KJV-Onlyism and the Quest for Certainty

One major desire of many KJV-Only groups is the desire for absolute certainty when it comes to Bible translation.  James White calls it “the argument for certainty” and says that it is “the glue that holds…KJV-Onlyism together.”  Many KJV-Only groups say that we must have absolute certainty in Bible translation; the KJV is the perfect translation, therefore we are absolutely certain it (and no other translation) is inspired and infallible.  “It is argued that unless we embrace the KJV as our final authority, we have no final authority at all and, hence, all is subjectivity and uncertainty.  People to not want subjectivity but desire certainty and clarity, and so we must hold to the traditional text” (White, 132).

White gives a helpful critique of the desire for absolute certainty.

“This argument is extremely powerful and should not be underestimated.  Many people fulfill their longing for certainty in religious matters by swearing allegiance to a particular leader or system.  For example, many Roman Catholics find the idea of an infallible pope very comforting, for when things get confusing they always can turn to a source of absolute authority.   In a similar way many Mormons look to their Prophet and Apostles in Salt Lake City, and Jehovah’s Witnesses look to the Governing Body at Watchtower headquarters in Brooklyn.  Others find a TV preacher or evangelist and, without stating it in so many words, invest him or her with some level of infallible religious authority.  The fact that groups offering this kind of trust-us-and-we-will-give-you-absolute-certainty-in-all-religious-matters system continue to attract followers and should tell us that the lure of complete certainty is strong indeed.”

“Protestants, however, should be quick to question any such notion. … As imperfect human beings we will make mistakes.  Like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, we see in a glass darkly in this life.  There are things that are unclear, that are simply not as plain as they someday will be.  The KJV translators themselves said in their preface…, ‘As it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident: so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgment of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption.’  Those who offer certainty beyond all questions, the translators would rightly say, are being presumptuous with God’s truth.”

“If we say that we can have no certainty regarding the biblical text unless we embrace the KJV (or the TR), we are only moving the questions one step back and hoping no one notices.  How can we be certain of the textual choices of Desiderius Erasmus, or Stephanus, or Theodore Beza?  How can we be certain that the Anglican churchmen who chose amongst the variant readings of those three men were themselves inspired?  Are we not in reality saying, ‘I must have certainty, therefore, without any factual or even scriptural reason for doing so, I will invest the KJV translators with ultimate authority’?  This truly is what KJV Only advocates are doing when they close their eyes to the historical realities regarding the biblical text (p. 133-134).

In the words of Scott Clark, this is the QIRC (the quest for illegitimate religious certainty): “…to achieve epistemic and moral certainty on questions where such certainty is neither possible nor desirable” (Recovering the Reformed Confession, 39).  KJV-Only groups view the KJV as the “standard by which orthodoxy is measured” (ibid.).  This is a fundamentalist mindset rather than a Reformed one, since neither Scriptures nor the confessions clearly tell us which Bible translation to use.  Bible translation is a matter of wisdom, prayer, and Christian liberty, not standard-of-orthodoxy-absolute-certainty matter.  If you think about it, it isn’t hard to see how legalism and the QIRC go hand in hand.

The above quotes by James White are from King James Only Controversy (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009).

rev shane lems

One Reply to “KJV-Onlyism and the Quest for Certainty”

  1. Having been afflicted by both KJV-Onlyism & the QIRC (subjectivist revivalism) variously, I am even more deeply grateful for the Reformed faith than I might have been if raised a Presbyterian.


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