There are a number of reasons people choose a Bible translation. For those in the Modern Critical Text crowd, it’s often the same logic that caused many people to vote for Joe Biden – because he wasn’t the other guy. In the same way, the modern axiom seems to be, “So as long as it’s not the KJV it’s fine.” In fact, this is exactly the logic found in mainstream, “Reformed” New Testament exegesis textbooks such as How to Understand and Apply the New Testament authored by Andrew Naselli. All translations are permissible, even the Message, so as long as it’s not the KJV. The Living Bible even has more to offer than the King James, according to Naselli!
This, in my opinion, is astronomically stupid. There are plenty of reasons to believe that the King James is the best available translation without believing that the English of the King James was re-inspired. This is true, even if the modern scholars and armchair warriors disagree. In this article, I will examine two common arguments made by anti-KJV Christians to see if what they say actually makes any sense.
Reading One Bible Version is Bad
This is a rather common complaint from the Modern Critical Text crowd. They suppose that being an “onlyist” is a bad thing. Yet when we look at this claim simply, it doesn’t make all that much sense. There are plenty of people who read the NIV and only the NIV. Same goes with the ESV and the NASB. They do this because they prefer one translation over another. Despite this being quite common, I’ve never seen a Gospel Coalition article condemning people for preferring the ESV or people writing books about people who only read the ESV. What this reveals is that the issue, at least when considered broadly, is not with people only reading one translation, the problem is with the KJV itself. So when somebody says, “I just have an issue with people who only read the KJV because they believe all of the other translations are bad,” they are really saying that they just don’t like that people read the KJV. It’s okay if somebody only reads the ESV, just not the KJV.
The problem is not with the “Onlyist” part of KJVO, it’s the “KJV” part of KJVO. Ironically, when I was in the critical text crowd, I constantly saw people bickering, especially on behalf of the NASB, about how their choice translation is the BEST translation. This may be news for some people, but it’s okay to have an opinion about which translation is best. It demonstrates that somebody cares about the words on the page of their Bible. It’s actually more concerning, in my opinion, when people give so little concern about the words in their Bible that they actually think all Bibles are made equal. This is drawn to its absurd end when respectable scholars such as Andrew Naselli defend the MSG in a textbook marketed to Reformed Christians. If somebody says it is more profitable to read the MSG than the KJV, what would you say the real issue is? If Naselli and the critical text advocate’s only issue is “Onlyism,” I’d like to see a chapter dedicated in the next “Reformed” textbook about why “ESV Onlyism” is heresy. Of course they won’t because the issue isn’t with “Onlyism,” it’s with the KJV.
KJV Onlyism is Bad Because it Rejects Modern Translations
The premise of this argument assumes that modern translations are not bad, or that somebody is not allowed to believe that modern translations are bad. This again, is absurd. The scholars who claim to specialize in this topic, such as Mark Ward and Dan Wallace, admit as much when they say there are no perfectly accurate modern translations. They write this off as the inevitability of sinners having produced them, but secular scholars accurately translate things all the time. Modern Scholars talk about modern translations like a mother talks lovingly about her child who got held back two years in grade school. “He’s gets the answers wrong a lot, but he has a huge heart and has a lot to offer in other areas.”
If the modern Bible translations, by admission of the scholars, get it wrong a lot, why is it so absurd when people choose something else? If the top scholars tell Christians that reading all modern translations is profitable because none of them get it 100% right, is it possible that the “KJVO” crowd might be onto something? Who am I kidding though, it might pain a modern critical text advocate to be overly charitable to people who read the KJV or admit that a gap-toothed KJVO might be correct about something. This again highlights that the real issue that the modern critical text advocate has is with the KJV and nothing else.
Further, people that don’t read the KJV reject modern translations all the time. There is a reason John MacArthur made his own translation rather than subjecting himself to the NASB 2020. Is John MacArthur now a Legacy Bible onlyist? Should somebody write treatises against him too? I’d like to see Mark Ward issue a “sincere” offer to John MacArthur like he did to Trinitarian Bible Society to convince him to change his ways. Since rejecting translations is common in the modern critical text crowd, it seems reasonable to say that rejecting Bible translations isn’t the unforgiveable sin of somebody who reads the KJV. As one would expect, reading the KJV is the unforgiveable sin of the person who reads the KJV.
Whenever I interact with people who think they doing the world a service by eradicating “KJV Onlyists” from the face of the earth, it always comes to light that they aren’t actually talking about “KJV Onlyism.” I run a somewhat-popular blog in the “KJV Only” world and I have only ever had one person in support of Peter Ruckman comment on my blog or YouTube. Ultimately, the term “KJVO” is just another tool for people to bludgeon people on the internet. If you actually make somebody define what they mean by “KJVO,” they are simply talking about people who read the King James. The great sin of only reading one translation, despite being something that many people do, is only wrong when that one translation is the KJV.
I have pointed this out before on this blog, but the “KJV Onlyists” seem to be the only people that are actually paying attention to what the scholars are saying. Scholars are praised for saying the same exact thing that “King James Onlyists” are saying. The “KJV Onlyist” will say that all modern translations have error, and that is why they read the KJV. Dan Wallace will say the same thing and he gets invited to speak in your churches and seminaries. So what makes the “KJV Onlyist” different than Dan Wallace? Dan Wallace doesn’t read the KJV. The problem that modern critical text advocates have is not with “KJV Onlyism,” it is with the KJV.
Elijah Hixson & Peter Gurry. Myths & Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. xii. Quote by Dan Wallace.
“We do not have now – in any of our critical Greek texts or in 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.”
The real problem is when somebody believes that the theology behind the above Dan Wallace quote is less dangerous than believing than God has preserved His Word and the KJV is an accurate translation of it. Perhaps we will see some scholars writing treatises about that in the future, but I won’t hold my breath.