What’s the deal with these King James Onlyists?

If you spend any amount of time scrolling around the internet, you are bound to come across one of those controversial topics that leaves you scratching your head wondering just what the big deal really is. One of those issues is the “King James Onlyist”-movement, which just seems outlandish when it is considered with any true element of reason.

The argument that is proffered by the proponents of the KJO is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I’ll be honest, the KJV, the version I grew up with is a good translation, if you get one that has been given some modernization, taken some of the obsolete Elizabethan English words and swapped out for more modern English terms, but if you read an Old King James, prior to say 1960, some of those words will absolutely confuse modern English speakers.

The KJO’s then accuse people who are bewildered by that ancient form of English as “being lazy”, or “unspiritual”, pulling out any number of proof-texts that they have to take out of context to fit the conversation. They do that out of their own ignorance of both church history and good hermenuetic practice.

But let me go after one of their proof-texts in particular, on that every argument in support of King James Onlyism seems to be built, Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” I want to address this verse on two fronts: 1, that Jesus was not talking about any particular translation of his words; 2, exactly what he was talking about.

When someone tries to use this verse to defend their position on the KJV they immediately expose their ignorance, because while these words are preserved for this generation in the Greek, Jesus actually spoke in Aramaic. So if we are speaking about His words in particular then we all need to learn to speak and read ancient Aramaic. But let’s just look at history: the Romans tried to expunge the world of those early manuscripts and failed; the Muslims attempted the same; countless foes of God have tried to cut the roots of the Vine and have failed, because those word have survived for us to be able to read, so they have, in fact, done just as Jesus promised. So much so that those words have been translated into hundreds of languages and have changed countless lives. So we cannot assume that Jesus was speaking about any particular language translation. So, just what was he talking about?

If you practice a good hermenuetic regarding Scripture, you immediately notice that Jesus was referring to His return, His “Second Coming”. This verse can in no way be used to defend any particular translation because it is formulated as a promise, not of a particular translation, but of His word, which is the Word of God. To use this verse in any other way is deliberately twisting the Scripture, the very thing they accuse people who use a translation other than the KJV of doing. Looks like a case of “pot calling kettle ‘black'” to me.

Now, I’ll be honest, I am not a fan of some particular translations because the editors try to formulate the thoughts of what the writers were saying, rather than just translating the words and reconstructing it into coherent English. Some translations are victims of the editors’ unfortunate choice of words, the NIV and ESV sometimes fall into this and fail to do some footnoting to clarify some potential misunderstandings. Some “translations” are just bad paraphrases, and to call them anything else is an insult to the hard work that so many well-meaning scholars do to try to make God’s precious word more accessible to the rest of us.

So what am I saying here? Well, first, I’m not bashing the KJV; it is a wonderful work, but it has issues, namely its dated terminology and formulation of the English language that makes it difficult for modern readers to understand. Secondly, I’m not going to say that one translation is better than the other, every translation has its benefits and liabilities, the wise man immediately recognizes these and either accepts each translation for what it is, or he throws it all away rejecting everything. Are there too many translation? Maybe, but of all the Bible translations that I have read, I have never found, anywhere, that this was the exhaustive, complete translation for all time. That would be like trying to get an accurate count on the number of sands on the sea shore. Should we, both as believers and consumers, demand the best researched product? Absolutely, but we should never just accept what is handed to us and be told “it doesn’t get any better than this”, that is laziness and arrogance of the utmost extreme. We have too many great resources available now to ignore to make sure that people can understand what was being said then and how it ought to be applied now. But these King James Onlyists border on cultish behavior and make the body of Christ a laughing stock, and as Paul wrote to his young disciple in his final letter, “…shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase to more ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16).”



    • I agree that the NIV has issues, a lot of them aside from its “gender neutralism”. A lot of the modern translations have issues because the editors choose words that have a “loaded” context before they are put into the reading.

  1. […] Neil clearly needs to follow my blog, as well as people like Dr. James R. White, Dr. Michael Brown, Dr. Michael Heiser, because that’s all that we deal with are tough questions. I have an entire series on hard questions. Now, I will admit that there is a rather sizable portion of those in the faith who have some really simplistic views about matters that really don’t think through such matters (King James Onlyists for example).  […]

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