King James Only, also called King James Version Only and shortened to KJV Only, is a movement that promotes the King James Version of the Bible as the only translation which is faithful to the Greek and Hebrew texts, including the Hebrew Masoretic Text and the Greek Textus Receptus.
It is the predominant view within Independent Baptist churches, but is otherwise uncommon.
The KJV Only view was originally articulated by Benjamin G. Wilkinson (1872–1968), a Seventh Day Adventist missionary, in the book Our Authorized Bible Vindicated (1930).
Wilkinson's book was openly plagiarized by Jasper James Ray (1955) and by Peter Ruckman (1964).
In 1970, Wilkinson's writing was republished by David Otis Fuller in Which Bible?, properly attributed this time. The book is a collection of essays edited by Fuller. Fuller added numerous footnotes to correct errors and misunderstandings in the Wilkinson text, some of which involve basic matters of church history. However, Fuller presents the footnotes as if they were written by Wilkinson, so Wilkinson's lack of expertise is not as apparent in this edition as it was in earlier editions.
In 1971, several major Bible translations appeared on the scene, such as the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and The Living Bible (a paraphrase) along with the second edition of the Revised Standard Version New Testament. For this reason, Fuller's book got far more attention than earlier works on this subject. As such, it is considered responsible for starting the KJV Only movement.
The KJV Only View
Generally speaking, KJV Only proponents claim that the Greek Textus Receptus used in translating the KJV New Testament is a more reliable text than the texts that are used by modern translations. (The Hebrew Masoretic Text is generally used in most modern translations, though there are exceptions. The majority of KJV Only discussion focuses on the New Testament.)
Modern translations are based on Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, both fourth century manuscripts. These two manuscripts are said to be "Alexandrian" because they have same type of text as Codex Alexandrinus, a fifth century manuscript. Textus Receptus, meanwhile, was compiled in the 16th Century from Byzantine manuscripts dating back to the 12th Century.
The underlying textual dispute in the KJV Only debate started in 1881, when Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828–1892) produced a Greek Text based on these two manuscripts, commonly referred to as the Critical Text. Westcott and Hort figure prominently (and are frequently demonized) in KJV Only writings. Modern Bible translations are based on Greek texts edited by Nestle Aland and the United Bible Societies (UBS). These are similar to the Critical Text, but take into account manuscripts and papyrus fragments that were discovered later.
The main point of the argument is that the more modern translations have been "purposely corrupted" so as to sow doubt in God's Word, specifically the removal of certain passages from the modern texts found in Textus Receptus, such as:
- The Johannine Comma (the ending of I John 5:7, and the beginning of I John 5:8)
- The Ethiopian eunuch's confession of faith before baptism (Acts 8:37)
- The ending of the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:9-20)
In response to KJV Only critics over the use of the newer Greek texts in modern translations, the New King James Version (NKJV) was published in 1982. This translation is based on the King James Version and the underlying texts used therein, but with the language partly updated into modern English. The preface claims that the work is a fresh translation of the "majority text," i.e. the text of the majority of surviving manuscripts; this justification was developed after lawyers for Thomas Nelson Publishers told the editors they would not be able to copyright a revision of KJV.
However, KJV Only advocates refuse to accept the NKJV as an update, claiming that it too is based on the same "corrupt texts" as all the other modern translations.
- I Like the KJV Best: Adherents simply consider KJV to be the best (or at least their preferred) translation due to such things as rhythmic beauty or historical significance. Generally they don't engage in discussions on the subject, and probably don't fit the true definition of a KJV Only adherent.
- The Textual Argument: Adherents believe that the Hebrew Masoretic and Greek Textus Receptus are the best underlying Biblical texts (as opposed to the Alexandrian-type texts).
- Received Text Only: Adherents believe the Hebrew Masoretic and Greek Textus Receptus are the supernaturally inspired texts (over others), and refuse to accept any translation not based on those texts. A notable adherent is David Cloud, head of Way of Life (an Independent Baptist publishing house based in Canada).
- The Inspired KJV Group: Adherents believe in "double inspiration" (i.e. both the Hebrew Masoretic/Greek Textus Receptus and the KJV are supernaturally inspired). Their view can be summarized as "The KJV Alone = The Word of God Alone". The Independent Baptist publication The Sword of the Lord officially holds to this position.
- The KJV as New Revelation: Adherents believe that where the KJV differs from the Greek/Hebrew, the differences are "advanced revelation". This view is commonly referred to (sometimes pejoratively) as "Ruckmanism" after its founder, the late Peter Ruckman.
Adherents in the first three groups generally would not oppose a modern translation from the underlying texts of the KJV (though surprisingly they refuse to accept NKJV as such a translation in some instances), while those in the latter two groups are adamant that no modern translation is needed. Those in the latter two camps are highly vocal of their position on social media platforms and elsewhere; they will not hesitate to attack anyone who opposes even a small portion of their viewpoint.
As a consequence, some KJV Only advocates publicly go so far as to state that if any other translation besides the KJV was used in the soul winning process, then the potential convert was not genuinely saved. However, others in the KJV Only movement would consider someone led to Christ using a different translation to be genuinely saved.
The KJV Only movement is comprehensively rejected by religious authorities from nearly all other branches of Protestant Christianity.
Even notable fundamentalist authorities, who used the King James Version in their preaching and writings, originally rejected the viewpoint, and some groups still reject it.
And now to have many, many common and rather ignorant people - more women than men -- writing that Westcott and Hort, St. Augustine, any Catholic who had any part in the translation, anybody who now raises a question about the proper wording of some passage in the King James, are perverts or modernists or hypocrites or ignorant fools (much of the language which they got from Dr. __________), is a sorry business, and you and I will be answerable to God if we develop that kind of attitude among common Christians.
I do not want to grow a generation of Christians, who, if you show them that the word "Easter" in Acts 12:4 of the King James Version is not the proper translation but it ought to be "passover," as is true, will decide that we have no Bible, there is no authority in the Bible. To have anybody making such weighty decisions on an immature judgment about a word or two is not right, and I do not want to put a burden on common people that they must assume a scholarship they do not have, in order to understand the Bible.
Bob Jones University, which though officially non-denominational is associated with the Independent Baptist movement, has the following statement on its site:
Although Bob Jones University does not hold to a King James Only position, we continue to hold the widely-used King James Version (KJV) as the campus standard in the classroom and in the chapel pulpit. The position of the University on the translation issue has not changed since the founding of the school in 1927 ... [w]e have never taken the position that there can be only one good translation in the English language.
Supporters of the Movement
Prominent supporters include:
- Kutilek, Doug, "Wilkinson's Incredible Errors", Baptist Biblical Heritage, Vol. I, No. 3; Fall, 1990.
- Stringer, Dr. Phil, "The Westcott and Hort Only Controversy"
- James White, The King James Only Controversy, Chapter 1. White also references a (very minor and very extreme) sixth view, that being that Hebrew is actually KJV English; adherents will not even use a word in everyday use not appearing in the KJV.
- As an example, KJV Only advocate David Cloud, in reviewing Gail Riplinger's New Age Bible Versions, pointed out numerous issues with the book, though he generally agreed with much of it; he was accused of "character assassination", "sowing discord among brethren", and being "[s]omeone who can’t see the numerous Catholic slants in the new versions ... couldn’t see a bowling ball in a bathtub at high noon on a sunny day". See https://www.wayoflife.org/database/newagebibleversions.html
- However, upon Dr. Rice's death in 1980, The Sword of the Lord changed its official position and now supports the King James Only Movement.
- No name is shown in the letter, but it is commonly believed to be a reference to Peter Ruckman, an extremist KJV Only supporter known for his caustic and sometimes profane language.
- "Dr. John R. Rice's reply to Dr. David Otis Fuller on the KJV", The Sword of the Lord, November 28, 1975
- "Statement about Bible Translations", Bob Jones University.
- Carson, D. A., The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism, Baker Book House Company (1979).
- John Ankerberg, John Weldon, Facts on King James Only Debate, Harvest House, (2010).
- Ruckman, Peter, The Alexandrian Cult, Bible Baptist Bookstore (1978-1981).
- White, James R., The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations, Bethany House, (2009).
- Wilkinson, George Wilkinson, A Review of or Objections to 'Our Authorized Bible Vindicated' (2000).
- Holland, Thomas, Crowned With Glory: The Bible from Ancient Text to Authorized Version (2000).
- McElroy, Jack, Which Bible Would Jesus Use? The Bible Version Controversy Explained and Resolved, McElroy Publishing (2013, 2015).
- The King James Only Resource Center "Dedicated to the defense of the Bible as originally written."
- KJO Debate at TheologyOnline.com with never before publicized photos of translators notes from a 1602 Bishops' Bible
- The King James Bible Page
- "Bible Versions" Page at BibleBelievers.com
- The King James Verson Defended, Dr. Edward F. Hills (standardbearers.net) pdf