The King James Only Controversy: Can We Trust Modern Translations?

By James White

Many major conflicts and much unnecessary confusion has sprung up since the publishing of updated Bible translations such as the New International Version (NIV), the New American Standard Version (NASB), and others.  Many teachers and writers such as G. A. Riplinger, Peter Rickman, Samuel Gipp, and others rose quickly to attack modern translations as being heretical and even as being part of a conspiracy in partnership with the New Age Movement. James White masterfully addresses the controversy and questions surrounding modern translation in his book The King James Only Controversy.  White is the director of an apologetics organization and often takes part in debates on many different issues.

Summary

The main thesis of this book is that Modern Bible Translations are trustworthy and they translate the original text with high accuracy.  White does not claim in the book that the King James Bible is a bad translation and this is not the point of his book. White rather argues that the King James Version (KJV) is not the only faithful Bible translation and furthermore, the KJV does have some problems that some of the newer Bible translations correct.  As White says in short, “I oppose KJV Onlyism, not the King James Version itself” (18). While much of this debate has focused around emotions, personal insults, and conspiracies, this book seeks to be a clear, faithful evaluation of modern Bible translations and the accusations often brought against them.

White begins his argument in Chapter One: King James Only with a survey of the five main groups that argue that the KJV is the only translation that Christians should use.  He holds most of his corrections and arguments for later chapters but states at the end of the chapter that “Fellowship should never be based upon the English translation one carries and studies” (29). Chapter Two: If It Ain’t Broke… points out the root behind the KJV only controversy as a rejection of anything new and improved due to a love for tradition or the way things have always been done.  He uses this to go back to the way the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate dealt with the same problem.  White then continues to guild his argument with Chapter Three: Starting at the Beginning by laying basic groundwork on issues such as textual criticism, translation, and textual variants.  This chapter sets White up to begin the bulk of his specific arguments in Chapter Four: Putting It Together.  In this chapter, the book examines some of the claims of the KJV only camp mostly focusing on the history of the textual transmission of the Greek New Testament (NT) and the Textus Receptus (TR).  This chapter explains the elevation of the TR as the authorized text also explaining the flaws of this argument.  White finishes this important chapter with the history of the formation of the KJV and its later additions.

Chapter Five: The King James Only Camp takes a minor shift of attention, addressing specific advocates and writings of the KJV only camp, pointing our their logical fallacies, misunderstandings, and the clear deceitful aspects of the writings associated with this movement.  Chapter Six: Translational Differences, begins White’s investigation of differences of translation especially between the KJV and modern translations.  He explains why many of the differences exist, clearing up misunderstandings and conspiracies that undergird much of the controversy.  The next chapter, Textual Differences, is similar to the previous but addresses differences in manuscripts which effect translations, bringing about the same result as chapter five.

Chapter Eight: The Son of God, The Lord of Glory, examines and explains the texts which KJV only advocates use to accuse modern translation of undermining the deity of Jesus.  The claim that he is addressing here is the claim that “words like ‘Lord’ and ‘Christ’ disappear with regularity from the corrupted Alexandrian texts upon which modern translations are based” (245). Part One of the book ends with chapter nine which addresses some important problems in the KJV and chapter ten which answers some questions surrounding modern translations and the KJV.  White’s goal is not to accuse the KJV of being a bad translation, but rather to simply address the misunderstanding that it is inherent and the modern translations are heretical and bad.  Part two of the book goes though many different texts, many of which were already dealt with in the book that can be used to accuse modern translations of being faulty or bad.

Critical Evaluation

White succinctly and clearly argued his thesis in a pervasive way.  His arguments are lacking logical fallacies and focus on the facts, the history, and the words of Scripture.  While this issues are difficult and mixed with of confusion in many churches, White shows himself to be a faithful scholar and an apt teacher on the issues surrounding this controversy such as language, translation, textual criticism, and many others.   The main thesis of this book, that Modern Bible Translations are trustworthy and they translate the original text with high accuracy, was most definitely well supported in the arguments of chapters one through ten and then proved exegetically in the second section on texts not already addressed in depth.  I would like to argue that White’s arguments had no holes or needs for revision.

The first major strength of the book was White’s knowledge and use of Church history in his arguments.  Though his argument cannot be made on the basis of history alone, White does an amazing job of explaining in chapter two how the KJV only argument is not new but was used on both the Septuagint and the Vulgate.  This supports White’s argument in a huge way, giving readers and big picture perspective on Bible translation through history.  This also exposes many of the arguments of the KJV only camp.  He finishes this argument with a home run statement, “The emotions that drive today’s KJV Only controversy are nothing new at all… As soon as we become more attached to our traditions then we are to truth, we are in very deep trouble” (40).  Similarly, in chapter four, White is able to clearly present the history of the KJV and the manuscripts behind it to clear up misunderstandings about this as well.

The second big strength of The King James Only Controversy is related to the previous quotation.  White is clear on the misunderstandings in the KJV only controversy but does it with pastoral care.  Though White may be a feisty debater, his book leaves the reader no room to accuse him of being insulting or demining.  This most definitely helps his thesis and avoids distractions.  His big concern is clearly not to shame anyone or to win the argument for the sake of winning.  His pastoral care comes through in the book as he talks about the terrible books that have come out on the subject and the way churches have been split over this issue especially in Chapter Five: The King James Only Camp.  Never does White throw the type of personal insults that are so common in literature on this topic and he does not seek to question the intelligence of those he disagrees with.  Through this pastoral care, it is made clear that his argument do not stand or fall on conspiracy theories, or the character of those in the KJV only camp, but on the facts that are presented through the pages of his book.

The strongest aspect of the book that White used to support his thesis was his exegetical and textual explanations.  His tables and explanations of texts, especially those that are commonly used in false accusations against modern translations, were in depth enough to present the facts, yet simple enough to not require a PHD.  White does not waste very much time giving logical explanations in response to accusations that modern translations are undermining the deity of Jesus or other related matters.  He gets right to the text and the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, giving the reader who is actually interested in facts and truth the ability to see it for himself.  This is also related to another main strength that White had which is knowledge of textual criticism and his ability to explain the art and science of this important work.  This was especially clear in chapter seven on textual differences where he explains at all the manuscript families in a fairly understandable way.  He clear understanding of the techniques of textual criticism also supports his argument as he answers the faulty methods of many who argue against modern translations.  For example, White correctly states, “We cannot simply count manuscripts but must weigh them, looking at their general character, age, and text-type” (198).

The final strength that I want to bring up from the book is especially found in part two.  White’s book is not just good for a one time read, but is also a useful reference tool.  He supports his thesis in such a clear and organized way, that it can be referenced when someone stumbles upon a text that has different translations.  In some ways, this section is also the nail in the coffin that completes his thesis.  By the end of the book, just about every text that KJV only people may use to “trap” someone who uses modern translations has been skillfully addressed.

Conclusion

The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations? is by far the best book on this important issues which still causes major problems.  I am thankful for this work because it equips the church to better understand the Bible, how we got it, and how we should think about different translations of God’s Word.  I would personally recommend this book to anyone who wants a better greater of modern translation, or has some confusion about the King James only controversy.  This book caused me to have a great respect for the KJV and a greater trust in our English Bibles.  I hope and pray God will continue to use this book to strengthen the church and clear up misunderstandings we may have on God’s Word and its translations.

This book review was written by Pastor Jonathan Ahlgren.

You can buy this book here.