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.) Last Monday, we looked at Objection 1: The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money. Last Wednesday, we looked at Objection 2: Not all false friends are false friends to all readers. Last Friday, Objection 3: I am pushing a new Onlyism to replace the old. On Monday, Objection 4: the NKJV uses critical text readings. Today, the too-long-awaited conclusion.
5. We retain the KJV solely for practical reasons
I’ve had several church leaders tell me that they see and even perhaps agree with my viewpoint, but that it’s extremely important to retain the KJV for practical reasons. Everyone in a church should be using the same Bible translation, they say. This is the only way the church can have Scripture memory programs and corporate reading. They fear the confusion that arises when someone says, “Well, that’s not what my Bible says.”
I think their concern is overblown; I have never seen this confusion happen in 20 years of being in churches where people carry multiple translations. And I would love to get that question in a Bible study. It would show that people are paying attention; it would be a great teaching moment. I think laypeople with high school educations can be taught to use multiple translations profitably. Pastors should teach them how, at least by example if not explicitly.
But even if confusion does arise as the English-speaking church transitions from the KJV to other versions, let’s consider that this is going to have to happen at some point. The KJV cannot last forever, because language won’t stop changing. And we will never reach a point at which every last English speaking Christian will agree that it’s time to move on from the KJV. Someone will always be able to complain about the degraded state of English and other people’s failure to live up to proper reading standards. History tells us that complainers about kids these days and their newfangled English will always get some amens. Some churches still use the Latin Vulgate. The KJV May have an equally long run.
But if we believe that edification requires intelligibility, as Paul taught the Corinthians, someone is going to have to bear the burden of change for the sake of these children—our children. Why not us?
If someone retains the KJV solely—truly and only—for practical reasons, then it should be no problem to switch to the NKJV or ESV. The practical reasons will apply to those versions just as much. Again, I think 1 Corinthians 14 says this is the direction pastors should go who are currently using the KJV.
Many people, particularly pastors, from KJV-Only circles have been gracious to me despite our disagreements. But there is no use denying that KJV-Onlyism has a reputation for irascibility. KJV-Onlyism is a conspiracy theory: it posits that all the evangelical Bible scholars who give us our technical commentaries, journal articles, and English Bible translations are either dupes or devils. They’re either unwittingly doing Satan’s work by undermining the message of Scripture, or (obviously worse) they’re knowingly participating in a nefarious and diabolical scheme to destroy the Christian faith.
I have tried to be self-reflective about the fact that in my work on this topic I may just be defending my tribe. I am one of the evangelical biblical studies academics; I make a living in that world, I’m at the conferences, I’m reviewing books. I make occasional written contributions to that world myself. I wanna be a scholar when I grow up. So, am I biased?
If I were, how could I know? It would be a blindspot. I can only plead: look at my fruits. Read my articles and books. Listen to my sermons. More importantly, go read some of the books by men I mentioned in the first post, the men who actually worked on the modern translations. Tell me these aren’t good men who love the Lord and teach the Word faithfully. Tell me they don’t have a level of theological substance and exegetical depth that is attractive to those who love Scripture. You don’t have to agree with them on everything (I don’t—they don’t agree among themselves on everything) to acknowledge the value they bring to Christ’s body. You just have to acknowledge that they’re not dupes or devils.
I think the best argument against KJV-Onlyism (aside from 1 Corinthians 14) is the huge shelf of excellent books and commentaries and journal articles and blog posts (etc.!) written by evangelical biblical scholars who don’t hold a KJV-Only viewpoint. I think young men in KJV-Only circles know this, because they’ve been on the internet since they were kids. I see a lot of movement among those young men away from KJV-Onlyism, and I’ve written a book to help them take the gentlest possible path out of their KJV-Only viewpoint. I have repeatedly said to them what I said to one just yesterday: “You know what I praise the Lord for most whenever I hear stories like yours (which is often)? The gracious attitude I see. May the Lord give you that kind of grace toward those who shaped you in KJV-Only circles.”
I hope and pray that answering a few more common objections, as I’ve done in this series, will be edifying and helpful for these men and those they lead.