Erik over at Fundamentally Changed recently raised the question of the possibility that KJV onlyism is rooted in an imperialist mindset. Many people who prefer the KJV have a high view of the importance of America and Britain in world history. They believe that God chose English as a special language that he knew would become universal, and so God codified His Word in that language.
Many have claimed in the comments at Sharper Iron’s filing post on this, as well as on Erik’s original post, that they’ve seen no evidence of such imperialism as an argument in KJV Only literature. I beg to differ.
Benjamin Wilkinson’s book Our Authorized Bible Vindicated (1930) was certainly influential in the rise of the modern KJV Only position. His work was leaned on heavily (some would say plaegarized) in J.J. Ray’s God Only Wrote One Bible (1955). And Wilkinson’s work was quoted (with some revisions and deletions) in David Otis Fuller’s book Which Bible? (1970). Those two books were very instrumental in the rise of the modern KJV Only movement. Ray’s work influenced Peter Ruckman and Fuller, and Fuller’s work influenced leaders of the other wing of KJV-onlyism. Doug Kutilek documents this in a post on the rise of the KJV-only movement here.
Before providing this quote, some of which is reproduced in a 1999 work by Jack Moorman published by The Dean Burgon Society called Forever Settled, I should stress that Wilkinson’s work is certainly only one influence among many for the birth of KJV-onlyism. And the imperialist claims are just one idea among many that he trumpeted. KJV-onlyism probably does have ties to Burgon’s and others argument against the RV in the late 1800s. And it also probably has some connection with older Reformation-era views of the perfect-ness of the printed Greek and Hebrew texts the church had in their possession. But many observors of KJV onlyism have seen that in fundamentalist circles, the older leaders were not KJV-only, men like John R. Rice. And the leaders in the generation after them were converted to KJV onlyism later in their ministries, men like Jack Hyles. Several influential KJV authors also were converted later in their ministries to KJV Onlyism, men like David Cloud and D.A. Waite.
Now, enough about this. Let me provide the quotes from Wilkinson which I shared on Erik’s post. I think it proves at the least an imperialist influence on the rise of KJV-onlyism. The following comes from Wilkinson’s work published in 1930, available online here.
God who foresaw the coming greatness of the English-speaking world, prepared in advance the agent who early would give direction to the course of its thinking. One man stands out silhouetted against the horizon above all others, as having stamped his genius upon English thought and upon the English language. That man was William Tyndale. (pg. 33)
The hour had arrived, and from the human point of view, conditions were perfect, for God to bring forth a translation of the Bible which would sum up in itself the best of the ages. The heavenly Father foresaw the opportunity of giving His Word to the inhabitants of earth by the coming of the British Empire with its dominions scattered throughout the world, and by the great American Republic, both speaking the English language. Not only was the English language by 1611 in a more opportune condition than it had ever been before or ever would be again, but the Hebrew and the Greek likewise had been brought up with the accumulated treasures of their materials to a splendid working point. The age was not distracted by the rush of mechanical and industrial achievements. Moreover linguistic scholarship was at its peak. Men of giant minds, supported by excellent physical health, had possessed in a splendid state of perfection a knowledge of the languages and literature necessary for the ripest Biblical scholarship. (pg. 42)
The birth of the King James Bible was a death stroke to the supremacy of Roman Catholicism. The translators little foresaw the wide extent of circulation and the tremendous influence to be won by their book. They little dreamed that for three hundred years it would form the bond of English Protestantism in all parts of the world. One of the brilliant minds of the last generation, Faber, who as a clergyman in the Church of England, labored to Romanize that body, and finally abandoned it for the Church of Rome, cried out, — “Who will say that the uncommon beauty and marvelous English of the Protestant Bible is not one of the great strongholds of heresy in this country?”
Yes, more, it has not only been the stronghold of Protestantism in Great Britain, but it has built a gigantic wall as a barrier against the spread of Romanism.
“The printing of the English Bible has proved to be by far the mightiest barrier ever reared to repel the advance of Popery, and to damage all the resources of the Papacy.”
Small wonder then that for three hundred years incessant warfare has been waged upon this instrument created by God to mold all constitutions and laws of the British Empire, and of the great American Republic, while at the same time comforting, blessing, and instructing the lives of the millions who inhabit these territories. Behold what it has given to the world! The machinery of the Catholic Church can never begin to compare with the splendid machinery of Protestantism. The Sabbath School, the Bible printing houses, the foreign missionary societies, the Y.M.C.A., the Y.W.C.A., the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Protestant denominational organizations, — these all were the offspring of Protestantism. Their benefits have gone to all lands and been adopted by practically all nations. Shall we throw away the Bible from which such splendid organizations have sprung? (51-52)