KJV Only-ism and Circular Reasoning

  At the outset of this post, I want to be clear: I’m not against the KJV.  However, for various reasons I am against the KJV Only mindset.  Here’s one reason: because it is based on circular reasoning.  I appreciate James White’s discussion:

“Over and over again, KJV Only advocates accuse the new translations of changing this or altering that.  They say the NIV deletes this or adds that.  It is vitally important to make sure we see through this kind of argumentation before we begin the work of examining many specific differences between the KJV and modern translations.  We wish to think clearly and honestly about this topic, and to do this we must point out the most fundamental error of the KJV Only position.”

“A circular argument is one that starts with its conclusion; that is, you assume the point you are arguing for right from the start, and then ‘prove’ it by using it as your basis.  …Circular arguments are, by nature, irrational.”

“KJV Only books, articles, and tracts share this common feature.  What is the writer’s bottom-line assumption?  That the KJV is the only true English Bible (maybe the only true Bible in any language!), the standard by which all others are to be judged.”

“This can be seen by looking at the terminology employed.  ‘See how the NIV deletes this passage….’ ‘Note how they have changed God’s Word here to say….’  ‘Here they have altered the text to say….’  In each case the KJV Only advocate is using circular argumentation.  How?  The assumed standard is the KJV.  Why is the KJV the standard?  Why not the Geneva Bible, or the Bishop’s Bible, or the Great Bible?  Could we not choose any one of these earlier English translations and then make up page after page of comparisons showing how the KJV altered this or changed that?  As long as we allow the AV defender to determine the grounds of the argument by assuming the KJV to be the standard of all others, we will get absolutely nowhere.”

“The KJV must stand up to the same standards as any other translation.  It cannot be made the standard by which all others are judged; it must take its place as one translation among many so that it can be tested just as the NIV or NASB or ESV.  In some places it may well excel; in others it may lag behind.”

“But we must be careful to avoid making the basic error of setting up one translation as the standard over all others.  Our standard must always be found in the question, ‘What did the original author of Scripture say at this point?’  We first must be concerned to know the words of Moses and David and Isaiah and Matthew and Paul; the words of the KJV translators may be important, but they cannot take precedence over the words that were the direct result of divine inspiration” (emphasis mine; p. 167-169).

White is exactly right.  When it comes to Bible translations, we are being illogical if we start with the presupposition that a certain translation is the only perfect one.  Some KJV-Only advocates carry this argument out to its ugly and logical end when they say the KJV is even superior to the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts(!).  And here’s another case where fundamentalism and liberalism end up holding hands: they say the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts are not trustworthy.  Obviously this is not a historic Christian belief!

Later I’ll come back to White’s book, The King James Only Controversy.  For now, let me say I highly recommend it for those of you who are KJV Only people and for those of you who aren’t.  White is clear, kind, logical, biblical, and convincing in this outstanding resource.

James R. White, The King James Only Controversy 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009).

rev shane lems

6 Replies to “KJV Only-ism and Circular Reasoning”

  1. “Some KJV-Only advocates carry this argument out to its ugly and logical end when they say the KJV is even superior to the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts(!).”

    Wow! I hadn’t heard that one.


  2. I definitely do not think that all circular reasoning is necessarily fallacious or irrational, but I think that this vicious circular reasoning espoused by many “KJVO” people is certainly fallacious. Yes, I’ve been reading Bahnsen and Van Til, and they make a lot of sense.

    I graduated high school from a KJVO school. My parents were not KJVO, but wanted me to go to a Christian school, and saw the KJVO issue as more of an annoyance than anything, as did I. I had to write a 10,000 word paper on a topic (love) from the Bible as my only reference in order to graduate. I went home, did all my reading from the NIV, and quoted the KJV. ;-)

    It was a “the KJ Bible is inspired” environment, and it was interesting to be exposed to people who really, truly, honestly, and wholly believed that sort of thing, and virtually took it as a matter of faith. Anyway. I could go on and on about this.

    Years later, here I am, and I have to admit that I really enjoy the KJV, using it for study, memorization, and general Scripture reading. It’s my go-to translation, although around the house can be found an NKJV, a Geneva, an ESV, and an NASB.


  3. White is actually horrible on the manuscripts and KJV so-called only issues. He is fallacious in way he’d gun down any debate opponent if they attempted the same. He also has a deep hatred for the Authorized Version, for whatever reason. On an episode of his Dividing Line he recalled being in England, in the British Museum, or some national library, I forget which, where they had ancient manuscripts – Sinaiticus, etc. – under glass, then he said he was “disgusted” to see a first edition of the Authorized Version in the same room.


    1. Really? That’s interesting to hear. I recently went to a museum where there was an original Geneva, a 1st edition AV, and some older texts. I didn’t feel any disgust at all. ;-)

      It seems to me that this issue is very contentious, and it saddens me that it brings so much heat, even being, as I have seen, a shibboleth of sorts.

      Many Christians have gone to horrible deaths for our Lord Christ without having any translation at all. Accuracy matters, truth matters, doctrine matters, but this debate gets carried too far on both sides, at least from what I have seen.


    2. CT: Have you read the book I quoted? White was very gracious, even supporting the KJV on some translations. In the book, White didn’t show any sort of hatred for the KJV. And where is he “horrible on the manuscripts?”


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