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The Truth About The King James Only Controversy

By Ben Rast -  Contender Ministries


At Contender Ministries, we’ve had some interesting discussions and received some interesting emails.  Not surprisingly, while we have been blessed to receive some wonderful, encouraging notes from visitors to our site, we’ve also received our share of hate mail.  Among the most virulent and spiteful of the comments we’ve received were those that came not from Muslims, Mormons, or Catholics; but rather from Christians in the KJO (King James Only) camp.  The KJO crowd believes that the only “authorized” version of the Bible is the King James Version (KJV), and all modern translations are perversions of the Word of God.  I’ve even had one KJO apologist tell me that the KJV is the “only true Word of God.”  The fact that many of the verses on our website have been taken from the New International Version (NIV) proved to him that we have been deceived by Satan.  This caused me to undertake a serious study of the history of the KJV and other translations of the Bible.  I present to you now, the fruits of that study.

First, let me reassure the KJV users that nothing in my study has caused me to consider discarding my copy of the KJV.  I have always used it and will continue to do so, in conjunction with other translations.  It is not my intent to cast aspersions on the KJV translation, nor upon its translators, who were good, God-fearing men who did a wonderful service for the Lord.  The focus of this article is not any particular version of the Bible, but rather the contention that the KJV is the only “authorized version” of the Word of God.  There are many people who prefer the KJV over any other version, but would not be considered KJO, as they make no claim that the KJV is the only authorized Word of God.  This article does not address preferences for one version over another, but rather it speaks to claims of the absolute and exclusive supremacy of the KJV.  My wife has informed me that I have a habit of prefacing too much in daily conversation, but I think for this article it is necessary.  Having sufficiently prefaced, let us now examine the history of the KJV and modern translations.  Let us also discover if some modern translations have removed precious truths from the Bible.


The whole issue of Biblical accuracy could be quickly put to rest if we had in our possession the original writings of the prophets and apostles.  These original writings, called “autographs”, have not been discovered.  Yet it is they that were penned under the direct and inerrant inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible tells us that “All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, KJV).  2 Peter 1:21 tells us that “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost.”  In this verse, the Greek pheromene refers to being carried along, like a ship moved by the wind.  In other words, the Holy Spirit directly influenced what was originally written by Moses, John, Paul, etc. 

Sometimes I think it would be nice if we were in possession of the autographs, but perhaps it is best that we aren’t.  If we had the actual texts penned by Luke, Paul, or John, they could become revered to the point of becoming idols in the faith.  After all, it is not the written word that is the object of our worship, but rather the living Word – Jesus Christ.


The Old Testament autographs were written primarily in Hebrew (except for Daniel, which was written in Aramaic – a cousin to Hebrew).  The New Testament autographs were written in Koine Greek.  In order for the Word of God to spread across the globe, to reach people of different languages and carry on through time, it became necessary for the autographs to be copied by scribes, and translated into other languages.  These scribes hand copied the original writings onto papyrus and parchment manuscripts.  In fact, the word manuscript means “hand copy.”  There are many early manuscripts in existence today.  The main concern with the copying and translation process was maintaining accuracy.  Many of us will remember the children’s game of  “Telephone”, and recall how, after several transmissions, there were inaccuracies from what was originally spoken.  That is true even with the biblical manuscripts.  Among the multitude of manuscripts, we find one to two percent of the Bible has relevant variations.  However, these variations do not alter the main messages in the Word of God. God promised His Word would be preserved.  Jesus said “The scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).  He also said, “heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).  Peter stated that the living and abiding word of God is imperishable (1 Peter 1:23). Isaiah said that “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:8).  This great promise of God stands fulfilled.  After twenty centuries of copying and translating, the key points of the Word of God stand as they always have. 


A Dutch Roman Catholic Priest and Greek scholar named Desiderius Erasmus published his first Greek New Testament in 1516.  Erasmus put this text together quickly and haphazardly, and numerous revisions followed.  From a preface to one of the revisions we get the name “Textus Receptus.”  The TR was collated from a relatively small collection (about five or six texts) of Byzantine-era Greek texts dating back to about the twelfth to fourteenth century AD.  In his haste to beat the competition to press, Erasmus made the mistake of including some margin notes from the Byzantine texts into the verses of the TR.  It is largely from the TR that the New Testament of the KJV was translated.


In 1611, under the rule of King James, a modern translation of the Bible was produced.  It was the first edition of the King James Version of the Bible.  The purpose of this new translation was to provide a version of the Bible written in the common language of the time.  It was to serve as a Bible that everyone could understand.  As a preface to the 1611 KJV, the translators wrote a message entitled “The Translators to the Reader.”  In it, they said, “happy is the man that delighteth in the Scripture and thrice happy that meditate in it day and night.  But how shall man meditate in that which they cannot understand?  How shall they understand that which is kept close [veiled] in an unknown tongue?… [Contemporary] Translation it is that opens the window, to let in the light….indeed, without translation into the vulgar [common] tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) without a bucket or something to draw with…” (pages 3,4).  This being said, it is apparent that the KJV translators would not object to modern translations if the intent were the same – to produce a translation understandable in the common language.  The translators made no claim that the KJV was to be the only authorized version of the Bible. In fact, they stated, “a variety of translation is profitable for finding out the sense of the Scriptures.”  From their own words, it is apparent that the KJV translators would not be among the ardent KJO crowd. 


Contrary to what some in the KJO camp believe, the 1611 KJV was not without errors.  In fact, it took several subsequent editions to arrive at the version that is in use today.  For instance, in the 1611 edition, Matthew 26:36 said, “Then cometh Judas”.  Today, the KJV renders that verse as “Then cometh Jesus.” This is a rather significant difference.  The first edition also contained the Apocryphal books, which were removed in subsequent editions.  The 1613 edition inadvertently left the word “not” out of the seventh commandment, thereby encouraging people to commit adultery.  This edition became known as the “Wicked Bible.”  Another edition earned the nickname “Unrighteous Bible” because it stated that the unrighteous would inherit the kingdom of heaven. Furthermore, in using Erasmus’ TR as the basis of the New Testament, many of Erasmus’ additions of margin notes into the text of the verses found their way into the verses in the KJV.  We’ll go more into this quirk shortly.


In the years since the KJV came about in 1611, and even since the most recent major revisions in 1769, some wonderful discoveries have come to light.  In 1859, Count Konstantin von Tischendorf discovered nearly 350 pages of an early Greek text containing all the New Testament works.  He discovered this volume in St. Catherine’s monastery on Mt. Sinai, and it became known as the Codex Sinaiticus.  This Greek New Testament was dated to the mid 4thcentury AD.  Another discovery, the Codex Vaticanus, is a volume of 757 vellum sheets containing most of the works of the Bible, and it dates to the early 4th century AD.  Other papyri fragments have been discovered that date to the early 2nd century AD!  In fact, literally thousands of pieces of the Bible have been discovered dating earlier than the Byzantine texts that were the foundation of the Textus Receptus.  These earlier texts formed the foundation for many of the modern translations in use today, including the NIV and the NASB.  Thinking back to the game of Telephone, wouldn’t you consider someone who was twice or three times removed from the original messenger a more reliable source than someone who was ten or twelve times removed?  If we can’t get to the original autographs, we would want to at least get to the earliest manuscripts available.  The purpose behind many of the modern translations was the same as the purpose behind the 1611 KJV translation – to provide an accurate rendition of the Bible in the common language of the day.  A benefit the NIV and NASB translators had that the KJV translators did not have was access to earlier manuscripts. 


I received an email from a young man I’ve been discipling, and he was quite distressed that some verses are not found in the NIV that are in the KJV.  He wondered why the NIV translators would have left those verses out.  Indeed, there are several verses that seem to be missing from the NIV (partial list: Matt 17:21, Mark 7:16, Mark 11:26, Acts 8:37, Acts 9:6).  There are other verses that seem much shorter in the NIV.  In the KJV, John 6:47 reads, “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.”  In modern translations, the same verse reads, “He who believes has eternal life,” with the words “on me” left out.  Did the NIV and NASB leave verses and portions of verses out?  Well, not exactly.  The earliest manuscripts found do not contain those verses and extra phrases.  Those are, in fact, additions to the KJV, rather than subtractions in later translations.  Some of those words and verses do appear as margin notes in some early texts, but were clearly not part of the verses.  Does this make the KJV a bad translation?  Of course not.  The addition of those verses and phrases do not alter the doctrines of the Bible; rather, they clarify the text.  Insofar as these additions do not compromise the key messages of Scripture, and serve to clarify or explain them, I have no objections to these KJV additions to Scripture.  But we must not fall for the KJO argument that the NIV or NASB translators removed Scripture.  If that is the case, then the scribes who wrote the earliest known manuscripts committed the same error. 

Other differences between the KJV and modern translations are due to translational differences.  One example of this is John 3:36.  In the KJV, this verse reads, “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life,” whereas the NASB says, “He who does not obey the Son shall not see life.”  Are we talking about disbelief or disobedience?  This difference comes from the translation of the Greek word apeitheo.  In English, many of our words have many possible meanings.  In Greek, this is even more prevalent.  However, most Greek words will have a primary meaning, and other secondary meanings will be construed based on context.  Apeitheo can mean either unbelief or disobedience.  However, the NASB translators chose the primary meaning for the word.  The KJV translators also applied this meaning to apeitheo when it appears in 1 Peter 3:1, 4:16, and Romans 2:8.  Does this difference in translation cause an important doctrinal discrepancy?  I contend that it does not.  True faith or belief in the Son will naturally result in obedience to the Son.  The key doctrines of grace and salvation are not affected by this translational difference. 

It is clear from a study of the earliest known manuscripts, that the NIV and NASB translations are closest to the original text.  The addition of verses and phrases in the KJV are mostly explanatory in nature, and do not cause doctrinal discrepancies.  The differences between the KJV and modern translations amount to about one percent of the text.  Yet the KJO proponents are often virulent and spiteful in the arguments that the KJV is the only authorized Word of God. 


Some KJO proponents complain that the NIV translation committee was loaded with homosexuals.  They argue that this sexual sin that pervaded the committee must have skewed the translation in favor of homosexuals.  Is this true? 

It is true that lesbian sympathizer Virginia Mollencott was involved with the NIV development.  However, she was not a translator, and had nothing to do with the translation.  She served on the literary (stylistic) committee of the NIV for a few months.  Once her sexual views were known, she was promptly asked to resign.  At no time did her work impact the translation of the NIV.  Any reasonable person reading the NIV can see clearly that homosexuality is condemned as a sin.


As stated earlier, the purpose of the KJV translators was to produce a translation that was understood in the common language of the day.  That is also a driving force behind many of the modern translations.  This is, in fact, why we cite verses from the NIV in our articles more frequently than we cite verses from the KJV.  Tests show that reading and comprehending the KJV requires a 12th grade reading level.  In contrast, the NASB requires an 11th grade reading level, and the NIV only a 7.8. 

I still use the KJV quite a bit for my own use, and when witnessing to Mormons and others who are more familiar with the KJV.  Yet some of the words that were common language 400 years ago are not so common today.  Consider the following words and phrases from the KJV: “ceiled” (Haggai 1:4), “clouted upon their feet” (Joshua 9:5), “cotes” (2 Chronicles 32:28), “sackbut” (Daniel 3:5), “brigandines” (Jeremiah 46:4), “wen” (Leviticus 22:22), “tabret” (Genesis 31:27), etc.  That’s not including other KJV words such as almug, neesing, chode, habergeon, etc.  Even as I write these words, my spell-checker is creating a sea of red in this paragraph!


We have demonstrated that from the standpoint of accuracy, modern translations stack up as well as the KJV, and better in some areas.  From an issue of readability, each is left to his or her own preference.  For me, I will continue to use both my NIV and my KJV in my studies and witnessing. 

This article is not meant to change anyone’s preference for which Bible translation they use.  The KJO debate is not about preference.  Rather, it is about claims of exclusive “authorization” of the KJV as the Word of God, and perceived heresy of modern translations.  Yet having read both versions, I can attest that no doctrine is compromised in any way in my NIV.  This controversy has split congregations and denominations…all because of one percent of the Bible that presents no doctrinal discrepancies.  This is akin to pummeling your neighbor for saying to-may-to, when you say to-mah-to.  Is this really a battle the bride of Christ should be fighting within herself?

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Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture on this website was taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION(r). Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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