I’m in the midst of a short series answering objections to my viewpoint in Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, objections that for various reasons didn’t make it into the book already. (Most objections I hear I already addressed.) On Monday, we looked at Objection 1: The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money. On Wednesday, we looked at Objection 2: Not all false friends are false friends to all readers. Objection 3: I am pushing a new Onlyism to replace the old.
And, uh, I promised only three days of posts—Mon, Wed, Fri; but things have expanded a little and I am now going to include two more bonus posts:
4. Next Monday: The New King James Version uses critical text readings.
5. Next Wednesday: We retain the KJV solely for practical reasons
Here we go…
3. You are pushing Modern Versions Onlyism.
There’s actually a group in between the KJV-Only and not-KJV-Only worlds: a number of people in my own hometown crowd who are not KJV-Only but yet see no reason to move away from the KJV as their main pulpit Bible—or at least not now. These brothers resist the Onlyism in KJV-Onlyism, but they have various reasons for retaining use of the KJV in their own ministries. One of them in particular liked my book and recommended it, but sent me a friendly and constructive criticism: I should make sure I’m not creating a new tribe, a new Onlyism to replace the old, a Modern Versions Onlyism.
I felt this was indeed a helpful comment, and I want to affirm it. I want to say very clearly that I agree: let’s not make an “only-not-King-James” tribe to compete against the “KJV-Only” tribe. Given that, until two years ago, my own pastor preached from the KJV, I certainly do not want to say—or leave the impression that—using the KJV in preaching and evangelism is always and everywhere a sin. That would indeed make me guilty of the same kind of tribalism that I’ve critiqued in others.
And as I said in the book, I’m not telling anyone to throw away their copy of the KJV. I use the KJV daily, along with other good translations. But in church, where the choice of the pastor is going to be followed by the choice of most people, I urge readers, based on 1 Corinthians 14 and other passages, to use intelligible versions. If anything, then, I’m promoting intelligible-versions-onlyism, or rather, only-intelligible-versions-in-church-once-you’ve-become-acquainted-with-my-argument-in-Authorized-ism. If language didn’t change, I wouldn’t care about the age of our Bible translations. But language does change, so I do. The Bible says I should.
Let me also say that change cannot and must not come quickly in all churches. Pastors shouldn’t drive the sheep hard. I sympathize with the shepherd who says he has more important problems to deal with before he can get to the King James Onlyism among his sheep. But here’s what I consistently say to pastors: take a step this Sunday in the right doctrinal direction. If the ground is getting bare in spots in the pasture where you are, start taking baby steps toward the greener pasture over yonder. Map out some more steps for yourself. Here’s a suggested set:
- Start in your preaching by mentioning times when the KJV itself suggests alternate translations in the margin. Get the sheep used to the idea that translation is art as well as science, that there isn’t one-and-only-one right way to translate a given verse. There are options. Get them used to the idea, too, that the Bible in their hands is a translation.
- Have your church leadership read the preface to the KJV (or my abridgment and translation of it—and maybe even my reflections on it). Talk through it with them.
- After a while, begin mentioning times when a contemporary translation is helpful in understanding a given passage. Don’t denigrate the KJV (you should never do that at any point); just praise the ESV, NIV, CSB, NASB, NKJV, or NLT. Tell specific stories that show how you personally grew in your understanding through using a contemporary translation.
- Do a short series on bibliology in adult Sunday School.
- Have church leaders read my book, and ask their families to watch my related documentary. If this sounds self-serving, you probably have an inflated view of what kind of royalties authors get for obscure titles such as mine! Here’s what motivates me to include this step: I have written the book I knew I needed for ministry, a book offering the gentlest and most lay-accessible path out of KJV-Onlyism. If you can’t afford the book, talk to me.
- Praise good writers who are not KJV-Only, and put their books in people’s hands.
- Open up liberty to use contemporary translations in evangelism.
- Encourage people to read a different translation this year.
- Give some time for people to have the same positive Bible study experiences you’ve had using contemporary translations. Have them give their stories to the congregation.
- Take a vote (depending on your polity) on changing your pulpit and pew Bibles to a contemporary translation, but give liberty to Bible teachers to use what they prefer.
You don’t have to follow all my ten steps; they’re not Bible. But do something. 1 Corinthians 14 says you should.
And that’s the ultimate issue: none of what I have written on the KJV is worth much if my 1 Corinthians 14 argument isn’t rock solid. See for yourself if it is. Look at the places where Paul ties edification to intelligibility. If you use unintelligible words when intelligible ones are available, what would Paul tell you to do?
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.(1 Corinthians 14 ESV)