By Mark Swarbrick
The King James Only Controversy
The KJV Only, or King James Only Controversy has arisen due to a movement of people who claim that the 1611 King James Version of the Bible is the only authoritative and accurate rendition of the Bible into English. King James Onlyists are typically quite dogmatic in their condemnation of any and all modern English translations of the Bible.
The following article is an excerpt from the author’s book, King James Onlyism: Is the KJV the Best Bible Version? The book is available in both Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon. To purchase from Amazon, CLICK HERE or click the book image to the left.
KJV Onlyists say that all modern versions are produced by a conspiracy of depraved people working in concert to overthrow the Gospel. They claim that anyone that doesn’t think like them on this matter has been deceived by some mystical group called the “Alexandrian Cult.” The movement is referred to as KJV Onlyism and many of its adherents have proven to be quite divisive, hostile and argumentative, causing schisms and splits in countless churches across the nation.
The truth is that the position of the KJV Only people is one that lacks scholarship and truthfulness. The fact of the matter is that the King James Version of the Bible is clearly not the most accurate translation available today. Not only do modern translations have increased clarity, making them easier to read, but they benefit from the thousands of Greek manuscripts discovered since 1611 and the resulting increased understanding of the Koine Greek that the original documents were written in. In point of fact, the translators of the KJV did not even know of the Koine dialect and thought that the original autographs were written in Classical Greek. Consequently, many of passages of the KJV have been mistranslated.
What exactly is wrong with the KJV? Quite a lot, actually. First of all, the King James Version of the Bible is written in an archaic language that is 400 years old. Many of the words used are no longer in common parlance. For example, is a reader likely to know what a habergeon is? Or a sackbut?
How about any of these words: Chambering, cieled, cotes, suretiship, scall, brigandines, amerce, glede, wen, nitre, tabret, almug, neesing, chode, crookbackt, putenance, aceldama, balins, wot, trow, churl, ambassage, or wimples. That is just a partial list of many of the words in the KJV that have meanings unknown to most people today. I would bet most KJV Onlyists don’t even know their meanings.
KJV Only & The Problem of Archaic Language
It is argued that one can just get a dictionary. They would have to make sure it is one that contains the archaic old English words. How many people are not going to bother to do that, and will just gloss over a passage whether they understand it or not? A lot of people will do just that. The Bible needs to be clear and understandable to the common man, not only to those who wish to make a hobby of studying ancient English.
Furthermore, a dictionary will not help you with archaic idioms. In 1 Chronicles 12:40 we read about “bunches of raisins.” One would assume correctly that this refers to a lot of raisins. But what would a person assume when they read of “bunches of camels” in Isaiah 30:6? If one thinks this means a large numbers of camels, that would be incorrect. In 1611 “bunches” was an idiom for the humps of camels. Who would know? Even if you had known to check the archaic definition of bunches in a dictionary, you would not learn this. In such a case a dictionary will not help you. Only a linguist could could clue you in all of the archaic figures of speech used in the King James Version.
On top of that is the fact that the readability of the KJV text is particularly challenging. The KJV is written at a 12th-grade level, while the reading level of the average American is at a 7th/8th grade level. Compounding the problem are the numerous awkward and ambiguous passages in the KJV, such as Luke 14:10:
“But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.”
This passage has nothing to do with “rooms” or “worshipping” or steak. It has to do with not trying to take the seat of honor at a banquet. How much clearer is the NIV:
“But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.”
There are many phrases used in the KJV that have no meaning today, such as “clouted upon their feet,” “collops of fat,” “hole’s mouth,” “naughty figs,” and “fetched a compass.” Try hazarding a guess at the meanings of those. If you thought “fetched a compass” means to go and get a compass, you would be wrong. It means to take a circuitous route.
KJV Onlyists argue that the Holy Ghost will reveal the meaning of the words and phrases. I tell them this: Give it a try then. Go read all the passages where those words and phrases are used. Pray for God to reveal the meaning to you. Write down your “Holy Ghost” interpretation of those words. Then check your work. Go search out a dictionary that covers 400-year-old English definitions and a book that explains old Elizabethan phrases to find out what is meant.
As you check your work, I can guarantee you are going to see that you did not get them all correct. You won’t score 100 percent. Not even close. And if one is going to put the Lord God to the test and expect Him to reveal what the KJV text really says, then why read an English version at all? Why not read the original Greek and have the Holy Spirit miraculously enable you to understand a language you have never learned?
Yes, God can work miracles and reveal things, but God expects us to use common sense and read the Bible in a language we are familiar with. Insisting that everyone read a Bible version written in an archaic language that they don’t understand is unrealistic. Furthermore, expecting God to magically reveal word meanings to people is tantamount to asking God to feed people manna from heaven when there is a grocery store down the street. As Jesus said, “You shall not test the Lord, your God.” (Matthew 4:7)
The bottom line is this: You may be fine reading the King James Version, but to force that on others is not realistic or wise. Many people are simply not going to bother reading something that isn’t written in language they can follow. They will just give up on reading the Bible. Many people have told me, “I tried to read the Bible before, but I just couldn’t get into it. All those thee’s and thou’s and so forth, it was just too hard to read.” Countless multitudes have given up on the Bible because they were not encouraged to try a modern version that was translated into current English.
KJV Only & the Changed Meanings of English Words
Language is not a static thing. It is living – meaning that it is always changing. Many of the words used in the King James Version have changed since the time of its translation. Sometimes this has led to some false doctrines in the Church.
For example, In Genesis 1:28, the KJV has God telling Adam and Eve to “Replenish the earth.” Some have assumed that if God told them to replenish the earth, that must mean it was full before. This has led to the concoction of the Pre-Adamite race theory, wherein it is postulated that an entire race of humans existed and died before Adam was created. This is an unbiblical theory since the New Testament tells us clearly that Adam was the first man and that sin and death came into the world through Adam. You cannot, therefore, have a whole race of men living and dying before Adam, as there was no sin and death before Adam.
The fact of the matter is that the word replenish in 1611 meant to fill. It did not mean refill, as it does today. Answers in Genesis has an excellent article on this, and it can be found here: https://answersingenesis.org/bible-questions/what-does-replenish-the-earth-mean/
Other examples: the KJV uses the word prevent, which in 1611, meant precede. The word conversation meant behavior or character in 1611, but today it refers to speaking. Leasing in 1611 did not mean to rent out. It meant deceit. In Matthew 6:6, Jesus says, “…when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray.” From this, we get the term “prayer closet.”
But Jesus never actually said to go into a closet and pray. The word used referred to an inner room, such as a bedroom. Jesus was speaking of going into our own bedroom, study or other private place to pray. The Hollman Christian Standard Bible accurately translates this passage as: “But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray…” Many such examples could be given where the word meanings have changed since 1611.
Granted, in most cases, there is no serious error given by misunderstanding these words, but the point is this: The claim made by KJV Onlyists that the KJV is the most accurate version is simply not born out by the facts. The truth is that in many passages, the words used in the KJV are so archaic that they no longer mean what they meant in 1611; thus, they no longer convey what the writer of scripture was actually saying.
With archaic words that are no longer used, the reader can research the term and find out what it meant in 1611, but with words that are still in use but have changed meaning, the reader has no warning. For example, the reader won’t know to look up the 17th century meaning of prevent or conversation because those words are still in common use. He will have no way of knowing which words have changed in their meaning.
This has been an excerpt from the author’s book, King James Onlyism: Is the KJV the Best Bible Version? The book is available in both Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon. To purchase from Amazon, CLICK HERE.
This book will give you a quick synopsis of the key issues and prepare you to more than hold your own against the cultic onslaught of the KJV Only Cult. Learn about the manuscript evidence discovered after 1611, advances in linguistic understanding, modern scholarship about Hebrew and Greek idioms, and doctrinal problems with the KJV.
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