In my first post on this subject, I argued that the KJV-only position believes that only the KJV of the Bible is the Word of God, and I suggested that the somewhat official beginning of this movement should be traced to the publication of the 1881 revision of the KJV, the Revised Version (RV).
In my second post, I argued that Dean Burgon might rightly be considered the father of the KJV-only movement. He contended in his book The Revision Revised that the RV must be rejected because in its use of the eclectic Greek NT of Westcott and Hort, the RV had departed from the Traditional Text of the church, the Textus Receptus (TR). According to Burgon’s understanding of the doctrine of preservation, the TR must be closer to the original writings than the “grossly depraved” Greek text behind the RV.
In my third post, I remarked that the reason I tie Dean Burgon so closely to the KJV-only movement is that not only did he reject the eclectic text for the TR, like modern KJV-only advocates, but he strenuously objected to the very idea of revising the English words of the KJV, which were to him almost sacrosanct.
In my last post I continued to note that it was not primarily the appearance of new eclectic or critical texts of the NT that motivates KJV-only proponents. Instead, it is the publication of new English versions based on those Greek New Testaments, rather than the TR, that accounts for the continued existence and growth of the KJV-only movement. And as I pointed out, the arguments of Dean Burgon were retransmitted by individuals like Philip Mauro in his 1924 volume, Which Version? Authorized or Revised? But since the RV never really challenged the KJV for dominance, there was not much to which KJV-only advocates had to object in the early decades of the 20th century. This began to change with the publication of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) in 1946, which was itself a revision of the RV, though more particularly of the the American Standard Version (ASV), the American edition of the RV.
The RSV presented a new challenge to the dominance of the KJV. Moody Bible Institute’s magazine Moody Monthly praised the RSV NT in 1946. Even the well-known fundamentalist leader John R. Rice initially promoted the RSV in his widely-read paper, Sword of the Lord. From then on a stream of KJV-only literature began to appear: Jasper James Ray, God Wrote Only One Bible (1955); Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended (1956); David Otis Fuller, Which Bible? (1970); Peter S. Ruckman, The Christian’s Handbook of Manuscript Evidence (1970); etc. Though the RSV was popular in mainline churches, it was not widely accepted in evangelicalism, and not at all in fundamentalism.
The KJV-only movement really exploded in the the 1970s and 80s. Again, it was the appearance of new English Bibles threatening the privileged position of the KJV that explains the growth of the movement. It began with the publication of the solidly conservative New American Standard Bible (NASB) in 1963 (OT, 1971), which was a revision of the ASV. More influential was the New King James Version (NKJV) in 1979 (OT, 1982). While the NASB used the eclectic Greek NT, the NKJV is based on the TR, the same Greek text as the KJV. But no matter, KJV-only proponents criticize the NKJV just as venomously as they do the NASB. Why? Because the NKJV, though translated from the same Hebrew and Greek texts as the KJV, nevertheless, departs from the sacrosanct words of the KJV.
But dwarfing the impact of those versions was the 1973 publication of the New International Version (OT, 1978). While there have been many English versions of the Bible published since 1611, no English translation ever came close to challenging the dominance of the KJV—until the New International Version (NIV). In 1986 the NIV did what no other version had been able to do in almost 400 years—outsell the KJV. The NIV now accounts for 40% of English Bibles sold. Though not quite as popular, even newer translations like the English Standard Version and the Holman Christian Standard Bible are also selling well, providing further fuel for KJV-only advocates.
Twenty years ago I thought that the KJV-only movement would begin to die out as these new English versions started to take hold among conservative Christians, and more churches made the switch from the KJV. But now I think I was wrong, or at least much too early in my prediction. The KJV still sells very well (second behind the NIV), and KJV-only advocates seem just as vocal and numerous as ever. Googling “KJV-only” produces more than 10 million hits. It appears they will always be with us—or least for a very long time.