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Home: Articles / King James Onlyism

"Confessions of a King James Only Advocate"
My Journey through King James Onlyism

By Fred Butler

 

Near the end of his life, the great 5th century Church Father, Augustine, reviewed what he had taught as a Christian theologian.  From that review, he produced a series of writings he called his recantations, in which he highlighted the theological error he once taught and how he had come to recant of that error by his more mature understanding of scripture.   Augustine’s recantations set down a precedent that all Christians should follow, in that all Christians should be prepared to recognize, acknowledge, and recant of teaching that is not sustained by the Holy Bible. 

Well, I am here to state that I have my own confessions to make.  Though it is a humbling experience, I believe it is one that is needed, and one that has been a long time coming.  What I need to confess is that I was a King James Version Only advocate.  I once believed, for nearly a decade, that the only Bible I could call God’s word was the King James Bible.  I believed and taught with voracious insistence that the KJV was the only reliable translation in the English language, because it was translated by the godliest of translators from the best Greek manuscripts.  I believed the King James alone, out of all other English translations, had God’s hand of providence upon it and claimed that this was demonstrated by the fact that God blessed it in so many amazing ways.  Anyone who would dare to challenge my convictions was ignorant of the facts, and I would not hesitate to regale them with the truth.  Moreover, any person who would have the audacity to actually suggest that the KJV could be better translated at such and such a verse, and would appeal to a modern version as an alternative reading to the KJV, was a person who was close to being an apostate.  If anything, this person was blind to the truth of how heretics had corrupted the original language texts from which the modern versions are translated, and failed to realize how unbelievers and unorthodox scholars were primarily responsible for their transmission.  The modern versions were Bibles that altered God’s Word and perverted the true doctrines of the faith.

Now, the question is rightly asked by the reader: how did this belief develop in your mind, Fred?  What was the road that led you down the path of becoming a KJV only (KJVO) advocate and how did you depart from it? Perhaps it will be helpful for me try to briefly summarize it. 

The Lord was pleased to save me in the final week of my freshman year of college.  I had been raised a Church going kid that spent a lot of time involved with Church related activities that I equated with true spirituality. Activities like, leadership in my youth group, singing in the choir, or faithful attendance to mid-week Church services.  Then, God graciously opened my eyes to see that I was an unspiritual hypocrite who had no relationship with Jesus Christ at all.  When the Lord truly saved me, I immediately began to grow in my love for Him.  Church became more than just a meeting place where I hung out with my friends.  It was now where I gathered with God’s people to worship the living God and hear His Word preached.  I loved Bible studies and devoured the supplemental quarterlies provided by my Church’s denomination.  That first summer of my salvation was an exciting time in my life. 

When I returned for my sophomore year of college, I became involved with a weekly Bible study with a group of like-minded folks.  We would meet to study the Bible, discuss theology, pray, and even street evangelize on occasions.  The fellow who hosted these weekly gatherings often bought large quantities of books he believed to be beneficial for other Christians and he would give them away.   One of those books he happened to give away was written by a pastor in Oklahoma named Gary Flynt.  His book was entitled, The Modern Versions: To Be or Not To Be?, and in it, he argued that modern Bible versions like the New American Standard, the New International, and the New King James, corrupted God’s word to one degree or another, and the only English translation that was truly reliable was the King James Version.  

This was the first time I had ever encountered the KJVO debate against modern translations, and this pastor made a rather compelling case.  One chapter in pastor Flynt’s book particularly struck a cord with me.  It addressed the issue of alleged biblical contradictions in the text of scripture.  The chapter pointed out some specific examples, and then provided working solutions to these “contradictions” from the biblical text.  I was pleasantly encouraged to read the pastor’s study on these various problem texts, because my Ryrie Study Bible never offered any biblical solutions to these alleged contradictions.  My study Bible, for the most part, always concluded they were copyist errors, errors that occur due to mistakes by scribes as the text of scripture is copied repeatedly from one generation to the next. 

I was so moved by how the pastor upheld the integrity of scripture (at least in my mind), that I tracked down his phone number and gave him a call.  I found out from our conversation that the chapter on copyist errors was based upon a series of articles written by a physician in New Zealand.  The pastor told me he had photocopies of several articles written by this physician dealing with many other problem texts.  I had him send me some copies, as well as a list of authors who also had written on the Bible version debate.  I quickly began to amass a library of KJVO materials.  I obtained books by Edward Hills, Wilbur Pickering, D.A. Waite, Barry Burton, William P. Grady, Samuel Gipp, and the infamous Peter Ruckman, not to mention a host of other lesser-known writers.   As I read through these works, I became, what I thought to be, “enlightened” to the seriousness of defending God’s word against the accusations of false teachers, heretics, and liberal Bible correctors who desired to steal my Bible away from me and the Christian Church. 

A few other friends of mine were also inspired by pastor Flynt’s book and joined me in my KJVO crusade. We quickly became a group of obnoxious know-it-alls that sought to expose unbelief in God’s Word and to dispel the ignorance of those who were unfamiliar with the importance of the Bible version controversy.  Because of that, we became a dreaded pest at our college group Bible studies and other Church gatherings.  For instance, we took it upon ourselves to buttonhole our friends at Church who read a different translation other than the KJV.  We would show them verse comparison charts that revealed how the modern versions degraded the deity of Christ or watered down the gospel in some way or another.  During Bible studies, I would interrupt the teacher and point out how the modern versions corrupted a verse we happened to be studying.   After these Bible studies, during our fellowship time, I would pull aside any new members of our college group and preach to them my KJVO beliefs, challenging them to put away their modern “perversions” and read the Word of God as it is contained in the KJV. 

A particular shining moment during my time as a KJVO advocate was when I talked our college pastor into allowing a short, informal debate to take place in our fellowship group on the subject of Bible versions.   The debate was between me, and a fellow KJVO friend, and two guys who tired of our “onlyism” rhetoric.  Each side had about 15 minutes to present their material and to defend against the others.  My friend and I trounced our opponents, primarily because they failed to adequately prepare for the debate, as well as lacked the sophistication to persuasively argue against us.  I viewed the encounter as a victory for the Lord and it only served to puff me up more in my obnoxious self-righteousness. 

As I prepared to graduate college, I desired to attend seminary, and the seminary I wanted to attend was not KJVO.  In fact, one of the NT professors I was to sit under had been a key translator on the New American Standard translating committee.  After I arrived and started classes, I persisted in my KJVO beliefs; only here, I was not as vocal.  My KJV convictions were mostly expressed by my biting, critical remarks I would write in the margin of my class syllabi when a passing comment pointed out errors in the text of the King James Bible.  Sometimes I had the opportunity to share my KJV onlyism with other fellow seminarians.  They were actually stunned that I would hold to such a bizarre understanding concerning the Bible and at the same time attend our seminary.   Most of my friends never pressed the issue with me, and marked my beliefs up to my personal eccentricities.  I in turn never pressed the issue with them either, but concluded that they were just blinded by the love for “scholarship” and made that scholarship, as well as themselves, the final authority over God’s Word.  The Lord would have to convict them about this, not me. 

Then, in 1993, my KJV only perspective began to change, because that was the year New Age Bible Versions was published.   The author, Gail Riplinger, gathered all the threads of knowledge pertaining to textual criticism her degree in interior design provided, and with a skillful use of ellipsises, masterfully wove together scholarly ineptitude, twisted exegesis, conspiracy theories, her personal revelations from God, illogical comparison charts (KJV advocates love comparison charts), distorted fact and a sinister red and black cover, to produce a hideous literary tapestry.  Even though her work would eventually be renounced by many of her fellow KJVO advocates, out of either sheer embarrassment or the fact that they were initially confused that “Gail” was really a woman, Ms. Riplinger single handedly raised the shrill argumentation of KJV onlyism to a crescendo of symphonic levels of dissonance.   Of course, when I first read Ms. Riplinger’s book, I thought she offered some of the most impacting research to date pertaining to the Bible version debate; a sad testimony to my lack of discernment as a young seminary student.   New Age Bible Versions was nearly 700 pages thick, with 50 pages of copious footnotes that demonstrated that Ms. Riplinger had exhaustively documented her sources.  I remember thinking to myself as I was reading the book that her argumentation was irrefutable.  Who could sincerely deny what she was stating? 

A short time later, however, my opinion of Ms. Riplinger and her book took a down turn.  In her book, she provided a rather lengthy, biographical discussion of Drs. Brooke F. Westcott and John A. Hort, the two 19th century textual critics.  I was thoroughly interested in her research, because I was taught by my KJVO literature that these two men were solely responsible for all of the theological ills and moral depravity that has blanketed the 20th century Church and it is all due to their Revised Version they published in the 1880s.  According to Ms. Riplinger, these two men were secretly involved with séances, necromancy, satanic philosophy clubs, and conspired together to usher in the new age of Aquarius.  When they were not dancing around a sacrificial altar in sheep leggings, they dabbled in NT textual criticism as a hobby.  Their purpose was to slyly introduce their antichrist, new age doctrines, by duping Christian scholarship into believing the Greek text of the NT needed to be revised with older manuscripts closer to the original autographs and that God’s people would be served better if the King James Bible was replaced with an updated version translated from their revised Greek NT.  Being the devilish foxes that they were, Westcott and Hort played down the fact that the older and so-called better manuscripts are from Alexandria, Egypt, and were actually produced by another secret new ager, Origin.  Because modern day evangelicals are so enamored with appearing to be intelligent scholars, they allowed themselves to be brainwashed with the textual theories of these two demonic hypnotists, and in turn opened the flood gate to a deluge of new age Bible versions, hence, the title of Ms. Riplinger’s book.

To her detriment, Ms. Riplinger heavily footnotes her research.  It would have served her well to have known that books with excessive and superfluous footnotes have the possibility of quickly sinking the personal credibility of an author.  The simple reason being is that if anyone actually takes the time to double-check the accuracy of those footnotes, the author’s bias is exposed and it becomes readily apparent that he or she is selectively abusing sources to affirm that bias.  This is what happened with Ms. Riplinger.  The 50 plus pages of endnotes that represents her “exhaustive documentation” is really just window dressing to pass her off as a reputable historian and textual scholar to lend credibility for her kooky new age conspiracy theory.  She must have assumed that her readers would be so overwhelmingly impressed by the amount of footnote citation that they would believe she knew what she was writing about, and never bother to take the time to check her sources.  Ashamedly, I was one of those impressed by her footnotes, but thankfully, I had a resource that is not available to the many individuals misguided by the falsehoods passed along by Ms. Riplinger’s book: access to a seminary library that contained the complete works of Westcott and Hort.  

When I went to the library to cross-reference Ms. Riplinger’s citations with the actual books she quotes, my original intentions was to find more ammunition for my arsenal of KJVO polemics.  Yet, it became painfully obvious after I looked up the first two or three examples that she had wrenched the comments of these men out of context.   In fact, she so twisted what Westcott and Hort actually wrote, that she could be sued for libel if it were not for the fact that they are unable take her to court.  Rather than being new age mystics who sought to inject pantheism into the Bible with their textual criticism, I was stunned to discover that these two men were a part of the handful of conservative theologians that withstood the encroaching rationalistic liberalism of the 19th century.  They were far from being the Bible tampering gremlins painted by Ms. Riplinger in her book, and they consistently defended the inspiration, preservation, authority and inerrancy of scripture, as well as the virgin birth, deity, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.[1]

Now, a person would think that uncovering such a spectacular display of fraud would cause me to seriously re-evaluate my King James only beliefs, but that was not to be.   Soon after New Age Bible Versions started its stir throughout Christian circles, several KJV only demagogues released their scathing critiques of Ms. Riplinger’s book, renouncing it with descriptive words like, “sensationalistic,” “illogical,” and “poorly documented.” For the time being, their damage control helped to steady my heart, because they confirmed what I had concluded about the reliability of Ms. Riplinger and her book, and they assured me that she did not represent the mainstream of King James Only belief. 

Thatassurance, however, was only a temporary fix, because in the spring of 1995, primarily motivated by the negativity generated by Ms. Riplinger’s book, apologist James White released The King James Only Controversy.  This was the first substantive book length rebuttal of KJV onlyism that forced KJV advocates into a defensive position. [2] Contrary to the authors who wrote the KJVO publications with which I was familiar, Dr. White offered intelligence and provided some rather compelling answers to their rhetoric.  My reaction to his book was that of a pure KJV advocate:  I believed James White represented the typical, compromising scholarship that unquestionably accepts the naturalistic humanist approach to textual criticism that leaves the Christian Church without a reliable and trustworthy Bible.  I read his book at least twice and personally filled my copy with cutting remarks regarding his scholarship and ad hominem attacks against his character. 

Yet,it was not Mr. White’s book that led me to further re-evaluation of my KJVO beliefs.  It was the apparent duplicity in the many KJVO rebuttals of his book.  The reason was that the same KJVO advocates who were critical of Gail Riplinger a year earlier with their reviews of New Age Bible Versions, utilized her similar erroneous argumentation with their criticism of Mr. White’s The King James Only Controversy.  For example, David Cloud wrote a series of articles called Examining The King James Only Controversy[3] that were meant to expose the evangelical compromise and re-treaded arguments against the KJV presented in Mr. White’s book.  The problem, however, is that Mr. Cloud builds his argumentation upon the same conspiratorial philosophy in his critique, as Ms. Riplinger did in her book.  He passes along the KJVO urban legend about “secret” heretics smuggling their heresies into the stream of Greek texts that underlie the modern versions and does a similar cut and paste job when he quotes from the works of Drs. Westcott and Hort in order to make them out as sinister corrupters of the Bible.   He even goes on to insinuate that Desiderius Erasmus, the 16th century Roman Catholic scholar who edited the first Greek text the King James translators would utilize, was really an anachronistic fundamentalist Baptist.   These desperate responses to Mr. White’s book were beginning to bring my KJV onlyism to wane.  I even listened with agonizing embarrassment to a radio discussion in which D. A. Waite, a KJV promoter and self-proclaimed president of the Dean Burgon Society, bungled his way through defending his KJV position by dodging questions asked of him by James White.[4]  I was beginning to wonder if there was any KJV advocate who could provide a credible defense of his position without appealing to baseless conspiracy theories and engaging in historical revisionism.  I increasingly felt like one of those gullibly naive persons who can be persuaded to give his money to con artists. 

As I wrestled with the intellectual consternation surrounding my KJV onlyism, I was also becoming aware of a couple of other problem areas inherent to KJV onlyism as a system.  First, there is the vitriolic tone that is practically ubiquitous in all KJV only literature.  This tone takes the shape of angry and vicious slander against the character of anyone who would dissent from the opinion of KJVO advocates and dare to challenge their core presuppositions.  The person who boldly withstands them, will be called a Bible rejecter, corrector, or denier; equated with an atheist, humanist or worse yet, a Roman Catholic Jesuit; and, as if those designations are not strong enough, the person’s Christian testimony is questioned and he is told that he is an apostate from the true faith.  The sad reality is that these KJVO advocates actually believe it is their Christian duty to hurl ungodly accusations and call their detractors names.  They are under the delusion that such harshness somehow honors God, believing they are akin to modern day prophets.  

The most insidious example of such crudeness comes from the regular diatribes of Peter Ruckman.  He has personally anathematized every pastor, Bible college, theological seminary, and Christian professor, both conservative and liberal, in the entire United States of America during the last 20 plus years with his monthly Bible Bulletin, all in the name of defending his KJVO beliefs.  When I was immersed in KJV onlyism, I was troubled by this incendiary rhetoric, and even though Ruckman was not a favored KJV hero of mine, I did emulate his style against my detractors, but in a milder manner of condemnation.   Eventually, like the revelation I had regarding the lives of Westcott and Hort, I began to read what those authors actually wrote who are often demonized by KJVO publications.  I discovered that they were not denying the Bible, and from my vantage point, they were much more Christ-like with the expression of their opinions toward those who disagreed with them and attacked their character.  I even had the opportunity to personally meet some of these individuals, like James White, and they were nothing like the truth hating apostates frequently lampooned by KJVO advocates in their books and articles. 

Then a second, more important problem area with KJV onlyism, was that I began noticing their terrible reputation for doing poor Bible study.  I was growing in my personal understanding of the Bible with hermeneutics, exegesis and historical theology, and the one thing that is needed for any meaningful Bible study is to read the biblical text with in its intended context.  King James only advocates often fail miserably with these disciplines, and the more I matured in my ability to accurately study the Bible, their reputation for deplorable theology became even more pronounced.  This was especially noticeable as my careful study of God’s Word was leading me to embrace the doctrines of grace, what is also known as the five points of Calvinism.  One thing I know for sure is that KJVO advocates are practically all unified around their utter contempt and hatred of Calvinism.  In fact, the jumbled mass of historic revisionism, torturous exegesis, and character assassination passed along in their publications as soundly refuting the theology of Calvinism, rivals similar twisted information used with their defense of KJV onlyism.

Some of the KJVO comments against Calvinism fall into the realm of pure fantasy.  Gail Riplinger, for instance, levels one ridiculous slur against Calvinism, calling it a satanic “five pointed pentagram.”  I can only assume that the many “satanic” Calvinists who helped to translate the King James Bible had no influence upon their final, inspired work.  The most monstrous example is the ugly stepsister to New Age Bible Versions, birthed by KJVO advocate, Larry Vance.  He has written what can be considered the KJVO Titanic of all books aimed at the theology of Calvinism entitled, The Other Side of Calvinism.  He attempts to navigate his book through a treacherous sea of historic fact and textual exegesis, but they fatally broadside his sophomoric argumentation from the very first chapter and sink his reputation as a credible scholar.  An amusing example of how Mr. Vance plunges the great depths of absurdity is when he appeals to numerology in order to prove Calvinism is a theology that kills.  Calvinism has five major points, proclaims Vance.  The number “5” is the number of death (the word “death” having 5 letters), and that can only mean Calvinism brings death.  Who can stand against such withering logic?  Of course, a person has to wonder if Mr. Vance has noticed that the name “Jesus” has five letters, as well as “Vance.” 

Yet, for the sake of fairness, I must point out the handful of KJVO advocates who do not engage in this type of clownish buffoonery when they write against Calvinism.  D. A. Waite, David Cloud, and other “scholarly” KJVO advocates have attempted to offer plausible critiques, but sadly, their fundamentalist traditions cripple their ability to interact reasonably with Calvinistic theology and to provide rebuttals with accurate textual exegesis.

In time, all of my emerging difficulties with KJV onlyism came to bear upon my soul.  I would like to say that it happened quickly, but it can be a slow process to wean a person off bad teaching.  There is a lot of personal pride involved.  When you have believed something with strong conviction for such a long time, those beliefs take deep root, and to be told you are wrong about those beliefs only serves to stir resentment toward the accuser.  Thankfully, God was gracious and I was raised in Missouri; I wanted to be shown the proof of my convictions, not take a person’s word for it.  When I went to seek out the proof for my King James Only beliefs, I discovered that there was none.  What I found out was startling for me: KJV onlyism begins with the conclusion that the King James Version is the Word of God, and then re-interprets the historical evidence to support that conclusion.  Sadly, they call this approach to the Bible as “having faith.”  However, my quest revealed to me that it is a blind faith, because KJVO advocates stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the many truths witnessing against their core presuppositions.  The conspiratorial heretics KJVO advocates say altered the Alexandrian manuscripts that are a key component to the Greek texts of modern versions never really existed.  The King James translators were just normal guys and were no more providentially guided by God as the textual scholars living in other parts of Europe at that time, or that followed them in the centuries to come.  There is not one pristine line of Greek manuscripts that represent the providentially preserved Word of God, nor is there a line of good Bible versions that God divinely directed to end with the purified King James Version.  It is true that God calls us to have faith, but our faith is grounded upon objective truth.  We are not to have faith in contrived and subjective speculations, which is what KJV onlyism is ultimately founded upon. 

Since my departure from King James Onlyism, I have become a favored object of cruel mocker by KJVO advocates.  I have been told that I no longer have a Bible that I can believe and that I trust my own opinions over the scripture.  I have been called a Bible rejecter, because in my discussion with KJVO advocates, I have pointed out the examples of poor translation often found in the King James Version.  A few people have called me a Roman Catholic, Jesuit infiltrator, because I am withholding God’s Word from the common people.  Then, a handful of people accuse me of lying, and say that I never held to King James Onlyism, because if I had, I would never have departed.  This, of course, is a similar slur leveled by Muslim apologists against former Muslims who left Islam for Christianity.  In spite of all of the ridicule, I wear those remarks, and the many others like them, with pride.  I even hope that one day in the future I can be added to Peter Ruckman’s Hall of Apostasy by being named in his Bible Bulletin.  

During my first semester as a seminarian, when my KJVO advocacy was in full bloom, I entered into a debate on Bible translations with an older seminarian after a Bible study I attended one evening.  His personality already rubbed me the wrong way, so our discussion on the subject was more tense than normal.  At the conclusion, we had to agree to disagree, but I never forgot his words to me.  He basically said, “Fred, you’re an honest guy and a good student of God’s Word.  I do not believe you will be a King James advocate 10 years from now.”  My face became grim, and I defiantly affirmed that I would be.  It is truly God’s grace that I can say that he was right!



End Notes

 

[1] For two excellent exposes on Dr. Westcott’s defense of biblical inspiration and the deity of Christ in light of the hysterical claims of KJV only advocates to the contrary, check out James May’s insightful articles found at the following links: http://www.kjvonly.org/james/may_westcott_inspiration.htm

http://www.kjvonly.org/james/may_westcott_deity.htm

 

Mr. May also has an amusing review of New Age Bible Versions: http://www.kjvonly.org/james/may_reviews.htm

 

[2] About 15 years prior to The King James Only Controversy, D.A. Carson had published a small book on the subject of KJV onlyism entitled The King James Version Debate, but his book did not offer the “punch in the face” to the KJV advocates as James White’s did. 

 

[3] The articles begin with this one: http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/examining01.htm

 

[4] The discussion between James White and D. A. Waite can be downloaded from the MP3 catalog of www.aomin.org. The highlight of the discussion comes when the host of the program opens up the phone lines to callers’ questions.  The first caller was none other than KJV only conspiracy wacko, Tex Marrs, who, after a fitful tirade against the Christian character of James White, refuses to be corrected about his wrongly citing Revelation 1:11 as Revelation 1:1, even to the point of claiming that he was misheard as saying “Revelation 1-1-1.”  The reader must hear it to get the full impact, because it is a vivid display of shameful self-righteousness. 


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