Statement on KJV Only Movement

A CJF Ministries Position Statement
By Dr. Gary Hedrick

From time to time, we receive inquiries from readers and radio listeners who want to know our position on the so-called "KJV-Only" movement. This is a relatively recent movement that promotes the idea that the 1611 KJV is the only true Bible and that all other translations are corrupted.

First, it's important to acknowledge that many people who love the old KJV, and who use it in their ministries, are not part of this aberrant movement. It is a mistake to assume that anyone who uses the KJV believes it's the only inspired Bible for the English-speaking world.

Here at CJF Ministries, our editorial policy is that we use the NKJV as the standard text in our publications while also referencing other translations (including the older KJV) whenever it's useful for teaching purposes. We especially like the NKJV because it removes the Catholic/Anglican influence of the old KJV in places (like where the KJV wrongly translates the Greek word pascha as "Easter" instead of "Passover" in Acts 12:4). Another NKJV feature we like is its capitalization of pronouns like "He" and "Him" when they refer to Deity. We believe this shows appropriate respect. The older KJV, like the NIV and other modern versions, does not follow this convention.

Good and godly scholars differ over the question of biblical manuscripts and textual traditions. Some of them adhere to a Majority Text (NKJV) position while others believe anything other than the Byzantine Text (KJV) is corrupt. Still others prefer more modern translations based on earlier Alexandrian text-types (sometimes dubbed the "Critical Text")—like the NIV, NASB, ESV, and several others. Critics of the Alexandrian texts point out that those manuscripts tend to be sloppy, exhibit excessive omission, and the two oldest ones disagree with each other in numerous key instances. There are also concerns about the fact that many modern translations (like the NIV) are based on the principle of dynamic equivalency rather than following a more literal, word-for-word rendering, a process which produces more of a commentary on the text than a true translation. While we acknowledge the necessity of equivalency in some instances, we still believe a translation should be precisely that—a translation of the text itself—rather than an interpretation of what it says, as much as that is possible.

Some sincere believers hold to a "KJV-Only" viewpoint. We have friends in this camp and we know they mean well. Others of them, however, are quite militant—even belligerent. They insist that any reading that deviates from the old KJV is a "corruption." Anyone who disagrees with them may be denounced as a heretic or apostate.

Dr. Charles Halff, the founder of our ministry, considered the KJV-Only viewpoint an oddity, even though he had used the KJV in his own ministry since the 1940s and had no inclination to change. He and I had several conversations about the KJV-Only movement over the years. On one of those occasions, back in the late 1970s, when KJV-Onlyism was just beginning to spread, Charles had been chastised over the phone by a pastor who heard him quote a verse from the Amplified Bible on a radio broadcast. When he stood his ground and refused to issue a public retraction, this preacher told Charles he would never be invited to preach in his church again. It was a bitter pill for Charles to swallow because he had considered this man his friend.

But that preacher was dead wrong, because he was the one who deviated from the historic position of Bible-believing Christendom. Charles never swayed from the same position for 60 years—namely, that the Scriptures are inspired, inerrant, and infallible as they appeared in the original manuscripts, in the original languages. Translations are only infallible insofar as they reflect the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek texts. This was the position expressed in The Fundamentals, a classic, four-volume work that actually defined historic Christianity in the early twentieth century. These volumes were edited by R.A. Torrey, D.L. Moody's associate, in 1917, and included 90 articles by leading Christian scholars including Torrey himself, along with B.B. Warfield, C.I. Scofield, G. Campbell Morgan, Bishop Ryle, H.C.G. Moule, James Orr, and others.

On the subject of biblical inspiration, they wrote, "The record for whose inspiration we contend is the original record—the autographs or parchments of Moses, David, Daniel, Matthew, Peter, or Paul as the case may be and not any particular translation or translations of them whatever" (The Fundamentals, Vol. 1, "Inspiration of the Bible," p. 127). Even the KJV translators themselves, in the preface to the AV 1611, said that they hoped other translations would come after them to make the Word of God more readable and understandable. They did not claim that their work was "the" only legitimate translation of God's Word.

The KJV-Only movement is actually based on a series of fallacies. First, the KJV-Only crowd says that they champion the "AV 1611" version when in fact no one today uses the KJV Bible as it appeared in 1611. The KJV actually went through eight revisions after 1611, the most important of which was completed by Dr. Benjamin Blayney of Oxford University in 1769—and this, in reality, is the one most people use today, including even our "KJV Only" friends! Also, an earlier revision eliminated the Apocrypha, which had been included in the 1611 version.

Another fallacy is their claim that it's wrong to use anything other than the KJV when in fact it's easy to show that even the KJV itself quotes from different versions of the Old Testament Scriptures. For instance, if we read the quotation from Jeremiah 31 that appears in Hebrews 8, we find that the passage in Jeremiah does not come from the KJV reading of the passage in Hebrews. So the writer of Hebrews was obviously not using the same translation of Jeremiah 31. Compare the two passages for yourself and you'll see what I mean:

Hebrews 8:8-12, KJV 1769 Jeremiah 31:31-34, KJV 1769

8. . . . Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:

9. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

10. For this [is] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

11. And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

12. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.

31. Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:

32. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day [that] I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:

33. But this [shall be] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

34. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

If the KJV-Only advocates are right, and there is only one correct Bible in the English language, then shouldn't the two passages be identical? After all, if the KJV represents the only acceptable rendering of the biblical text, then surely the writers of the New Testament, who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, would not have deviated from the text that appears in the KJV. But they certainly did, as anyone can easily see by comparing the two passages above side by side.

Furthermore, this is only one of numerous examples where the KJV New Testament quotes from Old Testament passages but the wording differs from the KJV Old Testament. Once again, the explanation is simple: The NT writers quoted from different OT texts and translations.

It is perhaps ironic that the KJV 1611 translators themselves, if they were alive today, would not survive for long in the "KJV-Only" camp. They spoke out about the folly of relying on only one reading of the biblical text to the exclusion of other possible renderings. In fact, they criticized Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) because he didn't allow variant readings in the margins of his version of the Latin Vulgate. They wrote, "They that are wise had rather have their judgments at liberty in differences of readings, than to be captivated to one, when it might be the other."

The KJV 1611 translators also encouraged the use of a "variety of translations" in order to ascertain the meaning of Scripture. Here's what they said: "Therefore as S. Augustine saith, that variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded."  It is clear that the KJV-Only advocates make claims about the KJV that even the translators themselves did not make.

Has God preserved His Word in its absolutely pure, original form? Yes, He has; and that perfect Bible is in Heaven. Psalm 119:89 says, "For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven." And it's not in English, either—it's in the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). One of these days, we will see that Bible, and the very small percentage of variant readings will be cleared up once and for all. Until then, the science of textual criticism is devoted to analyzing the extant manuscript evidence down here on earth and determining what the original text said.

Proponents of the KJV-Only viewpoint claim that "God only wrote one Bible," and that Bible, they argue, is the KJV. The problem with this, once again, is that the KJV itself includes different renderings of the same passages of Scripture, as seen in the comparison of the Hebrews and Jeremiah passages above. If the KJV-Only position is correct, those parallel passages should be identical. But as we have already noted, they are not.

When we say that we believe in the inerrancy of the Bible in its original manuscripts, we are not talking about some purely theoretical, non-existent text. The text of the original manuscripts has indeed been preserved, not only in Heaven, but also here on earth. It is preserved for us in the midst of the huge volume of scrolls, manuscripts, and fragments that have come down to us from medieval and ancient times (so if there are two or three variant readings of a particular verse, we are confident that one of them is the reading of the original manuscript). So the text of the originals has not been lost; it has merely been obscured in a relatively few passages by alternate readings. Our problem is that we currently lack the expertise to pick out the correct readings in the places where there are differences. But even this has to be kept in perspective, because the significant differences amount to only about one word out of a thousand, or .001% of the text. And none of the contested passages has any bearing on any important doctrine. We can even include insignificant differences (for example, reversals in word order or minor variations in spelling) and the agreement among all known manuscripts is still an impressive 85%.

The fact that the KJV quotes from other versions of the Scriptures is not a problem for us (although, understandably, it is a problem for KJV-Onlyism). As the KJV translators pointed out, there is wisdom in consulting a variety of translations as we seek to understand what God is saying to us. We will see the Bible in its original, perfect form someday. In the meantime, however, we rest in the assurance that (1) the current body of manuscript evidence, when considered collectively, includes every word of the original manuscripts among its variant readings (and someday we will see the Bible in its original, perfect form), and (2) even now, there is enough Gospel in any Bible in any language anywhere in the world to save every man, woman, and child on Planet Earth, if they will only place their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus (Heb. 4:12).

There are numerous helpful websites for anyone wanting a more detailed analysis of the KJV-Only movement and its teachings.  Here are four suggestions to get you started:

These sites offer resources addressing Byzantine vs. Alexandrian textual issues, Majority Text vs. Critical Text questions, supposed shortcomings of the NKJV, and more. Brian's KJV-Only Issue Page includes a public forum where you can join ongoing discussions about these issues and freely express your own opinions—but if you do, you'd better be prepared to back up your claims with facts and with Scripture, because some of the people on these boards are quite astute.

In conclusion, let me say that those of us who appreciate and use the KJV (1769)-NKJV (1982) will not allow the extremists to drive us away from the KJV tradition. It is by far the most beautiful and stately translation in the English language. Generations of scholars have been impressed by its accuracy and fidelity to the original languages. We will continue to read it, study it, preach it, memorize it, publish it, quote it, enjoy it, and be blessed by it (2 Tim. 2:15).

As always, we appreciate very much your interest in our ministry. God bless you!

Your friend and brother,

Dr. Gary Hedrick, President
CJF Ministries
611 Broadway
San Antonio, Texas 78215