King James Only?


The caller questioned the host’s prediction of Christ’s return on May 21, 2011. The following ten callers condemned the skeptic for his unbelief. Night after night on Harold Camping’s call-in show, a faithful steward would challenge the host’s false prophecy only to be chastised as a self-deceived heretic.

I have chronicled my own encounter with the Word of Faith crowd who summarily dismissed my skepticism of their name-it-and-claim-it doctrine as either spiritual immaturity, or unbelief. The problem we have is that sub-groups within Christianity are not rightly handling the word of truth.

It is a prideful thing to believe that one is the possessor of all truth while any who disagree are branded as heretics. I do not share the pre-millennial, Dispensational views of J. Vernon McGee, but he is the first person I listen to when the Lord awakens me. Why? No one can preach the Gospel like Dr. McGee. We can disagree on points of theology, but on essential Christian doctrine we are united in Christ.

It is relevant to note that Dr. McGee teaches from the Authorized Text. His preferred version is the King James though he often reads from his own translation  (a variation of the KJV)  which he does not recommend. The point is that McGee though he has reservations about the modern translations will not cast stones if you read a version other than the KJV.

Having been sliced, diced and pureed by the Word of Faith sect, I was then engaged in a rather testy exchange with a group of folk who preach King James Only. I had heard of these people, but never encountered them. My presupposition was that they were not so legalistic, but possessed with Christian charity — like Dr. McGee. The commenters, save for one precious soul, were judgemental and dismissive of my position — a heresy for which I needed to repent.

The Rev. Dr. Gregory S. Neal posted an online letter to the KJV Only group:

The King James Only Movement is one of the most destructive cultic movements in the Church today. It majors in attacking the faith of millions, sowing seeds of fear among many who don’t know the history of their Bibles. The claim of the movement is that the King James Version of the Bible should be accepted as the ONLY Inspired Word of God. Any other translation, based upon any group of manuscripts other than those that are behind the KJV, is understood to be the product of Satan, a “New Age Bible,”and certainly not “The Word of God.” [1]

[Dr. Neal also cites “the less destructive Majority-Priority Movement” which is more reflective of the charitable position of Dr. McGee.]

Let me say from the outset that the King James Bible is a respectable translation, but to suggest that one is a heretic for reading another version does injury to the body of Christian unity.

The KJV and our modern translations are generally based upon one of two texts — Alexandrian or Byzantine. Alexandrian is considered the oldest text, and the type used by the early church. Byzantine is a later text type that was prevalent in the Greek Orthodox Church.

KJV advocates will argue that the Alexandrian text was corrupted, and that only the Byzantine text — from which the KJV is translated — is the preserved (and inspired) Word of God.

There are over 5000 Greek manuscripts of the Bible. The majority are of the Byzantine, or Majority Text discovered near the Greek-Roman city of Antioch. Greater numbers does not necessarily translate into more accurate manuscripts. Indeed, the church was centered around Antioch (not Egypt) so the Byzantine scribes had access to a wealth of scripts from which to copy. Fragments from the 200’s AD — and even more recent papyri discoveries — uniformly support the Alexandrian (Egyptian) manuscripts though it was the Byzantine text that was sourced by the translators of the KJV.

Scholars are divided as to whether the early church fathers quoted from the Byzantine text. Because the church was not witness to the text type before the 4th century it is believed they read extensively from the Alexandrian script. Of the oldest manuscripts — before the 9th century — there are more Alexandrian than Byzantine.

Desiderius Erasmus, a Roman Catholic priest, published the first Greek New Testament in 1516. Based upon the Byzantine text (which was widely available and easy to acquire) his compilation underwent four revisions. The Reformers and KJV translators were distinctly influenced by his body of work.

The Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Denomination claims that the KJV is the only translation that preserves the original intent of the Bible. They believe that the Alexandrian text was corrupted by heretical (Gnostic) influences, but so was the Byzantine text subject to Arian, Nestorian, Apolonarian, and Marcionite heresies.

The overwhelming consensus of the past 250 years is that no heretical teaching has been inserted into the Holy Bible. Corruptions, or variations exist in all styles of text and are typically due to copyists’ errors, or inserted scribal notes. Most of these differences — such as “He said,” instead of “Jesus said,” — do not alter orthodox Christian doctrine. The Word of God has thus been preserved.

It should be noted that the Byzantine script is wordier than the Alexandrian text. It is a smoother, almost edited read compared to the older manuscripts. This might suggest one of two things — text has been omitted from the Alexandrian script, or added to the Byzantine. KJV advocates will say that words, verses — even whole passages — were maliciously deleted from the older script thus corrupting the text and making it unreliable. However, there is another — less sinister — explanation.

First century skeptics convincingly argued that discrepancies, or differences in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) were evidence that the Biblical record was untrue.

That is not a weakness, but a strength. Imagine if Mark read word for word as Luke — what would the skeptics then say? That it was a fake, a forgery, a counterfeit, a plagiarized copy.

Still, the older Gospel accounts were rather awkward since Matthew was writing to Jews, Mark (Peter) to the Romans and Luke to the Gentiles. It was not uncommon, then, for a copyist to purposefully edit the script in order to harmonize the text. This was extensively done in the Byzantine period. Let’s examine one such example — the one that got me in hot water with the KJV advocates:

Matthew 1:25

And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS (KJV).

… but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus (NASB).

Either the manuscripts supporting the New American Standard Bible omitted the word firstborn, or it was added by the Byzantine scribes, and into the King James Bible. The advocates posited that the word firstborn substantiates church doctrine with regards to the virginity of Mary, but the context of the passage sufficiently confirms this precept.

No, firstborn (πρωτότοκον, prōtotokon) was inserted in the 2nd century by Tatian whose life work was to harmonize the Gospels in order to improve their read and to deflect the skeptics. He borrowed from Luke 2:7 (And she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son) to convey to Matthew’s Jewish readers the consecration (or birthright) of Yeshua.

King James copied “firstborn” specifically to challenge the Romish doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity. That it does not appear in the oldest and best manuscripts does not negate what has already been established elsewhere in Scripture. If the heretics had plotted to subvert the text they would have altered Luke as well, and any Biblical reference to the virgin birth of Messiah.

James R. White (Scholar in Residence at the College of Christian Studies):

Many other examples could be examined that confirm that modern translations such as the NASB and NIV, far from being corrupt, are in fact the best examples of faithful English translations of the best Greek texts we have available to us.

The importance of the topic should not be underestimated. While the vast majority of conservative Christian scholars completely reject the KJV Only position, the emotionally charged rhetoric of KJV Only advocates causes unnecessary concerns among many believers. It is a sad truth that most Christians have only a vague knowledge of the history of the Bible and almost no knowledge of the mechanisms by which the Bible has come to us today. Issues regarding the transmission of the text over time (the process of copying), the comparison of one written text to another (textual criticism), and translation are not popular topics of discussion or study in the church today. Therefore, the claims of KJV Only advocates are liable to deeply trouble many Christians, even to the point of causing them to question the reliability and usefulness of their NIV or NASB Bibles. When believers are wrongly led to doubt the integrity of the translation they have used for years, Christian scholars have a responsibility to set the record straight.

While the KJV remains to this day a venerable translation, those who attempt to make it the standard to the detriment of more readable (and in many instances more accurate) modern versions are in serious error. [2]

John Oakes, PhD:

I am not saying that the KJV is a bad translation. It is just that in the relatively few places where the Greek editors tried to “improve” the original, the KJV follows the changes, which is not a good thing. The KJV may not be a bad translation, but it certainly is not the best English translation of the Bible. If a supporter of the KJV says that the church fathers from the second century used the Byzantine text, you can be assured that this person is either misinformed or is extremely biased. You would do well to ignore such a statement. This conclusion is the result of a person assuming their answer before asking the question. It is not at all uncommon for people to defend the KJV as somehow almost inspired as the best translation into English. It is impossible to defend this position unless one simply ignores the evidence. [3]

Years after it was originally published, the King James Bible was advertised as the text received by all, or Textus Receptus. It was quite a marketing campaign. The revered Geneva Bible (1553 AD) had been the official Bible of the church under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I prior to the crowning of James whose expedient motivation was not the integrity of Scripture but the preservation of the throne in resistance to Papal authority. Also, the king wanted to preserve the church rite of sprinkling so the word baptizo was transliterated into baptism rather than translated into its English meaning, immersion. KJV Only advocates don’t want to address that except to cloud the issue by suggesting that you might be confessing baptismal regeneration. No, I’m only suggesting that the KJV is not a perfect translation and to suggest otherwise is to do harm to the body of Christ.


1. A Letter to a Majority-Text Type Supporter, Rev. Dr. Gregory S. Neal

2. Is Your Modern Translation Corrupt?, James R. White, Christian Research Institute, June 9th, 2009.

3. What Text Type Did Church Fathers Use?, John Oakes, Evidence for Christianity, April 30, 2007.

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9 thoughts on “King James Only?

  1. I’ve had a few encounters with KJVO folks through social media and have found them caustic. It’s unfortunate that the fundamentalist movement shifted from it’s initial aim of responding to the liberal drift of mainstream protestantism to some of the dangerous and destructive things we see today. The KJVO crowd in particular argues from terrible support and almost non-existent evidence. Thanks for this well written summary of the topic. Also, thanks for being so even handed. It’s definitely what is needed in this discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed your article. Years ago I read a very informative article by Douglas Kutilek, “Westcott & Hort vs. Textus Receptus: Which is Superior?”

    I don’t know anything about him, other than I found his article fascinating, as it sheds a great deal of light on the Textus Receptus — something far more human and imperfect than the holy writ it is ascribed to be by the KJVO crowd. A fellow who was a close friend in high school and college used to head up the vocal music department at the now defunct Pensacola Christian College. One of the college’s policies was that students were only allowed to cite the KJV in their studies. That struck me as odd in a college. The first thing I wanted to do was examine the validity of their claims. That’s when I found this article and others.

    I think it’s very sad that a sincere believer as intelligent, experienced and educated as my friend would get sucked into a heresy that seems to make a point of avoiding a close, scholarly examination of the KJV, compared to other Bible translations.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Michael, I highly recommend the article by Kutilek for those who want to dig deeper into this subject. It is difficult to write a summary of textual criticism that doesn’t read like a Doctoral dissertation. My article was only an appetizer, but Kutilek serves up the main course.

    Liked by 1 person

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