In previous posts (here, here, and here), I have argued that the beginning of the KJV-only movement can be traced to the publication of the 1881 revision of the KJV, the Revised Version (RV), and the opposition to it by Dean Burgon, which was set forth in his 1883 volume, The Revision Revised.
Even with the criticism of Burgon and others, the RV was initially well received in England and America. Two Chicago papers, the Tribune and Times, published the entire NT on May 22, 1881. Three million copies of the RV were sold the first year. But as time went on, it became clear that it would not displace the favored place of the KJV in the hearts of most English-speaking people. As Charles Spurgeon perceptively observed, the RV was “strong in Greek, weak in English.”
Though the RV was initiated by the Church of England, a group of 34 American scholars assisted in the project. They disagreed with some of the translation decisions, and these were placed in an appendix to the RV. In 1901 the Americans produced their own edition of the RV incorporating the American preferences, which eventually became known as the American Standard Version (ASV).
The KJV-only movement in America is unfortunately associated with fundamentalism, though early fundamentalism was clearly not KJV-only. The name fundamentalism was not coined until 1920 by Curtis Lee Laws, but the founding documents of the movement can be traced to a series of 12 volumes produced between 1910 and 1915 titled The Fundamentals: A Testimony To The Truth. The 90 essays quote from the KJV but also from the RV (or its American edition). The essay on “The Inspiration of the Bible” by James M. Gray affirms: “Let it be stated further in this definitional connection, that the record for whose inspiration we contend is the original record—the autographs or parchments of Moses, David, Daniel, Matthew, Paul or Peter, as the case may be, and not any particular translation or translations of them whatever. There is no translation absolutely without error, nor could there be” (3:10).
One of the contributors to the Fundamentals was a converted lawyer named Philip Mauro. He wrote three essays, one of which is titled Life in the Word (vol. 5). Like other contributors, Mauro occasionally quotes the RV approvingly. However, by 1924 Mauro had a dramatic shift in his thinking as seen in the publication of his book Which Version? Authorized or Revised? The material in Mauro’s book is not particularly original, but simply a rehashing of Dean Burgon’s arguments. Whereas Mauro previously quoted the RV approvingly, now he strongly condemns it for making “36,000 changes” in the KJV and asks the question, “On what authority” (p. 5). Here we see the common assumption of all KJV-only proponents: the KJV possesses some sacrosanct authority whose text is immutable.
Mauro correctly observes that by 1924 it had become clear that neither the RV nor the American edition, the ASV, were going to offer any real competition to the popularity of the KJV. So although Mauro’s book demonstrates the presence of KJV-only sympathies in the USA in the early part of the 20th century, the dominance of the KJV meant there was not much for the KJV-only advocates to be concerned about. As we will see in a future post, it is the appearance of new English versions of the Bible that provided new energy for the KJV-only movement.