A King James Only Debate

I just watched this whole debate this morning, and found it very interesting and informative (from both sides). I just wanted to comment on some things I saw there. For full disclosure, I am not a King James only advocate, although I greatly respect the KJV, and use it rather often.

First, I think that James White had the better arguments. He had answers for Moorman’s queries, and had several things that Moorman could not answer, the Revelation passage in particular. Why Moorman would not admit that the KJV should be revised on that verse when no Greek manuscript whatsoever reads the way the KJV does is beyond me. The KJV at that point doesn’t even agree with the TR (Textus Receptus) or the MT (Majority Text)!

There are some weak arguments on both sides that I want to point out. First, the argument from vocabulary against the KJV is weak, in my opinion. The KJV is not that hard to figure out. We have dictionaries to help with the odd words. Not to mention that there are words in most modern versions that we will have to explain anyway: words like “propitiation,” “expiation,” “sanctification,” “justification,” “baptism.” These are not words (even the last one!) that regular people use in conversation. On the other hand, the point that White made about style is very important. The New Testament was written in the common spoken language of the day. It wasn’t slang, but it wasn’t high style either. If KJV advocates argue that we ought to keep using the KJV because of the majesty of its style, this is mere sentimentality, and an attempt to improve on God’s Word.

Moorman’s argument about “coherence” was incredibly weak. I have read most of the NT in Greek now. It is coherent in the critical text. When we start arguing that theological doctrines are clearer in one text than in another, we are on very dangerous ground. Here’s why: it is very easy to understand why a scribe would add something to strengthen a doctrinal testimony. It is very difficult to understand why someone would take away a doctrinal testimony, unless one subscribes to conspiracy theories, which are notoriously hard to prove.

White is correct that pejorative words like “take away” or “delete” assumes that which must be proven. In a given variant which has to do with words being present or absent, there can be no prior judgment rendered on whether the words were originally there and later deleted, or were originally absent and later added. So Moorman’s statement about the critical text having fewer words than the TR doesn’t prove anything. Maybe the TR added something that was not originally there. One cannot make broadbrush comments about these things either. Each textual variant has its own ins and outs and must be decided on its own merits. By saying that the CT has fewer words, Moorman was assuming already the standard of the TR which was the very thing under discussion. It was circular, in other words.

Also, Moorman kept on hinting that the majority of manuscripts should rule. He never came out and said it, but he always emphasized the difference in number between the vast majority, which support the TR, versus the 50 which support the CT. In particular, Moorman emphasized that the CT was based almost exclusively on Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. This may have been true in the days of Westcott and Hort, but it is not true today. There are plenty of places where Sinaiticus and Vaticanus disagree with each other, and where the CT does not follow one or the other, or both. We have a lot more papyri than Westcott and Hort did, and so we have a larger basis for an early text.

White made a good point about the age of the texts: before the end of the first millenium, the majority text was Alexandrian in text type. Moorman trotted out the old canard about the provenance of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, which White promptly kaboshed by noting the Arian heresy prominent in the Byzantine area, which was refuted by an Alexandrian by the name of Athanasius. Provenance does not govern the value of a manuscript. This would be the poisoned well argument, which is a logical fallacy.

To Moorman’s credit, he was not frothing at the mouth at modern versions, claiming that they were all Satanic, like some cultists do. The book linked is full of more factual errors per page than any other terrible book I have ever had the affliction to read. It once took me 15 pages to document the factual errors of quotation that Riplinger made in just 15 pages of her text. Moorman is quite a cut above that riffraff. He even admitted that major doctrines were intact in modern versions, even if he accused modern versions of running on fewer engines. The latter criticism, by the way, is the argument of the beard, another logical fallacy. It runs like this: how many hairs does it take to make a beard? If one defines a beard as 1000 hairs, then you immediately run into problems if someone says, “Isn’t 999 hairs a beard?” The problem is in the definition. For many KJV advocates who argue this way (which is not all of them), a doctrine is fully proved by 1,000 mentions of it in Scripture. And if the CT only mentions it 900 times, then it has weakened the testimony of that doctrine. Folks, this is not how we define our doctrine, and it is not how we speak of a doctrine as being proven from Scripture. White actually brought up a few Scriptures where the deity of the Son is actually more strongly supported in the modern versions than in the KJV (courtesy of Granville Sharp’s rule!).

Ultimately, there are many versions of the Bible that can be said to be God’s Word. If someone wants to use the KJV, go to it, I say. A person has God’s Word if they use the KJV. But so does someone who uses the ESV. Please don’t disenfranchise those of us who want to use the ESV, NASB, or even (shocker!) NKJV. Are there too many English translations out there? Absolutely. Let’s try giving some people of the world a translation of their own, instead of creating yet another niche English translation for the benefit of a publishing house’s royalty problems (as was pointed out very well in the debate).


  1. Tim Harris said,

    September 1, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    The TR vs CT should be treated as a wholly different debate than the AV vs {modern English translations}. So, one could favor TR and still hold that overall one of the moderns is sounder for ordinary use; and one could uphold the CT and still think AV is sounder than any other for ordinary use. One could hold to TR and think it it time for a new translation based on TR. One could hold CT yet think this is not a generation worthy to be doing translation. Etc.

  2. September 1, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    I’m with White on this.

  3. theoldadam said,

    September 1, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    We have, and use all sorts of different Bibles during our Bibles studies.

    The ones to steer clear of are the ones with an agenda. For example, the Living Bible has a ‘decision’ theology slant, which brings the sinner back to the ‘self’. Not a good idea.

  4. Alberto said,

    September 1, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    I guess Mount Impassible has been made into a valley after being nuked.

    Seriously, having come from a background of Spanish speaking churches, I don’t get the insistence some have with the KJV; it comes across as sentimental. Fortunately, KJV only kind of thinking was foreign among the Spanish speaking churches I knew.

    And is this insistence of KJV only or it’s light versions really a problem in Presbyterian denominations? I am wondering if the Dutch Reformed have been affected by this.

  5. September 1, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Alberto –

    I thought Spanish-speaking TR-only folks read pre-1960 Reina-Valera Bibles.

  6. Logan Almy said,

    September 1, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    Hi Lane, if you want something amusing (and nothing more) on this subject, you should watch James White and Steve Anderson discuss this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJrptikLjq8

  7. September 1, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    Green Baggins: The intramural debate over the KJV is a contentious sidebar to the larger question of the goal of NT textual criticism (is it the text issued by the author, the text received by his intended audience, or both, assuming the two are indistinguishable?). For an interesting take on that question see Brevard Childs’s introduction to the NT as canon in which he has a chapter (appendix?) discussing the whole issue.

  8. Alberto said,

    September 2, 2014 at 1:08 am


    I guess, but I’ll ask around. This kind of issue never arose in my limited experience. I am not an expert, so you can take what I say with a grain of salt. I’ve heard this more from certain English speaking people and not so much from Spanish speaking congregations. Among Pentecostals, who basically dominate anything outside Romanism, I’ve never heard one peep about this. From my limited experience, I would venture to say that this concentrated effort to follow a kind of KJV only approach would be among Spanish congregations with fundamentalist Baptist connections. I would be willing to bet money that Spanish congregations concerned about this were established by English speaking Baptists.

  9. Roger said,

    September 2, 2014 at 6:30 am

    According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek has been “kept pure in all ages” by God’s “singular care and providence” (WCF 1.8). If that statement was true when the Westminster Confession was written, then how can a minority of differing manuscripts that were discovered later in time be considered an improvement in any way over the majority of texts that have been relied upon throughout church history?

  10. Justin said,

    September 2, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Roger #9: Two ways to look at that. 1) The WCF was written fallibly, as we would all agree, and so their take on the preservation of the text is not a dogmatic definition of which text-type must be preferred. 2) They were right, and in such a way they did not perceive: those older mss were preserved and awaiting discovery in the sands of Egypt, and so God has preserved his Word through “singular care and providence,” though with a slight gap of some centuries wherein the TR exemplars provided something of a ragged representation of the original… yet with the entirety of biblical doctrine intact still.

  11. rfwhite said,

    September 2, 2014 at 11:43 am

    A couple of useful resources on the WCF … See B. B. Warfield, “The Westminster Assembly and Its Work,” vol. VI of The Works of B. B. Warfield; and also his An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament. In addition, Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Inerrancy of the Autographa,” in Inerrancy (ed. N. L. Geisler; GR: Zondervan, 1979).

  12. Roger said,

    September 2, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Justin #10: That God has kept His word pure “in all ages” but hidden it from our sight in its pure form until the late nineteenth century doesn’t seem to be a very persuasive argument in my estimation. Wouldn’t it be better for those who support the CT to just say that the Westminster Divines were wrong on this point, that God’s word has not been kept pure in all ages?

  13. Andrew said,

    September 2, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Re 9 &10 – Is it not possible to say that both the TR and CT are the pure word of God: that the variations are not sufficiently significant to ‘unword’ either manuscript tradition?

    If recall right (I welcome correction) the apostles/early church quoted from the Septuagint, despite it not being an entirely accurate translation.

  14. tominaz said,

    September 2, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    I recall many years ago at an RPC,ES synod the late R. Laird Harris teaching a Sunday School class on the need for a modern language translation, in this case the NIV was being worked on. He argued from the KJV “Jacob sod pottage,” a verse in Job that was basically just words (no sense at all) and some other words – perhaps “gay” – that we needed an up to date version. I’ve taught on the basis of Nehemiah 8:8 (giving the sense – language had changed since Moses) and Acts 8:34 (the eunuch can read but the pronoun ‘he’ is confusing) that a modern language version is necessary.

  15. pilgrim said,

    September 3, 2014 at 3:14 am

    One of the biggest problems in debating/discussing Bible translations with many KJV only devotees (Moorman might be the exception here to some degree) is that they use the KJV as the standard against which all else i judged–it is their final authority. There are issues with this, in addition to the fallacy of such argumentation, but they hold to it.
    No matter what you say, how you say it, and how you back it up–if it’s different than the KJV-to them it’s misguided at best & diabolical at worst.

  16. theoldadam said,

    September 3, 2014 at 9:10 am

    What else would you expect when dealing with biblicists?

  17. greenbaggins said,

    September 3, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Roger (#12), I would answer this by simply noting that the differences between the CT and the TR are not nearly as great as some people make them out to be, and that no doctrinal difference hangs on a textual variant. The TR preserves God’s Word. No one using the KJV is without God’s Word. But now that there are better method of preserving ancient manuscripts, some of these older manuscripts have come to light. So God’s Word has been kept pure in all ages. The 19th century discoveries are part of that process.

  18. roberty bob said,

    September 3, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    If a pure version of the Bible were miraculously produced [which would be necessary on the assumption that only the original manuscripts are pure, and we only have copies of these — with all of their mistakes], who in all humanity would KNOW [and be able to demonstrate] that the new version is pure?

    No one.

    The world’s best bible scholars and translators would quibble over ever jot and tittle.

    The only peaceful solution is to thank God that the holy scriptures have been translated into our mother tongues. Whatever local communion one belongs to, he or she has access to a particular translation or version.

  19. theoldadam said,

    September 3, 2014 at 7:13 pm


    The Holy Spirit is no skeptic.

  20. Bob S said,

    September 4, 2014 at 3:27 am

    17 GB/11 RFW
    FWIW Letis in his Ecclesiastical Text (1997) claims that Warfield was the first to gloss WCF 1:8 to mean providential restoration by textual critics instead of providential preservation of faithful copies of the autographs in the common and public use of the Greek speaking church. This was a watershed contra Alexander and Hodge, as well the Westminster divines/reformed scholastics.

    Even further, Burgon’s gripe in his Revision Revised (1882) was that the critical text disagreed with itself, never mind the textus receptus. While White does mention Burgon in his KJOnly Controversy (1995) bibliography, he doesn’t address the question that I can tell. Or has modern textual criticism moved to favoring the Alexandrian family exclusively and discarded any influence from Vaticanus and Sinaticus?

    7 Agreed RFW, KJOnlyism is a red herring and the arminian fundamentalist baptists differ only from romanists in the object of their idolatry; in this case the AV instead of the Vulgate. Haven’t had a chance to read Childs, but again FWIW Letis in ET has a chapter (albeit weak/confusing imo) on Childs’ approach to the canon.

    Yet regardless of where one stands on the textual issue, the AV has done some heavy lifting. We should all agree with that.
    After all, it is the cream of the crop when it comes to English Bible translations of the Reformation, being the third “authorized translation” (the Great and the Bishops’ preceding it) and is solidly planted in the work of Tyndale through the Geneva Bible, but with influence from even the Romanist Douay Reims translation. Plainly put, an English speaking Christian is historically and theologically illiterate, if they are not acquainted with it, which at the same time is not an argument for idolizing it.

  21. Tim Harris said,

    September 4, 2014 at 8:10 am

    The real question is, who owns the text, the church, or a committee of philologists, some of whom aren’t even believers?

    I’ve often heard it said, as GB @17, “no doctrinal difference hangs on a textual variant.” But this is merely an historical contingency. The question is: what if an “ancient text” is discovered that DOES introduce a doctrinal difference? Do secular scholars get to tell us what to believe? Or does the church own the inspired text?

  22. greenbaggins said,

    September 4, 2014 at 9:18 am

    Tim, by this time, such a doctrinal difference would be instantly recognizable by everyone as an aberration, since it would go against the entirety of the rest of the manuscript tradition.

  23. Tim Harris said,

    September 4, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Yes but the point I’m highlighting is not the difficulty of detection, but the real governing principle, despite what is professed. What my hypothetical shows is that the modern church is willing to rely on a committee including unbelievers to give her the text, just because it’s “no big deal” anyway. But the fact that we would have to quit that luxury when it BECAME a big deal shows that acceptance of the critical text is not entirely honest it seems to me.

  24. ipuritani said,

    September 4, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    First time commenter. Great site, GB.

    One mantra we’ve all heard chanted forever is, “The older manuscripts are the most accurate.” I question that. Has anyone thought to ask how an older manuscript could survive? One possibility is that it was squirreled away to be washed clean and reused because it contained errors. It’s easy to imagine how some could be forgotten. Why should we expect old manuscripts of pure texts to be available to us? These would be read and reread until they wore out. But God providentially preserved faithful copies of faithful texts.

  25. Ron said,

    September 4, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    “Do secular scholars get to tell us what to believe? Or does the church own the inspired text?”

    Tim, your line of inquiry is challenging and refreshing.

    What happens should the two become indistinguishable, even one and the same? Does the church become the enemy once she becomes the world? Worship come to mind? How about basic basic doctrine taught without confusion or apology? The difficulty is that although the lowest common denominator is quite low, it remains *common* just the same. Long suffering may not be cashed in for greater fidelity. Discernment is key.

  26. theoldadam said,

    September 4, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    The finite contains the infinite. Just like our dear Lord Jesus himself.

    The Lord uses ‘perfect vessels’…to accomplish His infallible will.

    Oops…I meant to say, “earthen vessels”. Except for the Book.

  27. theoldadam said,

    September 4, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    I like this quote:

    “All upright sacred books agree on one thing, that they all collectively preach and promote Christ. Likewise, the true criterion for criticizing all books is to see whether they promote Christ or not, since all scripture manifests Christ. Whatever does not teach Christ is not apostolic, even if Peter and Paul should teach it. On the other hand, whatever preaches Christ is apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod should do it!” (LW 35:396)


  28. September 10, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    Even if you could get a King James Onlyist to admit that any given passage in the KJV could benefit from revision, he would rather settle for the status quo and leave well enough alone out of a fear and assumption that any modern revision committee would not restrict themselves to revising only the passages he agrees are in need of revision.

    Riplinger’s NABV was the beginning of the end of my belief in KJV Onlyism. It is that bad of a book. To hold to that extreme wing of the movement requires merely will power and invincible ignorance. Expose it to the light of day, and the shadows flee. This extreme version sees the KJV as a house of cards: remove one card, and the entire structure collapses. How precarious is their view of the text and its relationship to its divine author.

  29. CD-Host said,

    November 1, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    I know I’m jumping in late here but… figured I’d jump in on an interesting conversation.

    @Roger #9 —

    We have a problem. Here is the situation:

    The majority of Greek texts in circulation disagreed with the text that the Westminster Divines used. The text they were using was a biased text highly reflective of the particularities of Erasmus’ friend’s text. The majority of texts in circulation came from a few later strands which disagree with earlier strands at critical points. That was true when the WCF was written.

    So… do we go with:

    a) The text they used?
    b) The majority of texts in circulation?
    c) The best reconstruction of the original we can achieve?

    What does preserve even mean?

  30. CD-Host said,

    November 1, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    @ipuritani #24

    That’s a nice theory the problem is it provably false. We have quotes of numerous lines from early church fathers. We have small sections of texts that were preserved by historical accident not squirreled away anywhere. We have texts that are unquestionably early that can be reconstructed by comments from church fathers about how they differ from the Greek texts they had.

    There are books like Acts for example where the texts forked early between a western and eastern variant. We have places like Ephesians 1:14 which under your theory would have had to have had the same error appear in multiple independent early texts. How would that have happened?

    You cannot construct a plausible path where the TR or MT represents early texts that were then corrupted.

  31. CD-Host said,

    November 1, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    @Andrew #13

    If recall right (I welcome correction) the apostles/early church quoted from the Septuagint, despite it not being an entirely accurate translation.

    The vast majority of the time when the LXX and MT-Hebrew disagree the NT authors (including quotes from Jesus) agree with the LXX. This also happens at crucial doctrinal / plot points. Which is the reason many of the early church fathers felt the LXX was to be preferred over the Hebrew since it better agreed with the NT.

  32. CD-Host said,

    November 1, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    @Green (Lane)

    I would answer this by simply noting that the differences between the CT and the TR are not nearly as great as some people make them out to be, and that no doctrinal difference hangs on a textual variant.

    Let me start out by asking how would one establish that a variant does induce a doctrinal shift? In general when we find early texts that vary greatly from the later canonical versions they get classified as different books i.e. Marcion’s Gospel is (Gospel of the Lord) isn’t considered “the original” for Luke. James is considered a separate book not a reworking of the Epistle on the Works of Righteousness. Or to pick canonical examples Jude isn’t considered the original for 2Peter but rather a separate book.

    But even if we do choose to ignore early variants with substantial differences and only allow for mild changes in individual lines, I still think that is not quite true. For example the further back you roll the more support you find for “heretical” Christology.

    So what would have to happen in terms of early variants for you to believe that these early variants do imply doctrinal differences? What evidence would you have to see to believe the opposite?

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