Defining KJV-Onlyism

This post is from our newly edited “What is KJV Only?” page.

KJV Onlyism is hard to define. And like any grass roots movement, there are many competing manifestations of it. As a former, self-dubbed “KJV-onlyist” I will try to carefully put forth a definition. I know I’m going to say something wrong here and won’t please everyone, but I hope the end result is helpful for those new to the debate.

Simple Definition

The KJV-only position holds that the only Bible an English speaking Christian should use is the King James Bible. While some KJV-only proponents bristle at the label viewing it as a derogatory term, most don’t hesitate to affirm it. In KJV-only circles, you cannot disavow the label. Rather, you qualify it.

Now, for study, some KJV-onlyists may allow the use of other translations. But for memorization, church preaching and teaching, and general reading, the KJV should be the only version of the Bible one uses.

Why the King James Bible?

Different KJV-onlyists will offer different answers to this question. These are some of the common arguments used by most KJV-onlyists.

The Better Text Argument — The KJV is the only widely used Bible exclusively based on the Textus Receptus Greek & Masoretic Hebrew Texts.

The Better Doctrine Argument — The differences between the KJV and other Bible versions are examined and the KJV’s readings preserve a superior doctrine and more of Jesus Christ’s divine titles.

The Conspiratorial Argument — The manuscripts that support the newer Greek text were only found recently and were found in areas like Egypt where false doctrine was prevalent.

The Historical Argument — The Reformers and Puritans used the KJV and it launched worldwide missions and the Great Awakenings.

The Better Manuscripts Argument — The manuscripts that support the text behind the KJV agree with one another closely, don’t show signs of textual corruption and represent the vast numerical superiority – 90% of the manuscripts.

The Better Translation Argument — The KJV translators were masters of English and knew Greek and Hebrew and multiple other languages far better than translators today, plus they used a literal translation technique instead of the dynamic or loose method in vogue today.

Groupings of KJV-Onlyists

I mentioned before that there are numerous manifestations of KJV-onlyism. Sometimes the different groups are treated like one entity. I want to be careful to distinguish terms and not broad-brush the entire movement by the crazy antics of Peter Ruckman or Gail Riplinger, for example.

Generic KJV Only Position — Most KJV Onlyists find themselves here. They haven’t thought out a more specific position, or just believe the KJV is the only Bible that should be used and leave it at that.

English is Inspired View — This view takes issue with anyone correcting the KJV English. Since the Bible seems to show translations of the OT as being treated like they were inspired, the English is treated like it is inspired. Some versions are more strict than others, but all bow to the KJV as the final authority before they would trust a lexicon or dictionary.

Double-Inspiration View — This view goes further and says the English corrects the Greek. In some sense the KJV was inspired directly by God. People with this view (and some of those in the previous view) would hold that translations of the Bible into other languages must be guided by the English of the KJV.

Pure Seed View — This idea comes from 1 Pet. 1:23-25 and basically claims that the use of the KJV is essential for people to be saved. No one can be saved from an impure seed (the NIV, for instance). Any of the first three positions above could hold to this view as well, but no one in the next three camps would.

TR Only View — This view holds the Greek and Hebrew as superior to the English, but also holds that they were word-perfectly preserved. The text behind the KJV usually is the text held to be the word-perfect copy of the original text. The word of God is “intact” in English, and while they would correct the sense of the KJV through scholarship and original language study, they still would not see this as any kind of overt error in the KJV. Few if any, TR-onlyists use the NKJV however.

Ecclesiastical Text — This view places greater stress on church confessions and the historic use of the Textus Receptus by the church of the Reformation period and afterward. Some in this view would hold to errors in either the TR or the KJV, and some would use the NKJV or 21st Century KJV.

Majority Text — This view should be distinguished from the previous views. Proponents of the Greek Majority Text may or may not use the KJV or NKJV. They hold to a textual theory of the superiority of the Byzantine view, but they acknowledge the merits of careful, believing scholarship and textual criticism. As the Majority Text as such didn’t exist prior to 1980, they don’t see adherence to that text as a binding matter of faith for all Christians.

King James Preferred — This view is held by some who see some weaknesses with the King James Only position, but still believe the TR is the best text we have or else use the King James primarily for traditional or other reasons.

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Imperialist Influence on the Rise of KJV Onlyism?

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)