therein lies the real problem with the proliferation of modern translations. Few of them are objectionable in their own right. Most of them contribute something, and most are worthy of being consulted by readers who cannot understand the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. In the multiplication of translations, however, today’s Christians have lost significant intelligibility in sharing the Scriptures with one another.

Worse, the comparison of versions has made the Word of God into a consumer commodity. In order to attract the purchasing public, every new translation, paraphrase, and amplification has to have its own signature features. Its publisher must convince readers of the in-sufficiency of all previous versions. The purchase of a Bible becomes akin to the selection of a designer tie or perfume. One chooses a version like one chooses a flavor of soda. How can the transitory nature of modern versions not cast aspersion upon the enduring nature of God’s Word, and, consequently, of His character?

In sum, a good version of the Bible will be accurate, but it will not oversimplify. It will choose elevated language because it aims to shape feeling as well as thinking. It should be widely used and readily shared. It must leave the reader with the impression that the book wasn’t just written yesterday. It ought to be just a bit archaic.

In my opinion, the King James Version is the only translation of Holy Scripture into English that meets these criteria. It is not just a good version, it is a great one. It is both a great translation and a great work of literature. For me, the use of the King James Version is not simply a matter of nostalgia or sentimentality. It is unsurpassed for use in the corporate church setting, and it is as good as any for private devotional reading.

If others think differently, then they may use any faithful version without offending me. If I am preaching in their church, I will honor the church’s choice of Bible. At one level, it is a joy to have many good versions at our beck and call. All the same, I wonder how many of those versions will be celebrated four hundred years from now.

Don’t forget to read Bauder’s entire piece: “Four Hundred Years”.

The Theological Illusions of King James Onlyism by Kevin Bauder (part 4)

One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible may just be the best book on the King James Only debate, period. The posts in this series are tracing the arguments of Kevin Bauder, in his conclusion to the book: “An Appeal to Scripture”. He explains several theological arguments that KJV Onlyists resort to, in an effort to continue propagating their belief against a mass of contrary evidence. Bauder shows that these arguments are really illusions that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Part 1 set the stage, and part 2 dealt with “the appeal to faith”. Part 3, covered “the appeal to reason”. Now we’re picking it back up at “the appeal to evidence”.

For this argument, I’m going to quote Kevin Bauder at length and then chime in some of my own thoughts.

The third illusion that attends the King James-Only position involves the evaluation of the actual evidence. King James-Only advocates are extremely reluctant to allow the empirical evidence to stand on its own merits. On the one hand, they are fond of insisting that “the majority rules” in textual matters. On the other hand, they are very careful about what they allow to count as a majority. For example, if all manuscripts of the ancient translations of the New Testament are counted, then manuscripts that support the Textus Receptus form a distinct minority. Moreover, according to the actual manuscript evidence, the manuscripts that support the Textus Receptus are not in the majority even of Greek manuscripts until the fourth century or even later. If the theory that “the majority rules” is correct, then the next two questions are, Majority of what? and, Majority from when?

The King James-Only movement can survive only by deploying a highly prejudicial definition of the word majority. Its defenders insist that very late Greek manuscripts be included in this majority but that very early translations be excluded from it. They revise history to explain the paucity of manuscripts that support the Textus Receptus before the fourth century. In fact, historical revisionism is a mainstay of the King James-Only argument. Their carefully reworked history is filled with heretics who deliberately miscopied the Scriptures; churches that rejected Alexandrian manuscripts; ecumenical councils that endorsed the Byzantine tradition; secret plots of Jesuits, Masons, Nazis, and Communists; and a variety of other irresponsible speculations, none of which can be shown to have happened. (pg. 160)

I’ve previously made similar points about the nebulous idea of “majority”. In my Majority Rules: Fact or Fiction? series I delved into this. Also, the Greek support for the TR wasn’t really a majority of manuscripts until the 9th Century, per James White.

The impression I got in my experience of King James Onlyism was that the “evidence” and the role of “the majority of manuscripts” was quite important. That is what made the whole theory appeal to me as solid. When I found out that often King James Onlyists manipulated the evidence to suit their cause, I started down the disillusionment path.

The Theological Illusions of King James Onlyism by Kevin Bauder (part 3)

One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible may just be the best book on the King James Only debate, period. The posts in this series are tracing the arguments of Kevin Bauder, in his conclusion to the book: “An Appeal to Scripture”. He explains several theological arguments that KJV Onlyists resort to, in an effort to continue propagating their belief against a mass of contrary evidence. Bauder shows that these arguments are really illusions that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Part 1 set the stage, and part 2 dealt with “the appeal to faith”. Now in part 3, we come to “the appeal to reason”.

Bauder has in mind a specific argument that KJV Onlyists use in relation to preservation. They claim that “verbal inspiration… is useless unless it is followed by exactness in verbal preservation”. I have seen KJV Only materials which claim that verbal preservation (also known as perfect preservation), is a direct corollary of verbal inspiration. Bauder is quick to affirm verbal inspiration, but does not affirm perfect preservation. “While this argument from reason sounds plausible at first hearing,” he says, “it actually runs counter to God’s dealings in Scripture.” (pg. 158)

Bauder makes the case that this demand that perfect inspiration requires perfect preservation does not stand up to Scripture itself. First, he shows that not all of God’s spoken words were recorded in Scripture. Pre-flood instructions on sacrifices, the seven thunders of Revelation (Rev. 10:1-4), and Jesus’ words that aren’t recorded in Scripture (John 21:25) all are evidence that perfect words of God can be given and yet not preserved.

Bauder’s second line of argumentation here deals with the written words of Scripture comparing the actual record we have in Scripture with the KJV Onlyists requirement of perfect preservation. Bauder finds that the testimony of Scripture doesn’t support perfect preservation. His thoughts are worth repeating at length.

Even with regard to written words, it is demonstrably true that when someone’s spoken words were later recorded in Scripture, the “exact” words spoken were not necessarily the very words that were used in Scripture. For example, when the Gospel writers recorded words that Jesus had spoken during His lifetime, these authors, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, recorded the essence of Jesus’ words, not His exact words. This observation must be true because the recounting of Jesus’ words by the Gospel writers do not exactly agree (compare, for example, Matt. 13:1-13 with Mark 4:1-13 word for word). We affirm wholeheartedly that the Gospel writers were accurately employing the exact words that God wanted them to use to record Jesus’ speech under the perfect, supervisory ministry of the Holy Spirit. However, we also know that the Holy Spirit intended for these writers to record the essence of Jesus’ speech, not His exact words, for that is what they did. Also, remember that Jesus and His disciples frequently quoted the Old Testament (OT) in other than exact words. They sometimes quoted the Septuagint, the Masoretic text, a free rendition, or a combination thereof. In God’s method of propagating truth, it is apparent from the text of Scripture itself that He allowed some degree of latitude for the accurate and authoritative communication of that truth apart from the perfect preservation of all of the exact words in one particular place; and this latitude is observable even under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (pt. 159, bold emphasis mine)

He then gave one final example from Scripture. “In one case,” he said, “the entire written revelation of God survived in a single manuscript that was hidden from public view (2 Kings 22:8; 2 Chron. 34:15).”

From this, Bauder makes the following conclusion about “the appeal to reason”:

…In all of the cases enumerated herein, God gave specific, verbal revelation, but He did not necessarily see fit to preserve all of the words and exactly the words in a publicly accessible form. The doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy (which are absolute truths) and the King James-Only proponents’ postulate of perfect preservation (which is dubious speculation) are certainly not inextricable corollaries.

All parties to this debate acknowledge that God has superintended the choice of the precise words that would be used to communicate His truth. To accept this fact, however, is not to concede that God is obligated to preserve every word through which His truth has been revealed. He might preserve some words and He might permit some to be lost, depending upon His own purpose. The appeal to reason is not a sufficient ground for the King James-Only argument.

What Bauder has done here is extremely important, in my view. He goes to Scripture itself to see how important the preservation of the specific wording of a text is. When one can see parallel accounts in the OT and NT which do not line up perfectly in word order and precise wording, and when one sees quotations of other texts which are not word perfect, why shouldn’t one conclude that a certain latitude is permissible here, that minor variations among translations of Scripture do not affect their authority?

The Theological Illusions of King James Onlyism by Kevin Bauder (part 2)

One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible may just be the best book on the King James Only debate, period.  The posts in this series are tracing the arguments of one of the editors, Kevin Bauder, in his conclusion to the book: “An Appeal to Scripture”.  Bauder explains several theological arguments that KJV Onlyists resort to, in an effort to continue propagating their belief against a mass of contrary evidence.  Bauder illustrates how these arguments really are illusions that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Part 1 set the stage, and now we get to the first of the theological arguments for KJV Onlyism.

The first illusion is the appeal to faith. According to its leading defenders, the King James-Only movement is fundamentally a “faith position.” Genuine, biblical faith, however, must rest in the promise of God. To be believed, the promise of God must be clearly revealed in the pages of Scripture itself. The question is not whether the Bible contains a promise that God will preserve His Word. King James-Only advocates go much further. They insist that God has preserved His words and preserved them exactly in a singular, identifiable, and accessible form. So the question is whether the Bible contains a promise that God will preserve, word for word, the text of the original documents of Scripture in a particular manuscript, textual tradition, printed text, or version. As this book has shown, the Bible contains no promise whatsoever that includes the preservation of all the words of the autographa (without addition or deletion) in a single, publicly accessible source. Without such a promise, the appeal to faith does not rest in the promise of God, but in the untestable and unverifiable speculation of the King James-Only advocates themselves. Until they can produce a Scripture that (properly and contextually understood) does promise all that they assert, they have no legitimate right to appeal to faith.

(Bolded emphasis mine. Excerpted from pg. 158, One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible, edited by Roy Beacham and Kevin Bauder; Kregel Publications: Grand Rapids, 2001.)

?This is the rub in my opinion.  The various texts that apply to a doctrine of preservation, do not make the explicit claim that all the words of Scripture will be preserved in an accessible form.  For at least 1500 years, most KJV Onlyists allow that the words of Scripture weren’t together in a printed text or version that is accessible too.  Especially when one considers what E.F. Hills points out that several of the TR passages are preserved in the Latin language texts rather than the Greek language texts, and the New Testament was purified when the two streams were brought together.

The Theological Illusions of King James Onlyism by Kevin Bauder (part 1)

For the last several years, I have considered One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible to be the best book on the King James Only debate, period.  Kevin Bauder and Roy Beacham, the editors, are fundamentalists.  All the authors were professors at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, a fundamentalist institution.  They understand the issue from the inside out.  Their circles have been most affected by KJV Onlyism and so their book is extremely helpful.

Perhaps the best chapter in the book, is Kevin Bauder’s conclusion: “An Appeal to Scripture”.  It is full of so many excellent quotes that I plan to share bits and pieces from the chapter over a series of posts.  Of course, you need to get the book to get the full effect, but I hope this whets your appetite for the real thing.

Bauder sets the stage for his discussion of KJV-Onlyists’ appeal to scripture by presenting the quandry that King James onlyists face.

If the preservation of the Word of God depends upon the exact preservation of the words of the original documents, then the situation is dire.  No two manuscripts… [no] two editions of the Masoretic Text… [no] two editions of the Textus Receptus… [no] two modifications of the King James Version contain exactly the same words, and the Bible nowhere tells us which edition, if any, does contain the exact words of the originals.  These are not speculations; these are plain facts.

Confronted with these facts, King James-Only advocates are faced with one of two choices.  Either they may specify, a priori and without biblical evidence, a single manuscript or edition of the Bible in which the exact words are preserved, or they may begin to qualify their insistence upon exact preservation….

If they are pressed, they will admit that they do not have all the words and only the words of the original in a single place.  Instead, they will point out how similar most of the manuscripts are…. most King James-Only advocates are eventually willing to admit the possibility of an acceptable range of variation.

These King James-Only proponents, therefore, wish to have it both ways.  They insist upon condemning the Ben-Asher Hebrew text, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, the contemporary eclectic Greek texts, and the New American Standard Bible because they only contain some (not all) of the words of God.  But they are willing to accept differences in the various editions of the Ben-Chayyim Hebrew text, of the Textus Receptus in Greek, and of the King James Version in English, even though no more than one edition of one of these documents can conceivably contain all of the words and only the words of God….

In other words, if the King James-Only advocates were candid, most of them would have to admit to holding precisely the same theory of those whom they oppose.  They would have to admit that the whole debate is merely an academic quibble over the percentage of acceptable variation.  …they would have to admit that their preference was based on a difference of degree and not a difference of kind.

Of course, such an admission would be fatal to the King James-Only movement.  If its leaders were so candid, people would recognize that the whole debate amounts to a cyclone in a coffee cup….  The movement survives, but only by clouding the issues and distracting people from the main point.  It protects itself with an elaborate structure of theological illusions.

(Bolded emphasis mine. Excerpted from pg. 155-158, One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible, edited by Roy Beacham and Kevin Bauder; Kregel Publications: Grand Rapids, 2001.)