When people hear the term “King James Onlyism,” there are a number of definitions that might come to mind. Some think of the version of King James Onlyism which believes that the Bible didn’t exist until 1611 and that the English King James was immediately inspired. This is often called “Ruckmanite” KJVO, or something similar. Others might think of somebody who only reads the KJV due to the lack of quality of modern translations or somebody who simply prefers the KJV. On my blog I rarely address Ruckmanite King James Onlyism because I personally have never talked to somebody who believes after Ruckman or Gipp. If people weren’t constantly bringing him up, I probably would not have even heard of it from anybody in real life.
Recently I was talking to a brother who lives in Tennessee, who told me that it is a pretty serious problem where he lives, which made me realize I’ve never really addressed it. In this article, I’d like to examine the theology of this position and critique it by comparing it theologically to the Critical Text position. One of the major issues with this discussion is that the Modern Critical Text apologists cannot seem to bring themselves to make the proper category distinction between the Traditional Text position and Ruckmanite KJVO, so I will demonstrate in this article that it is actually the Critical Text position and Ruckmanite KJVO that are similar, not the TR position. Perhaps this will even demonstrate to the Ruckmanite that their theology is quite liberal in reality. In this article, I am using the term “Ruckmanite” to describe those who believe that the Bible was re-inspired in the English King James Version (double inspiration) and who reject the authority of the Hebrew and Greek texts over the KJV as a result of that doctrine.
The Similarities between the Modern Critical Text and Ruckmanite KJVO
Interestingly enough, the only thing that Ruckmanite KJVO and Traditional Text advocates share is their use of the King James Bible, and even then, some Traditional Text guys read the NKJV, MEV, or Geneva Bible. The Ruckmanite and the Modern Critical Text (CT) advocate actually have a lot more in common than a Ruckmanite and Traditional Text advocate. I am not saying that the theology of the CT and Ruckman are exactly the same, just that they share a serious overlap in the doctrinal core of their respective positions.
First, both the CT proponent and the Ruckmanite reject that the Bible was providentially preserved in the Hebrew and Greek. The CT proponent says that the Bible has fallen away, or perhaps was stashed in the desert in Egypt and needs to be reconstructed. There is no way to adhere to the WCF or LBCF 1.8 as a Critical Text advocate unless we redefine 1.8 in a Warfieldian way. Alternatively, the Ruckmanite will say that the Bible didn’t officially exist until 1611. While each camp arrives at extremely different conclusions, both accept the premise that the Bible was not handed down perfectly in the original manuscripts. See this quote from Dr. Andrew Naselli in his widely read How to Understand and Apply the New Testament.
“The Bible’s inerrancy does not mean that copies of the original writings or translations of those copies are inerrant. Copies and translations are inerrant only to the extent that they accurately represent the original.”Andrew Naselli. How to Understand and Apply the New Testament. 43.
The Ruckmanite would agree that the the copies and translations of the copies of the original are not inerrant. They disagree with Naselli in the fact that they believe the KJV is the only inerrant Bible, whereas Naselli believes the Bible is only inerrant where it can be proven to be original (which is the standard view of inerrancy set forth by the Chicago Statement, article X). So both camps say that the copies that were handed down are not providentially preserved, whereas the Traditional Text advocate believes as Turretin did, that the original writings are represented by the apographs, or copies.
“By the original texts, we do not mean the autographs written by the hand of Moses, of the prophets and of the apostles, which certainly do not now exist. We mean their apographs which are so called because they set forth to us the word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit”Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. I, 106.
Second, both the CT proponent and the Ruckmanite are okay with treating translations as authoritative. The CT scholars use the Septuagint as authoritative above the original Hebrew, whereas the Ruckmanite views the KJV to be authoritative over the Hebrew and Greek. Even though the extant versions of the Septuagint cannot be proven to represent the original, these versions are used to correct the Hebrew of the Old Testament. Both, due to the first belief that God did not providentially preserve His Word in the original Greek and Hebrew, are perfectly fine treating a translation as authoritative over the original text.
While the doctrine of inerrancy as set forth by the CT advocate may sound different than the view of Ruckman, it really is quite similar. Since there is no mechanism of textual criticism that can demonstrate an extant copy or translation of a copy to “accurately represent the original,” the only thing that remains is the belief that the translation is more authoritative than the Hebrew original. The CT does this in many places in the Old Testament. If you were to inspect the footnotes of the Old Testament in a 2016 ESV for example, there are readings on nearly every page that are taken from translations such as the Latin, Syriac, and Greek over and above the Hebrew. This again is quite different from the Traditional Text view, which aligns with the Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689.
“The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated in to the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner; and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.”The Westminster Confession of Faith. 1.8.
The Traditional Text view is that the authentic Scriptures are the Hebrew and Greek, which have been providentially kept pure in all ages, so the concept of taking a translation over the original does not exist in the TR view. Both the CT proponent and Ruckmanite appeal to translations as authoritative over the original. While the CT advocate may offer lip service to the Reformed doctrine above, they contradict themselves when they take the LXX or any other translation as more authoritative than the Hebrew or even Greek (2 Peter 3:10). The Ruckmanite is simply more transparent about the practice. At face value, the CT advocate and the TR advocate may sound like they are saying the same thing about translations being authoritative insofar as they represent the original, but there isn’t a concept of an available original in the CT position. In order for Article X of the Chicago Statement to actually mean something, there needs to be a defined original that can be used as a final authority. Further, the CT scholars reject this in practice when they place readings in the text over the original languages from other translations such as the Latin, Syriac, and LXX. In this sense, they share far more in common with the Ruckmanite when it comes to Bibliology than the TR proponent.
In both the case of the CT proponent and the Ruckmanite, the core belief is that the Bible was not providentially preserved in the original Greek and Hebrew. The CT advocate applies this doctrine by enthusiastically supporting the ongoing effort to reconstruct the Bible, whereas the Ruckmanite applies the very same doctrine by saying that the Bible was finally inspired in the KJV in 1611. It is the same doctrine with two different conclusions. It is the same problem answered in two very different ways. The tactic that the CT camp employs is to focus on the the fact that both the Ruckmanite and the TR believer read the KJV and not the theological core and practical application of that doctrine. The CT believer looks at the Traditional Text advocate and the Ruckmanite, sees that they both use the KJV, and concludes they are the same. This is a massive blunder.
The important distinction occurs in the doctrinal substance of both positions, and when considered, the CT advocate and the Ruckmanite have much more in common than the Traditional Text proponent. Both the CT supporter and Ruckmanite believe that the inerrant text was not transmitted in the copies. Both the CT supporter and the Ruckmanite believe that translations can be more authoritative than the original language texts as a result of the first belief. The Traditional Text advocate affirms against both. The only similarity between the Ruckmanite and the TR advocate is that they use the KJV, and this isn’t even true in every case as many TR believers read the NKJV, MEV, or perhaps the Geneva Bible.
There is a reason some have appropriately labeled the CT position as “Reformed Ruckmanism,” because there is serious overlap in the theology of both positions. The overlap is so significant, that it is perplexing that the CT apologist even takes issue with Ruckmanite KJVO at all. They slam the Ruckmanite for viewing a translation as more authoritative than the original language texts, but they do the very same thing with the Latin, Syriac, and LXX. There is no theological reason for a CT advocate to object to Ruckman. The only place they really disagree is in the severely incorrect answer Ruckman has to their shared problem.
Ultimately, the CT proponent has a playground tier argument against the Ruckmanite. They called “dibs” on correcting the original with a translation, and don’t like that the Ruckmanites aren’t respecting the authority of “dibs.” Ironically, the Traditional Text camp is the only position that consistently critiques both positions, despite being labeled as “KJVO” by CT apologists. As I have noted before on this blog, the Modern Critical Text position has yet to explain how their practices can be consistent theologically with Scripture. That is what happens when you focus on textual data and variants all day and fail to stop for a second to think about doctrine.