Review – James White and the KJVO Controversy

I am reviewing the newest edition of James White’s book for Bethany House. (Part 1, here.) Instead of a simply review – books great, go buy it – I have decided to review bits and pieces, to highlight specific items for thought and discussion.

This section of the review will cover chapters 2  and 3.

In chapter 2, (If It Ain’t Broke…) the author tackles several of the issues of those who hold tot he KJVO position (as a reminder, these people believe that ONLY the KJV is the Word of God.), one of which is the fact that many in the KJVO field hold to the idea that somehow the KJV is the standard to test all others buy.

He cites two examples:

  • In the 5th century, the Roman Bishop commissioned a new translation of the bible into Latin. Previously, the Septuagint had been the bible of the Church, a hold over from a time when Greek was the lingua franca of the day. Jerome, as scholars are apt to do, went to the source text of the Old Testament, the Hebrew MSS. In encountering this story, we are reminded that for a while, the LXX was held to be the inspired translation of the Old Testament, with permission to discard the Hebrew. (There was, I believe, antisemitism involved). The story goes is that 70(2) scholars in meeting to translate the OT, retired to secluded rooms, but when they re-emerged, they each had translated the passages exactly the same. Originally, this applied to the Torah, but eventually this story came to rest up the entire OT. For the early Church, the Septuagint held the place which the KJV does today – it alone was the corrector to the Word of God. When Jerome brought forth the Latin, Augustine, the bishop of Hippo in Northern Africa, nearly led a revolt. The problems were eventually settled, with Jerome’s Latin Vulgate becoming the translation of the West.
  • 500 years after the Great Schism, a Catholic priest names Erasmus, attempted to correct the corrupt Latin manuscripts which predominated Catholic Christiandom. In doing so, he, like scholars are apt to do, went to the original source of the NT, the Greek. Working from fiver or six manuscripts, he produced several editions of his Greek New Testament. When he lacked something in Greek, he backwards translated the Latin, and used that to supplement his work. In doing so, he provided a manuscript for what became the basis for the Greek text use by the Reformation era translators.

Let me add that it was one William Tyndale who was burned at the stake for taking Erasmus’ work and translating the Hebrew and Greek into English so that everyone who could read English, a backwater language of the day, could read the Gospel. He was met with resistance because it was only the Latin which should be used, so said Rome. So says the KJVOnlyist today.

Moving to the next chapter, the author starts to explain the idea of textual variants and the different MSS traditions – and makes the point in no uncertain terms, that ‘99 percent of the four hundred thousand variations are irrelevant to the proper translation and understanding of the Greek text.’ He also highlights the futility of abandoning one MSS tradition for other based on the location of that MSS, such as the preference of the Alexandrian Text over that of the Byzantine Text. He notes that it was the great Athanasius of Alexandria who defended the deity of Jesus Christ while it was those of Antioch who supported the terrible doctrines of Arius and his followers.

He also attempts to explain the various excuses for the variants – including scribal errors and a reference of sacred names.

He does make a solid point, in that in determining the the original text, we find a tenacity of the text – in that variant readings do not disappear; meaning that the original readings are still there as well. He makes the observation that unlike the KJVO group, because of his believe in the Scriptures, he has been able to defend against much more liberal voices and even Islamic voices. It is true, I think, that the KJVO doctrine cripples apologetics – for them, God lost His word for 1500 years, only to have it reappear in 17th English. They cannot provide a defense of Scripture beyond pointing to the KJV. For the KJVO crowd, it is the the KJV which corrects all other MSS, while for others, the word of God is found, defended, and never lost due to wars, persecutions, conspiracies, or simply the fallacy of humanity.

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

15 thoughts on “Review – James White and the KJVO Controversy

  1. I can hardly imagine a more absurd waste of time and energy than the KJVO issue. Anyone who has taken even the most simple of introductions to textual criticism realizes that there is not a single Christian doctrine that is contradicted or denied when using something other than a text from the Majority Text tradition. This is a great example of a little knowledge being very dangerous. I would sooner have the KJVO crowd taking up the cause for a flat earth or a geocentric solar system, than this issue.

  2. P

    Since we believe that God’s word is inerrant (ONLY) in the original languages of Hebrew-Aramaic and Koine Greek.Do you (personally) accept that there has to be copies of copies of Greek manuscripts recording John 1:18 the exact same way that these translations and paraphrases record the passage?

    NIV, NASB, Amplified, NLT, ESV, CEV, NIRV and the TNIV.

  3. Hi P

    I am not sure either.I guess it is possible that some of the modern English translations/paraphrases may have used the same manuscripts that Justin used. The funny thing is that concerning John 1:18 the KJVO folks have no problem with the modern English translations/paraphrases listed.For i would guess that 99.9% of them agree!

  4. Btw: P

    This might be something that you would like to take a look at later.Dr Thomas M. Strouse was at the time (probably still is) that i attended Immanual Baptist church, the Dean and editor of the theological seminary there.

    He is KJVO and has taken up the issue of a Geocentric or stationary earth,with the revolving first and second heavens. I believe that it was the summer of 2006 during the morning adult Sunday school class,that took place in the Sanctuary for the occasion of this lesson.It was for all members and attendees of the church.I still have this same paper.The lesson was complete with a powered solar system, showing a stationary earth,with the revolving heavens.

  5. Sorry P

    I am just making a correction in this part of my comment below.I meant John 1:2 not 1:18

    The funny thing is that concerning John 1:18 the KJVO folks have no problem with the modern English translations/paraphrases listed.For i would guess that 99.9% of them agree!

  6. Rev. McCain, having come from this position, I can forcefully say that it is one based in ignorance and fear, and is a waste of time for anyone to believe, and after a while, to fight. I have yet to see a KJVO’er who can support their position without resorting to hatespeak.

  7. Not sure, Y. We know that Irenaeus said:

    He who worketh all things in all is God, [as to the points] of what nature and how great He is, [God] is invisible and indescribable to all things which have been made by Him, but He is by no means unknown: for all things learn through His Word that there is one God the Father, who contains all things, and who grants existence to all, as is written in the Gospel: “No man hath seen God at any time, except the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father; He has declared [Him.]“

    We further know that Justin, who repeatedly called Christ the ‘second God’ or ‘another God’ used ‘God’ instead of son. The Early Church Fathers are divided on the issue, but the Old Latin, predating the Vulgate, and the Syriac, both record Son.

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