King James Version Only Controversy

Recently I sat in a conference where the speaker touted the KJV (an English translation of the Bible) as the Only True Word of God.  Then he preceded to mock the 'heretics' who use any other translation.    The ignorance and stupidity of such a claim irks me.    Through my tenure as a pastor I am called upon to explain this KJV Only doctrine to parishioners who have had someone confuse them and tell them they need to leave the church they are attending since the real Word of God is not being read.     

I came back from the conference and someone was peddling this snake-oil among some of our community and causing them to become disillusioned.  So I reached out to my good buddy Jon Stokes and we dialogued on this and I thought I would share our conversation on the subject:

Jeff:  How have you seen this subject handled in the past?

Jon:   I'm reminded of a stunt that elder Bishop Treece used to pull with preachers who would confront him about his reading from the Greek NT with the claim that the KJV was the only true Word. He'd hold out his Greek bible in one hand and a KJV bible in the other, and say, "come up here in front of everyone and take whichever of these is the true Word out of my hand." And when they were called on it, where they actually had to make a physical show of rejecting the Greek NT as invalid, they'd be kind of embarrassed… he supposedly never had any preacher take him up on it.

Jeff: That's funny.   I have done something similar when asked by a KJV Only supporter, "Well then what does it really say?" And I responded by reading in Greek and responding, "That's what it really says.  And notice there are no Elizabethan thees and thous in that."

Jeff: Where do you think this kind of elitism comes from?

Jon:  I think the KJV-only thing is basically just a form of prejudice -- like thinking a certain ethnic group  is inferior, or fat people smell bad, or women can't do math, or whatever. It comes from the same kind of non-rational place as any other prejudice. Which is why I like Bishop Treece's response to it so much. It's not a rational argument type response -- it's a "let's see how dedicated you really are to publicly holding onto this prejudice which we both know can't really be supported by any rational arguments" type of response.

Jeff:  That's scary.  The shift from preference to prejudice is subtle but deadly.  Its one thing to prefer one translation over another.  Its a completely different thing to judge someone's spirituality and relationship with God based upon what Bible they read from.  The moment one crosses that line they have made the translation an idol, a functional savior and in doing so have displaced the centrality of Christ.   I see the Bible primarily functioning as a sign post that points us to Christ--the living Word.   We are called to put our faith in Jesus and not in translations.  

How do we know we have made a translation an idol?  First, when we think that our translation has the only true message of salvation.   And that other translations have corrupted the true way to salvation.   Second, we make a translation an idol when we make it a fellowship issue.  When we refuse to fellowship or worship with others that read from a different translation than us we no longer are believing solely and wholly in Jesus we are believing in a translation to save us.    Finally, we make our translations an idol when we think we are superior to others and more spiritual than others because of our translation.  

A translation cannot save you.   A translation only serves to help you come to know and understand God's love for you in Jesus Christ.   Remember the early church had no Bible, they had the knowledge of Jesus and the Holy Spirit and they 'turned the world upside down'.