A great majority of KJVO apologists will claim that the King James represents the final, complete, purified Bible having gone through what they insist was a seven-fold purification process in the English language. This process began with the first Bibles translated into English by Wycliff and his Lollard followers, continuing to Tyndale’s work, onto Coverdale’s translation, then Matthew’s, then the Great Bible, the Geneva translation, the Bishop’s and finally the King James. KJVO advocates will call this the Line of Good Bibles or the Tree of Good Bibles.
Additionally, they will set up their good line of Bibles in a comparison with a list of bad Bibles. Oddly, the list of bad Bibles will include non-English texts, like the Latin Vulgate and the Alexandrian manuscripts. Moreover, the bad Bibles listed by some KJVO apologists will include post-KJV English translations like the Revised Version, the American Standard Version, the Revised Standard, the New American Standard, and the New International.
KJVO advocates draw their conviction for the line of good Bibles argument from Psalm 12:6,7 which reads:
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.
Though some KJVO proponents believe that Psalm is a promise from God to preserve His Word in the Masoretic Hebrew texts and the Greek Received Text, many of them point to the words “purified seven times” and believe it is a prophetic statement speaking to the published English translations leading up to the final product of the King James.
However, if KJVO apologists insist those verses are a prophetic announcement that God is providing a line of good Bibles which can be traced from the KJV back to the original, inspired text, those source texts, as well as the various translations preceding the KJV, must have the same purity or the final product will not be the genuine purified product.
What then are we to make of this “line of good Bibles” argument? I believe this argument is not only the weakest one put forth by KJV advocates, but it is also the most fantastic and contrived, and it is riddled with some serious flaws.
1) The line of good Bibles begins with an inaccurate interpretation of Psalm 12:6, 7.
I went into more detail about the misuse of Psalm 12:6, 7 by KJVO proponents when I considered the Promise Argument. To summarize, KJV onlyists believe that passage is specifically promising divine preservation applied directly to the physical copies of the biblical text. They then argue that those divinely preserved copies are found in the family of original language texts used to compile the base texts of the Hebrew and Greek languages from which the King James was translated.
The problem, however, is that Psalm 12:6, 7 is not promising a word-for-word preservation of the physical copies, so it is inaccurate for KJVO apologists to use the passage as a proof text for their “line of good Bibles” argument. Allow me to consider three problematic areas.
– The context refutes this argument: The context of Psalm 12 is God’s promise to keep His people, Israel, from being destroyed by the wicked who persecute them. The writer does not have in mind the preservation of textual copies.
– The expression, “purified seven times”: The idea of a seven-fold preservation is a Hebraic expression of certainty. In other words, God can be trusted to preserve His people from being destroyed by persecutors. The reason God can be trusted is the fact that He has a proven track record. He has demonstrated His faithfulness to His people over and over by keeping the promises He made to them through the various covenants. Thus, God can be tested just like silver purified seven times to reveal its purity. The writer has no thought of a future family of English translations that will be “purified” seven times to produce a finished product.
– Note that God’s WORDS are already purified: If one carefully reads the text, he or she will notice that it plainly states God’s word is purified, past tense. At the point of composing the Psalm, God’s word (His promises) have been shown to be faithful because they have been purified. This purification is something that has already taken place.
2) There is no standard or consistent list of the seven-fold line of good Bibles.
Even though KJVO apologists appeal to the notion of a seven-fold process of translating a perfect English Bible, there does not exist a consistent list of the “line of good Bibles” leading up to the King James. Each list may vary from author to author.
For example, King James advocate, William Bradly, provides the list of seven Bibles in his book Purified Seven Times: The Miracle of the English Bible, and names them as: Wycliff’s, Tyndale’s, Coverdale’s, Matthew’s, the Great Bible, Geneva, and then the King James. He leaves out of the list the major translation the Bishop’s Bible from which the King James was a revision.
On the other hand, KJV defender, Ed DeVries in his book Divinely Inspired, Inerrantly Preserved, lists Wycliff’s, Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, the Great Bible, Geneva, Bishop’s and then the King James. He omits the 1535 Coverdale translation.
Some KJV apologists recognize the difficulty of fitting all those versions into the “good line” list so as to arrive at the King James being the 7th, purified as silver translation. KJV onlyist, William Grady, presents a clever solution in his book Final Authority, in which he equates the number 7 to “perfection” and 8 to “new beginnings” and asserts that the King James is erected upon the seven-fold foundation of the Wycliff, Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew, the Great, Geneva and the Bishop’s.
It is clear that the main reason for the confusion between KJV authors concerning the seven-fold list is the fact there are more than just seven English translations before the King James. Ultimately, the reality of all those translations place the entire “line of good Bibles” in the realm of subjectivity. Rick Norris, author of The Unbound Scriptures, wrote an exhaustive study critiquing the “line of good Bibles” argument. He observes:
What consistent criteria was used to determine objectively which translations to include? It seems that KJV-only advocates cannot agree on which Bibles to include on their lists and on which Bibles to leave off. Do they start with the assumption that the KJV has to be the seventh one and then subjectively pick out six others to make their count work?
That leads me to a third problem,
3) The “line of good Bibles argument is inconsistent with known history.
It is fairly obvious to the reader by now that there are more than just 7 English translations between Wycliff’s work and the King James of 1611. If we were to start the “good line” with William Tyndale’s translations, there are roughly 31 various translations published in English before the King James.
If we were to eliminate those translations of just portions of scripture (by the way, Tyndale never completed the Bible. He only translated the NT and some of the OT), there are 12 major translations published from Tyndale’s work to the KJV.
Moreover, we could ask the question: Are multiple editions of one specific translation to be counted with the “line of good Bibles?” All of the translations went through many editions with the newer edition improving upon the previous ones. David Daniell notes in his monumental work, History of the English Bible, that the Geneva Bible alone had a total of 140 editions between 1575 and 1645. The King James was re-published in 1612 to correct a number of misspellings and other “printing errors.” It saw subsequent editions way into the 1800s.
4) The “line of good Bibles” argument is inconsistent with itself and other KJVO polemics.
As I noted above, some KJVO apologists will contrast their “good line” of Bibles with a “bad line” of Bibles. They will often extend these two contrasting lines backward to include other ancient language editions and translations. Yet, in doing this, they contradict themselves and this argument.
For example, Peter Ruckman, the pope of all KJV onlyism, puts together his two contrasting lines of “good and bad” Bibles in his book, The Bible “Babel.” He has the Syriac Peshitta listed in his “good line” and contends that the Peshitta contained the OT and NT as it stands in the 1611. The problem with such a bold statement is the fact that the Peshitta omits the books 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. Additionally, two favorite passages of KJV advocates, John 7:53-8:11 (the woman taken in adultery) and 1 John 5:7,8 (the Trinity passage) are omitted.
Ruckman also places the Wycliff translation in his “good line.” He places the Latin Vulgate in his “bad line.” He fails to note that Wycliff used the Latin Vulgate to translate his work. How then can a Bible be both in the “good line” and the “bad line” at the same time?
One last example will suffice to demonstrate inconsistency. Anyone familiar with the literature of KJVO advocates knows how the authors will have a set of verse comparison charts listing how all the modern versions will omit a word here or change a passage there.
One favorite passage is Luke 2:33, where the KJV reads “and Joseph and his mother marveled …” KJV advocates argue that Joseph is distinguished from Mary because he was not really the father of Jesus. The KJV, it is argued, is protecting the doctrine of the Virgin birth. Modern Versions render the verse as “his father” or “and his parents…,” which hints to Joseph being his physical father and thus undermining the Virgin birth. The KJV authors will condemn the various modern versions as “perversions” and as attacking the Deity of Christ.
However, nearly all of the pre-KJV translations listed in the “line of good Bibles” translate this passage as “his father.” That includes Wycliff’s, Tyndale’s, Coverdale’s, Matthew’s, the Great Bible, and Bishop’s. How is it then that KJVO advocates can defend their pet translation, the KJV, if it is revised from Bibles containing what they all describe as inexcusable and damnable corruption? Is not the fruit of the tree only as good as the tree itself? How can the perfect, seven-fold purified Bible be based upon previous works so obviously corrupted?