There has not been a theological discussion in my life that has caused more division, confusion, and frustration than that of the Bible Version Debate. Addressing this issue will likely not gain me many friends. In fact, I fully expect to lose friendships (and gain new enemies) by following the Lord’s leading into this subject matter.1 Then why broach this subject at all?
I propose three reasons. First, to provide an explanation to the members of our church who have journeyed with us as we have transitioned away from the exclusive use of the King James Version.2 Second, to provide an explanation to our expanding network of ministry friends who continually ask me about this subject. Third, to challenge those who hold a moderate “KJV-Only” position to consider maintaining fellowship with those who may differ on this secondary issue.
I’d like to add a disclamer before we begin: I love the King James Version of the Bible. I know this may seem unlikely to those who will challenge this article, but nonetheless it’s true. I will say more on this matter later in the post.
And now, I have a few questions I would like for us to consider.
1. What is your textual position, really?
This is a very important question to ask, because there are multiple positions that someone may take in the King James Version conversation. I will briefly attempt to summarize these positions, though I’m aware that my few paragraphs will not be sufficient for many readers.
The Ruckmanite Position
Peter Ruckman was a late twentieth century pastor who ministered in Florida for many years. From all accounts, he was charismatic in personality, brilliant in debate, fascinated by conspiracies, and a big fan of the King James Version of the Bible. He taught that the King James Bible was the only Bible from which a Christian should study. All other English versions of the Bible were “perversions” of Scripture, part of Satan’s masterplan to lead the world away from truth. He was not the first who championed this doctrine, but he certainly was the loudest.
He not only taught that other English versions of the Bible were less than trustworthy but that the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts from which the King James Version was translated are also corrupt. That’s right: Ruckman believed (as do his followers) that the original texts in the original languages from which the KJV was translated are corrupt. However, the King James Version of the Bible is perfectly inspired. This belief is called double inspiration.
Ruckman’s position, as I understand it, proposes that God had originally inspired the writers of the New Testament during the first century, but we’ve lost those original manuscripts to time, and the current copies that date to the 3rd–5th centuries have been polluted and are untrustworthy. However, God revisited man during the reign of King James of England in order to inspire the politically authorized Anglican translators. When the translation of the corrupt Textus Receptus had been completed, God had miraculously produced a permanently superior English translation. Indeed, the KJV is so superior to any other translation that it can now be used to retroactively correct the Greek text from which it was translated.
The Bible never gives indication that any kind of secondary act of divine inspiration would ever take place, and the KJV translators specifically deny that their work is perfect. Ruckman’s double-inspiration doctrine, though held dearly by many, is absent from the pages of Scripture. Yet shockingly, Ruckman has many followers even to this day. Writers like Gail Riplinger and YouTube preachers like Steven Anderson are among those who continue to propagate forms of Ruckmanism and other varieties of extreme KJV-Onlyism all over the world.
The Textus Receptus Position
This is a moderate view that is often mistaken as KJV-Onlyism even among its own adherents. This position states that there was a commonly “received text” that has been passed down throughout history from which most translations of the Bible had been produced until the early twentieth century. It was during the late 1800s that the discovery of several older manuscripts (Siniaticus and Vaticanus among others) gave rise to a new New Testament text that differed from the traditional received text.3 These older manuscripts number into the 300s while the received manuscripts number into the 5,000s. This gave rise to the term “majority text” in contrast to the relatively fewer manuscripts that were recently discovered.
This position postulates that the newly found manuscripts are untrustworthy at best, and any translations utilizing these manuscripts are suspect. Therefore, only translations that have come from the Textus Receptus are trustworthy for the modern Christian. This position would allow for the acceptance of the Matthew’s Bible, Geneva Bible, Tyndale Bible, and the Coverdale Bible. Each of these preceded the widely accepted and universally loved King James Version of the Bible that was first translated in 1611 and subsequently updated seven times over the next two centuries. What we have today is the 1769 edition of the King James Version.
Therefore, those who would hold to the “TR Position” would theoretically allow for newer English versions of the Bible to be translated, studied, and memorized—as long as they were appropriately translated from the “Received Text.” Thus we have, standing alongside of the Matthew’s Bible, Geneva Bible, Tyndale Bible, and the King James Bible, a group of new translations produced from the same manuscripts with the same translation philosophy. Today’s Textus Receptus adherents have access to The New King James Bible, Modern English Version, and 21st Century King James.
The Practical Ruckmanite Position
However, there has now risen a third position in the translation debate among those who would consider themselves “TR” adherents. I call this position “Practical Ruckmanism,” because their stated beliefs do not match their actual practice. It is stated by these individuals that any version coming from the TR might plausibly be considered, as long as it was translated with the same literal translation philosophy as the seven editions of the King James Version. At long last in 1982 we saw the introduction of the New King James Version, an English Bible which was translated from the same text as was the KJV and with the same philosophy as the KJV. However, it was quickly rejected.4 Over the next thirty years there would be several other English versions translated from the TR; each seeing various levels of success, but none of them living up to the historic popularity of the OG-KJV.
The most recent attempt to provide a translation from the TR came in the form of the Modern English Version in 2014. This translation had a reputable translation committee, used a philosophy of formal equivalency (literal translation),5 and came from the Textus Receptus. Perhaps this translation would be accepted among those who claim a TR position. Yet it, too, was quickly dismissed and rejected. Why?
These individuals say that, in theory, a new English translation is possible; but in practice, they will never receive one. They don’t declare, as did Ruckman, that the King James Version is the only trustworthy Bible the planet will ever know. But in practice, they will always find a reason why the seventh edition of the eighth English translation of the Bible is the last one they will (and everyone else must) ever use.
Here’s the problem—this third position is simply flawed, inconsistent, and irrational. It is a strong preference that doesn’t tie itself to a strong argument. If you are KJV0Only, own it. Be KJV-Only. But please don’t tell us, “The text is the issue,” if you are unwilling to consider a new translation from a reliable text.
II. If the Text is Really the Issue…
I was taught that the essence of the translation debate had nothing to do with the actual translation and everything to do with the source of the translation. The text is the issue! We must examine the textual sources of our English translations! If the text is corrupt, then the translation is corrupt! The KJV is the best translation for English-speaking people, but there is certainly room for translations from the TR in other languages.
Really? If all this is really the case, I have a few questions…
If the text is really the issue, why quickly dismiss new translations from the TR?
- 1982 – The New King James Version
- 1985 – Green’s Literal Translation
- 1994 – 21st Century King James Version
- 2001 – King James Version Easy Read
- 2014 – Modern English Version
- 2016 – King James Version 2016 Edition
Take your pick. In the last 40 years, there have been multiple incredible choices given to those who hold a TR position. Any of the above translations would be perfectly acceptable. It could be that an individual simply prefers the KJV to these modern English translations. Someone may see the NKJV as too choopy, or the MEV as less majestic, and would really prefer to use the same translation they’ve known throughout life. I truly understand, and I even empathize with this individual. They certainly have a right to their preferred translation. Can we then admit that this is a preferential matter and not a doctrinal one?
I have another question…
If the text is really the issue, why separate from brethren who use a new translation from the TR?
You see, this is where their argument breaks down. They say, “The text is the issue,” but then they actively separate from those who choose to use the New King James Version, the Modern English Version, or the KJV 2016. There appear to be a few conclusions that can be made from this position. First, the text is not really the issue. These individuals are actually practical Ruckmanites who have utilized a historic and scientific argument to give artificial credence to their preestablished bias. Second, since the text is not really the issue, second-degree separation must be. This position is trapped in the whirlwinds of denominational politics and the fear of man. This position presses good men to separate from other good men because if they don’t, it will cost them politically—they will lose support for their churches and parachurch organizations. This is the denominational pragmatism I have written about.
I’ve come to the realization that the vast majority of those who say that the text is really the issue don’t actually believe that the text is really the issue. They may not have the disposition of Steven Anderson, but they certainly hold to the same theological position.
If that’s your position, then I encourage you to own it courageously. Take the theological mantle of KJV-Onlyism and stop caring what others may think. But please don’t say that you have a TR position when your practice shows otherwise.
I have one last question…
III. If Not Now, When?
Since the early days of my Christian faith, I have been privileged to learn from the beautiful KJV translation.6 Throughout grade school and AWANA, I memorized vast portions of this translation. Life-changing sermons in my youth came from this translation. I exclusively used this version throughout my undergraduate program and both graduate programs. I, too, love the KJV! This was the translation from which I spent my early mornings in devotional time with the Master for over thirty years of my life. This is the translation from which I preached every sermon for nearly fifteen years. I’m comfortable with it. Like the Roman soldier with his ever-present sword, I’ve become adept at using this weapon in advancing Christ’s kingdom.
However, I’ve come to realize that my comfortability is not the ultimate goal. My calling is to make disciples for Jesus Christ. I minister in a day and place where my culture is biblically illiterate. King James English, though familiar to me, is like a foreign language to those I’m trying to reach. Therefore, if an updated Bible can help me accomplish my assignment, I’ll take it. Now, if I were a Ruckmanite, I wouldn’t even consider a new translation—EVER! The very idea is antithetical to KJV-Onlyism. But since I’m not a Ruckmanite, these last few years have been a journey of discovery as I’ve been able to study from other wonderfully trustworthy translations and lead new disciples into a deeper knowledge of Christ in an English translation meant for twenty-first century audience.
My questions are simple. Have we unwittingly idolized the KJV, making it mystical in a way that the translators never intended?6 They preface to the KJV shows clearly that they saw themselves as one link in the chain of many translation committees. They readily accepted the fact that there would be further English translations to come.
When, then, shall they come? If not now, when? If not the modern TR translations, why? If each of these are so egregious, what will it take to provide the English-speaking world with a translation into contemporary English that is acceptable? Have we ignored the fact that language is not static, but moves and changes over time? Lastly, have we effectively established an insurmountable wall which no translation committee could ever hope climb? And, why have we done this? Furthermore, to whom have we done this?
I feel these questions must be answered in our generation. Why? This will be the topic for my follow-up article. A Bible for the Common Man.7
Okay. So, I’m ready to hear from you. I’d like to know your thoughts on the matter, unless you are a Ruckmanite. I don’t mean to be unkind, but there really is no reason for us to talk about this subject. We are far too apart in doctrine for us to have a profitable conversation. I’m hopeful that we can pray for one another and love one another without trying to convince one another in a discussion that will never end. This invitation to dialogue is intended for those who respect the original manuscripts and believe a new translation is possible. I will delete all comments from those holding a Ruckmanite position. For all others… let’s dialogue.
(A great debt of gratitude should be showed to one of my long-time partners in ministry, Fred Murray. This dear brother has spent a great deal of time in research for this article. Thank you for allowing me to reword many of your original thoughts.)
- A brief note to the Christians in our church and those who follow our ministry from afar and may wonder why this article is even necessary. Heather and I come from a denominational tradition that highly values the King James Version of the Bible and encourages each English-speaking Christian to exclusively use this translation and only this translation. It is a VERY important issue to many good people. ↩︎
- I now preach from the New King James Version. ↩︎
- How much these older texts actually differ from the TR is point of discussion that has been debated quite extensively. See KJVParallelBible.org to see the differences for yourself in English. ↩︎
- The trustworthiness of the NKJV had been greatly undermined when it was reported that the translation committee of the New King James Version “referenced” newly discovered, older manuscripts for its translation. However, these reports did not properly explain that the translators of the NKJV did not take these other manuscripts into account when translating the words of scripture, but only used this information to create footnotes indicating a variant reading in older manuscripts. The NKJV text and wording wasn’t altered in the slightest. (The KJV translators also put textual variants in their margins.) ↩︎
- A formal equivalence, or word-for-word, translation gives priority to what the original language says and how it says it. It aims to be a literal translation. A dynamic equivalence, or thought-for-thought, translation gives priority to what the text means. It aims to make the text as readable for a modern audience as possible. ↩︎
- Please take time to read the preface of the King James Version to see what the translators of 400 years ago said about their own translation. ↩︎
- Mark Ward does a wonderful job demonstrating an authentic love for the KJV while calling us to consider modern translations from the same manuscripts in his book Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. BUY IT HERE. ↩︎