The King James Only Controversy
The King James Only controversy, like most controversies, has most extreme, as well as more moderate factions. On its most extreme end are those who insist that the King James Version of the Bible is a divinely inspired translation. These radical proponents of "King James Onlyism" denounce all other translations as demonically inspired attempts to alter the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith. On the more moderate end of the King James Only controversy are those who insist that the King James translation is the most accurate, which, according to them, makes all other translations inferior, not to mention unreliable. The place in the middle where the two ends of this controversy meet is in both’s insistence that the King James Version of the Bible should be the exclusive translation adopted by all English-speaking people. In other words, it should be read to the exclusion of all other translations, which are at best deficient and at worst demonic.
Let’s begin our consideration of this controversy by clearly stating a cardinal doctrine of the Christian Faith. The Bible is the divinely inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. Its authors were divinely inspired by God’s infallible Spirit to pen the original manuscripts without error.
Unlike the authors of Scripture, Bible translators are not divinely inspired. While all accurate translations of the Bible may be considered the divinely inspired Word of God, none are divinely inspired translations. Instead, they are simply translations of God’s divinely inspired Word from its original languages into other languages.
Although translators go to great lengths to meticulously assure the accuracy of their important work, they are not carried along by God’s infallible Spirit to produce faultless translations. Now, this fact should not foster in us any undue consternation over whether or not the meaning of the original manuscripts has been miraculously preserved in present-day translations. As we’ve clearly shown in this volume, there is ample evidence to prove that God’s unseen hand has supernaturally preserved His inspired Word throughout history.
Contrary to the radical advocates of today’s “King James Onlyism,” the King James translators never imagined preposterously proposing that their translation of the Bible was the divinely inspired English translation. In fact, the King James translators recognized the value of other English translations, even employing them as aids in their own translation. In the preface to the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, the translators actually expressed their hope for additional future translations. They argued, contrary to present-day King James Only proponents, that more translations would help rather than hurt the serious student of Scripture, enabling him or her to come to a better understanding of the Bible.
King James Only advocates employ a most specious tactic in their argument against modern translations of the Bible. They carefully cherry-pick select verses from modern translations to compare with the King James translation. By doing so they are able to insinuate that modern translators are guilty of nefarious intent; namely, twisting the Scriptures to conceal cardinal doctrines of the Christian Faith.
Gail Riplinger, whose book, New Age Bible Versions, renounces every English translation of the Bible apart from the King James Version as cultic rather than Christian, claims she discovered the diabolical design of modern translators at a campus Bible study. According to Ms. Riplinger, she was aghast when a counselor read Isaiah 26:3 to a distraught young woman from the New American Standard Bible. “The NASB’s sword was sheathed,” Riplinger claims, “hiding the key words ‘on thee’” from the verse.
In the King James Version of the Bible, Isaiah 26:3 reads: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.” This same verse in the New American Standard Bible, according to Gail Riplinger, reads: “The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace.” Aha! Riplinger exclaims, a perfect example of a modern translation twisting the Scripture to conceal a fundamental truth, namely, that “perfect peace” comes from faith in God.
A casual glance at Gail Riplinger’s book may lead one to the presumption that it is a sincere attempt to defend Biblical truths against diabolical modern-day translators. A closer examination, however, will expose Ms. Riplinger’s book as a piece of shoddy research and her charges against modern-day translators as specious. For instance, Isaiah 26:3 in the New American Standard Bible actually reads: “The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in Thee.” Notice, Riplinger conveniently ended the verse with a period after “peace.” She omitted the key words: “Because he trusts in Thee.” Furthermore, she fails to mention that the “on thee” in the King James Version of the Bible is italicized by the translators, which means it is not in the Hebrew text, but was added by the translators for clarity.
The charge most often leveled against modern translations by King James Only proponents is that they deny the deity of Jesus Christ. This condemnation of modern translations is made, as we’ve already pointed out, by employing a most specious tactic. King James Only proponents cherry-pick a verse for comparison between the King James translation and a modern translation in which the deity of Christ is clearly stated in the former but left ambiguous in the latter. Let’s look at a prime example.
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 KJV)
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 RSV)
“Aha!” shouts the King James Only proponent. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible denies the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Whereas the King James Version clearly teaches it, the diabolical Revised Standard Version downright denies it.
I’ll be the first to say that the Revised Standard Version does a poor job translating Isaiah 7:14. The Hebrew word translated by the King James translators as “virgin” can also be translated as “young woman.” The Revised Standard Version translators opted for “young woman” rather than “virgin,” despite the fact that “virgin” is obviously the correct translation. After all, a pregnant “young woman” is nothing unusual, but a pregnant “virgin” is definitely a miraculous “sign” from God. The Prophet Isaiah is undoubtedly predicting in this verse the miraculous conception and virgin birth of Israel’s promised Messiah.
Although the King James translators got it right and the Revised Standard translators definitely got it wrong, does this prove, as King James Only proponents allege, that the Revised Standard translators intentionally mistranslated the verse in order to deliberately deny the virgin birth and deity of Jesus Christ? To answer this important question, let’s consider another passage of Scripture from the Revised Standard Version.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:18-23 RSV)
Obviously, this passage from the Revised Standard Version clearly teaches both the virgin birth and deity of Jesus Christ. If, as King James Only proponents contend, modern translations, like the Revised Standard Version, deny Christ’s deity and virgin birth, why do they only do so in select verses? Why deny it in one place only to clearly declare it in another? The answer is quite evident; differences in modern-day translations and the 1611 King James Version of the Bible are merely differences in translation. They do not serve as convicting evidence of nefarious intent on the part of modern-day translators, who are proven thereby to be deliberately and diabolically denying the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
King James Only proponents are apparently ignorant of the fact that their specious tactic of cherry-picked verses can be used in reverse against their beloved King James Version of the Bible. There are verses in modern translations that can be compared to corresponding verses in the King James translation in which the deity and Lordship of Jesus Christ are clearly asserted in the former but left ambiguous in the latter. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. (John 1:18 NIV)
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:18 KJV)
Notice, in the New International Version’s translation of John 1:18, the deity of Christ is clearly proclaimed. He is “God the only Son.” However, the King James Version is ambiguous on this point, merely testifying that Christ is “the only begotten Son.” Unlike the New International Version, the King James Version does not clearly declare the deity of Christ in this verse.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. (1 Peter 3:15 KJV)
Notice, in this verse the New International Version of the Bible clearly states that Jesus Christ is “Lord.” On the other hand, the King James version does not.
What are we to conclude from the comparison of these two verses, John 1:18 and 1 Peter 3:15, between the New International Version and the King James Version of the Bible? Are we to conclude that the King James Version denies the deity and Lordship of Jesus Christ? Is it a “New Age Bible Version”? Is it of the devil? Of course not! To come to such an unsubstantiated assumption and to advocate such a thing on the basis of such trumped-up evidence would be absolutely absurd.
The King James Version of the Bible plainly teaches Christ’s deity and Lordship in many places throughout its pages; likewise, so do modern translations. In fact, every modern translation accused by King James Only advocates of denying Christ’s deity and Lordship in a particular verse can be refuted by other verses found within its pages that plainly proclaim both.
Before concluding our brief consideration of the King James Only controversy, let’s look at another artificial argument sometimes proffered by King James Only proponents against modern translations. Some actually argue that new translations of the Bible violate the Scriptural prohibition against adding to or taking from God’s Word.1 If this is so, then all translations, including the King James translation, must be condemned as equally guilty. The translating of Scripture must be outlawed altogether and the Bible read in its original languages only, which would necessitate that all students of Scripture become fluent in Hebrew and Greek, not to mention a little Aramaic.
To translate the Greek word “mammonas” in Matthew 6:24 into our modern word “money” rather than the King James Version’s Old English word “mammon,” does absolutely nothing to add to or take away from God’s Word. It merely helps today’s English-speaking people to better understand the words of our Savior. It certainly does no violence to the Scripture.
How can making what the Bible says understandable to people in their own language—the lofty aim of Bible translators—be a distortion of God’s Word, as some King James Only advocates appear to argue? Truly, this is another absurd argument made against modern translations by King James Only proponents who have nothing but absurdities to prop up their preposterous proposition that the King James Version of the Bible should be the exclusive translation adopted by all English-speaking people.
1 Revelation 22:18-19