As many of you already know the Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement (henceforth IFB) is a King James Version only denomination meaning that they believe that the King James Version of the Bible (henceforth KJV) is the only version of the Bible that Christians of this era should use. They believe that the KJV is the version of the Bible that is closest to the original. As with other areas of the IFB belief system, this falls along a continuum of beliefs. On the more liberal side of the continuum, some IFB churches believe that the KJV is the most accurate version of the Bible and should be used by all Christians to avoid heretical views and beliefs. On the more conservative side of the continuum, some IFB churches believe that the KJV is THE original Word of God. While there are variations among the different IFB churches as to the strictness of their beliefs on this topic, there are very few IFB churches that don’t advocate using the KJV to the exclusion of all other versions of the Bible.
I think it’s fair to say that most of us know how silly the notion is that the KJV is THE original Word of God so for the purposes of this site I would like to share a little insight into the KJV, why it is a dangerous version to use and how it relates to the IFB.
The IFB churches I experienced fell on the more conservative side of the above mentioned continuum. They taught that the KJV is the only acceptable version for the Christian to use, it was the closest translation to the original manuscripts, all other versions of the Bible presented mistakes at best and heresy at worst, it was a sin to read versions of the Bible other than the KJV and because of the aforementioned one couldn’t truly be saved unless he/she got the gospel message from the KJV.
I don’t really know where the IFB gets this information to be honest. It would be interesting to do a study of how the IFB came to the conclusion that the KJV is the closest translation to the original. I never could get a good answer other than the message then “the KJV is the Bible for the English speaking world.” The belief was never validated for me, at least not that I can remember. I simply took it upon faith like every other teaching that came from the IFB.
Like other IFB teachings, I was always troubled by the fact that I had a difficult time reading and understanding the KJV. When I brought this up to my pastors, teachers, parents, leaders, etc. I would get the answer that it is for this reason that I should be in a good IFB church so that the Pastor could explain what the words in the KJV meant. It was weird to me that they would accept the Pastor’s explanation, but refuse to use a different version of the Bible for an explanation. It also made me suspicious. I often wondered if the Pastors really knew what the meanings were or if they were simply repeating what they had learned thus perpetuating the lie.
I was also told that understanding the KJV would come with spiritual maturity. This was strange to me also and I wondered why the Lord would have us use a Bible that was difficult to understand and that understanding the Bible would only come with spiritual maturity. That just seemed backwards to me. I often wondered if it would have been better had the Lord made a Bible that was easier for new Christians to understand and have the more mature Christians use the KJV. As a good little IFB follower, however, I suppressed my curiosity and took them at their word.
When I left the IFB around age 25 I found out some valuable information that flies in the face of the IFB and their KJV only stance. Personal experience became the fuel that burned the fire within me. I started reading the New International Version (henceforth NIV) and after I got over my initial guilt which was highly unfounded, I actually understood the Bible for the first time in my life. Things were jumping off the pages at me and I was like a sponge, absorbing all the information I could. I read the NIV from cover to cover and then went on to read a New Living Translation (henceforth NLT). The NLT became my favorite and is the version I use at present.
The messages contained in the Bible are so clear to me now as I finally have the freedom to read a version of the Bible that I can comprehend. It’s amazing what a difference it makes. If this were my only evidence that the KJV is not a good Bible to read it would be enough for me. I often wonder how many people in our world have their spiritual maturity stunted because of this legalistic philosophy about the KJV Bible. It makes me sad to think that people are trapped like I was so many years ago.
Well, I don’t have to rely solely on personal experience to draw my conclusions from. As I researched this topic, I began to see increasing evidence about just how inaccurate the KJV actually is. I learned that the KJV is nothing more than a translation in a long line of translations. You see, I was taught growing up that the KJV is a translation of the original text and all other translations are just translations of the KJV making them less accurate and reliable. What a lie that turned out to be.
A Brief History of the KJV
It’s well known that we only have fragments of the original manuscripts. All current versions of the Bible are simply English translations of first translations. The KJV is actually nothing more than a translation in a long line of translations. The KJV New Testament (and all editions since Tyndale) was compiled primarily from the Byzantine family of manuscripts (AD 500 – 1000) frequently referred to as the Textus Receptus (Latin for Received Text). Modern translations such as the NIV are compiled primarily from the Alexandrian Family of manuscripts which are believed to be closer to the original than the Textus Receptus manuscripts, which is why they have been chosen by the translators of the modern versions. In the early and mid 14th century John Wycliffe attempted many translations of the Greek and Latin Vulgate text and in 1388 The Wycliffe bible was completed in the German language.
William Tyndale later translated The Wycliffe Bible which also had many revisions and corrections. In 1534 The Tyndale’s Revised and Corrected Bible was completed. Unsatisfied with this work, an exiled group of scholars driven out of England with the help of the Church of Geneva produced an English Bible without the need for the approval of either England or Rome and formed the Geneva Bible in 1553. The Geneva translators produced a revised New Testament in English in 1557 that was essentially a revision of Tyndale’s revised and corrected edition of 1534. Three years later another revised Bible was published and translated in accordance with the Hebrew and Greek text. This was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth was determined to move England towards Protestantism. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Geneva Bible was translated into what scholars refer to as the Bishop’s Bible in 1568 which became the official Bible for use in Church services at that time.
King James I succeeded Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 and almost immediately began to translate the Bible into a newer version based on his ideals of what he thought were a political threat to his reign. He made many changes to his version of the Bible to reflect his beliefs and reduce the political message for the purpose of security in his reign. In 1611 the first King James Version of the Bible was published and the Geneva Bible was officially replaced by the King James Version.
This version of the Bible in 1611, which became known as The Authorized Version, went through several editions and revisions itself. Two notable editions were that of 1629, the first ever printed at Cambridge, and that of 1638. The Geneva Bible was last printed in 1644, but the notes continued to be published with the King James text. The years 1881-1885 brought many revisions and changes beginning with the Revised Version and ensuing modern translations. 
Brooke Westcott served on the committee that produced the Revised Version and obtained the services of editor Fenton Hort. Wescott and Hort eventually brought us our modern day KJV translation which is based on the Westcott-Hort translation of The Revised Version and is actually the 4th revision of the original Authorized 1611 King James version. It is interesting to note that the original Geneva Bible contained the Apocrypha, which is commonly believed by Protestants to be extraneous material not inspired by God. Many scholars believe that the Apocrypha was actually left out of the KJV 1611 version simply because King James I was more interested in publishing this version for his political career. He forced his translators to rush through the translation. This caused many omissions, additions and other errors in the KJV 1611. In the original preface to the KJV the translators themselves admitted there were many Hebrew and Greek words and even whole sentences they did not understand, but were were forced to make guesses at there meanings in order to produce the KJV more quickly.
This brief overview of the history of the KJV is not meant to be all inclusive. There are many details of the succession of translations, editions and revisions that should be read and understood in order to get a full understanding of the issue. For the purposes of this site, however, I simply wanted to share the basics to give the reader adequate understanding of the origins of the KJV and to make the point that the KJV is certainly NOT a perfect Bible, is nothing more that a translation of other translations and is by no means the original Word of God.
I would even argue that the KJV has become an idol for some in that it is elevated to the status of a god and worshiped rather than read and used to develop spiritual maturity. I remember feeling so much better than other “Christians” – if they were Christians at all – because I used the KJV rather than those other versions. It became a source of pride for me and I imagine that many others in my church felt the same way. There was a strong message that if you wanted to be a good Christian you had to use the KJV. I was even told that the KJV was a sacred text and that my Bible was to be kept in pristine condition or I was defacing the Word of God. I remember feeling so guilty one evening after having spilled some water on my KJV Bible. I prayed and prayed for forgiveness. It was really pretty silly in hind sight. Like I said before, everything changed for me the day I finally got up enough courage to pick up a NIV and read it.
General Information about Translations
During the formation of the KJV, the translators ran into several major problems. Scholars of the day had to rely on manuscripts or copies of the original documents because no one had access to the original documents. Some of these copies were even copies of copies and copies of translations. If you’ve ever played the game of “whisper down the lane”, you can understand that copies of copies can end up being quite different from the original document. The responsibility to decide what to include in the KJV and what not to include rested solely on the shoulders of the translators. This process of “textual criticism” can be very difficult.
Much of the work in translating the KJV was done in England. It is generally believed that England didn’t have any ancient Greek manuscripts until about 1628. Therefore, the translators were at a definite disadvantage when trying to decide which passages were in the texts originally, and which were added later by someone who was copying or translating another copy or translation.
Today, there are many documents that we can use to compare and to find out what belongs and what was added making modern translations much more reliable and accurate. The translators of the KJV didn’t have such information for comparison. For example, the committee for the formation of the NIV consisted of over a hundred scholars from five different countries who had much older manuscripts that are more true to the originals and have a much better grasp on ancient Hebrew.
Some in the IFB, when comparing the KJV with other modern versions, will find some differences and automatically assume that the new versions are adding to or subtracting from the Word of God. They will often make several references to verses that have been seemingly “left out”. It’s important to remember that these verses are not being left out, nor is the Bible being changed. We have access to better information now and the newer translations are just trying to correct some mistakes that have been made in the older translations.
There is also the need to consider the problem of capturing the idea of the message and not just the message itself. It’s a problem of how to make the new version read as closely to the original as possible, but still get the author’s idea across. We have to remember that we live is a much different culture than the people of Jesus’ era. Even so, that culture had their own idioms that need to be understood in order to capture the flavor of the message.
For example, it would be difficult for me to translate the phrase “I made it by the skin of my teeth” into another language because that phrase is unique to the US culture. That is a phrase that is only used in this region of the world. If I were to translate that word-for-word or literally into lets say French, it wouldn’t make much sense to the French speaking culture. They would wonder how I got skin on my teeth and how I managed to use it to assist me in whatever I was doing. This phrase would have to be translated using the idea of the sentence such as “I just barely made it”.
Sentence structure and syntax varies across cultures as well. Translating a work from Greek to English would require many adjustments to the structure of the sentences. Words, phrases and concepts which meant one thing to a 17th Century reader often mean something totally different to a 20th Century reader. It would be important for the translator to substitute the correct English phraseology for something that doesn’t make sense when translated word-for-word.
The IFB promotes the KJV as the only, or at least one of the few, versions of the bible that is a literal or word-for-word translation. It’s important to remember that no translation can be exactly word for word because it just wouldn’t be understood. Even the KJV has some text translated using the idea of the text rather than the actual words.
The translators of the KJV, along with the New American Standard and some others tried to keep the word order as close as they could. In contrast, the translators of the NIV wanted to develop a Bible that is easy to read and understand so they made a thought by thought translation which conveys the essence and meanings of the original documents, but becomes much more natural and conversational to the modern reader since our sentence structure and syntax is vastly different from ancient Greek, Hebrew and Latin.
An emotional response
Looking back on my experiences in the IFB churches I can remember strong emotions surrounding the KJV controversy. Preachers and teachers often presented a one sided argument for the authority of the KJV. The unsubstantiated claims were shrouded in sarcasm and illogic and never was even one piece of evidence or proof given. Their appeals are based largely on emotion rather than evidence. We were expected to take their word for it and accept it on faith. I would often repeat these empty arguments with others who used versions of the Bible other than the KJV.
I have a feeling that those who give me the message of KJV onlyism and try to discredit the modern translations and the Greek texts behind them have never really investigated the data. They simply repeat the manipulative message that they themselves learned. For whatever reason, be it a need for control, indoctrination, manipulation, etc. followers of the IFB aren’t allowed to question anything and this issue of the KJV is no exception.
A Keen Observation
During my early post IFB years I secretly took my NIV with me to the IFB church when I would return to visit with my family hoping that no one would notice. Later I secretly wished someone would notice. I really wanted to explain why I was using the NIV rather than the KJV (and at that time all I knew was that I actually understood what the Bible was saying for the first time) and how proud I was to be free from the legalism of having to use the KJV.
Anyway, during the messages I sat listening to with my NIV Bible I noticed a peculiar pattern emerge. I found that in almost every circumstance the preacher would explain a difficult to understand passage in the KJV using very similar if not the exact words from the NIV. I don’t think they did it on purpose because they didn’t know what the contents of the NIV were. But I got to thinking, if a pastor is explaining the KJV with words that the NIV already uses, why not just use the NIV?
The Conspiracy Theorist in Me
As I ponder the dilemma mentioned above, I can’t help but wonder if all this manipulation surrounding the KJV isn’t on purpose. The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if it isn’t the intention of the IFB leaders to purposefully want to keep people in the dark with a difficult to understand version of the Bible because they know that if people read the NIV or other easier to understand version they will discover the truth and an end will come to the IFB. I also wonder if the IFB leaders use our naivety to spread the IFB message. It’s just a thought and I don’t really believe it, but I often wonder. I don’t think I will ever have an answer to this, but it peaks my curiosity to say the least.
- A Brief History of English Bible Translations by Dr. Laurence M. Vance.
- Based on an article found at: http://www.comereason.org/theo_issues/theo025.asp
- Smith, Wilbur M. The English Bible and its Development The Open Bible Thomas Nelson Pub. Nashville 1979 p.1251
- Why I Quote The NIV Bible by Graham Pockett
- A Response to the King James Only Debate by Eric Pement
- “The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism”, by D. A. Carson (Baker Book House, 1979)
- “Demystifying the Controversy Over the Textus Receptus and the King James Version of the Bible,” I.B.R.I. Research Report No. 3, by Douglas S. Chinn and Robert C. Newman (Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, PA, 1979);
- “The Truth About the King James Version Controversy”, by Stewart Custer (Bob Jones University Press, 1981).
- Charles V Taylor “Bibles With Holes?”
- Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, p. 99
- Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, “The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration”, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 152
- T. Robertson, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, Nashville: Broadman, 1925, pp. 107-108
- D. Whitby, Examen variantium Lectionum Johannis Milli, London 1709
- J. J. Griesbach, Novum Testamentum Graece, (London 1809)
- An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, or Received Text of the New Testament; in which the Greek Manuscripts are newly classed; the Integrity of the Authorised Text vindicated; and the Various Readings traced to their Origin (London, 1815), ch. 1. The sequel mentioned in the text is Nolan’s Supplement to an Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, or Received Text of the New Testament; containing the Vindication of the Principles employed in its Defence (London, 1830)
- ibid., ch. 5
- Daniel Wallace, “Some Second Thoughts on the Majority Text”, Bibliotheca Sacra, July-September, 1989, p. 276
Interesting site sir, and one I stumbled across very recently.
Having come out of the IFB circle some years ago, it was refreshing to see another person who identifies many of its unscriptural problem areas.
However, I urge you to take a good look at the translation issue again. Despite the “archaic” language, I for one have VERY little trouble, if at all, understanding the KJV.
At the heart of the translation issue are the key manuscripts used, and everything sort of spirals out from there.
I’ve looked at both sides, and am convinced that the KJV is THE most faithful and accurate ( I didn’t say “understandable” ) translation in print today.
Once you understand, as I did, that most modern English translations are based on the Critical Text ( instead of the Majority Text or even the TR ), then you may think differently about them…another thought I had, regarding what I noticed in one of your articles:
The NLT is a PARAPHRASE ( as is the NIV and several others ) using Dynamic Equivalency instead of Formal Equivalency…”thought-for-thought” instead of word-for-word literalness. To the natural mind, it WILL read easier…don’t let this deceive you. Just because it may be easier to read, doesn’t necessarily mean it is God’s very word.
One question I have to ask:
Do you care about God’s very words? If you do, give this issue some more research, DESPITE being able to read the NIV and NLT easier…the labor will pay off, if you are led of the Holy Spirit.
In other words, if you are His, then it shouldn’t matter how “old” the translation is, HE will make it understood to you.
May you grow in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanks for writing and for your thoughtful defense of the KJV. I understand where you’re coming from and I respect your position. There are just a few flaws in your logic, however, that you should consider. I’ll try to tackle them one at a time…
First of all, I find it quite interesting that different people can “look at both sides” of the bible translation debate (although I think there are more than just two sides – I’m assuming that by “both sides” you mean KJV advocates vs. the rest of the world??? – I’m not sure what exactly you mean by “both sides”) and come up with very different ideas and convictions. Even the most influential and brilliant theological scholars can’t agree on this issue. And there’s the rub… this is an issue first and foremost of personal and individual conviction and preference. There is nothing inherently unscriptural about using a version of the Bible other than the KJV (if there is please show me). Those who say otherwise, without Biblical evidence, are either severely mistaken or trying to push personal conviction and preference on others which is nothing short of manipulative.
Secondly, and I’m assuming here that you are using a modern version of the KJV, if you are using a modern version of the KJV you are doing the very thing that you warn against. You are using an easier to read version of the KJV. If you were to do what you say is important then why would you be using a modern version of the KJV? Why wouldn’t you use the KJV 1611, or the Geneva Bible? Shouldn’t you be using those versions and rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit to help you understand it? In other words, if you are His, then it shouldn’t matter how “old” the translation is, HE will make it understood to you. See, it works both ways. You’re doing the same thing I’m doing (reading an easier to understand version of the Bible), you’re just doing that with the KJV and I’m doing that with a different version. To me there’s very little difference.
Third, it doesn’t follow from your premise that using the KJV, despite not being able to understand Shakespearean era English, is the best option for the simple reason that it is in English. What does the rest of the non-English speaking world do? What about versions translated into Spanish, German, Russian, or a thousand other languages? Should those who don’t speak English try to read your KJV and simply rely on the Holy Spirit to guide them? If not, since they don’t have the KJV and are using a version of the Bible that’s easier for them to understand, then why is it wrong for me to do so? I hope you see the futility in that line of thinking.
Fourth, yes you can make the argument that even though you are reading a modern version of the KJV you are still using the KJV, however, your premise is inherently flawed. You’ve bought into the lie that the KJV is the most accurate, which it isn’t (which I discuss very carefully in my articles about the KJV). Sticking to your logic, you really should be using any one of a number of translations (the Interlinear, NASB, AMP, ESV or RSV that are more accurate versions based on formal equivalence of the original language than the KJV. This idea that the KJV is the best translation is based on misinformation and myth (and perhaps tradition). Yes the KJV is a literal word-for-word translation, but that doesn’t make it more accurate or more trustworthy. As I stated in the article, a literal translation misses the mark on many cultural and language idioms. For example, if we were to take an English, North American idiom such as “he made it by the skin of his teeth” and try to translate that literally (word-for-word) into another language, the point would be misunderstood and misapplied. Many would wonder why this person has skin on his teeth and what that has to do with being on time. A translator would have no choice but to translate that using a dynamic equivalence interpretation. The translator would have to translate “he made it by the skin of his teeth” into “he made it just before the deadline”. Sometimes a word-for-word translation misses the message and that is very dangerous. Scriptural examples of this can be found in several articles throughout my site. As a result, there are certain instances where a dynamic equivalence translation reflects a more accurate translation of the original language and intent. A version of the Bible that’s based entirely on formal equivalence thus would contain errors (or at least what seems like errors to the typical non-seminary trained reader). It’s not only important to simply translate the words, but to translate the meanings of idioms, euphemisms, culturally significant meanings of words and phrases, etc.
Fifth, I will answer your question about caring for God’s very words… Yes I do. Just because I use a translation that has a dynamic equivalence process of translation doesn’t mean I don’t care about God’s very words. In fact, making the claim that the KJV is the only translation that accurately reflects “God’s very words” is a very silly argument – especially if you’ve spent the time to “study both sides of the issue” as you claim. The KJV is nothing more than an English translation in a LONG line of translations.
Finally, I resent the implication that I’m somehow not His simply because I choose to read a version of the Bible other than the KJV or because I don’t understand with the best accuracy the Old English style of writing in the KJV. Reading or even understanding the KJV isn’t a requirement for salvation. To think so, is to elevate the KJV to the status of a fourth member of the trinity – and that is blasphemous. To think this way is to tread on very thin ice as you come to rely on the KJV for salvation rather than the atoning work of Christ on the cross. I hope you can see the danger in that line of thinking.
Please understand that I have no problem with the KJV or with people reading the KJV. What I have a problem with is the KJV being promoted as a better translation then the others when it clearly isn’t.
Thanks again for your question.