Is the KJV the Only True Bible Version?

by Ethan R. Longhenry
via De Vibro Vitae

There has been some discussion in the world today, even in the church, that there is one Bible version which is the only true version, the Authorized or King James Version. Is this so? How can we determine which Bible version is better, if any? Let us explore this issue.

History

The King James Version is a translation authorized by King James I of England in the beginning of the seventeenth century. Before this point, many different translations of the Bible had come out in England, and many of these translations were not very reliable. Therefore, the King commissioned Hebrew and Greek scholars to translate the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible for a new, authorized translation. This corpus was designated the Authorized Version in 1611.

The Greek text used to translate the New Testament in the King James Version was the Textus Receptus (from now on, TR), or the "Received Text." The name TR comes from a later advertisement for the text. It was composed by Desiderius Erasmus, a Catholic humanist of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, in his attempt to make a new, reliable Greek text. He consulted five or six Greek texts that he could find, none of which dated any earlier than the twelfth century. 1 John 5:7 (discussed later) and most of Revelation he translated from the Latin Vulgate for his Greek text, due to conflict with the former and the lack of a manuscript for the latter. There is no hint of divine inspiration from either the author of the TR nor the translators of the KJV.

The KJV was the sole English translation of the Bible for over 250 years. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, however, scholars were able to locate (thanks to the growing fields of archaeology and a revived interest in ancient history) older texts of the New Testament from that which Erasmus used for the TR. The most famous, but not the only, such discoveries were made by Tischendorff and Wescott and Hort, who found the Codex Sinaiticus [aleph], Codex Vaticanus [B], and some other older manuscripts; later archaeological discoveries would feature even older papyri fragments of the New Testament. These older manuscripts, while mostly consistent with the text of the TR, did feature many differences (called "variants") from what was seen in the TR and other later manuscripts. The work of analyzing such differences is known as textual criticism; most text-critical scholars affirm that the consensus readings from older manuscripts generally more faithfully represent the original New Testament reading than those from later manuscripts. Most new translations are made on the basis of two Greek texts: the Nestle-Aland 27th edition (NA27) and the United Bible Societies' 4th edition (UBS4), which are "eclectic" texts following the best readings as ascertained from the compilation of all manuscripts. The legitimacy of this textual critical approach and the fruit of that labor is what is under question by those who affirm KJV onlyism.

The Premise of KJV Onlyism

The belief that the King James Version is the only version of the Bible that should be used is known as KJV onlyism. There are about four varieties of this belief:

  1. "I prefer the KJV:" The KJV is the version that some prefer over the others, because of the language it uses or its universality. There is no real problem with this belief since it does not mean that other versions are not as good, but that they have a personal preference for the KJV. People should, by all means, use whatever Bible they find is best for their purposes.
  2. "Superior Text:" Some believe that the texts used to create the KJV, the TR and Hebrew texts, are closer to the Apostolic texts than the ones found later. This argument does not really hold water when the evidence is examined, since it is generally clear that corruptions, albeit few, did enter the text over time.
  3. "The Inspired TR:" These individuals believe that Erasmus' TR is an inspired text, and by that reasoning, is the best and only text to translate from. This belief cannot be tested with textual criticism since it is based on a subjective, unprovable claim.
  4. "The Inspired KJV:" This group, true KJV Onlyism, believes that the translators of the KJV were inspired, and that it IS the Word of God.

The foundational attitude and approach of KJV Onlyism is that the King James Version, be it due to the texts from which it was translated or because of the text itself, is the standard by which the other translations and versions should be judged. I hope that we will see that this approach is fallacious due to its circular logic: the King James Version is the standard, and since other versions show variations, hence, the KJV is the only correct version. To refute this, we will
hopefully see that:

  1. The TR and the KJV are part of a line of translations made in the spirit of textual criticism, with their authors attempting to make the most reliable text possible;
  2. The translators of the TR and KJV did not believe themselves to be inspired, did not set out to write inspired writings, but just tried to make the best texts that they could with the materials they had;
  3. That the translators of the TR and KJV would heartily endorse the progress made in the past 150 years in the field of New Testament textual criticism, and would use the texts we use today.

KJV Onlyism is Not New

The theory of KJV onlyism is not something peculiar to this day and age. Ever since the philosophy of textual criticism was applied to the Bible, there have been opponents of such changes.

From the time of Christ until the beginning of the fifth century CE, the Septuagint, or LXX, was the translation of the Old Testament. After all, Christ and the Apostles used it, so why should change be necessary?

In the beginning of the fifth century, however, Jerome made a new translation of the Old Testament into Latin. He based his translation not on the LXX but on the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament that he was able to find in Bethlehem. This action of his caused a stir; Augustine, the bishop of Hippo Regius in Carthage, noted for his Confessions, wrote to Jerome thus:

My only reason for objecting to the public reading of your translation from the Hebrew in our churches was, lest, bringing forward anything which was, as it were, new and opposed to the authority of the Septuagint version, we should trouble by serious cause of offense the flocks of Christ, whose ears and hearts have become accustomed to listen to that version to which the seal of approbation was given by the apostles themselves. Letter LXXXII

Hence, the main argument against using the Hebrew texts, which were actually the words of God and His prophets, was that it went against the authority of the Greek Septuagint, used by Christ and His Apostles.

Now we go to the world of the Renaissance, the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries CE. Jerome's Latin Vulgate is now THE Bible, the only version endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church. Our friend, the German Desiderius Erasmus, is developing his Greek text which would later be known as the Textus Receptus, or the TR. When he publishes it, he receives a firestorm of opposition. Why? Because he dared to make a text of the Bible in the language of the heretical church, the Greek of the Eastern Orthodox, and he dared to challenge the Latin of Jerome's Vulgate! Many theologians of the time, Johann Eck, Edward Lee, and others, greatly challenged Erasmus for "altering" the Word of God!

Therefore, today we have a group of individuals condemning modern Bible translations for "altering" the Word of God, which they believe is the KJV, which comes from the TR, which was condemned in the sixteenth century for "altering" the Word of God, which was believed to be the Latin Vulgate of Jerome, which was condemned in the fifth century because it "altered" the Word of God, the Septuagint, the Greek text which Christ and the Apostles used. Hence, the KJV Onlyism group is deep in hypocrisy. Either they need to use the Septuagint, since it is the only version whose authority was not challenged, or they can accept the fact that textual criticism allows us to constantly develop a more accurate translation of the Bible.

Erasmus and His Purpose with the TR

As we have seen, the KJV only camp wishes to make the KJV the standard, disregarding any Greek or Hebrew text other than the TR or even to dismiss them all out right. Was this the attitude taken by the compiler of the Greek text used to translate the KJV, the TR?

Not at all. Desiderius Erasmus was one in a line of many textual critics of the Bible, stretching back to Jerome and onwards to our scholars today. He did not consider his work to be anything more than the closest text to the original Greek that he had at his disposal.

Many KJV only advocates say that we should not have to know Greek to be able to understand the Bible. This same kind of attitude was seen in Erasmus' day, when he was challenged by an individual named Jacobus Latomus, who wondered why a theologian would need to know three languages [at that time, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin] in order to be a
scholar. To this Erasmus replied,

With the help of Greek…many passages in the Vulgate have been restored that before were corrupt; many passages have been clarified that before were misinterpreted by commentators of great renown; much light has been shed on passages that before were covered by a cloud of ambiguity. LB IX 85E

This along with other quotes by Erasmus demonstrate his confidence in the Greek texts. He would have said this same quote above about his own TR had he the texts that we have today.

Other arguments that come from KJV onlyism were also brought to Erasmus. One opposed to Erasmus, Dorp, contended that it was not reasonable for the Church to be in error for over 1,100 years because of some errors in the Latin Vulgate; so too the KJV only camp says that it is unreasonable to say that the KJV 1611 could have errors for 250 years.
Erasmus' response is the same as what we say today: what will you do with the errors of the copyists?

More from Erasmus:

Granted that the Greek books are just as corrupt as the Latin ones, yet by collating manuscripts that are equally corrupt one can often discover the true reading, for it frequently happens that what has been corrupted by
chance in one is found intact in another. Capita Contra morosos 69

Now granted that the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts are as corrupt as ours, does it follow that we are deprived of any hope of ever emending what is found to be corrupted in our manuscripts? Does it not happen frequently that from several faulty manuscripts– though not faulty in the same way– the true and genuine reading is found? LB IX 88C-D

These quotes from Erasmus should demonstrate sufficiently that the same arguments presented against Erasmus are now used against modern translations, and both Erasmus and modern translators refute these arguments with similar approaches. Yet the KJV only camp accepts the translation of the text made by Erasmus, yet would reject those translations of better Greek texts today. The hypocrisy continues.

The Purpose of the KJV

The KJV only advocates claim that the KJV is the best translation, the first translation in English, and in some extremes, inerrant. Was this the intent of the original translators of the text?

Not at all. The translators were mere men and realized their shortcomings. Upon examination of the individuals and their work, many of the myths perpetuated by the KJV onlyism camp are refuted.

The translators of the text were learned scholars from the best universities in England. They were all Anglicans, the same as Wescott and Hort [hence, if Westcott and Hort are heretics, so too must be those who translated the KJV]. They were given guidelines by which to work, of which are notable:

The ordinary Bible read in church, commonly called the Bishops' Bible, to be followed and as little altered as the truth of the original will permit.

The old ecclesiastical words to be kept, vix. the word "church" not to be translated "congregation."

When a word hath divers [has diverse] significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by most of the ancient fathers.

No marginal notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek words, which cannot without some circumlocution be so briefly and fitly expressed in the text.

When any place of special obscurity be doubted of, letters to be directed by authority to send to any learned man in the land for judgment of such a place.

These translations to be used when they agree better with the text than the Bishops' Bible– Tyndale's, Matthew's, Coverdale's, Whitchurch's, Geneva. Paine, pp. 70-71

As we can see, the KJV was not by any means the first translation of the Bible in English, nor was it translated directly from the TR: the translators relied heavily on previously existing English Bibles. We also see that the translators realized the pitfalls of certain obscure parts of the Bible, and Anglican tradition was to be upheld. These points are in direct contradiction with fundamentalist KJV onlyism positions.

The greatest detractions to the claim of the KJV onlyism camp come from the translators' introduction to the KJV, entitled The Translators to the Reader. On the issue of the need for translation and the version known as the KJV, we read:

Many men's mouths have been open a good while (and yet are not stopped) with speeches about the Translation so long in hand, or rather perusals of Translations made before: and ask what may be the reason, what the necessity of the employment: Hath the Church been deceived, say they, all this while? Hath her sweet bread been mingled with leaven, her silver with dross, her wine with water, her milk with lime?

That is, "do we condemn the ancient"? In no case: but after the endeavors of them that were before us, we take the best pains we can in the house of God." As if he said, Being provoked by the example of the learned men that lived before my time, I have thought it my duty, to assay whether my talent in the knowledge of the tongues, may be
profitable in any measure to God's Church, lest I should seem to laboured in them in vain, and lest I should be thought to glory in men, (although ancient,) above that which was in them. Thus S[aint] Jerome may be thought to speak.

Is this not the same kind of argument presented to Erasmus and by the KJV only crowd? Is not the response similar to that of Erasmus and the modern translators? The hypocrisy goes on.

Now to the latter we answer; that we do not deny, nay we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession, (for we have seen none of theirs of the whole Bible as yet) containeth the Word of God. As the King's speech, which he uttereth in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian, and Latin, is still the King's speech, though it be not interpreted by every Translator with the like grace, nor preadventure so fitly for phrase, nor so expressly for sense, everywhere.

The translators of the KJV say that the Word of God can be translated! And yet those who hold fast to it deny this premise.

Neither did we think much to consult the Translators or Commentators, Chaldee, Hebrew, Syrian, Greek, or Latin, no nor the Spanish, French, Italian, or Dutch; neither did we disdain to revise that which we had done, and to bring back the anvil that which we had hammered: but having and using these great helps as were needful, and fearing no reproach for slowness, nor coveting praise for expedition, we have at length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to pass that you see.

The translators were quick to use other sources from all over the world and history to facilitate their efforts. So much for just God and the TR.

Finally, in response to the fact that many things in Scripture are unfamiliar to us, the translator writes:

For as it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident: so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgment of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption. Therefore as S[aint] Augustine saith, that variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures [S. Aug 2. De docr. Christian, cap. 14.].

The doctrine of KJV onlyism is thus alone in its beliefs. Those who wrote the Greek text and who translated it for the KJV clearly used the arguments and methodologies of textual criticism, and would support modern efforts to make the most accurate and reliable text of the New Testament that is possible. The KJV only advocates give the KJV [and, in some cases, the TR] not only preeminence that its own authors never intended but also a spirit completely contrary to that which produced the TR and the KJV. The utter illogic, inconsistency, and hypocrisy of the KJV only movement should now be all but apparent.

Arguments Made by the KJV Only Camp

The modern translations remove the name of Jesus hundreds of times, hence, the modern translations try to deny His divinity.

Answer: You can never omit what was never there, but what was added later.

The field of textual criticism has determined that scribes who were copying the text of the New Testament tended to embellish the name of Jesus. If they saw "Jesus," they would have maybe added "Christ" to it, which would supposedly add to the message of the work. This is called "expansion of piety," and examples of it are below:

Expansions of Piety

Reference KJV NASB
Matthew 4:18 Jesus He
Acts 19:10 the Lord Jesus the Lord
Acts 19:4 Christ Jesus Jesus
1 John 1:7 Jesus Christ Jesus
1 Thessalonians 3:11 our Lord Jesus Christ Jesus our Lord
Acts 16:31 Lord Jesus Christ Lord Jesus
2 John 1:3 the Lord Jesus Christ Jesus Christ

The textual evidence for the shorter titles are great; most of the older texts always follow the shorter rendering. It is clear throughout the Bible that the Lord Jesus Christ is exactly that, and that Jesus is the Christ and Lord. If the modern translations were truly trying to deny the divinity of Jesus by removing His titles, why were they not consistent about it? We see the same titles applied to Jesus in the KJV and NASB: Lord, Christ, Savior, Advocate, etc. Therefore, it is clear that the translators were trying to remove the expansions of piety in order to have a text closer to that which the Apostles wrote.

Many times, whole phrases will be removed from the text!

Answer: Again, you cannot omit what was never there.

Along with expansion of piety, we also see another scribal process of error. Sometimes scribes would memorize certain verses, be it through reading or hearing a lesson, and would remember them. When they would copy the text of the New Testament, they would see the beginning of one of the verses they memorized, and would finish it off as they knew it. Now, this is okay for certain verses, but in some parts of the New Testament, similar statements are made although the actual wording differs. This process is known as "harmonization," when passages that have similar beginnings or parts are made the same due to a scribe's memory. A few examples:

Luke 11:2-5

KJV NASB
When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. When you pray, say Father, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us of our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.

This is the Lord's Prayer, and no doubt a scribe would remember the Matthew rendering of it and would transcribe that without examining the text in Luke. Are the modern translators attempting to deny that our Father is in Heaven, or that He will deliver us from evil? Not so.

Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil [Matthew 6:9-12 (NASB)].

The similarities between the Matthew version and the KJV Luke version are only too clear. This is the harmonization work of scribes.

Colossians 1:14

KJV NASB
in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins. in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

This is one often used by the KJV Onlyism camp. They say that the translators of the modern versions are denying that redemption comes through the blood of Jesus. This is not so.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasse, according to the riches of His grace [Ephesians 1:7 (NASB)].

Examine two things here:

  1. The NASB clearly states in Ephesians here that we have redemption through His blood. Therefore, it is fallacious to say that its translators deny this fact.
  2. Look at the similarity of the language of these two verses. They both begin the same in the Greek; hence, a scribe saw the beginning of Colossians 1:14, remembered what he had copied in Ephesians 1:7, and copied the text the same way.

Problems with the KJV

The Comma Johannem

The Comma Johannem (Addition of John) is I John 5:7.

I John 5:7

KJV NASB
For there are three that bear record in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth.

The story, believed to be apocryphal, goes like this: when Erasmus was editing his Greek texts to compose his text, he noticed that none of his copies contained the Latin Vulgate rendering of I John 5:7 (now the version used in the KJV). The Greek text read completely differently (as we read it in the NASB), and he saw that it was an obvious attempt by Jerome to refute Arianism, a heresy of the fourth century. He thus used the Greek form in his first two editions of his TR. The Catholic authorities, however, wanted to keep the rendering found in the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus would only do so if a Greek text could be found with the Latin reading in it. From Ireland such a text came about; this text's authenticity is now disputed, and with good reason, since it is the only Greek text before the TR which contains the KJV rendering. Since he was shown a copy which had the Comma, Erasmus faithfully translated it from the Latin Vulgate into Greek for his TR. Whether or not this actually happened or not, it is clear that some kind of pressure was brought to bear upon Erasmus to orient the TR toward the Latin as opposed to the Greek in I John 5:7.

Since then, it has been proven without a doubt that the Comma Johannem is a later insertion, since there is no valid Greek text before 1450 which contains it. Nevertheless, the KJV (and the NKJV!) still hold to the Comma Johannem despite its proven history. Such deception and manipulation is not good for the Bible and its study; even though the Comma may be true, the cause of Christ is not advanced by using such dubious methods of displaying it. If the Trinity cannot be affirmed by the Bible as it is, we have no right believing in it; we deny the validity of the text when we have to use our own insertion to justify our belief.

Conclusion

I hope we have seen that there is no reason to doubt the validity and the use of the modern translations of the Bible. Now, my intent is not to belittle or deny the KJV for the NASB or any other Bible: if I did so, I would be no better than those who claim the KJV alone to be inspired. In fact, there are many times where the KJV has a more literal rendering of the text than the NASB or others do. We should all be able to profit from all of the different versions, to see different flavors of the text and the different ways to translate the Greek. There is no one translation which is completely and exactly always correct; the KJV, NKJV, RSV, NASB, ASV, ESV, and others are all decent translations which will allow you to find God and to be able to do His commandments. The Bible is the inerrant and inspired Word of God; and close studies of the Greek text will always allow an indvidual to reach the truth in any matter.

That is the refutation of KJV onlyism: the KJV/TR is NOT the standard by which we should judge translations: the works which the Apostles wrote is the standard. We do not have that standard proper today, but we are always finding older and older copies, bringing us closer and closer to the originals (within 75 years for one copy). The closer we get to the originals, the closer we are to indisputable truth. And the better and better our Greek text is able to become, the better and better our translations of them will be, and Truth will be made better known. This was the fervent hope of Jerome, Erasmus, the translators of the KJV, and the textual critics of the Bible today. Let us help carry this tradition on for tomorrow, and not be bogged down in the past of Augustine, the Church, and KJV onlyism.

For More Information

A good reference work to learn more about the truth behind the modern Bible versions and KJV Onlyism (used in the creation of this page) is James White's The King James Only Controversy: Can you Trust the Modern Translations?.

Below are listed other resources that speak about the KJV and other Bible versions.