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KJV Only Arguments
Part One

In the following e-mail exchange, the e-mailer is giving his reasons for his "KJV Only" position. The e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.


>1. The concept of the Greek being more reliable than the translation is based on the principle that communication degrades as it gets further away from the source. Resting on that same principle, how can you be certain that you are understanding what I am saying right now? After all, I am translating my thoughts into word, and you are translating them into your thoughts. In every communication there are involves at least two translators. We have different life experiences and have different concepts of language. We should have enormous difficulty understanding each other.<

Actually, "The concept of the Greek being more reliable than the translation" is based on the fact that God chose to inspire His Word in Greek (and Hebrew). It is a simple as that.

As for the rest of your comments, words have accepted meanings within a language. By using words in their accepted meanings communication is possible. When words change meanings, then it is necessary to update documents with the older meanings so that they can still be understood. This is one very strong reason why we should update the KJV.

>2. Concerning the Greek: Biblical Greek is an enigmatic semitized dialect of a language written in a precarious style between literature and common speech that no one has spoken as a native language for 1500 years. We have learned enormous amounts about this dialect just in the last 100 years with the discovery of the Egyptian Papyri. Even then, the language is sufficiently different that grammarians only feel confident in judgments that they can make by assessing and cross-referencing the NT within itself. Our understanding of the Greek only goes so far as our grammars take us, which may not be as far as we think.

Have you heard grammarians argue? It's pretty amazing what they don't know. The "Approach of this Book" section in Daniel B. Wallace's Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics is a good example of a conservative grammarian saying "we don't know all we think we know". Hebrew is that same cup of tea, but worse, because the modern Hebrew that we compare it to is an artificial resuscitation of an interpretation of the Biblical Hebrew. My point is that the ancient languages, judged by reason alone, can be as much as a stumbling block as a stepping stone.<

The NT was written in koine Greek. This was the language of the people, what the everyday person spoke at the time. This is why the discovery of ancient papyri, written by the common person, has given us a better understanding of Biblical Greek. With this evidence, and, yes, by comparing the use of words within the NT itself, it is rather easy to identify the meanings of words.

Important to note here is that he KJV was translated prior to the discovery of the papyri, so the translators did not have the benefit of the knowledge gained from these discoveries. Also, again, the NT was written in the Greek of the common person. But the KJV is no longer the English of the common person.

In any case, I have several lexicons and other Greek study aids in my library. When doing word studies, it generally becomes somewhat redundant when I compare them. Now exactly how to render a word in a particular context can sometimes be difficult. But for the most part, if one utilizes a "literal" (or "formal equivalence") translation principle, then different translators will come up with very similar renderings.

The big differences between versions occurs when translators adopt "dynamic equivalence" or paraphrase methods of translating. I discus this subject in the chapter "Four Different Translation Principles" in my book Differences Between Bible Versions. Yes, things do get a little more difficult when it comes to the OT and Hebrew; but the same principles still apply.

So yes, there are some difficulties in translating Greek or Hebrew into English. But I do not see how such difficulties means we should stick with an out-of date translation rather than updating the translation to reflect our better knowledge of the Greek and changes in the English languages.

>3. The only way out of this is to believe God when he says he preserved his word. The only reason that you can understand what I am writing you in this post is because God ordains that you do. (I hope) Each of our understanding of language, Biblical or otherwise, is limited, and we depend on God to teach us what we need to know. If we can depend on God to preserve the language in the original Greek, preserve the grammars and the teachers needed to teach us that language accurately, then why couldn't he preserve some translators to translate the Bible accurately?

I am not against the Greek and am learning it with much joy as an aid to exegesis. I eventually plan to learn Latin as well, though, as I feel that the pre-Jerome Italic Vulgata are a reliable manuscript family (for the most part) and because Latin was the standard language of God's church of the day, God would likely have kept his hand on those manuscripts. I study Greek because Greek was the Weltsprache of the Late Hellenic period and God was watching over Bibles in that language because LOTS of people were coming to him through Greek.

There is some speculation that the book of Matthew may have been originally written in Rabbinical Hebrew or Aramaic and translated to Greek at an early date so that it could be read by readers of the other books that would be canonized. I do not lament because the original Aramaic/Hebrew version is gone and we will never fully understand Matthew. God kept his Bible alive in the Greek.<

To say that God has preserved His word in the language that He inspired it in and to say that He has INSPIRED a translation of that Word are two different things. We have Biblical promises about the former; but not about the latter.

As for the idea of there being a Hebrew original for Matthew; the evidence for this is very slim. The idea is based on one sentence of the Church Father Papias (c.60 - c.130 AD). We do not actually have any of Pappies writings; but the sentence is quoted by Eusebius in His Ecclesiastical History (c. 325).

The sentence reads, "Matthew composed the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as he could" (translated by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer in The Apostolic Fathers. Baker Book House, reprinted 1988, p.529).

Since we do not have the original context for this sentence, exactly what it means is hard to say. The phrase, "the oracles" might refer to the Gospel of Matthew.

However, the word "Hebrew" can also be rendered "Aramaic." So It might refer to simply the words of Jesus (spoke mainly in Aramaic) that Matthew first wrote down. Matthew then might have translated Jesus' Aramaic "oracles" into Greek and then incorporated them into the historical narrative as found in the Gospel. (I personally favor this idea).

Or, Papias may be referring to something altogether different. The point is, this one out of context and hard to interpret sentence is very slim evidence to base any theory on. It most definitely is not sufficient reason to say, "we will never fully understand Matthew."

You are correct though, "God kept his Bible alive in the Greek" and it is on the Greek text that Christian theology and practice should be based.

>4. You made the statement about which of the KJ Versions was inspired [in Is the KJV Inspired, a chapter in the first edition of my bible versions book. Now expanded to an entire section in the second edition], but I ask which Greek text is inspired? If you can attest to an inspired Greek, yet acknowledge that there are textual variants, why can't there be an inspired KJV with textual variants?

As for why God didn't do it right the first time, I believe that God didn't want the Bible to be obviously miraculous to the point of forcing people to believe in him. The Bible (even the NT with all her corrupted texts and variant families) is still better preserved than any other piece of ancient literature and if it were PERFECTLY preserved and translated, it would be obviously operating outside of the parameters of the dynamics of this world and would not give unbelievers the freedom to maintain their unbelief.<

There is a big difference between textual variants in Greek manuscripts and the differences between the five editions of the KJV (1611, 1629, 1638, 1762 and 1769). The differences between Greek manuscripts arose because of mistakes on the part of scribes in copying by hand the original manuscripts, and copies thereof. Textual Critics then compare the 5,000 plus manuscripts in order to reconstruct the original reading.

In the case of the five editions of the KJV, the differences are mainly because the English language changed over time. And the revisers changed the text in order to keep up with the changing English languages. Hence, for instance, the spellings of words in the 1611 KJV are much different from those of the 1769 edition (which is the edition in common use today).

Notice the differences between the 1611 KJV, the 1769 KJV, and the 1982 NKJV in John 14:1-11:

1611 KJV:
1 Let not your heart be troubled: yee beleeue in God, beleeue also in me.
2 In my Fathers house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would haue told you. I goe to prepare a place for you.
3 And if I goe and prepare a place for you, I will come againe, and receiue you vnto my selfe, that where I am, there ye may be also.
4 And whither I goe yee know, and the way ye know.
5 Thomas saith vnto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
6 Jesus saith vnto him, I am the Way, the Trueth, and the Life: no man cometh vnto the Father, but by mee.
7 If ye had known me, ye should haue knowen my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and haue seene him.
8 Philip sayth unto him, Lord, shew vs the Father, and it sufficeth vs.
9 Jesus saith vnto him, Haue I bin so long time with you, and yet hast thou not knowen me, Philip? he that hath seene me hath seene the father; and how sayest thou then, Shew vs the father?
10 Beleeuest thou not that I am in the father, and the father in mee? The words that I speake vnto you, I speake not of my selfe: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doth the works.
11 Beleeue me that I am in the Father, and the Father in mee: or else beleeue me for the very workes sake (copied from Arthur L. Farstad. The New King James Version in the Great Tradition. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993, p.14).

1769 KJV:
1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
2 In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
5 Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.
8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.
9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?
10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.
11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.

NKJV:
1 "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.
2 "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
3 "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
4 "And where I go you know, and the way you know."
5 Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?"
6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
7 "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him."
8 Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us."
9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?
10 "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.
11 "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.

I might guess that if in fact the 1611 KJV had never been updated, we would not be having this discussion. The need for updating it would be very obvious. As it is, I would say the NKJV above is every bit as accurate as the 1769 KJV, but it is even easier to read than it is.

The point is, the KJV should have continued to be updated even after the 1769 edition. But for whatever reason it was not. So about a century later the need for an update was finally realized. But, unfortunately, the Revised Version of 1881 did not actually follow in the footsteps of the KJV. It utilized the then new Wescott and Hort type of Greek text. And objections to it were rightly raised.

For the next century, one version after another was published based on similar, corrupted Greek texts. Then to make matters worse, new translation principles were then invented. Rather than the "formal equivalence" principle the KJV translators had used, "dynamic equivalence" and paraphrase methods were used. And again, objections to these new type of versions were rightly raised.

So by the time NKJV was produced (which used the same translation principle and Greek text as the KJV), the KJV defenders had "hardened" themselves into rejecting any and every new version.

But what if the KJV had continued to be updated every fifty years or so as it should have been? Then maybe the proliferation of corrupt versions might have been avoided. And again, we might not be having this discussion. The most recent revision of the KJV would have been more easily accepted as just one in a long line of needed updates.

To answer you question about which Greek text is inspired, I believe the Majority Text (MT) most represents the originals. It is similar to, but not identical with, the Textus Receptus (TR) that the KJV and NKJV are based on. The MT is much more similar to the TR than the Critical Text (CT) that most other new versions utilize. For more on these different versions, and the reasons for my accepting the MT, see the articles listed under "Greek Text Types" on my Bible Versions Controversy page.

>5. If you hold to the view that there were originals in Greek and all Bibles are degraded in some way, you are limiting yourself to the same reasonable concepts that can be leveled at the Greek copies in existence or even the originals. (how do we know Paul even knew what he was talking about?).

In this event, you can only say that your NKJV is a pretty good but imperfect translation of the Textus Receptus, which was a pretty good but imperfect assessment of available manuscript evidence which probably does but may not be faithful to original documents which probably did but might not have reflected the thoughts of the author who may or may not have known what he was talking about! Even then, you may not understand your NKJV because your education may have been skewed and you don't know English the way you should!<

You are making a lot of rather unconnected leaps here. First, the NT manuscript tradition is rather unassailable, as I demonstrate in the article on Have precious Truths Been Lost from the Bible? and the chapter on "Introduction to Textual Criticism" in my Bible versions book].

Second, there is really no relationship to the manuscript tradition and the inspiration of the originals. Third, whether Paul "knew what he was talking about" or not is a completely unrelated to question of the quality of the KJV.

Fourth, my position is and always has been that Christian theology should be based on the Hebrew and Greek texts, not on any English translation. Hence why Bible colleges and seminaries all include classes on Hebrew and Greek. Those who teach the Bible should most definitely, IMO, be trained in these Biblical languages. They should have some knowledge of Greek at the very least.

But given that, I also give detailed defenses on my site as to why I believe the NKJV, and yes the KJV, are very reliable translations of the Hebrew and Greek.

Lastly, according to one pamphlet I have, the NKJV is written at an eight grade reading level. Another pamphlet I have rates the NKJV at "9.1 Grade Level." Either way, the NKJV should be easily understandable to most English speaking readers.

OTOH, the KJV is rated at a twelfth grade reading level in the first pamphlet and at "14.0 Grade Level" in the second (indicating a college sophomore level; "How to Choose the Right Bible." Spring Arbor Distributors, 1990 and "Bible Translation Comparison." Family Bookstores, respectively).

Given that even most high school graduates, unfortunately, are not actually able to read at a twelfth grade level and even fewer English readers can read at college levels, it should be apparent the KJV is inaccessible to the majority of English readers. So your last point becomes an argument against the KJV and for the NKJV.

>6. If one accepts that God is watching over his word providentially, then the way to judge a good translation is not necessarily in this vain, hopeless attempt to use worldly reason to get as close as possible to some originals which are not available for review. We should look for the hand of God in the translation. We should then temper this with reason. God can never be reached through reason alone, but he never contradicts it.

Now we get to arguments that sound like Sargent's about the KJV: Godly men translated it. Most of the people in the world can read it. God proliferated it. It has stood up even against its critics as a quality translation even in the area of worldly logic and textual criticism. It tends to translate things in a God glorifying manner, supporting Trinity, divinity of Christ, Sola Fide, etc. (much of this credited to the Textus Receptus, but the King James translators get credit here too). It won't go away no matter how many scholars bag it. Nations become world empires when their populations read it and then decline morally and temporally when they adopt other translations.

All of these arguments sound ridiculously unreasonable, but they are merely appeals to the supernatural, which is perfectly reasonable to a Christian.<

I do not consider textual criticism to be a "hopeless attempt to use worldly reason." God has given us an intellectual and over 5,000 Greek manuscripts for a reason. Using sound textual methods, determining the original text of the NT is not "hopeless" but can be assured to a very high degree.

I will look at each of your arguments for the KJV in order.

A. >Godly men translated it.<

The same could be said for the NKJV, NIV, and many other modern versions.

B. >Most of the people in the world can read it.<

As indicated above, the KJV is written at a reading level that is above most English readers. I have had many people, including my own mother, tell me that they tried to read the Bible in KJV but gave up. They simply could not understand it.

I myself, with a college degree and two and a half years of graduate school, find it difficult to read. I am currently reading Matthew Henry's commentary on the Bible. It includes the full KJV text. As I am reading through it, there have been many words and phrases that I have stumbled over. But every time, I compare the NKJV and am able to easily find out what the text is actually saying. And I am someone who has read the Bible cover-to-cover at least ten times (I lost count somewhere along the way). I can only imagine how difficult the KJV would be to someone new to the Bible [see the chapter "Difficult Terms in the KJV" in my book for more on this point].

C. >God proliferated it.<

My local Christian bookstore used to post a chart given the top selling Bible versions. For several years in a row, the order was: the NIV number one, the KJV number two, the NKJV number three.

Its been a while since I have seen such a chart so the positions may have changed. But I doubt very much the KJV has regained the top position. I believe that the NIV first passed in 1985. Other versions are probably coming close by now. Moreover, if you were to add up the sales of all Critical Text - dynamic equivalence versions, the combined sales would probably be far superior to that of the KJV, or even the KJV and NKJV combined.

So if we are going to use "proliferation" as a criteria, then the logical conclusion would be that God has abandoned the Textus Receptus and formal equivalence, and turned to the CT and dynamic equivalence.

Moreover, it would also be important to ask what percentage of KJVs being sold are actually being read. I would guess that sales of the KJV remain high because of the many that are bought as gifts for mass give-aways at baptisms, confirmations, and the like. My niece, for instance, was given a KJV when she was baptized. But, as far as I know, she never actually reads it. Instead, she reads the NKJV I bought her previously.

So it could be, that the KJV is fast becoming the most sold, yet least read book of all time.

D. >It has stood up even against its critics as a quality translation even in the area of worldly logic and textual criticism.<

Yes, the KJV was a quality translation for its time. And yes, I do believe the TR is a generally reliable Greek text. However, as indicated above, the English language has changed since 1611, and even since 1769, and will continue to do so in the future. Also, much has been learned about the Greek language since those times. Also, many more Greek manuscripts have been discovered since the about twenty that were used in developing the TR.

All of these reasons argue for the need for a continual updating of the KJV.

E. >It tends to translate things in a God glorifying manner, supporting Trinity, divinity of Christ, Sola Fide, etc. (much of this credited to the Textus Receptus, but the King James translators get credit here too).<

The same could be said for the NKJV, and the MKJV and LITV as well, along with the Majority Text.

F. >It won't go away no matter how many scholars bag it.<

Technically true. The KJV will probably always be around given its use in such standard reference works as Henry’s commentary as I indicate above. It also will probably always be included in reference works such as Bible software programs given that its copyright has long since expired.

However, as use as a standard version, I would predict that the KJV will basically pass away, especially as the current generation of users also pass away. I would be very curious to see a study of the ages of people who actually read the KJV. It would be my guess that they tend to be older. Meanwhile, the younger generation most likely will not even consider reading the KJV. But, of course, only time will tell.

G. >Nations become world empires when their populations read it and then decline morally and temporally when they adopt other translations.<

This is a rather subjective argument. There are many factors that need to be looked at in considering why nations rise and fall. To lay it at the use of a particular version of the Bible would be reductionism indeed.

Furthermore, even if you observation is correct, it would still need to be asked, does this phenomena occur because of the use and abandonment of the KJV per se? Or is it the use and abandonment of any TR/ MT - formal equivalence version, in favor of CT - Dynamic equivalence versions?

An even more important question would be WHY do nations abandon the use of the KJV? Could it be that the population at large simply cannot understand it, so they turn to easier to read, yet corrupt versions? So the answer to this dilemma would be to produce an updating of the KJV for each new generation.

>I hope you can answer at least briefly, as you are the first person I have verbalized this to. I know how time can fly, though, so I hope this letter stimulates you in the event that you don't reply. If you do have time for a short reply, though, could you at least tell me if you've heard arguments like mine before? I haven't done much reading in this area and am curious to know if I have anything original.

You Brother in Christ,
Jon<

You have articulated rather well some basic KJV Only arguments. I don’t know if I can say you have anything original; but you have managed to present your views without all the ranting and raving so common in KJV Only literature.

I have given you more than a brief reply. I have done so as, since you have given me permission to post your letter on my site, this way, with your letter and my responses, people visiting my site can read both sides of the argument and decide for themselves.

This discussion is continued at: KJV Only Arguments: Part Two.

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above e-mail exchange was posted on this Web site May 10, 1998

Bible Versions Controversy: KJV-Onlyism
Bible Versions Controversy

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