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

Monday, October 24, 2005

KJV Only Arguments Defending Exclusivity

(Examining the apologetics for King James Onlyism [pt. 2])

I am finally able to continue my examination of KJV onlyism with this post.

If you recall, King James onlyism is a belief primarily practiced among independent, fundamentalist. It is the conviction that the English translation, the King James Version, is the only accurate and trustworthy copy of God’s infallible revelation to men. God’s Word is only to be found in this one English translation and all other Bible translations both English and non-English are suspect as containing error.

In order to evaluate KJV onlyism as a system of belief, I have broken the KJV apologetics down into what I believe are 6 key arguments used by KJV advocates to defend their convictions. I imagine there could be more, but when I was a practicing KJV advocate and I was called upon to defend my belief, I generally appealed to these 6 arguments, at least in skeletal form, and my discussion with my challenger rotated around them.

The last post on this subject took up the first argument, the exclusivity argument. This is probably the primary, presuppositional argument the other following five builds upon. It is the idea that the KJV alone = the Word of God alone, or in other words, the KJV translation is alone the only translation that contains the Word of God alone. Thus, anyone who wishes to truly know what God has revealed must go to the King James as his final authority.

Prominent KJV champion, D.A. Waite, outlines this argument in his book Defending the King James Bible under the description of the four-fold superiority of the KJV. According to Waite, the King James is superior to all other English language translations (and non-English language translations for that matter) in four categories: The KJV is superior in its original language base texts of Hebrew and Greek; with the translators who translated the KJV; with the technique of how the KJV was translated; and in the overall theology the King James conveys. These four areas, argues Waite, demonstrate beyond doubt that God has chosen the King James alone to be the Bible that carries His divine revelation to mankind. Hence, once again we see the formula the KJV alone = the Word of God alone.

Despite how scholarly Waite’s argumentation may sound to the unlearned reader, it is factually wrong, and blunderously as we will see, but this time, I wanted to look at some KJV onlyist rebuttals to my assertion that the exclusivity argument is flawed. There are three I have noted. Perhaps there are more if anyone would like to offer them in the comments.

So, Where's your Bible?:

First, is what I guess I could call the Where’s your infallible Bible? stumper question. This is usually the starting question people hear when they first engage a KJV only advocate. I have encountered this stumper question a lot on discussion boards. The KJV proponent will simply ask "Can you show me a copy of God’s infallible Word?" or maybe ask, "Where can I get a copy of God’s infallible Word?"

The question is designed to be a set up. The translation debate novice will respond by saying something like, "Well, I read the NASB," or some other non-KJV translation. The KJV onlyist springs his logic trap with a canned overloaded response comparing alleged corrupted verses in the stated non-KJV translation with readings in the KJV. The new comer to the translation debate, if he is even familiar with textual criticism, is so overwhelmed he can never truly answer the KJV advocate with any meaningful substance. The KJV onlyist then seizes upon his lack of a response as a way to gloat about how the only true, infallible Bible is the KJV.

On the surface, the question appears to be a good one. The Christian is a Bible lover and holds tightly to the doctrines of infallibility and inerrancy. Yet, when the KJV advocate shows what appear to be conflicting verses and says something like, both of these Bibles cannot be infallible, the Bible loving, non-KJV Christian is stumped. How can there be two Bibles defined as God’s infallible Word when they so contradict each other?

There are two approaches I use to turn this stumper question around:

Any time I have encountered a KJV advocate who throws the "can you show me a copy of God’s infallible word" stumper question my way, my response is to ask him to define what he means by infallible. If he has also thrown out the descriptions, inerrant, pure and preserved, I also ask him to define those terms as well. Most of the time, but not always, he tends to become agitated when I ask this, because it puts him on the defense. He is attempting to argue for God’s Word being found exclusively in one English translation, yet it is his burden to demonstrate with reason why I must abandon my favored, non-KJV translation as not fitting the qualifications of infallible, inerrant, and so forth. Now, he can chide and mock me by saying I believe in poly-scriptura not sola scriptura or what ever, but he is still in the position of establishing why his view of the biblical text is correct and mine is in error.

On top of that, when he produces the big comparison chart showing how my selected translation supposedly departs from orthodoxy, it is also his burden to show why the KJV reading is to be favored over the non-KJV translation. Notice once again how the KJV advocate is engaged in circular reasoning. He assumes the superiority of the KJV text without question as the standard by which to judge and criticize all other translations, presupposing any departure from its reading is a move toward unorthodoxy and heresy. This is also where I will call upon the KJV advocate to define what he means by corruption, and ask whether or not it was an intentional corruption, meaning did heretical copyist intentionally change the text. Pretty much all KJV advocates hold to some conspiratorial theory about how apostates attempted to alter the Bible to introduce damnable heresy, so I will further ask him to demonstrate from historical record where heretics have corrupted the Bible without being called out by other Christians. I will deal with the intentionally corrupting heretic charge in more detail at a later time, but here it is good to note the need to ask the advocate to prove his point.

Where's your original autographs?:

A second rebuttal by KJV advocates in defense of their view of exclusivity is what I call the, But the original autographs have turned to dust appeal. It can also be simply worded, There are no original autographs, just copies.

The idea with this no original autographs/just copies argument is put forth as an illustration of why Christians must submit to the unique perspective of KJV onlyism defining preservation, transmission and translation. Paul’s original letter to Titus no longer exists, argue KJV advocates, and all we have are copies, with many of them differing with one another due to textual variants. To say God’s Word is only inerrant and infallible in the original autographs robs the Bible we hold in our hands today from the description of being God’s infallible and inerrant Word.

KJV advocates also attempt to argue the idea of purity only being found in the original autographs is something new with Christians. In other words, all Christians before 1850 or so would treat the copies of scripture as same as the original autographs and conclude the copies are just as error free as the original autographs, especially the copies representing the text used to translate the KJV. According to KJV advocates, the appeal to the original autographs was a concession to modernistic Bible critics who were attacking the veracity of the biblical text.

Let me identify a couple of problems with this line of argument.

First, KJV onlyists have the bad habit of muddling the distinction between what is called the autographic text (the words of the document) from the autographic codex (the physical documents). I have addressed this distinction in a post called a defense of inerrancy against an errancy believing Unitarian. I also point out that liberals often utilize the same argumentation against the scriptures as KJV onlyists do supposedly in defense of the scriptures.

Be that as it may, KJV onlyists give the impression with their publications that if we do not hold in our hands an exact Xerox copy of Paul’s epistles to Timothy, then we cannot say with honestly we have God’s Word in our hands. The loss of the autographic codex with out a faithful, word for word copy made available, means the loss of the autographic text. Thus, unless one subscribes to the KJV only view of preservation, where God is supernaturally preserving His Word through a genealogical family of original language manuscripts, then no one can say with certainty the Bible is free from corruption.

We will get into this in more detail when I come to textual criticism and the KJV only view of preservation, but suffice it to say for now, this belief does not only cut against all of what we know about the transmission of ancient, handwritten documents, but hovers in the realm of the subjective. It is factually mistaken to say the loss of the original autographs entails the loss of God’s Word, because the over abundance of biblical textual evidence witnesses against such a claim. The Christian Church has a massive wealth of textual evidence. Textual critical techniques allow Christians to determine to near perfection what the originals did say and that in turn rubs against the KJV onlyist’s view of preservation because it does not necessarily favor the base texts used to translate the KJV. Additionally, this belief is subjective in that it forces one to believe with blind faith in the idea of God superintending the transmission of the Bible through individual copyists and eventually a group of translators selected by a king for political purposes. As I noted last time, God does not call us to believe blindedly.

As to the claim that the Christians never believed in the concept of original autographs before 1850, any cursory reading of the sermons preached by early pastors and theologians would reveal this was not so. Augustine, Ambrose, Venerable Bede, John Wycliffe, John Owen, and John Gill, just to name a handful of preachers and commentators from before 1850, talked about the purity of God’s Word being found in the originals and that copyists made mistakes. Moreover, none of them ever believed God’s revelation was to be found exclusively in one translation. This is something completely novel to KJV onlyism.

That brings me to a third and final rebuttal. The historic roots of KJV onlyism can be traced back to a Seventh-Day Adventist named Benjamin Wilkinson who took issue with the Revised Version changing a lot of his pet heretical doctrines. His work went unnoticed until it was republished by two Baptist preachers by the name of J.J. Ray and David O. Fuller. Before Wilkinson, no scholar ever defended the KJV as the exclusive translation which contained God’s Word. KJV onlyists, however, still insist that all Christians believed in and defended the KJV way before Wilkinson’s work was published in the 1930s. KJV advocate, David Cloud, attempts to show the defense of the KJV in the 1800s by citing various articles from the Trinitarian Bible Society and a handful of other textual scholars who favored the Received Text, the Greek text used by the KJV translators. Just a cursory reading in context of these sources cited by Cloud reveals he is being disingenuous by quoting them. Apart from some of the fundamentalists named by Cloud, none of these individuals argue for the exclusivity of the KJV, nor do any of them adhere to KJV onlyism in the same manner Cloud and his ilk do today. A case can be made that they hold to a Received Text only view of the New Testament manuscripts, but that is a different thing all together than saying God’s Word is exclusive with one English translation that should never be revised, updated or corrected for error – something the King James is in need of having done to it.

The next time I hope to undertake a critique of the second argument, the Promise argument. That being the idea that scripture promises a word for word preservation of the biblical documents from passages like Psalm 12:6-8.



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