An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.
“Well at least you use the King James Bible – it’s the only true and inspired translation. It alone is God’s Word!”
Why It’s Weak:
This stance is from the “The King James Only Movement” (or “KJV Onlyism” as it will hereby be referred) which, in a nutshell, holds to the stance that the King James Version of the Bible is superior to all other English translations of the Bible and, therefore, the only version that should be used by individual Christians or Christian congregations. KVJ Onlyism also teaches that all other English translations are corrupt, hence the KJV is the only the English Bible that can be trusted. Some KJV Onlyists even go so far at to teach that the King James Bible is without error and was divinely inspired. Some even teach that if there’s a conflict between what the original language manuscripts say and the KJV says you should choose the latter.
KJV Onlyism is fraught with a multiplicity of problems that get exacerbated and amplified within a Mormon Studies context. And while I will make every attempt to show charity to my KJV Only brothers and sisters in Christ throughout my critique of their stance, I’m still going to be direct and honest about those problems throughout this article.
That said, let me be crystal clear: I love the King James Bible! The KJV was the Bible translation that I grew up with. It’s the Bible that I memorize from. It’s the Bible that I first fell deeply and passionately in love with, and it’s the one that I first read from cover-to-cover (and then read cover-to-cover several more times). To this day the KJV is still the first translation that I turn to first whenever I’m doing research. I also honor and respect it’s unique position and profound influence in the history of the English speaking world. In my opinion, the elegant English of the King James Bible has yet to be matched by any other translation of the Bible.
But objectively speaking, The King James Bible isn’t really God’s Word. Neither is the New International Version of the Bible, the English Standard Version, the New American Standard, the New Living Translation, the New King James Version, the Common English Bible, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, or even the Reina Valera (which is the topping selling Spanish Bible in the world).
These are all translations of God’s Word. Therein lies a difference – a big difference!
If one holds to Biblical inerrancy (as the author does) then God’s pure and unadulterated written revelation to mankind is only found in the original handwritten manuscripts that were produced by either the biblical author or their scribes.
These are known as the “autograph” manuscripts (or “autographa”) and none of them have survived. What’s left are imperfect copies (or, more likely, fragments of copies) that, thankfully, we have in such an abundance that we have been able to reconstruct the autographa with a high degree of certainty. Those reconstructed manuscripts are the closest thing we have to “God’s divinely inspired Word”. Therefore, a translation is only as authoritative as it accurately reflects those original language reconstructions and they are only as authoritative as they reflect the autographa.
Further, translation is always an interpretative interpretative process since no two languages translate precisely word-for-word the same. For example, take a simple Spanish phrase like “¿Qué pasa?” The most common English translation is “What’s happening?” but if you transliterate it word-for-word it would be: “What passing?” So does that mean that the ONLY 100% accurate, true, or correct translation is “What passing?” Clearly, that’s nonsense.
“¿Qué pasa?” can also be translated: “What’s up?”, “How’s it going?”, “What’s goin’ down?”, or even “Wazzup?” While all these translations are correct Spanish to English translations some are more accurate, some more elegant, others more vernacular, but all are valid translations appropriate to different English speaking contexts and dialects. So if it’s this complex for just a simple two word translation between two living contemporary languages consider how much more so it is going from complete sentences and paragraphs from ancient languages into modern English.
All that to simply say, getting fanatically dogmatic about a translation – any translation – of the Bible is bound to get you in trouble.
1) King James Onlyism is a non-essential of the Christian faith
As previously mentioned in article #4 of this series, focusing on non-essentials weakens our arguments when engaging Mormons:
Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever has a a great saying, “The gospel is offensive enough – let’s make sure we offend Mormons with what really matters!” Arguing from dogma, preferences, and non-essential doctrine dilutes the message to Mormons that really matters.
… strong arguments against Mormonism are always rooted and grounded firmly in the essentials of the Christian faith. Specifically, strong arguments will always be some variation on the themes we introduced earlier in this article:
1) Mormonism teaches another Jesus.
2) Mormonism teaches another salvation.
3) Mormonism gets Christ’s resurrection mostly right but is still wrong.
4) Mormonism teaches another gospel.
5) Mormonism teaches polytheism.
6) Mormonism follows a false prophet.
Like the notes in a musical theme these six points can be woven into a seemingly endless array of strong, persuasive arguments. Use them skillfully and creatively and your arguments against Mormonism will be as moving as a Mozart symphony. But if you deviate too far from them, we’re talking Spike Jones.
2) King James Onlyism mirrors Mormonism’s irrational, feelings based epistemology.
As Robert C. Newman and Douglas S. Chinn of the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute explain, KJV Onlyism is very “Mormon” behavior:
So, if scholarship is not the ultimate basis for the present TR-KJV [Textus Receptus-King James Version] movement, what is? What kind of non-scholastic methodology is thought to allow God to be the final authority on what constitutes the Bible instead of men? Their answer is FAITH! The same kind of faith that God demands when one believes in Jesus as his Lord and Savior — so they claim. By this method, one can be independent of other men and come to a final conclusion by himself concerning what constitutes the Word of God.
An example of this kind of faith is seen in the following case. When confronted with a difference between the KJV and (say) the NASB [New American Standard Bible], how does one tell which reading is genuine? By the method of scholarship, one would have to study the manuscripts and their history. By the method of “faith,” however, one only has to pray and ask God to reveal to him in some way (without scholarship) which reading is correct. If one has been saved under preaching from the KJV, it is very easy to appeal to one’s personal experience as God’s revealed “proof.” They would say, “I can see the changes that have taken place in my life since I believed what was taught in the KJV. These changes are evidence that God is really working in my life. Therefore, I know that the KJV is the best text without any manuscript evidence.” This methodology, of course, is then later used to defend every word in the KJV text. In our discussions with pro-KJV people, it is not uncommon for them to claim that even the TR [Textus Receptus, the manuscript the KJV New Testament was translated from] can be wrong, but the KJV cannot.
However, is this the kind of “faith” the Bible talks about? Blind faith based on personal experience and independent of other evidence such as manuscripts and history? In I Corinthians 15:14, the Apostle Paul wrote, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” How does one determine whether Christ has actually risen from the dead? Are not historical and archaeological evidence (using scholarship) for the reliability of Scripture involved? Did not Paul give historical evidence when he told the Corinthians to ask the other Apostles and the five hundred brethren who saw saw the risen Christ (I Co.15:4-7)? Would this not involve some scholarship in determining whether a person actually saw Christ or was lying? Should not every Bible believer be ready to renounce his faith if a grave in Palestine were ever identified unmistakably to contain the remains of Jesus Christ? If not, what would be the difference between that person and a liberal who says that it does not really matter what happened, only what a person believes happened is important?
We fundamentalists sometimes claim that some of the hymns we sing are doctrinally unsound. Is this not the case for that line in the hymn “He Lives” which says “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!”? There is more to Biblical faith than belief without objective evidence. If not, then how does one witness to a Mormon?
Present day Mormons claim that scholarship can never prove or disprove that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God or that the Book of Mormon is also the Word of God. That would make other men the final authority on Mormonism, not God. If one should point out some of the abundant evidences against Mormonism, Mormons will usually respond that these problems will eventually be resolved in favor of Mormonism given enough time. The primary evidence for the truth of Mormonism comes from the Holy Spirit working in one’s life, so their claim goes.
Prospective converts are first given a presentation of Mormonism. Then they are asked to pray to God and sincerely ask Him to show them by divine revelation whether or not Mormonism is true. By this methodology, many people do indeed become Mormons while others do not. With the passing of time, many converts will be able to give glowing testimonies of the changes God has supposedly wrought in their lives. If one asks why certain people who prayed decided not to become Mormons, Mormons will typically answer that such people must have prayed (at least subconsciously) with an insincere heart. Otherwise, they would have become Mormons! Indeed if the growth of a church is the evidence of God’s blessing the use of a particular text, the Book of Mormon would do well. Mormonism is one of the fastest growing religions in America.
Does the methodology of faith without scholarship produce any more certainty than faith based on scholarship? Has not every person once thought he was certainly right on some issue only to later change his mind and believe he was totally wrong? Is God really the final authority in this methodology? If He is, then why do people become Mormons and claim to have peace and assurance in their times of need? Has not God really been replaced by “leading by feelings” concerning their experiences using the KJV in this methodology of faith without scholarship? Nowhere in the Bible are we taught that the feelings about our experiences, even after sincere prayer, are the voice of God.
Whenever I’ve had discussions with KJV Onlyists I’ve encountered exactly the same type of evidence denial, thought stopping and information control tactics, ad-homineming, testimony bearing, subjectivity, apologetic spin doctoring, and feelings based irrationality that I see in my engagements with Mormons. Making non-essentials essential is a very Mormon thing to do – and KJV Onlyists in this regard are very Mormon.
3) KJV Onlyism reinforces Mormon Article of Faith Eight dogma.
Joseph Smith’s Article Eight of the canonized Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is as follows:
We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
Taken at face value, I agree with the first part of Article Eight – the Bible is the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. However, what Joseph Smith’s words actually say and how they’re understood and applied by Mormons are often two different things. As Robert N. Hullinger observed in his award winning book, “Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon”, Joseph Smith’s real agenda from the beginning was to undermine the absolute authority of the Bible and replace it with his own:
“In defense of God, Joseph Smith assailed the natural revelation of deism, which excluded the supernatural, and the static revelation of traditional Christianity contained in a closed canon. But to enable revealed religion to overcome natural religion, Smith supported the deistic attack on the Bible’s being complete and errorless. Rejection of the traditional view left him free to pursue special revelation specific to his own cause.”
Article eight reflects this subtle deviation and Mormon orthopraxy confirms it. So while KJV Onlyists may feel like they’ve had a major break through when they see their Mormon friends smiling and nodding in agreement at their attacks on non-King James translations of the Bible, they’re really just helping to dig the grave that those very same Latter-day Saint will later throw both them and the Bible (including their KJV Bible) into down the road.
2) KJV Onlyism takes the focus off source manuscripts – and in Mormon Studies source manuscripts are a critical issue.
Whenever we’re talking about translated text the source manuscripts are vitally important. In the case of the Bible they’re important for the all reasons outlined above. In the case of the Book of Mormon they’re important because: a) Not only do we not have the original autographs (that is, the Golden Plates) we have no evidence that they existed at all, and; b) In the case of the extant Book of Mormon manuscripts we have exactly the same type of text variants that Latter-day Saints use to create doubt about the integrity of the Bible. In the case of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (which we’ll discuss later) there is no manuscript support for his revisions to the KJV text. Further, in the case of the Book of Moses, we have no manuscripts to support Joseph Smith’s “translation” – period. Finally, in the case of the Book of Abraham the autograph manuscripts actually discredit Joseph Smith’s “translation”. When it comes to Mormon Studies, manuscripts are a constant topic of conversation – it never seems to end.
Taking the focus off of the source manuscripts puts the Bible, which has strong manuscript support, on the same level as Mormon scripture which doesn’t.
3) KJV Onlyism eliminates a powerful tool: The appeal to better translations.
By today’s standards the King James bible is a good translation but not a great one. The King James bible translators didn’t have benefit of the earliest manuscripts nor did they have the overwhelming volume of source manuscripts that we have today. Further, the Textus Receptus Greek manuscript that they used was rife with problems. Many examples could be cited here but I’ll just point to one that’s rather telling:
Perhaps the most ironic part of the pro-TR-KJV [Textus Receptus-King James Verse] position is their use of Revelation 22:18-19:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
The point usually made in connection with these verses is that it is a very serious thing for a manuscript to have even one word added, missing, or altered from what God originally inspired. However, the phrase “book of life” in verse 19 is found in no Greek manuscript. Every Greek manuscript has “tree of life.” The phrase “book of life” appears to be an uninspired change imported by Erasmus from the Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate.
From a Mormon Studies perspective, since the King James is the only officially endorsed version of the Bible it’s membership may benefit from it’s strengths but it also gets dragged down by it’s weaknesses. Without the ability to appeal to better, alternate translations of the original languages and manuscripts it’s hard to overcome this.
Consider, for example, how Mormons use the King James mistranslation of the Hebrew words for “copper” or “bronze” (nechushah or nechosheth, see 2 Samuel 22:35, Job 20:24, Psalm 18:34, Jeremiah 15:12) to justify the anachronistic usage of steel in the Book of Mormon (see 1 Nephi 16:18, 1 Nephi 4:9, 2 Nephi 5:15, Ether 7:9, Jarom 1:8). If you hold to the stance that the translation of the KJV Bible was divinely inspired then translations of the Hebrew words as “copper” or “bronze” in modern translations are actually corruptions – right? However, the exact opposite is true – making the KJV Onlyist stance for KJV “steel” just as fallacious as the Mormon Apologist rationalization for steel in the Book of Mormon is.
3) The archaic English of the King James Bible can be hard to understand and lead to misinterpretation.
Has this article left you astonied? Do you suffer from blains? Are you afraid of cockatrices? Do you do a lot of downsitting? How do you feel about evilfavouredness? Can you help me with a little furbishing? Does all this Jacobean English leave you vexed? If so, you’re not alone, most of us find this archaic 17th century dialect confusing. KJV Bible aside, do your remember your first Shakespeare read? How many trips to the glossary or annotations did that “adventure” take? Well, that too is Jacobean English – I rest my case.
All languages change and fragment over time, this is nothing new. As Theologian and educator D.A. Carson explains:
Clearly, what is reverent and respectful to one group is stuffy and artificial to another; what is irreverent and disrespectful to one group is a sign of personal relationship and boldness of access to another.
In the first century, books written for the literati were still written in Attic Greek [aka, “Ancient Greek” the posh, formal, scholarly dialect of the time]. Is there something to be learned from the fact that the New Testament documents were written by men who, moved by the Holy Spirit, chose rather the colloquial Hellenistic Greek?
Moreover, there is a decreasing number of people today who can read Elizabethan English and readily understand it. The person brought up on the KJV knows that “deny” in Matthew 26:34 really means “disown”; that “Suffer little children …” really means to permit them to come; that “prevent” in I Thessalonians 4:15 really means “precede.” But not many others do.
Further, the use of archaic language can also lead to gross misinterpretation:
Another problem we need to be aware of in using the King James Version is that the English language has changed. For example, what does the following verse mean?
“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.'” – Genesis 1:28
The word I’m focusing on is “replenish”. We understand this word to mean to replace, or fill, or build up again. In other words, if we replenish the water in a bucket, we are replacing water that used to be there but no longer is.
This makes this verse seem to be saying that the earth was once populated, and Adam & Eve are to fill the earth with people again.
However, at the time the King James Version was translated, the word “replenish” meant to “fill to capacity.” It did not mean to refill. So it had a totally different meaning. Thus in Genesis 1:28 God is telling Adam & Eve to fill the earth to its capacity.
In this author’s opinion that any English Bible that requires a glossary of English words in order to be properly understood by common, modern, native English speakers is best approached with caution.
4) KJV Onlyism reinforces Mormon Great Apostasy dogma.
Most Mormons think, and the LdS Church teaches, that all Christian churches other than theirs are nothing but a big ball of confusion. Watching Christians do their “in house” debating over non-essentials on Mormon discussion boards is what some (but thankfully not all) Mormons live for. I’m an administrator on several Mormon themed discussion boards and I have seen more than one Mormon deliberately bait the King James Onlyists to get them arguing with those who don’t hold to that stance (or vice versa) simply so they can sit back and watch the Christian fur flying and get the heat off of the errors of Mormonism. They love it because the spatting, hair pulling, caterwauling cat fight the Christians are having in front of a worldwide audience is something that they can point to and (incorrectly) say, “See what I mean? Mormons never bicker like this! We have a living prophet to guide us! We have unity, peace, and serenity in our church! We don’t bicker over silly little things like Bible translations – our leaders have settled the matter for us. We’re homogenized and boring – and we love it that way!”
Overall Theologian and Apologist James White summed things up well when he said:
The KJV Only controversy is, in reality, a non-issue when compared with the serious challenges that face the Christian Church today. That so much time and effort has to be put into debunking the wild allegations of such individuals as Gail Riplinger [a writer and speaker known for her support of the King James Only movement] is more of an indication of how easily American Christianity is distracted from its true purpose than anything else.
The Stronger Arguments:
As stated repeatedly in this series, strong arguments against Mormonism are always rooted and grounded firmly in the essentials of the Christian faith. Arguing over a non-essential like which Bible translation that all Christians should be using isn’t even an argument, it’s at the very least a pointless distraction and at the very most it’s a public embarrassment. That said, here are some basic guidelines and suggestions for when you’re discussing those essentials of the faith with Mormons:
When engaging Mormons use the King James Bible but don’t be limited by it:
The KJV Bible is the only translation of the Bible that Latter-day Saint are authorized to use. As explained in the 2010 Church Handbook of Instruction:
English-speaking members should use the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Version of the Bible. This edition includes the Topical Guide; footnotes; excerpts from the Joseph Smith Translation; cross-references to other passages in the Bible and to the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price; and other study aids. Although other versions of the Bible may be easier to read, in doctrinal matters, latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations.
This is further explained in a 1987 Ensign magazine article:
When the Church was organized in 1830, the King James Version (KJV), also known as the Authorized Version, was the translation predominantly used in the English-speaking world. Latter-day Saints relied on it in their meetings, and the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price were written in a style of language similar to that in the KJV.
Joseph Smith also used an 1828 edition of the KJV to prepare an inspired version of the Bible. President J. Reuben Clark lists the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) as one reason the Church uses the KJV:
“For our Church membership, the Authorized Version is to be followed in preference to others because the Inspired Version by the Prophet Joseph Smith [that is, The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible] agrees with the Authorized Version in those essential particulars where other versions vary.” (Why the King James Version? Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1956, pp. 60–61.)
So if you want to be heard by Latter-day Saints you must at least start with the King James Bible. However, as the same Ensign article explains:
Is there any value then for the Latter-day Saint in using modern English translations? Although the Church prefers to continue with the KJV for its English-speaking members, we should not assume that the many other translations are not useful. They oftentimes explain passages that are difficult to understand. In cases of confusing phrases and archaic words, readers can quickly compare the verses with those in other translations. In addition, comparing many different translations will often expand one’s understanding of a particular verse.
So even the LdS Church recognizes the limitations of the KJV and supports considering alternate English translations of the Biblical text. If one is unencumbered by KJV Onlyism this can be a powerful tool in leading Mormons to the true meaning of the biblical text that they or their church have abused or twisted. That’s the good news! Now for the bad news, The Church Handbook of Instructions also states:
The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical translation is not by comparing different text, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations.
So, the question is, “How do you overcome that?” The answer can be found in the next section.
Better yet, when engaging Mormons use the Joseph Smith Translation (aka “Inspired Version”):
You may have noticed the passing references to the Joseph Smith Translation (also known as “The Inspired Version”) in the LdS Church sources above. As Mormon Researchers Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson explain:
The LDS Church officially sanctions the King James Version Bible, although church manuals and publications have been increasingly giving more attention to Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version, it “translation” of the Bible he claimed to have “finished” in 1833 (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1973, 1:368: Deseret News 1999-2000 Church Almanac [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1981, 483). In the June 1999 edition of the LDS magazine Ensign, Andrew Skinner, department chair of ancient scripture at BYU, apparently agreed with its importance: “In the words of Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915-85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, ‘The Joseph Smith Translation, or Inspired Version, is a thousand times over the best Bible now existing on earth.”‘ Skinner went on to say, “The JST is a special gift given of the Lord. It is one of the great evidences of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s divine calling.” Despite such accolades, the LDS Church does not give away copies of the Joseph Smith Translation.
While translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith learned that over the years many “plain and most precious” parts of the Bible had been taken away or lost (see 1 Nephi 13:26). The Bible is a sacred book that contains the word of God, but mistakes were made as it was copied and translated into different languages. Words were left out, changed, or added, changing the meaning of some of the scriptures. During the apostasy following Jesus Christ’s death, there were no prophets or apostles to make sure the scriptures were copied and translated correctly. Joseph Smith was instructed to prepare a new translation of the Bible that would restore and correct these plain and precious parts…
In 1830 Joseph Smith began working on a correct translation of the Bible. Sidney Rigdon was his scribe. In preparing this translation of the Bible, Joseph was not translating from an ancient language, as he did with the Book of Mormon, but was restoring the Bible to its original meaning. As Joseph studied and pondered the Bible, he was inspired through the power of the Holy Ghost to correct errors in it.
As Joseph Smith worked on his inspired translation of the Bible, his knowledge of the gospel grew, and he was blessed by the Holy Ghost. Many revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are answers to questions about statements in the Bible that Joseph did not understand.
Therefore, when dialoguing with Latter-day Saints it’s actually better to cite from the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible than the King James because it takes the Articles of Faith, Article 8 “as far as it is translated correctly” weapon out of the Mormon’s hand – the Latter-day Saint presumption is that the Joseph Smith Translation is translated correctly and no other Bible is.
I would also point out to my fellow Evangelicals that Joseph Smith left about 90% of the original KJV text that he was working from intact. For the remaining 10% that he corrupted I simply switch back to the KJV and use it instead. So while it’s a bit more work to use the JST, I certainly don’t hear the “that’s not translated correctly!” objection as much as I did back when I was exclusively using the KJV with Mormons.
Oh, and by the way, you can get a copy of the Joseph Smith Translation/Inspired Version right here, right now for free:
- Full text of the Community of Christ’s Inspired Version of the Bible, from centerplace.org (online edition)
- Full text of the 1867 edition, from archive.org (downloadable edition, from BYU – Harold B. Lee Collection archives)
- Full text of the 1867 edition, from archive.org (downloadable edition, from Trinity College – University of Toronto archives)
Even better yet, take them all the way them back to the Biblical manuscripts:
Charles Larson, in his 2009 ExMormon Foundation address, told the story of how he overcame one Mormon’s Article Eight bias by taking him directly to the source manuscripts and then comparing them to the KJV, the JST, and several modern English translations. The Mormon could see for himself that Article 8 was nonsense – the English Bibles, old and new, were translated correctly relative to their sources. However, in the case of the JST, he saw that Article Eight was true – there was a huge disconnect between the manuscripts and Smith’s “translation.” Thus, it became readily apparent from the body of evidence who was telling the truth and who wasn’t. So I thought I would try it, and sure enough, it works.
This is actually easier that you might think, just use an Interlinear. I prefer this one since it also includes the English transliteration of the original language:
This final approach is a lot of heavy lifting so I use it sparingly – typically only for the really hard cases. However, it works really well. Of course, all too often when painted into this corner many Mormons will play the, “well Article 8 actually means that the Bible wasn’t transmitted correctly!” and start quoting Bart Ehrman in a, “Bart said it! I believe it! That settles it!” fashion in a last ditch effort in order to find an escape hatch – but that’s yet another article (and a long a complex one to boot) for another day.
Summary and Conclusion:
The KJV Only stance opens up can of worms, after can of worms, after can of worms. In the end, and after the body of evidence has been examined, KJV Only truth claims don’t hold up to scrutiny any better than Mormon truth claims do. Both belief systems are ultimately irrational and feeling, not fact, based.
So I suppose it should come as no surprise that I have heard more than one Atheist ExMormon state it was extreme “escape from reason” type stances like King James Onlyism on the Christian side of the divide that convinced them that there was no difference between it and Mormonism. In their words, they’re both just two sides to the same fanatical coin. And, frankly, if Mormonism and King Onlyism were the only two things that I’d ever known I might be inclined to agree! In fact, and to open the kimono a bit here, it was the legalistic “escape from reason” Christianity that I experienced as a child that caused me to go atheist in my younger days.
Thankfully, the infinite, personal God revealed in the Bible is bigger than that. The God that I worship delights in His children’s ability to think, reason, question, seek and grow. This is the God who in response to a skeptic’s, “Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!” bares those wounds and says, “Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.” (see John 20:24-29, NET Bible). This is the God who says, “Come now, let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18, KJV) not “Shut up, believe and obey!” The God that I worship doesn’t require new believers to get lobotomies immediately following their baptism. Rather, through the Apostle Paul, He instructs us to, “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, NKJV)
In my opinion, at the core of both the Mormon “follow the prophet” and King James Only dogmas is a self deceptive denial that the world isn’t as simple, easy, or straightforward as we would like it to be. Thus the deniers try to turn this incredibly complex, often overwhelming life passage into something it’s not: A simplistic melodrama in which everyone is either the faultless and righteous Eliza or the purely evil Simon Legree. A world in which the ne’er do wrong good guys always wear white hats and never miss when they shoot. And, of course, the ne’er do right scheming bad guys in the black hats are out to get ’em one way or another! The orderly world of the deniers is one in which, unless the black hats get in their way, there’s a place for everything and everything is in it’s place.
Rather, we live in a messy, fallen, broken world in which the Biblical New Testament autographa was preserved by massive, unsupervised, dissemination by all God’s people – commoner, priest, and king – who, with the best of intentions and motives; and with as much skill as they could muster, still managed to create a massive jigsaw puzzle for those who followed in their wake to reassemble. It’s both a blessing and a curse that there are multiple pieces for any given part of the original picture on the box – which oh by the way is long gone. But the good news is that we have so many pieces and clues between pieces that we can reconstruct the original picture with a high degree of certainty – thank God for that! Oh, and, by the way, we’re still finding new pieces so the reconstruction of the original just keeps getting better and better and better.
In the end, the best we can do is produce the best translations from what we’ve got. And, according to the original 1611 preface that was all the was the only thing the King James Bible translators claimed to do – and nothing more (click here for text, here for photographs, and here for a good summation by a seminarian).
Further, no so-called prophet can sort all this messy complexity out it by simply uttering a “Thus saith the Lord!” waving his hand and then offering up some contrived clarifying set of revelations, divine inspired interpretations, or even a new Bible. The history of Christian cults shows the utter failure of such a proposition. Rather, the sloppy business of daily dependence on God continues for us all until our pilgrimage ends. We must daily love and trust Him heart, mind, soul and strength if we are to live and finish well – and that’s just as God intended isn’t it? At least that’s what the Bible says. (see Matthew 22:35-40 in any translation)
Now that’s not simple and it’s certainly not easy but it’s what we’ve got – it’s reality, and we should be grateful for it. And when it comes to God’s Word I think that John Ankerberg and John Weldon expressed it well when they said:
Both KJO [King James Only] promoters and those who use modern translations have been more than blessed by God as far as His Word is concerned. They are privileged to have the Word of God more complete than the vast majority of God’s people throughout history.
Abraham and his family did not have the Word of God at all. Moses and the early Israelites had only the first few books of the Bible (the Pentateuch). King David had less than half the Old Testament. Even the apostle Paul had only the Old Testament. Early Christians to the fourth century had only the relatively few copies that were made and circulated in their particular locale. Christians from the fourth through sixteenth centuries had to be content with those few versions that existed prior to the King James—which were usually not even produced in their own language. Christians from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries had only the King James Version and a few others. And, until the use of the printing press became widespread the vast majority of believers couldn’t even own a Bible. Copies were simply too expensive—even if they were available. Christians had to rely upon what was heard at church services.
By comparison, Christians of today are immeasurably richer—not only to have the King James translation, but to also have reliable modern versions. All believers should give thanks for the great wealth they do have rather than bickering over relatively minor differences among translations.
If you are a Christian who uses the King James Version—if you understand what you read and are comfortable with it—then by all means continue to use it. If you are a Christian who uses a good modern translation, you should also feel free to continue to use it. Don’t be deterred or intimidated by those who would tell you that you do not have the true Word of God in your hands.
A final note:
Finally, and in closing, I encourage every reader to learn the history of the English Bible. That said, and to that end, I can’t recommend the following series of lectures from Dr. Daniel B. Wallace highly enough, it is superb:
And for those who interesting in hearing both sides of the of the KJV Only issue I recommend the following debate:
 It’s outside the scope of this article to articulate and deal with all the problems of The King James Only Movement. Suffice to say, the problems are immense and deep as I found out as I researched this article. For a good overview I would refer the reader to the Wikipedia article (click here) on the movement – which contains links should the reader wish to take a “deeper dive” into the controversy. Dr. Daniel Wallace’s article, “Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible Is the Best Translation Available Today” is also an excellent primer as is the GotQuestions? article on the subject, “What is the KJV Only movement?”
For those looking for even greater depth, I would recommend the following books:
John Ankerberg; John Weldon, “Facts on King James Only Debate”
Short (54-pages), concise, and direct – an excellent primer.
Robert C. Newman; Douglas S. Chinn, “Demystifying the Controversy over the Textus Receptus & the King James Version” Even shorter (33-pages) but a bit technical. A good next step after Ankerberg and Weldon since it assumes some degree of prior knowledge on the subject.
D. A. Carson, “King James Version Debate, The: A Plea for Realism”
Written in 1978, this was the watershed critique of KJV Onlyism. All other works listed here cite extensive from this book.
James R. White, “The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations?”
This is a nearly exhaustive treatise on the subject for layman. It’s now considered the definitive critique of KJV Onlyism – even D.A. Carson recommends this book now.
Finally, I would refer the reader to the Preface of the 1611 edition of the King James Version – go directly to the source.
(click here for text, here for photographs, and here for a good summation by a seminarian).
In the 1611 KJV preface the translators explicitly state that they don’t consider their translation perfect, just an incremental improvement over past translations. They also state that a translation can never be infallible since it’s not exactly like the original manuscripts. They even state that they fully expect better translations to follow theirs since this had been the pattern in English Bible translation since the Reformation. In other words, the KJV translators considered their work to merely be a link in a long chain of good translations, not the final end-all, be-all translation that the KJV Only Movement claims that it is.
 As Michael J. Kruger of The Gospel Coalition notes:
“Historically, Christian affirmations of biblical authority are often expressly restricted to the “autographs.” And there are obvious reasons for this view. Biblical authority does not apply to whatever a later scribe might happen to write down—it applies to what the biblical authors actually wrote.
But does the lack of autographs mean such affirmations of biblical authority are meaningless? No, because the authority does not reside in a physical object, but in the original text. And the original text has been preserved in another way, namely through the multiplicity of manuscripts.”
(Michael J. Kruger, “The Difference Between Original Autographs and Original Text”)
Also see: Mark D. Roberts, “Can We Know What the Original Gospel Manuscripts Really Said?”
 Robert C. Newman; Douglas S. Chinn (2012-07-20). Demystifying the Controversy over the Textus Receptus & the King James Version (IBRI Research Reports) (Kindle Locations 441-490). Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute. Kindle Edition.
 Robert N. Hullinger, “Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon”, Clayton Publishing House, 1980, p. 150
 Royal Skousen is the leading expert on on the extant Book of Mormon manuscripts. In regard to Mr. Skousen’s work on the text variants between the original BoM manuscripts and the published 1830 Book of Mormon, the fly leaf of his book, “The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text” summarizes nicely:
Over the past twenty-one years, editor Royal Skousen has pored over Joseph Smith’s original manuscripts and identified more than 2,000 textual errors in the 1830 edition. Although most of these discrepancies stem from inadvertent errors in copying and typesetting the text, the Yale edition contains about 600 corrections that have never appeared in any standard edition of the Book of Mormon, and about 250 of them affect the text’s meaning.
In other words, the Book of Mormon has exactly the same kind of manuscript text variants that source Biblical manuscripts do – the same variants that Mormons point to regarding our so-called “compromised” Bible. And proportionally there are more of them relative to the size and scope of the manuscript record.
 The KJV New Testament was translated from Desiderius Erasmus‘ Textus Receptus which was the best Greek manuscript reconstruction available at the time. To compare and contrast, Desiderius Erasmus but had only six Greek manuscripts to work from and they all dated from the 12th Century or later – over 1,000 years after the autographs were authored. Erasmus also lacked a complete copy of the book of Revelation and was forced to translate the last six verses back into Greek from the Latin Vulgate. Further, Erasmus adjusted the text in many places to correspond with readings found in the Vulgate rather than adhering tightly to his source Greek manuscripts.
By comparison, today translators have over 5,800 Greek manuscripts to work from ranging from fragments to complete editions of the New Testament. And the oldest manuscripts date back to the 2nd Century.
 Op Cit, Robert C. Newman; Douglas S. Chinn. (Kindle Locations 414-422)
 D.A. Carson, “King James Version Debate, The: A Plea for Realism” (Kindle Locations 1666-1674). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Mission to America website, “Two things Mormons should know about the King James Version.”
 James R. White, “The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations?”, VI-VII
 Official LdS Church publication, Church Handbook of Instructions: Handbook 1 Stake Presidents and Bishops, 2010 edition, p.152
 Ibid, Ensign
 Op Cit, Church Handbook of Instructions, p.153
 Bill McKeever; Eric Johnson. “Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints” (Kindle Locations 3178-3184). Kindle Edition
 The word “translation” is a misnomer since Smith was “translating” from the same language (English to English) rather than from one language to another. Further, in many cases new words were inserted into the text of the Bible based on no source manuscript support at all. As Rob Bowman of the Institute for Religious Research notes:
If there was a “problem” with the New Testament of Joseph’s day it was that it had just a bit more material than was original to those New Testament books. (Scribes almost never deleted anything from the manuscripts they copied, but they sometimes added words or phrases, often in the margins as explanations that later scribes copied as if they were part of the book.) The additional material is insignificant except in two places: the ending of Mark (16:9-20) and the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). The consensus of New Testament scholars is that these two passages of a dozen verses each were later additions to the Gospels. And here is something worth noting: in his revisions to the Bible, Joseph did not indicate that either of these two passages should be omitted. In fact, Joseph added some words to the passage about the adulterous woman (in John 8:6).
The LDS view of the “corruption” of the text of the Bible, then, has things exactly backwards. The original text of the books of the Bible has survived with no significant omissions. “Many plain and precious things” were not lost. Instead, scribes added words here or there, and in a couple of places short passages, that were not part of the original text. Joseph Smith’s revision to the Bible consists almost entirely of additions, several of them lengthy, that we can say with reasonable certainty were not part of the original books of the Bible. Furthermore, Joseph failed to identify those two major additions to the New Testament that did not belong.
(Rob Bowman, “The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible”)
 Official LdS Church Manual, “Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Lesson 20, Joseph Smith Translates the Bible and Other Scriptures” (1997), pp.104–109
 This Kindle title makes the process of picking Joseph Smith’s revisions easy by bolding Smith’s additions and including but showing the removals as strike-throughed text: Kenneth and Lyndell Lutes, “Joseph Smith Translation” [Kindle Edition] The authors have also included the original KJV chapter and verses numbers – which is a big help when cross referencing against the KJV.
 Those interested in the issue of manuscript transmission as it relates to the reliability of the New Testament should consider these articles: Matt Slick, “Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability”; Greg Koukl, “Is the New Testament Text Reliable?”; Mark D. Roberts, “Can We Know What the Original Gospel Manuscripts Really Said?”
Those interested in a good, even toned critique of Bart Ehrman and methodologies should consider this article from one of Ehrman’s most well known and long standing colleagues: Ben Witherington, “Misanalyzing Text Criticism–Bart Ehrman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus'”
Also recommended on the subject of critiquing Bart Ehrman’s scholarship and methodology are these debates featuring Mr. Ehrman versus various debate opponents from the British “Unbelievable” radio program:
Unbelievable? 3 Jan 2009 “Misquoting Jesus” Ehrman & Williams
Unbelievable? 16 Apr 2011 – Biblical evidence for the Resurrection – Bart Ehrman & Mike Licona
Unbelievable? 6 Aug 2011 – Bart Ehrman & Darrell Bock on “Forged”
Unbelievable? ‘How Jesus became God’ debate Pt 1 – Bart Ehrman vs Simon Gathercole
Unbelievable? ‘How God became Jesus’ debate Pt 2 – Bart Ehrman & Simon Gathercole
And this Ehrman debate versus James White:
 As James White articulated so well on this point:
“When we see how God lead His people to recognize the canon of Scripture, the listing of the books that were inspired over against those books that were not, we note that He did not therein engage in any celestial fireworks. No angels showed up with golden tablets marked, ‘Divine Index’. Instead, God worked with His people over time, leading them to recognize what He had already done through the act of inspiration. Some might wish that it had happened faster, and some might wish for a more spectacular process, but God did it in His way, in His time.
The same is true regarding the protection and preservation of the biblical text. One might well see tremendous divine wisdom in the way God worked over the years. By having the text of the New Testament in particular explode across the known world, ending up in the far-flung corners of the Roman Empire in relatively short order, God protected that text from one thing we, centuries and millennia later, could never detect: wholesale change of doctrine or theology by one particular man or group who had full control over the text at any one point in its history.
You see, because the New Testament books were written at various times and were quickly copied and distributed as soon as they were written, thre was never a time when anyone or any group could gather up all the manuscripts and make extensive changes in the text itself, like cutting out Christ’s deity or inserting some foreign doctrine or concept. Neither could someone gather up the texts and try to make them say the same thing by harmonizing them. If someone had indeed done this, we could never be certain what the apostles had actually written, or what the truth actually is.”
(James R. White, “The King James Only Controversy”, pp.77-78)
Top of Article Banner Photo: The 1611 Translators Preface to the KJV Bible.