Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Exclusivity Argument

(Examining the apologetics of King James Onlyism)

In a previous post I outlined what I believe are 6 essential, or key arguments, advocates for the King James Only position utilize to defend their belief. Here I want to consider the first major argument, what I call the exclusivity argument.

The exclusivity argument is the idea that the English translation of the King James Bible (what many KJV onlyists generally call the "Authorized Version"), first published in the year 1611, exclusively contains the infallible, inerrant, and inspired Word of God. The reverse would also be true: the infallible, inerrant, and inspired Word of God is exclusively found in the King James Bible first published in 1611. Hence the description of King James Onlyism. It would be as how popular KJV only advocate, D.A. Waite, describes the King James: "God's Word kept intact in English"

This in my mind is the key presupposition of KJV onlyism, the main argument on which the following five turn. It is a rather bold claim on part of the advocates of the King James, because their argument is clearly stating that any modern translation, English or otherwise, like the New International Version, the New American Standard or even the New King James, does not genuinely contain the message of God's divine revelation.

Now, to be fair, some KJV advocates may not go as far as to say the modern versions are really just modern per-versions and thus not God's Word, but they may perhaps say they merely contain God's Word. Modern version, then, can be called God's Word, but they are considered to be mixed with enough error so as to be deficient and inadequate as a trustworthy translation. God will use them to bring people to salvation, and Christians may derive some spiritual benefits from them, but overall they don't contain the pure, infallible Words of the living God. So, even though these folks tend to water down the condemnation of non-KJV users, the position is saying a person who uses the modern version merely has some of God's Word and will be spiritually handicapped unless he or she switches to using the KJV.

Conversely, the exclusivity argument would rightly apply to any translation, English or otherwise, before the publication of the KJV in 1611. That means the Latin Vulgate, Wyclife's Lollard translations, Tyndale's work, Matthew's Bible, the Bishop's Bible and the Geneva translations do not contain the pure and infallible Words of God. It must be assumed these pre-KJV translations were also mixed with error so as to make them deficient and inadequate as translations attempting to convey God's revelation to mankind. In fact, some KJV only advocates believe this very thing, and appeal to the 7 fold purification process of God burning the dross, as it were, off the pre-KJV translations so that the KJV is the "tried as silver" translation. More about that argument at a later time.

Even though KJV onlyists cradle their position in a fundamental conviction of desiring to protect the veracity of the scriptures, anyone with a sufficient understanding of Church History recognizes the uniqueness of this belief and that it does not even come close to the true, orthodox Christian view of inspiration and infallible. Moreover, anyone with a working knowledge of the Bible's transmission and the history of English translations realize it is impossible to hold the conviction for God's Word being permanently fixed in one 17th century English translation. The exclusivity argument is refutable on many levels.

First, it is circular reasoning. The KJV advocate presupposes as the unquestionable starting point that the KJV alone = God's Word alone. So, starting with that equation, the KJV onlyist uses the KJV translation as the measuring rod by which to evaluate all other English translations. If any translation departs from the message of the KJV, then that translation is described as being corrupted.

The problem, however, is the equation places the conclusion among the premise without demonstrating its truthfulness and thus it is a circular argument. In other words, the KJV advocate has not adequately validated his conclusion and has made it a part of his starting premise. If either portion of this equation can be falsified, then the argument is false.

Now granted, all systems of belief have some degree of circularity in them. Meaning, there are always going to be unquestioned premises, or presuppositions if you will, that a person will utilize in order to make the case for his convictions. Circularity, then, is not a bad thing in and of itself. The question is, what sort of circularity is being used? Is it either narrow circularity or broad circularity? Broad circularity is what everyone uses when interacting with others in a debate, but narrow circularity, what we find with the KJV onlyists, is illogical.

The equation of KJV alone = the Word of God alone falls into the category of narrow circularity. That is because it has not provided sufficient reason to believe God's Word is only to be found in one English translation from the 1600s, and all other translations before and after are to be rejected as untrustworthy representations of divine revelation. The premise of the KJV alone can be falsifiable to equate the Word of God alone, so the argument fails on this point alone.

The Bible does not claim God's Word is to be only found in one translation. KJV onlyism is unsupported by the Bible itself. No where does God tell us in holy writ that His revelation will only be at its purest - to be kept for ever in this state - in one 17th century translation. This is a belief of utter conjecture. KJV advocates will attempt to make a case for the Bible teaching such a thing, as we will see later, but the passages they attempt to use are terribly misinterpreted.

King James Onlyism or anything remotely like "onlyism" has never been the Historic Christian view of the Bible. A lot of KJV only literature will claim the Christian church has always held to some form of onlyism with one particular Bible. This is patently false for anyone familiar with the history of our Bible. The closest we can come to seeing any form of "onlysim" in Church history is the slavish devotion the Roman Catholic Church had with the Latin Vulgate. When men began translating the Bible into English, the primary text they used was the Latin Vulgate and there were actually "LV only" apologists with in the Roman Catholic Church who argued that anyone translating from the Latin Vulgate into any other language is corrupting God's Word. Knowing how KJV advocates have a dislike for anything smacking of Catholicism, I doubt they would consider the "LV onlyists" to be illustrations of their position.

This has never been the orthodox position of the Bible. Christians have never considered translation to be a bad thing, nor have they ever believed God's revelation will become fixed in one, never to be revised or corrected, English translation. If Christians believed men were capable of producing one final, perfect translation which contained God's Word, why exactly did they continue their work of revision and updating their translations? This happened even with the KJV after its publication.

Additionally, if anyone were to read the original preface of the KJV called the Translators to the Readers which use to be published in full with each edition, they will discover that the KJV translators rejected any notion of "onlyism" and even anticipated a revision of their own work if need arose for it to be updated. In fact, the original preface offers some of the best refutation of KJV onlyism because it comes directly from the KJV translators themselves.

The idea of God's Word being contained only in the KJV is unreasonable and limits the Bible's availability to the world. By that I mean any non-English speaking Christians will then be required to learn English to have a copy of God's Revelation. Oddly, this is exactly the argument made by KJV onlyist, Sam Gipp, in his book, The Answer Book. He attempts to make the argument that God never saw fit to give a multitude of translations, but only revealed Himself to the Jews in Hebrew, then the Christians in Greek and then the entire world in English. Because English is an international language, most if not all citizens must learn English to function in the world, so there really is no need to go to the trouble of making the Bible available in foreign languages.

Once again, this has never been the orthodox view held by any of God's people, let alone Christians, who immediately began making translations of the NT documents with in a hundred years after the Apostles. Furthermore, if I am to conclude Mr. Gipp is correct, then non-English speaking countries should face the fact that unless they take the time to learn English, and not only modern English, but also Elizabethan English from the 17th century, then they are limiting themselves in knowing what God has revealed. Missionaries, then, should not trouble themselves in actually teaching natives their own language, and then translating the Bible into that native language, but they should teach the natives English. Such an idea is both unreasonable and stifling of God's gospel.

The KJV alone = the Word of God alone is purely subjective and tends to mysticism. When all their arguments have been soundly refuted and they have been clearly shown the error of their beliefs, it becomes evident that KJV advocates believe their position with a subjective, blind faith. When pressed to provide a reason as to why a KJV advocate believes the KJV is alone the Word of God in light of all the evidence to the contrary, his ultimate reply will be, "I believe it by faith; I trust the Lord to preserve His Word."

God does not call us to a blind faith, but a faith grounded in objective truth. For example, He has provided irrefutable evidence of His divine activity in human history and the redemption He made through Christ dying on the cross and rising from the dead. God has most certainly preserved His revelation to men, but am I to conclude it is to only be found in one 17th century English translation? And why should I be forced to believe the contrived historical revisionism manufactured to support the KJV advocate's starting presupposition when in point of fact, the true history of preservation is so clearly before us? Is it because the KJV onlyist's arguments will not stand firm in light of that true history? I find it amazing that a group of individuals who would normally be against the mysticism often practiced by charismatics when it comes to knowing God, so readily embrace the same form of mysticism for their pet translation.

In order to make these posts more manageable, I will stop here for the time being. The next time I wish to consider some arguments and rebuttals put forth by KJV onlyists in defense of the exclusivity argument.

Related articles:

Confessions of a KJV advocate
The Great Inconsistency of KJV onlyism
A Ride on The Hindenburg: KJV Arguments Crashing and Burning



Blogger Pickle Boy said...

Nice article on KJV onlyism, though I'm not sure I see how they are being circular, since they are claiming specific verses as their starting point (eg. Ps. 12: 6-7). Also, you have a plethora of typos, as well as some missing words in a few of your sentences that you may want to clean up. But now I'm beginning to think you did that to illustrate a point about how your message wasn't lost, despite these errors. Clever Fred. Very clever.

5:34 AM, October 17, 2005  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Nice article on KJV onlyism, though I'm not sure I see how they are being circular, since they are claiming specific verses as their starting point (eg. Ps. 12: 6-7).

(Fred) Really? You don't see that? Actually, they still start with the original premise: The KJV alone = the word of God alone, then they appeal to passages like Psalm 12:6-7 as a "proof" text for their belief. I have yet to meet an onlyist who read Psalm 12 and then concluded, "Hey, only the KJV meets this criteria for the seven-fold purified as silver test."

But now I'm beginning to think you did that to illustrate a point about how your message wasn't lost, despite these errors. Clever Fred. Very clever.

(Fred) Man, you are figuring me out. I try to be subtle with my illustrations, you know. ;-)


6:29 AM, October 17, 2005  
Blogger Pickle Boy said...

Actually, the more I think on it, they seem to be saying, "God promised to preserve His word(S) perfectly forever (VERY important that its not just 'words' as in 'essential message,' but every individual WORD). Therefore we should be able to identify them in every generation. Where are they in this generation? Aha, in the KJV! It's the time tested scriptures of the English speaking world since 1611."

Does that sound like a closer picture of their thinking?

8:26 AM, October 17, 2005  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Yes, I think you have it right. One of the KJV sub arguments (I will deal with this when we come to preservation) is that God is concerned with preserving word(s) not just His word. Hence, the text has to be an exact xerox copy of Paul's letter to the Galatians, or we can't call it God's Word.
Of course, only the KJV contains the proper translation of those copies. ;-)


9:09 AM, October 17, 2005  
Blogger Frank Martens said...

Keep posting about this, I'm finding this quite interesting. My Dad has been a KJV/NKJV advocate for years. Not that he thinks it's God's ONLY word, but just because he has found countless otherplaces where it did a better job.

Me on the other hand, I use a lot of different translations, NASB, ESV, KJV, NKJV, NIV (rarely, I've read stuff from translatorson this one that say to stay way from it), and sometimes ASV.


8:01 PM, October 17, 2005  

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