122. Examining the King James Only Controversy

This issue examines the “King James only” controversy.


For years, the “King James” was the most respected and widely used version of the English Bible. With the advent of subsequent translations such as the New American Standard and the New International Version, some have taken the position that only the “King James” offers an accurate and respectful rendition of the original. In their view, all others should be rejected. Since this issue can be a unity destroyer, it’s worth examining. I am currently taking a course in Bibliology (study of the Bible) through Search the Scriptures, taught by Dr. Carl Broggi. Here are some things I learned:

The impulse for producing the King James Bible came from two groups, one religious and one political. The clergy wanted a translation to gain respect in the eyes of the people, while the king wanted a translation without any notes that could in any way challenge his authority. (The published version contained over 8500 notes.) Since the original King James Version was published in 1611, there have been five revised editions, the first being produced in the same year as the original. When people today say they use the “Old King James,” they are using the fifth revision from 1769. The language of the original 1611 edition is nearly impossible to decipher. The 1769 edition contains over 75,000 changes made since the original. Most of these changes were merely spelling and punctuation corrections, but some involved wording modifications since the English language was changing so rapidly. New words were coming about and old words had developed different meanings. The 1769 version (that is still in use today) contains over 200 examples of words with meanings that today’s reader won’t understand. For example, “carriages” means baggage, “charger” means platter, “conversation” means conduct, “leasing” means lying, “prevent” means precede, and “quick” means living.

Some “King James Only” proponents argue that since the Elizabethan “Thou” and “Thee” are more respectful than “You,” the newer translations are less God-honoring and should be abandoned. The 17th Century Elizabethan English was, however, the common language of the day, not a “higher or more educated” form. Other proponents believe that the more recent versions have, in fact, corrupted portions of the New Testament text, such as Colossians 1:14, which omits the phrase “through his blood.” This, they claim, shows that the newer versions deny the blood atonement of Christ.


Which of the following two versions best communicates 2 Corinthians 8:1?

Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia (KJV)
Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia (NASB).

The first exemplifies much of the language of the King James that I find confusing, and I don’t feel that “Thou” is more respectful than “You.” Unless you’ve been brought up using the King James, it seems foreign and stilted. Using a language style from 400 years ago doesn’t seem to me like the most effective way to communicate such an important message to a world that desperately needs to understand it.

Regarding the claim of corruption, the phrase “through his blood” was omitted because it was not found in the oldest manuscripts and the surrounding verses made it clear that “through his blood” was implied. So just how many of these “changes” are we talking about? Only 40 out of the 20,000 lines of the New Testament are in question, and not one of the “changes” has a significant effect on the meaning of the passage. Nearly all the changes reflect new words that have come into use since the previous edition.

Perhaps the most powerful evidence against the “King James only” proponents comes from the translators who worked on the original 1611 edition. They wrote in the preface that all later revisions of their own work would be necessary because Bible translation involves “a history of repeated revision and corrections.” This preface has been “conveniently” eliminated from many of today’s editions.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the King James. It still ranks among the best translations of all time. All serious Bible students should have a copy. However, as its translators admitted, changes in language over time require updates to keep the meaning clear. Revisions are a necessary element in the process of learning the intended meaning in the original.


A Jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, “I’ll serve you, but don’t start anything.”


To learn more about what all versions of the Bible say about the significance of Israel, check out The Israeli Connection. To discover your spiritual destiny,

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