King James Only advocates claim that if a person were to study the history of how the KJV was carried throughout the world after its publication, he will clearly see God’s hand of blessing upon those people and nations who honor the KJV as God’s final authority.
For example, the exclusive use of the King James Bible was instrumental in the Puritan revival, the founding of America, the two Great Awakenings, and the great missionary endeavors during the 17 and 1800s.
King James advocate, William P. Grady, sums of the evidence this way:
Although this may appear as unfounded speculation to some, the undeniable blessings of God which accompanied the preaching of the A.D. 1611 Authorized Version constitute the central, irrefutable argument for the superiority of our King James Bible. Church history confirms that the greatst [sic] period of revivalism and missionary activity prevailed when the Authorized Version reigned supreme in the land … The major premise of this chapter is that the King James Bible has already received the endorsement of God Himself through an unprecedented proliferation of over 900,000,000 copies translated into at least 300 foreign languages … the Holy Spirit has personally answered the question of “Which Bible?” by honoring the Authorized Version with over three centuries of continuous usage. [Final Authority: A Christian’s Guide to the King James Bible, 1993, p. 174]
I personally believe this apologetic point is beyond unfounded speculation as Mr. Grady calls it and is nothing but exaggerated, historical revisionism. The historical argument is frequently raised by KJVO apologists and oft repeated in their literature and websites, so let me address some of their key claims:
1) The Acceptance of the King James among the Christians of that day.
KJVO advocates argue that true, God-loving, Bible-honoring Christians quickly accepted the King James as their favored translation. However, this is not true. In my last article surveying the work of the King James translators, I noted that the translation was first and foremost a means by which King James I could prevent a major schism from happening in the Church of England.
The Puritan movement was unhappy with the way the Anglican Church was being handled. In their minds, the Church was not godly enough and they demanded reform. King James I, on the other hand, was unhappy with the Puritans and he certainly did not care for their favorite English translation, the Geneva Bible. He saw the new translation that would bear his name as a way to not only please the Puritans, but also as a way to supplant the use of the Geneva.
This of course did not happen and the Reformed dissenters from the Church of England continued their use of the Geneva Bible. In fact, the King James Bible did not become regularly utilized by Christians for at least 30 to 40 years after its publication. The Geneva Bible remained the dominant translation of choice for many Christians including the Puritan Pilgrims who made their way from England and Holland to colonize America.
Interestingly, it was King James’ persecution of the Puritans that drove them to risk a 6 week journey across the Atlantic ocean in order to come to the New World. When they arrived, they carried with them the Geneva Bible. Even today if you were to travel through New England and visit a colonial society where pre-Revolutionary War life is preserved and acted out by the participants, they quote from the Geneva Bible.
The King James Bible only became dominant as the Church of England solely printed it and banned all others from publication. During the 1800s, as the British Empire flourished after the Napoleonic Wars in 1812, the King James was carried around the world and into the various countries where the British had set up shop. Though we can consider this an act of providence, it is not God’s stamp of approval upon one favored English translation that is never to be revised or updated and forever fixed in the language of the 17th century.
2) The King James Bible was the catalyst for the Great Awakening and missionary endeavors.
A second one many KJVO advocates pass along is the claim that faithful preaching from the King James Bible was the spark God used to bring about many great revivals in Church history, including the two American awakenings with the first one taking place in the 1740s under such men as George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards, and then the second happening in the early 1800s to the 1830s under such men as Charles Finney. Also, it is asserted by KJVO apologists that God blessed the ministries of many of the renown missionaries like Adoniram Judson, John G. Patton, David Brainard, and John Elliot, because they exclusively used the King James as the text for their preaching and translation work.
Though there is a hint of romanticism with such a notion, there is a more obvious and biblical reason why the Great Awakenings, particularly the first one, were so impactful on American culture, as well as the ministries of those missionaries so successful: The strong, theological and doctrinal preaching that marked those men and women. To be even more specific, the preaching of God’s sovereign grace in salvation as outlined in the theology of Calvinism.
The majority of KJVO advocates would be loathe to admit the primary role the doctrines of Calvinism had in the lives of those preachers and missionaries, but when we consider the preaching that took place during those times of revival, the translational text utilized is really a secondary consideration. It was the theological content they preached that God blessed.
Nearly ever major preacher from this period of time that we still esteem to this day, were solid, 5 point Calvinists who preached a high view of God’s holiness and a biblical view of man’s sin and need for a savior. Their preaching further encompassed the complete satisfaction of Christ to atone for sinners and the divine work of salvation in unconditional election. All of their preaching was from a careful exegesis of the text of scripture.
Their preaching stands in sharp contrast to the preaching heard today in many of the KJVO, Fundamentalist churches, where a pastor generally preaches some guilt-trip laden sermon against the congregation and then ending it with a manipulative plea to get people to walk an aisle. Such a contrast raises a question. Which perspective has more lasting value in the lives of Christians? Solid, theological preaching and teaching that uses a translation other than the KJV? Or, shallow, preaching empty of any doctrinal content, but uses exclusively the KJV?
3) Modern versions are the cause of all sorts of heresies and corrupted teaching and are the cause of the spiritual ills experienced in today’s Christian churches.
Quoting again from KJV apologist, William Grady, he has some rather choice, though woefully out-dated, examples of the terrible fruit of modern Bible versions,
By contrast, what kind of fruit has the modern Bible movement produced? Oral Roberts’ 900-foot Jesus? “Christian” heavy metal rock bands? Tammy Bakker’s air-conditioned dog house? Reader’s Digest Condensed Bibles? John MacArthur’s theology on the blood? [my personal favorite!- fred] Theistic evolution offered in “Christian” colleges? ..”Honk-If-You-Love-Jesus” bumper stickers? “Christian” theme parks? “Roberta” Schuler’s [sic] possibility thinking? Born-again athletes who rarely attend church? “Rev.” Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition? “Christian” aerobics? James Dobson’s condoning of interracial marriages? [another one of my favorites – fred] [ibid., pgs. 184-185]
Grady’s list continues on with another 20 or so examples, but you get the point. All of those so-called spiritual ills and heresies are a result, according to Mr. Grady, of Christians abandoning the pure, preserved Word’s of God as contained in the King James and using modern versions like the New International and the English Standard. But his list is utterly ridiculous.
I have already addressed the so-called influence of “heretics” on modern versions in a previous article in this series, so there really is no need to belabor this point. However, if we were going to be honest, we could make an equal, if not more damning list, against the type of fruit generated by King James onlyism,
By contrast, what sort of fruit has the King James only movement produced? Jack Hyles’ bus “ministry?” Hill-billy snake handlers? The KKK? Mississippi lynch mobs? Frank Norris shooting a man in his office? Quick prayerism? “Lordless” salvation? The carnal Christian doctrine? Adulterous fundamental pastors? Preacher kids who act like angels on Sunday, but devils the rest of the week? Lists of legalistic “do’s and dont’s?” Peter Ruckman’s “Alexandrian Cult” nonsense? Dr. Dino’s tax evasion? “Dr.” Gail Riplinger’s copious “research?” BJU’s old interracial dating policies? Thomas Strouse’s geo-centric cosmology?
Now obviously, some of my examples are a bit over-the-top. But, is a slavish devotion to an antiquated English translation to blame, say for example, the KKK or non-lordship salvation? Of course not, but neither are modern versions to blame for all of the problems the church currently faces today. The real culprit is a squalid theology born out of vacuous teaching. If the Word of God is not held up with respect and it’s message is mishandled in the pulpits on a regular basis, it doesn’t matter what translation a person uses, the fruit will beget spiritual retardation.
If Christians genuinely wish to be faithful to what happened at key times during church history where the Spirit of God was manifested in revival and spiritual renewal, then faithfully preach the Word of God in any translation.