A Quick Thought about KJV-Onlyism

A quick thought: my friends who are very concerned to have one standard English Bible often warn of the terrible confusion that is, they say, inevitable when Christians use multiple translations.

And I say they are deeply concerned about a problem that both 1) doesn’t exist and 2) has always existed.

What I mean is that 1) outside of KJV-Onlyism, where the possibility that someone-might-be-massively-confused-by-multiple-translations-and-fall-into-doctrinal-error-or-unbelief is a huge Bogeyman, this supposed confusion is not a problem. What can I say except that in all my experience, I’ve never seen it occur? I’ve never seen a Bible study fall apart or a person lose his faith over this. The only people I’ve seen who were confused and troubled by the existence of multiple Bible translations are people in or coming out of KJV-Onlyism.

And 2) there have long been multiple English Bible translations, even during the era when the KJV reigned supreme. The Geneva never went away. And within the KJV itself there are countless alternative translations in the margins. Whose faith is shaken by these? Who is confused? Weren’t they put there to help us? If the KJV translators thought it wise to provide alternate translations (and they explain why they do in their preface), why can’t contemporary Christians use alternate translations?

Empirically speaking, people with bad theology use the KJV—and every other major translation. Empirically speaking, people with good theology do, too. I’m just not seeing the translations as the problem. I simply don’t believe any cause-and-effect correlation can be established between translation X and bad doctrine (or good).

Bonus point: Protestants have no pope. There’s no one to make us use only one English Bible translation. The effort is doomed to fail. It has failed. And this is one time when “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” is especially salubrious advice. To use multiple translations can only help Bible study for those who are properly taught. Those who have to unlearn their KJV-Onlyism before being properly taught will struggle, but KJV-Onlyism is creating a problem and then citing that problem as reason for its continued existence.

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.

1 Comment

  1. Grant Jones on March 5, 2018 at 8:13 am

    Mark, interesting points. Ironically, most people in society use other versions other than the KJV in daily conversations, whether they know it or not. There are many popular phrases in use in culture that come from the Bible. For example, my grandmother always said that my grandfather was “strong as an ox.” This is a phrase that comes from the Bible . Except the KJV says “strong as a unicorn.” I’ve never heard anyone referred to as “strong as a unicorn.” Even people who don’t know anything about the Bible will say that “God created the heavens and the earth.” The KJV says “heaven” and earth, but most people say “heavens.” Handel wrote the popular Hallelujah chorus, even though the word “hallelujah” is never mentioned in the KJV. There are several Christian songs that talk about Jubilee. A lot of people don’t know that “Jubilee” is never even mentioned in the KJV. It’s always misspelled as “jubile.”

    I know some people who are KJV-only and they are well meaning and I don’t doubt their motives. I actually use the KJV most of the time myself, but I think having multiple English versions is good, nothing negative.

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