‘The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations?’ A Review


KJOnly_cover.inddWhite, James R. The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations? 2nd ed. Bloomington: Bethany House, 1995, 2009. 340 pp. $16.99

Introduction

With the increase in the amount of new English version and translations of the Bible sweeping across Christianity, dark days of accusations of heresy and blasphemy have surfaced surrounding the debate over the relevance, reliance, or even possible “evil” of modern Bible translations. However, in the dark of these confusing days, James White comes as a light, exposing the darkness of the oft-heated King James Only debate. White, a trusted and faithful apologist, is no newcomer to the scene of controversial issues. He has authored numerous books of which include, “Is the Mormon My Brother?” “What’s With the Dudes at the Door? “The Roman Catholic Controversy,” “The Same-Sex Controversy,” and most recently “What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an.”

This makes him a prime candidate to tackle this textual and translational issue that has the potency to divide churches and leave a lasting stench of disunity in a local body of believers. White is an elder at Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church and is also the director of the apologetics ministry Alpha and Omega Ministries.

Purpose

In The King James Only Controversy, White writes with the “desire for peace in the church of Jesus Christ” (16). Correctly observing that KJV Only campers count on the ignorance of the average Christian regarding the history of the Bible and its transmission and translation, White seeks this peace not through compromise, but rather through giving the reader a firm grasp of the textual and translational issues and developments of the Bible. White states his motivation quite clearly in his introduction. He has not written this book with the purpose of arguing against the KJV itself. He does not write with an agenda against the translation. He writes rather in opposition to those who “would force others to use the KJV or risk God’s wrath for allegedly questioning His Word” (17-18). White, therefore, writes in opposition to KJV Onlyism, not the translation itself (18). This work is a broad response to many general claims the KJV Only advocates make. As a true apologist, James White stands on the frontlines of translational and textual disputes to combat those who would disrupt the unity within countless local bodies of Christ.

White accomplishes this purpose by dividing his book into two clearly defined sections. Part one is the heft of the book, including ten chapters concerning the camps within KJV Onlyism (Ch. 1), the logical fallacies behind the KJV Only argument (Ch. 2), the history of the transmission and formation of the Bible (Chs. 3 and 4), evidence from KJV Only publications (Ch. 5), evidence of translational differences between more modern translations and the KJV (Ch. 6), textual differences (Ch. 7), textual and translational differences about Jesus (Ch. 8), distinct problems in the KJV (Ch. 9), and finally a section given to specific questions and answers dealing with this controversy (Ch. 10). White then closes his book with a section dedicated to those more familiar with koine Greek with a thirty page more technical treatment of many of the issues raised in part one of the book. Needless to say, the author has approached every aspect of this controversy.

Summary

As stated earlier, James White seeks to oppose KJV Onlyism in this book. To accomplish this, he has organized his book very systematically. He begins with the varying camps within KJV Onlyism and then begins his defense based on historical, textual, and translational evidences. It is apparent that the author seeks to leave his reader with no qualm about both his integrity and credibility.

Chapter One

White begins his defense/attack by pointing out the varying groups within KJV Onlyism. White makes it clear whom the main culprits are in this controversy while making sure to leave out those who are KJV only, but not in this controversy. He designates the camps as follows in chapter one: (1) those who simply prefer the KJV above the rest (White has no problem with this group), (2) those who believe the original language texts used in the translation of the KJV were the most accurate, (3) those who argue that the Textus Receptus has been providentially preserved or inspired, (4) those who hold that the KJV itself, as an English translation, is the inspired Word of God, and finally, (5) those more radical who believe the KJV is new revelation, completely inerrant, even above the original Greek and Hebrew. White indicates that group four is where the majority of the KJV only advocates are found.

Chapter Two

Chapter two takes a more satirical approach as some of the arguments from the KJV Only camps are examined. White points out that, ironically, KJV Only advocates are doing the exact same thing to modern translators and translations as those did to Jerome and his Latin Vulgate as well as Erasmus and his Greek New Testament. White shows that KJV Only arguments against modern translations is notihing more than traditionalism in a new light. White keenly observes that the arguments presented by KJV Only advocates (particularly camps 2-5) have to do with our resistance to change rather than some erroneous text or translation.

Chapters Three and Four

White then moves in chapters three and four to give his defense of modern translations and their reliability as well as continuing to oppose KJV Only camps’ arguments by examining a brief history of the Bible’s transmission and translation, along with translation methods, and textual criticism while discussing the ancient texts used by translators. White takes ample time to discuss textual variants and puts to rest many of the KJV Onlyism’s attacks concerning them. After building a firm foundation with an introduction to textual and translational issues, White moves to show that the KJV is only a translation into English rather than some inerrant and inspired text in and of itself.

Chapters Five, Six, and Seven

Chapter five exposes the reader to the full spectrum of the controversy by presenting the positions held by the leaders of KJV Onlyism. This prepares the way for a detailed comparison of the KJV with other modern translations. Chapters six and seven then present those striking translational and textual differences between the texts behind the KJV and other modern translations. He proves in this section that modern translations have not deleted, changed, or altered the Word of God in any way. These two chapters show that modern translators have not perverted the Word of God, but rather have sought to translate God’s Word accurately.

Chapters Eight and Nine

Chapter eight may be White’s most important section of his book. This is because he addresses the most offensive accusation from some of the KJV Only camps; that modern translations diminish the deity of Christ by “deleting” his title from their translations. White doesn’t hide from this accusation by including those references the KJV Only camps refer to. To the heart of these accusations, White thrusts a fatal stab to their argument by demonstrating how modern translations do not diminish the deity of Christ, but instead they actually translate passages that reveal the deity of Christ much more clearly than the KJV.

If this was not enough, then White seals the deal in chapter nine by pointing out errors in the KJV that are utterly indisputable. White closes out his book with a few questions and answers pertaining to the issue and part two of the book that gives a technical and deeper examination of the textual disputes in part one for those more familiar with koine Greek. For those wanting to go deeper into the controversy, White gives a substantial thirty-page appendix that will leave the reader satisfied.

Critical Evaluation

There are not many qualms or reservations to be had concerning James White’s work on the KJV Only controversy. All fair-minded readers who place bias to the side must appreciate White’s sincere desire to seek peace within the body of Christ by bringing clarity to a highly debated and often heated topic. White very successfully and effectively accomplished his goal of opposing KJV Onlyism by being fair to the arguments of the more hostile camps as well as not making sweeping generalizations by pointing out the five KJV Only camps (Chs. 1 and 5).

It is so important in apologetic works for the author to be clear and consistent in his logical argumentation. White proves to be both clear and logically consistent throughout the work and he remains focused on his purpose. Through specifically attacking the KJV Only arguments and indirectly (and more generally) defending modern translations, White has provided a resource that could be used to settle long-standing battles within local bodies throughout the English-speaking world. This book has many strengths, but one notable strength is the author’s clear presentation of historical issues and textual criticism.

These two areas are often viewed as for the scholar only. However, White has made these two areas accessible to the layman without compromising the depth these two areas typically go to. It would be nearly impossible to argue against KJV Onlyism without at least some knowledge of the history of translational issues and textual criticism. White provides this and much more.

Another striking quality about this book is the author’s Christ-like graciousness to those who have labeled him as a heretic. This was White’s shot to personally “return the favor” to those who have recklessly misrepresented him. However, White is calm, cool, and collected throughout the work as he graciously rebukes this harmful position.

If there are any red flags to be seen in this book, it may be one slight flaw that may have been unavoidable in writing this sort of book. White gives the impression that all modern translations equally represent the original manuscripts. For the purpose of his writing, White seems to clump the NIV, NASB, NKJV, ESV, etc. together without going into much detail about any issues these translations may have (e.g. theological bias or translational method). However, this is a mild negative criticism that does not hold any bearing on the book’s credibility or reliability, especially due to White’s short, but important attention he gives to methods of translation in chapter three (46-49). He could discuss the biases that are unavoidable in dynamic equivalence translations, which would make the reader more aware of their possible “slip ups.”

For those coming to this book questioning whether modern translations as a whole are reliable translations of the “real Bible,” they will each be moved and persuaded to leave with the truth that modern translations are actual translations that even in places out-do the KJV due to the use of earlier, more reliable manuscripts. The KJV of the Bible is not the only reliable version or only Word of God. It is merely an English translation. This book provided this reviewer with a refreshing look at textual criticism and an unwavering confidence in modern English translations. It also provided this reviewer with the means to engage in this debate intelligently, appropriately, and graciously with a better understanding of where both sides stand.

This is a well-rounded book that would benefit laypeople, students, pastors, and even scholars to have in their libraries as it is an easy and fast read without sacrificing the necessary depth to sufficiently penetrate this controversy.

Conclusion

And this author has done this very thing—penetrate a seemingly impenetrable force; KJV Only advocates. This controversy is soaked in much of American culture, particularly the Bible belt. The King James Only Controversy will serve the church as a gracious weapon to be used to in the fight for peace and unity among the body of Christ.

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