Tuesday, December 02, 2008

My KJV-Only Story

I realized today that I have never posted my KJV-Only story on my blog. Around the time I graduated from High School, our church was without a pastor. We routinely had a guest speaker at our church who was in the KJV-Only camp. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with people who simply PREFER the KJV. But this guy went way overboard. He actually took other Bibles during a sermon and made fun of them before dropping them from the platform unto a table below. He used scholarly argumentation like saying 'the message' was the 'mess' of the 'age.' And the NIV must be satanic because there is nothing 'new' under the sun, 'international' means it's part of the coming 1 world satanic government,' and it was really a per-version, not a 'version.' I remember talking to him one Sunday night about this subject and he took the opportunity to inform me that in heaven we will encounter, I kid you not, God the Father, God the Son, and God the King James Version.

James White, in his book "The King James Only Controversy" points out that there are 5 different types of people sometimes labeled KJV-Only. The first group just prefers the KJV (nothing wrong with that, it's a great translation!). The second group feels it is based on better (though not perfect) manuscripts. That's a fair position to take too. The third group goes a bit further by saying that the manuscripts on which the KJV is based have been supernaturally preferred or even inspired. This seems, to me, to be getting too far down the road. The fourth group believes the KJV itself was inspired in English. A fifth group actually believes the KJV is new revelation. In other words, if the KJV goes against the manuscripts, the KJV is correct.

The motivation of KJV-Onlyists is usually quite natural. Humans like certainty. They want to be certain that we have God's perfect Word. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary to assume that the only (or even that the preferable) way for God to preserve the Scripture is to preserve it through 1 particular English translation.


Aaron Perry said...

Hey Matthew,

What do KJV onlyists do with the NKJV? I am especially interested in those from #3 who believe it is based on better manuscripts, because the NKJV follows the same translation philosophy, but uses discoveries from the last 500 years, which the KJV translators simply didn't have.

What in the world did the guy mean about God the King James Version?? I don't know how to make sense of that.

matthew said...

Most KJV-Onlyists that I know detest the NKJV. In fact, there are some KJVONLY sites designed specifically to attack it. I guess the thinking is that Satan's 'best' work is when he most closely resembles the Truth.

Those in position 3-5 probably don't care very much about recent manuscript discoveries since they tend toward believing that the KJV was inspired and/or new revelation.

I have often tried to grasp what the guest speaker meant by replacing the Spirit with the KJV. If anything, it'd make more sense to equate Jesus (The Word) with the KJV (not that that makes sense either). I assume he meant that the way God works today is through the KJV, much like many today would say God, today, works via the Holy Spirit.

regan said...

There is one problem with your arguement in the last paragraph that I would like to point out. You assume that all translations preserve God's word. However, most of the translations are different in hundreds of places (and in many of these the meaning is changed; I'm not talking about spelling here). If the meaning is different, then there are two competing "Words." Which is correct? That's when things get dicey and someone has to pick one. Most people pick the one they like better.

More than once or twice I have been in a Bible study where someone read something from the Bible, and then said something to the effect of "that can't be right; I'm going to see what it says in this other version." It's either that or they're running to the original Greek and their concordance, trying to find another meaning that fits their own notions.

Yes, I am KJV-only, and you can quote me on that. But I agree that the name-calling is silly and not at all helpful in explaining the position.

Tammy Craig said...

The school I teach at wants everyone to use the KJV as the basis for our Scripture memory based on uniformity. They don't preach KJV only, but it's the only version I'm allowed to have the children memorize from. I read from other versions when in class, because most of the class, when we read the KJV, look at me and go "HUH?" All that to say I believe the school I teach at falls into the second group, lol.

matthew said...

Hey Regan :) I thought you might comment on this post.

Actually, i am not assuming, at all, that all translations preserve God's word perfectly. I am claiming that none of them do! That is the nature of 'translation.' All translations have their shortcomings.

Most of the 'differences' are inconsequential. Sure, there are some places where the meaning of a passage is clouded by various translations, but one could hardly argue that 1 particular translation is on the 'right' side of each of those disputes!

It gets really tricky in some particular cases when the KJV translates a correct 'truth' at an incorrect time. What I mean is, there are some places where the KJV contains truthful statements, but those statements are almost certainly not what was originally written. I prefer to have what was actually written.

It is my opinion that the preservation of God's word, in Scripture, is not found in any 1 particular translation, nor, by any means, in each and every translation, but that it is found in the multitude of translations.

And in saying this, I am just agreeing with the KJV translators themselves.

Thanks for the feedback everyone! Feel free to keep it up :)

Aaron Perry said...

It seems to me that this desire for certainly is far more Islamic than Christian. It is Islam that says the Word of God is found in Arabic only. Any translation is not God's word. The fact that Christian Scripture is translated over and again into many different languages is a theological belief about the nature of God's revelation. The fact that there are numerous English translations speaks to this belief, but also to a culture that provides a financial market for numerous translations.

Matthew (and Regan) is quite right that every translation is an interpretation. That is the nature of translation. Limiting oneself to one translation doesn't fix that problem; it exacerbates it.

regan said...

It seems to me, Aaron, that you are saying that those who believe the perfect Word of God is in the KJV only are like Islamic believers who believe the word of Allah is in Arabic only. However, it would seem a fairer comparison to compare those to the ones who believe the perfect Word of God is in the Greek only. I don't have a problem with people having the Word of God in their own languages. I certainly believe God is capable of providing his Word to different language speakers. However, I believe that for English speakers, the KJV is the perfect Word of God and the other versions are watered-down and corrupted. Since whole books have been written on the subject, I don't feel that I have the time or space to go into all of THAT.

How did you know, Matthew?

matthew said...

I'm not sure. I must have picked up along the way, somehow, that you likely preferred the KJV (Maybe that's what you quote on your blog or something). In any case, I also prefer the KJV to most translations. But I don't think there's 1 perfect english translation.

Aaron Perry said...

Regan, is the KJV an improvement on the Greek text?

regan said...

Which Greek text?

Aaron Perry said...

Let's pretend one could have the original manuscripts of each of the NT gospels and letters. How would the KJV compare to these texts?

regan said...

I would consider them to be equivalent. Since I can't read Greek, however, any English version would be an improvement over a Greek text for me.

Aaron Perry said...

OK. So is the KJV translation without interpretation? If it is without interpretation, then I think my point about it being close to Islamic belief of intranslatability is close, because what has taken place is not so much a translation of the Greek text, but a divinely inspiration of the same message except in a different language.

If it is an interpretation, then it is in the same camp as other translations, except that the translators of newer translations have 500 years of archaeological improvement and early Greek manuscripts by which to improve their translations.

matthew said...

Glad to see this discussion has continued. I will add a bit of agreement on both fronts.

I'll give props to the 500 years of advancement accessible to modern translators as a key reason for preference to scholarly modern translations.

I'll give props to the KJV translators for an excellent 17th century translation given their lesser resources and I will add that just b/c modern translators have MORE manuscripts doesn't mean their translations are better (some obviously aren't!)

I don't think KJV-Onlyism makes a lot of sense. But I'll defend those who PREFER the KJV for 1) memorization 2) text family preference

regan said...

I think I maybe understand the question, but if I don't answer it the way you meant, sorry.

Yes, it is an interpretation. Aren't translation and interpretation the same thing?

No, I don't think it is divinely inspired in the way the originals were. God didn't speak directly to those translators. But I do think that God used them to preserve his Word in the way he intended. God is all-powerful. He kinda has control over these things.

No, it is not the same as the other versions. It's been accepted by New Testament churches for almost 400 years now. They have not. It does not demote Jesus Christ to the "One," while other versions do. I could go on and on, but again, space and time are limited.

And as for advancements, in the area of translation, I don't see how they would help much. The KJV translators learned Greek and Hebrew as children. They had been speaking, reading, and writing Greek and Hebrew probably for decades. They were no doubt some of the most intelligent scholars of their day. There are probably few who could match them today.

Aaron Perry said...

Regan: Let's say Jesus does not return for another 2000 years. Since that would lessen the proportion of time the KJV has been available to other English versions, would this argument still hold 2,000 years from now? If no, then why ought it hold today?

Advancements in New Testament studies are very important. Precisely because translation always involves interpretation when you have more manuscripts, older manuscripts, and other early non-biblical Greek texts then you can engage one's interpretation critically in ways that simply weren't available to the KJV translators. It's not about knowing Greek or Hebrew better--more vocabulary, better off-the-top-of-the-head understanding of syntax, which is still doubtful. It's about having other resources (people, manuscript, etc.) available to sharpen interpretation.

Can you tell me what you mean by the demotion of Jesus Christ to "the One"? I am not familiar with this argument. Can you fill me in?

regan said...

I will refer you to Gail Riplinger's book, New Age Bible Versions, which, if you can get past her propensity to rhyme, covers way more than I could possible remember. She talks about how the new versions are preparing the way for religious people to claim that Christ is a spirit that came upon the man Jesus (separating his humanity and his Godhood). They do this by removing the name of Jesus and replacing it with "the One" or similar wording.

Here's the sticking point that I see: if all versions are equally good, even though they differ sometimes in hundreds of places, often with meaning changes, then there is no version that gives us the perfect, inspired Word of God. We get to choose the one that we like the best. Anything we don't like, we can question and remove. But if there is one version that is always correct, then we have to do what it says, no matter what we think. There is only one version that New Testament churches have accepted, used, and loved for four hundred years. No one has proven that it is mistaken in any way. It lifts up Christ, it plainly spells out Christian doctrine like blood redemption and the Trinity. When I compare it to the other versions, they just don't measure up.

Maybe I can say it another way. I believe that we have the perfect, inspired Word of God today, and I believe it can be found in the KJV. (Do you ever wonder why no one ever claims that for the other versions? There's a clue there.)

I know you're not going to agree with me, and that's OK. I do hope you can go on to talk with someone else who knows more than I do, though, because it has been a while since I studied this topic and made up my mind (I haven't always had this viewpoint).

Anonymous said...

I, like Regan, also believe that the King James version is the preserved Word of God in the English language for many reasons that cannot be dealt with here. I would just like to recommend a couple of books if anyone is interested in understanding more about why someone would believe that way. "Why We Hold to the King James Bible" and "Answering the Myths on the Bible Version Debate" are both written by David Cloud at www.wayoflife.org.

Aaron said...

Hi Regan:

You mention all versions being equally good. Just to be clear, I don't think they are. Some are not as good as others because they have different translation philosophies. Some have not had access to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls which has changed the translation of a few early manuscripts.

But I find your argument for KJV only strange: On the one hand you say (without argument as to why) that the KJV preserves true doctrine and commands respect on its own. On the other, you say it commands respect because it's been accepted for four hundred years. (It, of course, is not as old as Wyclif's translation which, at times, it copies directly.) Besides the fact that many of those who accepted it for four hundred years had no other viable option, could that not have been 400 years of delusion? (For the record, I think the KJV is an amazing piece of work and was an exceptional translation that has now simply been surpassed.) Is the KJV to be respected because of its longevity (400 years of acceptance) or simply because of its perfection? If the latter, then the former hardly matters.

You write, "I believe that we have the perfect, inspired Word of God today, and I believe it can be found in the KJV. (Do you ever wonder why no one ever claims that for the other versions? There's a clue there.)" But you have already said that it is an interpretation. It cannot be both perfect and an interpretation, unless it is a new version, free from flaw in language. (Hence my argument that it resembles Islamic theology of untranslatibility; your philosophy mandates that not only you, but any English speakers of whom you would ask to read the Bible, be able to speak and read in King James English.) But it's quite clear to me why no other version would claim to be the perfect, inspired word of God: Because they are translations by godly men and women. If they were perfect, they would require no change. By definition, any change to a translation that labeled itself "perfect" would be a corruption. Language, however, changes. Geographic (Qumran) discoveries are made...hence new translations are made that aim to be more (e.g., age) appropriate and readable.

regan said...

semantics... all semantics...


Frankly, I have said everything that I wanted to say, and I have nothing more to say.

Except one thing: I see no reason why a translation can't be perfect.

Now I am finished.

matthew said...

Thanks for the discussion Regan & Aaron :)

As for Anonymous, I will say that I think David Cloud is one of the better thinkers in the KJV-Only movement. I was not impressed, at all, with Gail Riplinger. I listened to a debate b/w her and James White and she, frankly, seemed ignorant of some of the key issues involved.

But, like both Aaron and I have said, the KJV is a great translation. God's word is preserved best in the multitude of translations, not in any 1 particular translation.

Aaron said...

Regan: I am assuming you have done no translating, then! :) When I was translating German theologians in seminary, I would often have to translate based on what I already thought so and so would think. So, when I was translating Bultmann, I would translate part of what I would based on how I already believed Bultmann would write. No translator can enter a piece of translation completely blind and expect to be an expert in the translation of a piece because in human writing (and the Bible is, while being divinely inspired and guided, still human writing with human personalities involved) there is always personal issues, habit, style, etc. with which one should be familiar before engaging in its translation. All of this means that one enters the practice of translation with presuppositions and these presuppositions are necessary to be a good translator. Of course, one is never locked into one's presuppositions and those who know Bultmann better than I would likely have shredded parts of my translation and I would have had to engage in more, not less, study of Bultmann to become a better translator.

Another argument why translation cannot be perfect is because language does not have 1 to 1 correspondence. A very overused but important example is "love." Love, of course, is a huge English concept the meanings of which English speakers are often, but not always, able to distinguish just by being speakers of English. "I love apple pie!" "I have not loved my wife as I should." "I love my dog." All of these uses of "love" have different meanings. I do not love apple pie like I love my dog. I certainly don't love my dog as I love my wife. You wouldn't think it strange to hear anyone say these things, though. Greek has four words to describe love (agape, storge, phileo, and eros). Each of these words captures an element of love that English can only modify with adjectives that are unnecessary in English. There is not a 1 to 1 correspondence between "love" and any one of the Greek words. There can be a certain amount of conceptual correspondence. However, concepts are never the same between person to person, language to language because language hard-wires our brain. I am able to think about "love" in certain ways that a person whose first language is Greek simply cannot. Likewise, they can think about storge in ways that I cannot simply because my first language is English. Once translation starts to move from one language to another and I've had to give up 1 to 1 linguistic correspondence, then the best I can hope for is conceptual correspondence, knowing that concepts are linguistically oriented.

This is especially important when translating religious texts because so many of the important words are conceptual. Think about some of the essential New Testament words: faith, hope, love, belief, eternal life, and so on...

"Perfection" just isn't a category one can apply to translation. It's like perfecting a recipe. One can always improve a recipe, but one should not neglect the delicious apple pie that is already available while striving to better it! :)

regan said...

I think you're misinterpreting my stance, Aaron. I realize the problems that occur in translation, but I believe that God supernaturally guided the translation so that it was perfect. Is that the same thing as inspiration? Not by my understanding of what inspiration is, but perhaps by someone else's.

Aaron Perry said...

That helps, Regan. Thanks. So, if I'm hearing you properly, the KJV is a perfect translation because God supernaturally guided the translation such that it could never be improved upon and any changes would be a corruption. Is that a fair presentation of your opinion?

If yes, then I still haven't heard a good argument for *why* that is the case. Can you tell me why you hold this opinion? I am sure you could recommend a book or two, but I'm more interested in why you, Regan, this charming person putting up with all my chatter on a mutual friend's blog believes this. :)

regan said...

Yes, I think that is a fair representation of my opinion.

Jesus said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." Isaiah said, "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever." I believe that the Bible teaches that it is itself a perfect revelation of the message of God to man. I also believe that the Bible teaches that it will continue to exist forever.

When there are many many versions with different and conflicting wording, it makes people doubt the veracity of God's word. It makes them wonder if perhaps this word or that word weren't in the original. The more doubt that is cast on God's word, the easier it is for us to ignore it.

The new versions do use some different texts than the KJV. But instead of making it better, they tend to translate in such a way that casts doubt on the divinity of Christ. (Such as translating "virgin" as "young woman" in the case of Mary.) Because of this, I do not read these versions.

I guess the most concise way to put it (and somehow I can never be concise), is that I believe that there is a perfect Word of God, and all the evidence I have looked at has pointed me to the KJV.

Thanks for the discussion. It reminds me that I need to study more.

Aaron Perry said...

Thanks for the discussion, as well. Quite enjoyable. We seem to have in common the lack of concision gift! :)

I do not know any translation that translates "young woman" for Mary. Some may do so in Isaiah, but that's a fair translation.

I also do not find God's word less reliable with more translation, but moreso. More information; more thinking; more critical engagement with the translation of ancient texts; more Spirit filled people working.

Enjoy your Christmas, brother Regan--worshiping the one born of the virgin, sent to save us from our sins.