KJV: The Only Inerrant Word — Revisited
My regular sarcasm and unhealthy pride frequently result in moments like this where I spout off about topics that I know little about with no regard at all for the targets of the criticism. I’m trying very hard to be aware of it and do a better job of thinking before I speak (or write) because I understand how hurtful it is.
Thankfully not long after that I did that, I was given the opportunity to spend many hours actually researching the KJV-only discussion, and I found that there were very thoughtful, reasoned cases for it. So with that basis, I wanted to revisit this topic one more time.
The Case for KJV-Only
As I understand it, there are two cornerstones to the argument for using the King James Version of the Bible exclusively:
- The KJV was translated from the manuscripts that are closest to what the authors originally wrote. (Some believe that those manuscripts are a perfect copy of the originals.)
- The KJV is the best translation of those texts that has ever been and ever could be.
The Best Manuscripts
There are several different reasons why those who advocate KJV-only believe that the manuscripts from which the KJV was translated are the most accurate.
They believe that a pure line of manuscripts originated in Antioch and culminated in what is known as the Textus Receptus (TR), Latin for “received text” — first compiled by Erasmus in 1516 and published by him four more times over the next 19 years. The next 106 years saw several more versions of the TR from two different editors.
There is no pure line of manuscripts. Erasmus himself used at least six different Greek versions to compile his New Testament, and was forced to include at least one verse from manuscripts that appeared after his first version was completed. He also included at least one verse (Acts 9:6) that only existed in the Latin Vulgate, which they believe to be corrupted by the Roman Catholics. Some answer this problem by saying that Erasmus’ work was God-breathed in the same way as Scripture, and so his work was as inspired as the originals.
Today we have thousands more copies of manuscripts in the Majority Text (or Byzantine) family (which largely matches the TR) than we have in the Minority Text (or Alexandrian) family (thus the names). This is a compelling argument for the accuracy of the Majority Text.
It wasn’t until the ninth century that Byzantine texts outnumbered Alexandrian texts. For the first 1,000 years of Christianity, Alexandrian texts far outnumbered Byzantine. In fact, there is no evidence that Byzantine texts even existed until the fifth century.
There are other reasons that could just as easily account for why we have far more copies of manuscripts from the Byzantine family today, none of which argue for their accuracy.
In the KJV, Psalm 12:6,7 states, “The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” This indicates that God will preserve Scripture 100% intact forever. Therefore, we must today have the exact words of the originals.
There is wide disagreement among scholars over whether “words” here actually indicates Scripture or whether “them” in verse 7 even refers to those words rather than those who verse 5 speaks of the LORD protecting. If those two things are true, it obviously makes a strong argument for preservation. However, it’s very questionable that they are.
In most cases, the Bible mentions Alexandria unfavorably and Antioch favorably. Antioch definitely appears to have had a more solid Christian foundation, so manuscripts originating from Antioch are to be trusted more than Alexandrian manuscripts.
This would be good support for other arguments, but it alone, in the absence of other evidence, is not enough to prove that the Antioch line is more accurate. All other things being equal, it would be more likely for a better manuscript to arise from Antioch, but it’s not proof in and of itself.
Those who argue for KJV-only believe that the Alexandrian line was intentionally corrupted, for reasons including the advancement of Roman Catholic theology.
People have been attempting to corrupt the Bible from the very beginning. We have plenty of evidence of that. However, we do not have any firm evidence that any corruption was preserved in the Alexandrian line or that it was or was not also preserved in the Byzantine line.
KJV-only proponents state, “We find that these two texts [the Majority and Minority] disagree consistently concerning the major doctrines of the Bible. They are found to disagree on readings concerning the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, the blood atonement, Christ’s second coming, the deity of Christ, and many other fundamental Christian doctrines. It is for this reason that we must examine our witnesses to determine if their testimony is accurate (God’s text) or if they are fraudulently misleading (Satan’s text).”
This is one of the major problems that they have with other manuscripts and versions — and rightfully so. If major doctrines are affected, then this is a very critical issue.
The Minority Text doesn’t actually disagree with the Majority on any doctrine like the ones they list. Where they disagree is on the readings, not on the doctrines.
The real issue is best stated by one of the KJV’s strongest advocates: Any fundamental [doctrine] found in any version is found purer or more frequently in the King James Bible thus making the King James Bible the best of the field (emphasis mine).
Maybe the best way to see this is with an example. Here is Matthew 1:25 in the KJV and in the NIV:
And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
KJV-only advocates claim that removing the word “firstborn” gives room to question the virgin birth. This would be true if the doctrine of the virgin birth wasn’t attested to in a number of other places, or if it indicated that Jesus wasn’t the firstborn. Neither of these is the case, though. The doctrine of the virgin birth is well established by Scripture, with or without the word “firstborn” here, and Matthew himself chose not to include the word.
Most of the cases like this involve words or phrases that have been removed. Those words or phrases do often enhance the meaning, but removing them never changes a doctrine. Additionally, a strong argument can be made that those were only added in later manuscripts and don’t actually occur in the originals.
The Best Translation
The second cornerstone of the argument is that the KJV is the best translation that has ever been and that ever could be: “Education has degenerated along with the entire world system and could never produce a scholar equal to those of nearly four hundred years ago.”
You’ll have to decide for yourself if you believe this to be true.
It would be easy to study this topic and come away believing we have two different sets of manuscripts that a) are exactly the same within each set and b) disagree with the other set on the majority of readings.
The truth, though, is that we can be absolutely sure of what the originals said in 95% of cases because the manuscripts, across both sets, match exactly at those points. There is, at most, a 5% disagreement, and some claim it is as low as 1.7%.
Additionally, there isn’t 100% agreement among the manuscripts in either set, and frequently the differences actually cut across the two sets.
In terms of textual criticism, what we’re talking about are differences in a very small minority of readings across thousands of different manuscripts that otherwise agree 95% of the time.
If you’ve been taught something all your life, and had it backed up with facts that sounded both true and reasonable, why would you not believe it? I’ve believed countless things like that (and I’m sure there are some I still do), so if anyone should have been slow to speak on this topic it should have been me. There is no excuse for saying the things I said or the way I said them.
The series of translations that led to the KJV was one of the most monumental events in all of Christian history. So much of what we have today was built on the work of those selfless men, some of whom literally died to get a readable Bible into the hands of regular people. Having spent hours and hours researching this, though, I’m confident that scholarship continues to increase and that we can be more sure now about what the original authors wrote than at virtually any other time in history.