Beginning of KJV-Only Movement

One of the issues that still troubles many churches today is the King James-only error. By KJV-only, I am specifically referencing the belief that only the KJV of the Bible is the Word of God. All other versions or translations are so corrupt that they are not to be used, nor be appealed to as the Word of God. Translations like the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Version or even the New King James Version (let alone the New International Version) are not the Word of God and thus should never be used in church, certainly not in the pulpit. They are to be despised and rejected wholesale.

Most KJV-only advocates argue that the printed Greek Text from which the KJV was translated, commonly called the Textus Receptus (TR), is itself inspired and inerrant, and the KJV is the only translation that accurately translates the TR. Thus, the KJV is also perfect, without error. A few KJV-only proponents insist that the KJV itself is the product of inspiration directly (Peter Ruckman).

Because I teach a class called “How We Got Our Bible,” and have written a number of articles related to the KJV-only movement (here, here, and here), I am sometimes asked, “When did the KJV-only movement begin?” Like many movements, theological and otherwise, there is usually never a specific beginning date that one can point to. They begin slowly over time, pick up steam, and often peter out. But if I had to pick a specific date for the beginning of the KJV-only movement, it would be May 17, 1881.

The KJV of 1611 has actually been revised a number of times over the years, particularly in 1629, 1638, 1762, and 1769. Current editions of the KJV are substantially reprints of the 1769 edition by Dr. Benjamin Blayney. By the 1800s one can find occasional statements by an odd individual here and there arguing for the perfection of the KJV. This was probably bound to happen. When a particular version has nearly universal preeminence and has been in use for a long period, it can easily be ascribed with the qualities of the original language writings (inspiration and infallibility). This is, in fact, what happened when Jerome produced his Latin Vulgate translation ca. A.D. 400. He ran into stiff opposition from those who were used to reading their Bible in the Old Latin manuscripts, which they considered inspired.

Burgon

In 1870 the Church of England decided to embark on a new revision of the KJV. While the KJV NT was translated from the TR, this new revision closely followed the Greek NT that was being prepared by B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort. The NT of the Revised Version was, as I noted, published in England on May 17, 1881. The Revised Version (RV) differed from the KJV in hundreds of places where the RV followed the newer Greek text. There was immediate opposition to the RV and this newer Greek text on which it was based. The chief opponent of the textual changes was John William Burgon, Dean of Chichester. He reviewed the RV in a series of articles in the Quarterly Review from 1881 and 1882, which were then published in 1883 under the title The Revision Revised. It is primarily with the writings of Burgon that the KJV-only movement finds its origins.

I will trace the development of the movement in a future post.

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One thought on “Beginning of KJV-Only Movement

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