Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

3 Apr 2012

The Modern KJV-Only Movement

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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.

21 Responses

  1. Dr. Combs,

    Interesting Series. I just noticed it today, because SI linked to it. With all due respect, and I mean that (I think we should give each other the benefit of the doubt—love hopes all things), I don’t believe that you understand King James Onlyism, perhaps because it happens to be so foreign to you personally (I don’t know). There would have been King James Onlyism minus Dean Burgon and it is for other reasons than what you have discussed so far. Maybe you’ll get to what it is, but KJO is far more grassroots than what you present. It was around before Burgon, and Burgon sprang from it, rather than vice versa. There is also a reason why men like Burgon didn’t and don’t want to change the English words, even though they know, like me and others (it’s not some big secret), that the English words already changed between 1611 and 1769. I don’t think it’s an unwillingness, by the way, to change the English words at all, but a major reticence to do so. Burgon was more of a pre-englightenment thinker, with more of that kind of view of the world.

    By the way, you and Dr. Bauder should get your stories together, because he recently said publically that KJO started with a Seventh Day Adventist in 1930.

    Nice to hear your thinking.

  2. OH, one more thing. Sorry. The NKJV does have a different Hebrew OT text. Until I saw for myself, I gave people the benefit of the doubt that the text behind the NKJV was the same as the KJV. It’s not. That should be known by everyone, so people stop repeating that. It’s not true.

    Thank you!!

  3. David Ulrich

    Interesting. I think you are partially right about the textual deviations being a primary issue for “only-ism”, but only partially.

    Admittedly, this is the only one of the series of posts I have read in its entirety, and this only because it was linked on SI. Still, what seems to have been thoroughly missed is 2-fold:
    1) The majority of KJV-onlyists have a single defining characteristic–they are passionate about the purity (and, therefore, authority) of Scripture. While we might legitimately disagree with their conclusions which have led to “only-ism”, to treat them as the enemy in a post-modern world that generally hates authoritarian, infallible, Divine revelation is nothing more than a statement of spiritual arrogance. Motive is not the major issue with KJV only-ism, a statement that likely cannot be made about the translators, marketers, and general purveyors of the majority of modern translations seeking to unseat the KJV.
    2) The open agenda of many of the modern translations to affect some of the major doctrines of Scripture, most notably the well-documented efforts of the liberal elite in the translation of the RSV to moderate some of the Biblical exclusivitist rhetoric, gives pause to many lovers of Scripture. Couple that with the immeasurable influence of the German Higher Criticism that has crept into all facets of the evangelical community, no doubt including many translation committees, and any thinking believer who loves the pure Word of God should be very hesitant to embrace translations that might be so infected when time-tested and proven translations in their own language are readily available.

    I would not include myself in or even near the only-ist camp. That being said, I doubt you would ever hear me utilize any text in public other than the KJV unless specifically requested by a pastor to do so for his own congregation. Furthermore, I strongly prefer the KJV for study and preparation. Therefore, I am not likely to overly criticize those who take it a notch further than I do as long as I’m convinced their motivation is correct–a passion for the pure Word of God–which makes up a majority (if not significant majority) of the KJV-only movement.

    Frankly, I think all sides still have lots of room to grow in this area, especially considering that the issue has been on the front-burner for several decades now.

  4. I appreciated this series, Dr. Combs. I do disagree on whether we could really call Burgon a modern-day KJV-Onlyist or not. I know that KJV proponents claim him as one of theirs, and he does focus on English problems as you point out. But he also advocated what would be to a KJV-Onlyist, extensive changes to the Greek Text of the NT. He called for about 150 changes to the text of Matthew alone, as Edward Miller, Scrivener’s colleague points out in his introduction to “The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels” by Burgon.

    See this info collected here: http://deanbible.org/CSExt/Textual%20Criticism/Documents/2_%20Dean_Burgon_and_the_Received_Test-Pierpont.pdf

    I do think that Benjamin Wilkinson’s writings have a role in the birth of KJV Onlyism, but certainly not an exclusive position as you admirably point out. I believe that Ray’s book and also Fuller’s use Wilkinson’s book (Our Authorized Bible Vindicated), but Wilkinson is certainly depending on Burgon and his like.

    You are right too, to put the focus on when the English Bibles came out and became more widely available as for when this movement grew by leaps and bounds.

    Thanks for this series, and I hope you write more on this topic. I’ve appreciated your other articles that were published in the journal years back.

    Blessings in Christ,

    Bob Hayton

  5. Bill Combs

    Bob,
    Thanks for your kind comments. I appreciate your stand on these issues.

    As I said in my posts, I do not “classify Burgon as a KJV-only advocate in a strict, technical sense.” I think that Burgon was what I would call a closet Majority text person, at most. It is clear he was aware of the problems with the TR, but you would hardly know it from “The Revision Revised.” I think he was reluctant to criticize the TR or the KJV to any extent. Once you open the door, where do you stop, so to speak?

    I think it is important to remember that “The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels” is not by Burgon, but by Miller. I don’t doubt Burgon believed these things in his heart, but I think he would have been reluctant to publish them himself. I believe this is why someone like D. A. Waite can claim him for his KJV-only cause. Not that Waite is right, but that Burgon did not do much to dissuade Waite and his cronies. That’s my point.

    1. Thanks, that helps. In the earnestness some have to distance themselves from KJV-Onlyism, they most likely overstate the case against it, and Burgon’s relationship with modern day KJV-Onlyism is likely one area where overstatements can step in.

      Truth be told, we cannot know what he would have held if he lived today, it’s conjecture either way.

  6. No answer for me? 😀 Dr. Combs, combs, combs, combs (echo chamber). Is what I’m saying false or true? Is the Hebrew text of the NKJV identical to the KJV? Is there evidence of many KJO before Burgon?

    I’m assuming that you don’t think the cold shoulder is a biblical method of separation. When your pastor has commented on my blog, he gets treated courteously and collegially. It’s something he could say he’s learned to expect.

  7. Bill Combs

    Kent Brandenburg said: “Is the Hebrew text of the NKJV identical to the KJV?”

    Yes.

    “Is there evidence of many KJO before Burgon?”

    In my first post (http://dbts.edu/blog/?p=1482), I said:
    “By the 1800s one can find occasional statements by an odd individual here and there arguing for the perfection of the KJV. This was probably bound to happen. When a particular version has nearly universal preeminence and has been in use for a long period, it can easily be ascribed with the qualities of the original language writings (inspiration and infallibility).”

  8. Dr. Combs,

    Thank you. That wasn’t so bad. As Bob shows, this isn’t the case, but also what do you do with these:

    Jude 1:19, the LV/C text omits eautou (“themselves”), as does the NKJV.

    Acts 19:39, the the NKJV follows the LV/C text in “peraiterw” instead of “peri eterwn”, subtle but different.

    Acts 19:9, the NKJV follows the LV/C text in omitting “tinos”

    Acts 17:14, the NKJV omits “as it were” (“ws” in the Greek) and thus once again follows the LV/C text.

    Acts 15:23, the NKJV follows the LV/C text in omitting “tade”, or “after this manner”.

    Acts 10:7 the NKJV follows the LV/C text in omitting “unto Cornelius” in the first clause.

    1. Bill Combs

      Kent,
      Your reply is why I don’t find it helpful to get into a discussion with KJV-only folk. You ask a question, ” “Is the Hebrew text of the NKJV identical to the KJV?””
      I answer, “Yes.”
      Bob chimes in with a statement from Dr. Price, my OT and Hebrew Professor, who says that the NKJV used the 2nd Rabbinic Bible, the same Hebrew text as the KJV and you say, “As Bob shows, this isn’t the case.” I don’t know what to do with that. If the KJV used the 2nd Rabbinic Bible and the NKJV used the 2nd Rabbinic Bible, it would appear that they used the same text.

      Then you jump to some NT examples that are supposed to prove what? For example: “Jude 1:19, the LV/C text omits eautou (“themselves”), as does the NKJV.”
      What is this supposed to prove? What is the LV/C text? You say it omits eautou. What does it omit it from?

  9. Dr. Combs,

    Perhaps instead saying “same,” I should have said “identical,” and instead of saying “text,” I should have said “words.” I think it’s OK to try to struggle through this together. I don’t want it to be hard for you. The Hebrew and Greek words that underlie the NKJV are not identical to those for the KJV. The point here is to be accurate. I would assume that you want to be accurate too, to make our points from what is true. We both should have that in common, and I stand to be corrected by you if I’m wrong. A common criticism of KJVO is that we don’t accept the NKJV even though its the same text as the KJV. Well, it isn’t “identical.” I’m giving you examples. Should that matter to the case you are making? It should, but you seem rather to be perturbed with me. I run into much harder times, preaching here in the SF Bay Area, than what I’m putting you through. You should go door-to-door with me sometime here. You have a standing invitation.

    When I say C, I’m saying critical text. LV, Latin Vulgate. The LV part of that cut and paste isn’t significant.

    The critical text omits eautous (from eautou) in Jude 1:19. The KJV translates eautous. Reflexive pronoun, accusative, masculine, plural. Scrivener and Beza do have it. I’m saying that the critical text omits eautous from the traditional text, and that the NKJV is different textually than the KJV, as seen in the translation. That is one example that parallels the translation of the critical text in their omission of eautous. That doesn’t probably matter to you. Fine. But it refutes the idea that the texts behind those translations are identical.

    That’s what I’m saying, Dr. Combs.

    The KJVO you talk about (and you include Burgon) do not ascribe inspiration to the KJV like the original manuscripts. Ruckman perhaps, but not most KJVO. And the history of KJVO, in the sense of one standard English Bible from one text, goes back further than the 19th century. Even KJV enemies say this. I think it’s worth talking about, but if you want to leave everything here unquestioned, I’ll accede to that wish. I would be wondering then what is the point of this series.

    Thanks!! 😀

  10. Bill Combs

    Kent,
    My frustration with KJV-only folk is that I can never keep them on point. Like you did here, they jump to a new discussion while you are trying to nail down the previous difference of opinion. You originally asked, “Is the Hebrew text of the NKJV identical to the KJV?” I responded, “Yes.” Then you responded, “Thank you. That wasn’t so bad. As Bob shows, this isn’t the case, but also what do you do with these:” I don’t know why you said “thank you.” Did I concede some point to you? Then you jump to some NT data.

    I said that the KJV and the NKJV are both ultimately based on the 2nd Rabbinic Bible, published in 1524-25. If you want to discuss the KJV-only issue, then let’s just stick with the OT text for the moment and see if that can be settled. As far as I know there is no document that tells us exactly which OT Hebrew text the KJV translators used. But everything I have read says it was the 2nd Rabbinic Bible, the same one used by Tyndale for his translation in the OT, by Coverdale in his Bible and the Great Bible, by Rogers in Matthew’s Bible, by the Geneva Bible and the Bishop’s Bible. Do you dispute this, Kent? I am also saying that the OT translation of the NKJV was ultimately based on the 2nd Rabbinic Bible. As I read Dr. Price’s paper he is saying that the KJV and the NKJV were ultimately based on the same Hebrew text, the 2nd Rabbinic Bible.

    Dr. Price says: “As former executive editor of the NKJV Old Testament, I can confidently assure you that the NKJV followed, as carefully as possible, the Bomberg 1524-25 Ben Chayyim edition that the KJV 1611 translators used–I personally made sure.”

  11. Dr. Combs,

    What’s the point of your telling me you’re frustrated? If I’m sinning against you, let me get that settled. But if I’m not, then telling me you are frustrated, what is that even about? It isn’t staying on point any more than my jumping around might be.

    I’m willing to concede anything that can be proven to me. And I’m fine with the 1524-1525 ben chayyim as the received text of the Old Testament. It’s what I believe. What the actual preface of the NKJV says is that they looked at the 1967/77 Stuttgart edition, and consulted the LXX, the Latin Vulgate, and other ancient versions of the OT. That’s what I know. Then I read that where the Stuttgart differed from the ben chayyim, they relied only on that. Maybe that’s true.

    So I moved to OK on the text, same text, only translational differences, believing those who told me, but now I also have these other NT differences. I really didn’t want to take the time to check every verse out myself. I was hoping someone else would do that work.

    Are the original language words (text) behind the NKJV identical to the KJV? I don’t believe so any longer. I’m disappointed in the people who have said that, if they knew that it was otherwise. And I think it is otherwise.

    How could my questioning of this be a problem for you? I’m fine with being wrong.

    And sorry for jumping around. I think I’ve got one point. Same text or not?

  12. Bill Combs

    Kent said: “I think I’ve got one point. Same text or not?”

    That is what I am trying to settle. I am trying to figure out what we can agree on. I think it is a fact that that the NKJV and the KJV used the same text for their translation in the OT. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. I say it is a fact that both the the KJV and the NKJV used the 2nd Rabbinic Bible as their ultimate text. We have the statement from Dr. Price, the chairman of the OT committee of the NKJV to that effect. Bob Hayton provided the link to Dr. Price’s paper where he tells us that he can personally vouch for the fact that the NKJV is translated from the same Hebrew and Aramaic words as the KJV. Either Dr. Price is telling us the truth or he is not. I have no evidence to suggest that what he says is not true.

    Every KJV-only person I have run into says that the NKJV is not translated from the same Hebrew and Aramaic text as the KJV. You say the same thing. I say you are in error. I am trying to correct you on this point. If you have evidence that will disprove what Dr. Price says in his paper cited by Bob Hayton, I would be glad to hear it. I do not believe Dr. Price is incapable of error, but I have no reason at this point to question his veracity, and I know of no evidence to contradict him. But every KJV-only person I have met says that what he says is not true. Either it is a fact that the NKJV is based on the same OT text as the KJV or not. If it is not I will stop saying it is, but Dr. Price, the OT editor says it is. Did you read his explantation in the paper linked to by Bob Hayton?

    If the NKJV is based on the same OT text as the NKJV, then KJV-only folk should stop telling us it is not. Dr. Price says: “As former executive editor of the NKJV Old Testament, I can confidently assure you that the NKJV followed, as carefully as possible, the Bomberg 1524-25 Ben Chayyim edition that the KJV 1611 translators used–I personally made sure.”

    If that is not true then I would be happy to see evidence to the contrary. If it is true, then you should stop saying that in the OT the NKJV is not translated from the same text as the KJV.

  13. Bill Combs

    Kent,
    Your very first comment to my post was:

    “OH, one more thing. Sorry. The NKJV does have a different Hebrew OT text. Until I saw for myself, I gave people the benefit of the doubt that the text behind the NKJV was the same as the KJV. It’s not. That should be known by everyone, so people stop repeating that. It’s not true.”

    This is how you started your disagreement with my post, so I am just trying to settle this difference between us. That is the point of my immediately preceding post.

  14. Dr. Combs,

    Technically, that was my second comment to your post. I’m interested in your history of KJVO. I would be happy that you could present an accurate representation. Yours clashes with the one Bauder just presented, and one that I read in Mike Sproul’s book. I would think that we all want an accurate history of a one Bible only view and the multiple Bible view, where they truly both came from. I hope you don’t mind that I’m a little suspect of those who start with certain presuppositions. It doesn’t mean I don’t like them personally, by the way.

    For years, I assumed that the OT text of the NKJV was different because the editors said so in their own preface. I’m not saying that it was way different, just different. Then I heard that they started with a different text (there aren’t that many differences in the OT relative to the NT—I know that; it’s something I’ve looked at related to the OT critical text [LXX, DSS, etc.], and then I heard what you are telling me, that where the Stuttgart differed from Ben Chayyim, the translators used the Ben Chayyim. That doesn’t make sense to me. Why not just start with the Ben Chayyim? It is still available. Why state in one’s own publication that one isn’t using the identical text, but relying on all that I mentioned above? But let’s assume that, especially for discussion sake, that it is true. For the time being, I concede that. I even hope so. It’s something I was willing to believe at one point in time until I read the preface. But then it was pointed out to me a few years ago some of the differences in the NT text—and the ones I mentioned aren’t all. Did Price also edit the NT text, and can he assure that the translators relied upon an identical text?

    I get the point of the NKJV/KJV deal. If we can’t accept the NKJV, and it’s from the same text, then we really are trusting in English words, not the underlying text. I get that. And it is the underlying words to me. There is more to it than that, however. Have you read George P. Marsh’s essay on the English Bible, in the mid 19th century? This represents a kind of thinking that is bothered by replacing a standard English Bible. The people, like yourself, that think that we should accept the NKJV, I don’t think, really want us to stop there. We find that it’s really differing bibliological positions.

    So, same text or not? I’m conceding for now the OT position. You probably want me just to concede, no exceptions. But at this point, I haven’t personally checked it all out. And it sounds like you don’t really know for sure. I do know of NT differences, however, that I have seen. Does that matter to our conclusion?

  15. Bill Combs

    Kent,
    I don’t see much that I disagree with in what you have said in your latest post, but let me comment on a few things.

    You say: “Yours clashes with the one Bauder just presented, and one that I read in Mike Sproul’s book.” I don’t know to what you are referring specifically. I stand by what I have written unless I am shown to be wrong.

    You say: “Why not just start with the Ben Chayyim? It is still available.” In a personal email to me in 2002, Dr. Price told me that at the time of the translation work they could not secure copies of Bomberg but used printed editions that are known to be based on Bomberg. As he says in his written document linked to by Bob Hayton, Dr. Price did eventually check to make sure they were following Bomberg as close a humanly possible. But I agree that the preface of the NKJV is unfortunately confusing on this point.

    You say: “I get the point of the NKJV/KJV deal. If we can’t accept the NKJV, and it’s from the same text, then we really are trusting in English words, not the underlying text.” Exactly.

    You say: “Have you read George P. Marsh’s essay on the English Bible, in the mid 19th century?” No.

    You say: “The people, like yourself, that think that we should accept the NKJV, I don’t think, really want us to stop there.’ I honestly don’t care whether you accept the NKJV or not. But I think you should not argue that the NKJV should be rejected because it uses a different text in the OT than the KJV does. There may be other reasons to reject it, but I don’t think the OT text issue is one of them.

    You say: “So, same text or not? I’m conceding for now the OT position. You probably want me just to concede, no exceptions. But at this point, I haven’t personally checked it all out. And it sounds like you don’t really know for sure.” I am not sure what there is to check out. If both the KJV and the NKJV are translated from the the same text in the OT, what am I suppose to check? I know of no evidence that demonstrates the NKJV is translated from a different OT text. Dr. Price, who I respect as a man of integrity, says they are, so I will take his word until someone can point to a clear example where that is not the case. Sure, there will be translation differences between the KJV and the NKJV, but that does not mean the textual base for the translations is different. There are a lot of translation differences between the NASB, ESV, and the NIV, but they all are based on the same OT text as far as I know.

  16. Dr. Combs,

    You ask what is there not to concede, or something like that. I’m just saying that I had already heard all of this, but I read in the preface that they relied on other than Ben Chayyim. But I’m conceding without being able to show any proof. The OT hasn’t been a major issue I know. But when I wrote that comment, I was flying through it and the latest blog post I ever wrote (I went back and looked) emphasized the NT differences. I’m not poo-pooing my concession, just that I’m wanting to know about the NT textual differences. Remember eautous? I would think that you would ‘know’ that the NT text is the same.

    Thanks.

  17. For your benefit, here is the paragraph and the link for the preface to the NKJV (especially so you will know I’m not pulling this out of a hat).

    For the New King James Version the text used was the 1967/1977 Stuttgart edition of the Biblia Hebraica, with frequent comparisons being made with the Bomberg edition of 1524—25. The Septuagint (Greek) Version of the Old Testament and the Latin Vulgate also were consulted. In addition to referring to a variety of ancient versions of the Hebrew Scriptures, the New King James Version draws on the resources of relevant manuscripts from the Dead Sea caves. In the few places where the Hebrew was so obscure that the 1611 King James was compelled to follow one of the versions, but where information is now available to resolve the problems, the New King James Version follows the Hebrew text. Significant variations are recorded in footnotes.

    http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/cms_content?page=186191&sp=57319