There is a common line of thinking that says that the KJV is a fine translation, but it should not be read in exclusivity. Those that do are foolish or ignorant, according to many. Such has become the default layperson’s opinion within what might be considered “conservative” evangelicalism. The scholars who contribute to this discussion are typically more extreme, often times advocating that the KJV should not be read by anybody (See Andrew Naselli). Such opinions are extremely uncharitable, and quite frankly, ignorant. The two common threads that run through those in the critical text crowd is that they refuse to hear any legitimate critiques of their own position on the text, and they refuse to see the virtues of the positions that are in conflict with their own. Instead, they focus only on the critiques of “KJV Onlyism”, which is defined as anybody who simply reads the KJV. As a former critical text die hard, I tried to see the virtues in the critical text, and found none.
“He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him”Proverbs 18:13
The KJV Only Boogeyman
When people talk about KJV Onlyism as a “heresy” or “foolishness”, one might think they are referring to Ruckman or Gipp and those who follow in that school. While this would be charitable to assume, this is almost never the case. When people use the phrase “KJV Onlyism”, they are referring to people who do not choose to make use of the modern critical translations of the Bible. The reasons do not matter. This is not only the case at a popular level, but also the case within available academic literature (See Naselli). That is to say, that if you as a 21st century Christian do not read a 21st century Bible, you are a “fool” or in Naselli’s words, “ignorant”.
What many people who advocate against “KJV Onlyism” fail to see is the growing list of criticisms of their own position that have caused many, many people to return to the King James Bible. Since most “defenses” of the critical text involve attacking the TR, it’s near impossible to find an actual presentation as to why one should read a modern critical bible other than “You don’t want to be a kooky KJVO”. In fact, when critical scholars attempt to defend their bibles, they end up advocating against historical protestant orthodoxy. The best that modern scholars can do at this point is to say, “We know we don’t have every word that was originally written, but what we have is good enough for me”. I have yet to see a single argument at the scholarly or popular level that can explain how the Bible can be pure, and also be changing and uncertain without abandoning the historic protestant view of the Scriptures.
In order to justify the use of critical bibles, critical apologists must reinterpret historical theology to say, “They were actually saying what we’re saying”. Most Christians who use this line have no idea what it is that modern scholars are actually saying, unfortunately. You would think that somebody who is calling other Christians “ignorant”, “foolish”, and “cult-like”would know a little bit about the position they are saying is the better position, but most of the time they have no idea. Nine times out of ten they are woefully ignorant on the state of modern textual criticism. So let’s take a look at what the modern scholars all agree upon from the mouth of Dan Wallace.
“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain”.Gurry & Hixson, Myths & Mistakes, xii. Quote Dan Wallace.
Now, if the average Christian were to just evaluate this quote, which represents the doctrinal core of the modern critical text, they likely would not find themselves in full agreement. In fact, it might even cause them to question their undying support of the bibles that are produced with this theological core in mind. Yet, the mind of modern Christian is seldom convinced of a new position, because the modern Christian is trained to believe their favorite authority. Even if their favorite authority is dead wrong.
What many Christians who vehemently defend modern bibles fail to recognize is that there is nothing tangible that they are actually defending when they take up the cause of modern bibles. There is no “modern critical text”. There is no “modern bible”. There are only modern critical texts, and modern critical bibles. If you listen carefully to the scholars, notice how they will not ever defend the notion of a single bible. All bibles are good in their own way, and they all should be read and used, even if they disagree in text and translation – and they do. This is because modern Bibliology does not believe there is a single bible. If you don’t believe me, ask a scholar or proponent of critical bibles to identify one.
So when a defender of the modern critical text calls “KJV Onlyism” “foolish” and “ignorant”, they are actually saying that it is foolish and ignorant to believe that there could possibly be one text of the New Testament. In other words, it is foolish to believe that God kept His Word pure in all ages. You may believe that Erasmus was a papist idiot, or that Beza copied from the Vulgate, but at the end of the day, “KJV Onlyists” believe that God preserved His Word, and that it’s available today. This is doctrinally accurate and virtuous, not “foolish”. Before you scoff at the conclusion of the “KJV Onlyists”, think of what you have to affirm to do so. You have to affirm that there is no bible, and that God did not preserve and deliver His Word in the 21st century. Even if He did accomplish such a feat, you wouldn’t know it. What we have is “good enough” and you just need to deal with it. So before you go calling your brother in Christ a fool for reading the KJV, realize that many who read the KJV have adequate reasons for doing so. It may be wise to hear them out, and attempt to understand why men like Joel Beeke are among those who you call a “KJV Onlyist” and a “fool”.