Why I'm no longer King James Only
I love the King James Version (KJV). For its time, it was a literary masterpiece. I have large portions of it committed to memory. I still have my heavily marked KJV that I received the day I started going to youth class. The sidebars are filled with notes, lots of verses are underlined, and the pages are dog-eared. It stands as a testament to the young girl who loved that book more than anything and poured countless hours into reading it.
Up until a few years ago, I was a fierce advocate and defender of the KJV. I was part of a denomination that was King James Only (KJVO) and I was also attending a college that was KJVO. I had watched videos, read articles, and listened to teaching series about the KJVO position. The only major problem was every source I had ever read held the same view as my own. I had never seriously engaged with other perspectives on this view, when I eventually did I was in for a shock.
If you believe the KJVO position, this is not an attack on you. This is me sharing my story about how I changed my mind on the matter. It is an invitation to consider a different perspective. It is an invitation to start a conversation. It is an invitation to ask some important questions. Wherever you land on the journey is not up to me. I just want you to know that you can take that journey and you shouldn’t be afraid to take that journey. The healthiest thing I have ever done in my life was taking a long hard inventory of my beliefs and asking some deep and hard questions about them. This is a process I’m committed to practicing for the rest of my life.
When I first met my now husband, I found out he was not KJVO. And like a good KJVO person, I was determined to convert him. I thought surely that if I showed him some of the reasons to believe in the KJV he would quickly see his error. Wow, was I wrong. Right from the start, he had questions for me that I couldn’t answer. I tried to adamantly tell him that the KJV had no copyright, only to find out it actually did. I tried to tell him that the KJV was the only translation that used the Textus Receptus, but that was also wrong. I tried to tell him about the history of the KJV, but he just laughed and said I should study it for myself. And me being the stubborn person that I was, that’s exactly what I did.
And that’s when it all started to fall apart. You see, for the first time I listened to voices of people that didn’t agree with me. I listened to people who were Christians but experts in their respective fields. I read about the writing of the different books of the Bible, the history of manuscripts, and the transmission process throughout history. I learned about differences between the transmission process of what we call the Old and New Testaments. I realized that the churches that I trashed talked as not having the truth were the ones who had preserved the Bible for all of us. I read about the councils that convened to determine what books should be included in the Christian canon. I read about the incredible number of manuscripts that had been found since the translation of the King James Version. I finally understood why the argument that older manuscripts are better is actually a really important one. Instead of dismissing manuscripts found in the caves of Qumran, I realized what a priceless treasure had been uncovered. Suddenly I was longing that more of these might be found.
Most of all, I started to understand how important the Bible is to so many people. As I studied, I found out that most people in the world of modern translation weren’t evil people out to destroy the Bible! These were people who have dedicated their entire lives’ work to continuing the process of faithfully handing down these texts and making them accessible for our generation. Were they perfect? No! Were they committed just as I was? Yes. As I read more I finally understood that even though I read the KJV my whole life and memorized entire swaths of it, my comprehension of what it was actually saying was very poor. Old English is actually quite a different language I came to discover. I realized what an unnecessary stumbling block it was to not be able to read the Bible in my own language.
Within a couple of months, I was no longer under any pretense about the history of the Bible. But I had a deep, gnawing question inside of my heart. I had been told that God would preserve the Bible. That there had to be only one true Bible out there or God hadn’t kept God’s promises. Or was this not true also? So I started to study the proof texts for this line of thought. My studies led me to a startling realization: the authors had never been talking about written words, but about the faithfulness of God to keep God’s Words! It wasn’t about the transmission or preservation process, it was about the covenant keeping God staying true to promises. This was like breathing in fresh air. All of a sudden, God became responsible for fulfilling promises and I no longer needed to desperately defend one manuscript line over another to prove that God has and will continue to do this. Does this mean that God has not been present in the process? Absolutely not! I believe that God has been involved, but God is not tied to work in the ways we expect. God is under no obligation to meet our demands for what the Bible should look or be like. In fact, I think that the way our Bible is today is because of human participation across history. The Bible is divine as it tells the story of God interacting with the world, but it is also thoroughly human as it is told from our perspective and pen.
The hardest part of my journey was admitting that I was wrong. That I had not had correct information. That I had not been told the truth. That I had taught others things that were not true. It was honestly like a knife in my chest. I had always taken pride in being right. And this time, I was way wrong. It was a difficult realization, but one of the most necessary steps I have ever taken in my own faith journey. As I continue to study the manuscripts, textual criticism, and the church traditions I realize all the more what a precious gift we have in the Bible. It is not the perfect or complete revelation of God, because that already came—in the person of Jesus. My appreciation and value for the collection of books that we call the Bible has only continued to grow. The Bible is no longer an idol upon which my whole foundation for believing in Christianity rests. My faith rests on Jesus, the traditions, the holy texts, and my own experiences of all of these. I have the privilege of joining in with thousands of years of others who also follow the Jesus way in sincerity and love. And this is the stream we are all invited to join and participate in.