Two Questions for KJVOs

1. Has anyone else noticed that the standard language in the doctrinal statement of Crown College (and the approximately 130 other churches and ministries that use it verbatim) is inherently contradictory?

“The King James Version of the Bible is the only English version we accept and use. The Bible is our sole authority for faith and practice.”

Where does it say in the Bible that the KJV is the only English version Christians should accept and use? If the Bible doesn’t say it, what other authority are they appealing to? And doesn’t that make the Bible no longer their sole authority? I’m not playing with words. I think this is very serious. Either the Bible teaches that the KJV is the only English version we should accept and use, or it doesn’t.

2. Has anyone else ever noticed that the following not-so-standard KJVO language (coming from a major Sword church) is also contradictory?

“We believe that the 66 books of the King James Version are the preserved and inspired Word of God for this generation. We believe that the Bible is without any errors and is our sole authority for all matters of faith and practice.”

The same error occurs in this statement as in the first. But I want to focus on yet another problem: The KJV is God’s Word “for this generation”? What about the next generation? When does this generation end and the next begin? Hasn’t a generation or two, at least, passed since 1611? Does the Bible tell us when a generation starts and ends?

I took one mocking statement out of this blog post because I want to show respect and love to my brothers in Christ. I went to high school at a KJVO church, and my teachers love the Lord and (still!) love me. But I hope one or two young KJVO preacher boys will stumble across this post and realize that their position actually undercuts biblical authority because it posits another authority: tradition.

Ironically, that tradition is doing for a generation or three of young people just what Catholic tradition has done for millennia: both keep the Bible out of the hands of the people by placing it in a language they can’t read. Granted, the KJV is a lot more readable to most of us than the Latin Vulgate. But quite a number of passages (I’ve done some work to collect them) might as well be written in Latin—I’ve been paid to read and write English for over ten years, I’ve been in school continuously since 1985, and I still do not understand them.

The KJVO branch of American Protestantism is rightly concerned about evangelism. So am I—deeply. And I’m deeply involved in it. How many bus kids understand any of the verses they memorize in the KJV? What message are we communicating to kids when the language of the Bible doesn’t really make sense?

I love the King James. It’s in my heart and will never leave. But suffer me this one plea for realism.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

8 thoughts on “Two Questions for KJVOs”

  1. Mark,

    I understand your point, and generally agree with it. I am also not KJVO. However, what would then prevent the same reason the same objection to the statement about “the 66 books”? There are also no verses that establish canonicity to the degree of specificity that Christians generally hold to.

  2. When the Westminster Standards addresses the issue of translation, it argues for the use of a “vulgar translation.” It’s basis, surprisingly, is 1 Cor. 14, which in the KJV, is the requirement that public worship, and the reading of God’s Word, is “easy to be understood.” Not majestic, not literary, not otherwise pleasing, but easily understood.

  3. Good point, Phil. That’s one I’ll need to hold on to.

    Greg, I have a feeling a friend of mine might reply about canonicity… but I’d actually suggest that you’ve made an understandable but unwarranted assumption. Is the Bible our “sole” authority for faith and practice? It is our ultimate authority, yes, but our “sole” authority? The financial practices of our church are governed by other authorities the Bible tells us to follow—state and local governments. And take the facts of history, science, and even language. Does the Bible demand that we believe that George Washington was our first president, that light (now) travels at a particular speed, that the word “themselves” is plural? No: these are all truths of general—not special—revelation, but truths we must nevertheless believe or become guilty of disobeying God.

    If I had read the preceding paragraph a few years ago, it would have seemed a little strange to me. History, science, and language (etc.) are truths of general revelation? Aren’t they just true? Are they really revelation? But I’m drawing this from the excellent, biblical work of John Frame on epistemology. I commend The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God to you. This book has helped me see that all of my knowing is ethical knowing, that all my knowing must be done in submission to God’s authority. No truth comes from somewhere other than God.

    It is a moral fault, then, for KJVO leaders to get their history and exegesis wrong when they have had the opportunity to know better. The Textus Receptus is a product of textual criticism, and it’s morally wrong for pastors to say it isn’t. It’s morally wrong for KJVOs to headline their conferences with “thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever” (Ps 12:7 KJV) when the gender of the Hebrew pronouns clearly shows that this verse is not talking about the words of God but about the poor in verse 5.

    I don’t care about winning ecclesiastical controversies. I care about giving God’s words to precious souls. These silly moral faults are keeping God’s word from people who need it.

    Ten years ago my pastor told a SS class he was teaching that the KJVO movement was actively gobbling up churches, that those who knew the flaws of KJVOism probably needed to be proactive. I actually did not intend to publish this post yet. I was sitting on it, and I genuinely hit “Publish” accidentally. But it’s now become one more part of my effort to do what my pastor said I should (not that he can be blamed if I did it poorly!).

  4. While there are no verses that specifically state the canon is sixty-six books, or as a Roman Catholic priest friend of mine is happy to point out to me, there is no inspired table of contents to the Bible, the Bible nonetheless establishes itself the sixty-six book canon that we regard as Scripture. To say otherwise is to deny sola Scriptura. For a doctrine to be taught by Scripture and to be authoritative, it does not need to be explicitly stated in so many words (the doctrine of the Trinity is the classic example).

    If one takes the position that canonicity is intrinsic to the books and recognized over time by God’s people (rather than being a human/church community construct) (See Peckham, TrinJ 28.2 (Fall 2007); Kostenberger and Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy), then the question is how one recognizes what is canonical and what is not. Or, in other terms, how to recognize what is inspired and what is not. Since the Reformation orthodox Protestants have appealed to the Scripture’s own self-witness and to the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the believer that what he reads is indeed Scripture. Common texts appealed to include Luke 24:32; Acts 16:14; 1 John 5:6, 10, 20; 2 Cor. 4:3-6; Col. 2:2; 1 Thess. 1:5; Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15-16. This is not an individualistic and ahistorical self-testimony. The testimonies of the church, reason, history, and any other evidences remain important but ancillary Scripture’s self-testimony.

    For some helpful reading see Grudem, “Scripture’s Self-Attestation,” in Scripture and Truth, ed. Carson & Woodbridge; Sproul, “The Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit,” in Inerrancy, ed. Geisler; H. N. Ridderbos, Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures.

  5. All,

    I am not arguing that we should re-open canonicity or anything like that. I am only observing that a KJVO could build an argument on similar grounds of self-attesting, self-authenticating as we do the canon. I don’t think that means that it is the trump card that proves the point conclusively, but including a KJV statement in a doctrinal confession perhaps is no more or less out of place than a reference to 66 books, or so it has occurred to me.

    I’m happy to be talked out of this, by the way.

  6. Thanks for this post. I have tried to present a similar argument to a few of my KJVO friends (some with BAs from KJVO schools). They didn’t know that the word “study” in “study to show thyself approved…” meant “be diligent.” They didn’t know that “hock” in “hock the horses” (Joshua 11:6) meant “cut the hamstrings.” They didn’t know that “prevent” in “shall not prevent them which are asleep” meant “go before.” The most troubling part for me is that these are familiar words in modern English which meant something different when the KJV was written. Very few people would even think to look up these words in a dictionary. Those who did look them up, might not find the archaic usage in a modern dictionary.

    One KJVO (or, more precisely, OKJV) friend asked me what he could do to become a more effective soul-winner. I encouraged him to use the NKJV which makes almost all of the same textual choices as the KJV, but renders the choices in updated English. He refused on the grounds of those few textual differences. To my mind, it is better to explain a few textual differences and have a translation written in language that an average, uninitiated person can understand than to have a “perfect” translation written in language that advanced, initiated people struggle to understand. Thanks again for the post!

  7. My experience is similar—and I’ve been on both sides of such conversations. I didn’t know what Paul meant by study or that prevent used to mean the opposite 400 years ago. So I appreciate the fact that no one here is heaping scorn on our brothers. We were in the same boat until someone pulled us out!

  8. I’m not sure a case for a self-authenticating KJV could be made. Self-authentication is not the same as a person’s assertion. Further recall that a self-authenticating approach does not dismiss all evidence. Evidence plays an important ancillary role.

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