I’m sure you, like me, have heard or read the words, “I love the KJV but…” from somebody who is about to take a shot at the King James Version. It is difficult, if not impossible, to say anything positive after the word “but” in the English language. I have titled this article in such a way that frames the first half of many arguments I see leveled against the KJV. This framing comes in many shapes and sizes. You may hear somebody say, “I have a profound respect for the historicity and importance of the KJV in the Protestant church but,” or “I enjoy the KJV among many other translations but.” The key operating word in this framing is “but.” The “but” indicates that anything that comes after is necessarily going to contrast with the idea in the first clause. From an argument analysis perspective, we should make sure to take note of this and pay closer attention to the second clause because this is where the substance of the argument is going to be contained – judging purely from the grammatical structure.
When somebody begins a proposition with a statement that has less to do with the point they are trying to make and more to do with relating to the person they are interacting with, it is likely that the person making the argument is using the prefatory statement to appear less hostile or to be relatable. People do this all the time when issuing critiques and do not want to seem overly harsh. For example, “Helen has such a bright personality, but her laugh is too loud!” Another example might be, “Timmy is such a sweetheart, but he is not the brightest kid in the class.” It is a strategy of highlighting something good before offering something bad. We have all heard these types of critiques. As a side note, this is why the word “but” is often discouraged during conflict management because it tends to “cancel out” the first clause of a sentence. “Honey I love when you cook for the family but your chicken is so dry!” Chances are your wife is not going to remember the first part of that sentence, and you may have just started a fight. Regardless of intention, saying something nice followed by “but” and a critique often comes off patronizing and in my opinion it’s best to avoid this if possible.
When we examine examples that match the form of the “I love the KJV but…” argument such as a husband criticizing his wife’s chicken, it is easy to see that it primarily serves to soften the blow of a critique. It is a statement aimed at the audience being more receptive to an argument, not at bolstering the argument itself. In some cases, this is used because the argument itself is quite weak without an appeal to emotion. The person presenting the argument may believe that they have a better chance of changing somebody’s mind if they can relate to them on an interpersonal level rather than convince them with a persuasive argument because the argument is inherently weak. There is nothing wrong with being relatable or trying to find common ground across the aisle, just be weary of the “but” and its function in English grammar. The purpose of prefacing this article with commentary on the word “but” is to highlight that a strong argument doesn’t need prefatory material to butter up the person you’re talking to.
What Typically Comes After “But…”
Now that we have discussed the nature of this type of argument, we can look at some of the common statements that follow the “but.” On one end, I have seen arguments as simple as, “I love the KJV, but I have trouble reading it.” On the other end, and more common from the academic types, is the, “I love the KJV, but it belongs in a museum and people should stop reading it, if they can even decipher it in the first place.” There is a valuable distinction to be made between the people that are saying, “I prefer to read a modern version” and “I prefer that you read a modern version.” The former statement isn’t one that is trying to start a debate, whereas the latter is as they say, “fighting words”.
It is difficult for myself and I imagine much of my audience to comprehend at times how somebody can “love” the KJV while also advocating for people to stop using it as their primary Bible. This points to the reality that many people who make these sorts of arguments see the KJV as something categorically different than those that read it. They love it in the way that you love a memory, or love an old t shirt. A more appropriate term may be “fondness”. They are fond of the KJV and the nostalgia or something similar that comes with it, but ultimately their arguments seem to indicate that they view it as a nuisance or a holdover. They prefer the KJV be used in a very specific way, and that way is in conjunction with a plethora of other translations, if it must be used at all. The only appropriate place for the KJV is alongside something more “intelligible.” The old shirt has its place, like when you’re painting or doing yardwork, but never should be worn in public! This is much different than the way that somebody who uses the KJV as their daily Bible loves it. They love it because it is the translation they read to hear God’s voice, it is the Word of God. Which is why these “I love the KJV but you should stop reading it” arguments often come off patronizing. It would be like having a sibling that says, “I love mom but I can’t wait to put her in a home.”
Regardless of how we feel about these types of arguments, it is important to realize that these are arguments of preference in almost every case. There are people that prefer to read another translation, and there are people that prefer that everybody read another translation. In the case of the academic types, they are basically saying, “You shouldn’t read the KJV because of my preference.” Let me demonstrate this by using a few common arguments.
The KJV has Archaic Words and “False Friends”.
“I love the KJV, but I prefer that you read a modern version because the KJV has archaic words. I prefer that your Bible have a modern vocabulary.”
The Modern Translations are More Scholarly
“I love the KJV, but I prefer that you read a modern translation because the KJV isn’t as scholarly. I prefer that your Bible have more scholars involved in its creation.”
The KJV Translators Didn’t Have Modern Scholarship
“I love the KJV, but I prefer that you read a modern translation because modern translations have new translation methodology and textual scholarship. I prefer that your Bible include the modern scholarship.”
When it comes to understanding the “I love the KJV but…” types of arguments, it is helpful to remember that they come in two forms and usually have to do with the difficulty of the KJV language (as opposed to the underlying text which is typically pointed at the TR/Masoretic Hebrew). The first resulting in “I prefer” and the second resulting in “I prefer that you agree with my preference.” The reason it is merely an argument of preference is because the argument isn’t, as far as I’ve seen, “I love the KJV but it’s not a faithful translation” or “it’s not the Word of God.” Until the argument evolves to that form, it will remain an argument that basically boils down to, “My preferences should be your preferences.” There is nothing wrong with these types of arguments, but it lets us know that this is not an argument over fundamentals in the way it is currently presented. It is an argument over whether we should prefer modern language and modern scholarship over the language and scholarship of the KJV. I am not saying that people do not make this an argument over fundamentals, because some people do, I am saying that the “I love the KJV but…” argument is in most cases, one of preference.
What is curious to me is that these academic types haven’t crossed the line of simply rejecting the KJV as a Bible, because their argumentation certainly points in that direction. That is why I consider arguments aimed at the language of the KJV somewhat irrelevant as they relate to the greater picture. If the KJV is the Word of God in that it faithfully translates the original languages, and people choose to take the extra steps in learning the “False Friends,” archaisms, and vocabulary, then launching a full blown ministry and writing entire books on the topic seems slightly excessive. The consensus among most anti-KJV types is that it still is a Bible, they just believe it shouldn’t be used in place of a modern translation or a number of translations.
The true objection would be if they didn’t believe it was faithfully translated from the original languages, that it prevents people from hearing God’s voice. In other words, it’s not actually a Bible. Some people do make this argument, but the majority does not and I am writing to the majority here. If this were their argument, it would make much more sense based on how much effort they have invested, in my opinion. Many of these academic types say everything except that the KJV isn’t a Bible, even making claims that The Message has better use (How to Understand and Apply the New Testament). Yet, they still, for the most part, do not cross the line. If they do take issues with translation, typically they will say a better word could have been used here or there, but they admit that the word in its historical context was accurately translated. That again, is preference over whether the reader should have to learn a word’s definition in its historical usage. It is very rare that somebody will make an argument that a word was translated incorrectly given its historical usage, though I have seen it done.
Until the time comes that the argument is that “the KJV is not a Bible”, we simply have to recognize that some people do not prefer the KJV for one reason or another, and it doesn’t seem like another person’s preferences should dictate which translation we read. It is my preference against your preference. So if we’re going to make an argument for preference, it is my opinion that there are better arguments to make in that category than the ones presented in the “I love the KJV but…” category. In fact, I think the category itself is rather weak if the goal is to appeal to people who actually read the KJV.
This is the most interesting part of this argument. The majority of people I have encountered who read the KJV do so for many other reasons that do not correspond with the arguments presented by the “KJV is hard to read and therefore you shouldn’t use it” crowd. They learn the difficult words because they have an underlying conviction which appeals to the far greater issue of what the Bible is and how it should be translated and used. The arguments against the language of the KJV aren’t relevant to, as far as I’m concerned, the majority of people who actually read it because they are actively reading it. It is difficult to convince somebody that something is too difficult to understand when they understand it daily in their devotions.
Strangely enough, these types of arguments seem to be aimed more so at people who have not read the KJV more than people who do. Anecdotally speaking, many of the people I have talked to who make some form of this argument admit they haven’t read the KJV in its entirety or have even tried to read it in part. And that is the difficulty of these types of arguments – much of the “evidence” presented is anecdotal. We often hear of these testimonials of people who “grew up reading the KJV” and switched to a modern version because of the difficulty, but that isn’t so convincing when we consider the anecdotal reading habits of people who “grew up reading the Bible” in any translation. That is why I have argued in other places that Bible literacy is a far more pressing issue than the difficulty of the KJV. I wonder if you asked 50 people who “grew up reading the NIV” to define words such as “bier,” “chrysolite,” or “offal” if they could do it. And if they could not, would it be worth writing a book and starting a ministry about how the NIV is too difficult with the purpose of convincing people that it should be retired?
I suspect that is why one of the arguments in this category involves convincing people that they can’t actually understand the words they think they understand (False Friends). People get the impression that if they wanted to read the KJV at some point, they wouldn’t be able to understand it and avoid it altogether. And even that argument is a tad silly because in order to convince somebody they don’t understand a word, you have to define the word and demonstrate its meaning in context, thus teaching them what the word means that you are claiming they don’t understand. So even if you can convince somebody they don’t understand a particular word, in order to prove it to them you actually have to teach it to them, thus giving them one less reason to switch from the KJV. In effect, it mostly serves to dissuade people from reading it in the first place, not to convince people who currently read it to stop. In any case, I find that the substance of the discussion is missed with these types of arguments, and in general they seem to boil down to personal preference more than anything else. There are many arguments in this genre that make claims further than personal preference, but the ones mentioned here do not seem to go that far at face value and therefore are not convincing to those that read the KJV.