Mailbag

The Mailbag: What is KJV-Onlyism, and Is It Biblical?

 

I’m a fairly new Christian and still trying to get my footing in many areas of basic theology, including which Bible translation is best to use. A friend of mine is a “KJV-Onlyist” and has been very critical when I’ve explored other translations. I’ve tried using the KJV, but I find it very hard to understand. Is it wrong or unbiblical to use a modern English translation such as the ESV? If not, how can I explain this to my friend?

Welcome to the family of Christ! Having been raised in church and saved at an early age myself, I can only imagine how overwhelming it must be to assimilate into a totally new culture and begin trying to understand so many different aspects of the Christian life all at once.

A little background information for readers who are not familiar with some of the terminology in your question: KJV stands for King James Version, the 1611 English translation of the Bible that contains all the “thee’s” and “thou’s”. It’s the translation most familiar to the English speaking world. ESV stands for English Standard Version, a modern American English translation of the Bible first published in 2001.

In a nutshell, “KJV-Onlyists” generally believe that the KJV is the only acceptable translation for use by Christian individuals and churches. Many believe this because they mistakenly think that the translation itself is inspired by God in the 2 Timothy 3:16-17 sense. (The correct understanding of inspiration is that the original autographs – the actual words Moses, David, Paul, James, etc. wrote – are what were inspired by God.)

As with most belief systems, KJV-Onlyism is a spectrum of beliefs. On one end of the spectrum are KJVO’s who hold that you’re not saved or that you’re promoting false doctrine if you use any translation other than the KJV (Ironically, this extreme belief is itself false doctrine, or actual heresy if use of the KJV is in any way tied to salvation. Even the King James Version of the Bible does not teach this.). On the other end of the spectrum are what I, personally, would call KJVP’s (preferred). These are KJVO’s who strongly prefer KJV. This is the “official” version they use in their churches and want their church members to use, but they do not tie its use to salvation or disparage those who use other accurate translations. This stance is merely a preference of a particular church or individual, and is not false doctrine. And, of course, there are varied beliefs between the two ends of the spectrum.

The KJV is a perfectly great translation to use if it’s what you prefer. Christians have used it for hundreds of years and have grown in their relationship with Christ just fine. However, it can be confusing for speakers of modern English. Additionally, while it is still an acceptably accurate translation, several modern translations are technically more accurate due to the discovery of thousands of biblical manuscripts over the last 400 years. It is for these reasons I typically recommend either the ESV or the New American Standard (NASB) version. Both are highly accurate and easier to understand for 21st century readers. I used the NASB for about twenty years, then switched to the ESV about four years ago. I love both of them for their accuracy and ease of reading. For more information on choosing an English Bible translation, please see my article The Mailbag: Which Bible Do You Recommend?.

If you need some materials to share with KJVO’s or would like to study the issue more yourself, please see the Additional Resources section below.


Additional Resources

King James Onlyism by James White

The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations? by James White

Are the translations of the Bible inspired? at Compelling Truth

Why I Changed From KJV to ESV by Josh Buice

The King James Only Controversy by Trevin Wax

What is the KJV Only movement? at Got Questions


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Bible, Mailbag

The Mailbag: Which Bible Do You Recommend?

mailbag

 

I was saved out of Mormonism but, as a new Christian, spent some time in the Word of Faith movement. I want a Bible that hasn’t been tampered with by a false religion, but I’m not sure which one I can trust. Which Bible do you recommend?

What a blessing it is to even be able to ask this question! You would not ask this question if God had not graciously saved you, and you could not ask this question if there weren’t a ton of different Bibles available in English, nor if you lived in a country where it is illegal to own a copy of God’s word. It’s a dilemma, but it’s a good dilemma to have.

The good news is that there are many fantastic Bibles out there- far more good ones than bad, and far more than I could recommend in this brief article. So, please don’t take this as an exhaustive list or think that because I’ve left a certain Bible out that it isn’t any good.

The first thing you want to look for is a good translation, not a paraphrase. You want to know what God said through Paul, not what somebody 2000 years later thinks about what God said through Paul. You’re looking to get as close to the original wording as is possible.

There are several great English translations on the market. I started using the English Standard Version (ESV) about four years ago, and I love it. Prior to that I used the New American Standard Bible (NASB) for about 20 years. It is also an excellent translation. If you’re familiar with various Bible translations, ESV is, in my opinion, like a more accurate, more linguistically sophisticated 1984 New International Version (NIV). NASB is like a cross between the King James Version (KJV) and the 1984 NIV, but more accurate. In my opinion, ESV and NASB are the two best translations out there today.

There are, however, several other solid translations such as the New King James Version (NKJV), the Lexham English Bible (LEB), the Christian Standard Bible (CSB– This is a newly revised version of the Holman Christian Standard Bible {HCSB}, and they’re dropping the “Holman”. So HCSB and CSB – whichever one you happen to see – are the same thing.), and the “old” or “1984” NIV (You want to stay away from the TNIV {Today’s New International Version}, now out of print, and any 2011 or later NIV, as those both contain gender neutral/inclusive language. The 1984 edition is also out of print, but you may be able to acquire one from a second hand store.)

The KJV is a good translation and the language is beautiful, but if you have trouble with 1611 English, it’s not the only game in town anymore. Some of our modern translations are actually more accurate than the KJV because thousands more biblical manuscripts have been discovered since it was first published, allowing translators to be more precise.

Below is a helpful chart from Brent MacDonald of Not Just Another Book comparing a number of different translations and paraphrases. (On this chart, it’s good to be a “leftist”).

bibletranslationcomparisonsmall

You can try most of these translations out for free at Bible GatewayThere’s even a great feature that allows you to compare several versions side by side:

biblegateway-compare-translations

Just as there are a number of good Bible versions I would recommend, there are a few I’m familiar with which I would strongly recommend againstThe Message, The Voice, The Passion Translation, and The Amplified Bible.

peterson-shackMore than a few articles have voiced concerns over The Message’s – a paraphrase – often misleading texts. (I would add that Eugene Peterson {author of The Message} frequently shows poor discernment. One recent example is his front cover endorsement of the heresy-laden book – and movie – The Shack.)

The Voice is not only a paraphrase, its contributors include female “pastors” and false teachers such as Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, Chris Seay, and Leonard Sweet.

The Passion Translation is a New Apostolic Reformation version of the Bible which actually changes the wording of many verses in order to fit the NAR agenda. Click here for a Bible translation scholar’s review of Passion’s version of Psalms.

The Amplified Bible falls prey to an improper translation technique called illegitimate totality transfer.

If you’re looking for a good study Bible (or want to avoid a bad one), I’ve discussed that a bit here (#4). I frequently use and highly recommend both the ESV MacArthur Study Bible and the Faithlife Study Bible (which is FREE!). When shopping for a study Bible, do you homework and vet the contributors. Avoid any study Bibles whose contributors are false teachers, theologians from apostate churches, female “pastors,” etc.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.