Before we consider this question, do you consider yourself to be KJV-only? By this, I mean:
- Do you believe that God preserved His word to us in the King James Version only?
- Do you believe that any other Bible translation is unreliable and must not be used?
- Do you believe that using the KJV-only is a mark of a genuine Christian?
If you answer “yes,” you are KJV-only. Now, there are others who would answer “no” while still using the KJV. These people prefer the KJV, but they are not KJV-only. For example:
- Someone who prefers the KJV while acknowledging the validity of other translations as equally the word of God
- Someone who reads the KJV because it has been their lifelong Bible for memorisation and learning
- Churches which officially use the KJV for the sake of uniformity in discipleship and worship, not by conviction
Like most evangelical Christians, I believe God inspired His word infallibly in the original writings, and that His word has been reliably preserved in the totality of its copies, not exclusively in the King James Version. I still teach from the KJV, but I am not KJV-only.
You might not care about this issue. However, you should be aware that “KJV-only” is important to many independent Baptist churches, as evidenced in their statements of faith and preaching. This is a divisive issue, notorious for endless arguments and accusations. This has also become a test of fellowship, where some churches and Christians separate from those who are not KJV-only.
When Christians argue about the King James Version, the topic concerns whether the KJV is the only acceptable Bible translation or not. My intention is not to start another debate on this point here.
Instead, I want to discuss what kind of error is KJV-only and how to respond to our KJV-only brothers.
Kinds of error in the New Testament
There are two main words for describing sinful crises in the church: apostasy and heresy. “Apostasy” refers to the total renunciation of the faith, while “heresy” normally refers to a faction or divisive movement, like the Sadducees or Gnostics. Heresy is a teaching that claims to be Christian but subverts the faith. While I would not classify KJV-only as apostasy, there are elements of KJV-only that are clearly subversive to the doctrine of inspiration and to biblical Christianity in general. Peter Ruckman’s teachings are one example.
In the New Testament, there were also unnecessary disagreements which threatened to divide the church. Paul appealed to the Corinthian church “…that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions (Greek: schismata) among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1:10) Overall, the KJV-only position is schismatic, promoting an unjustified division within the Church. The division is unnecessary because Christians should be able to agree on the Bible’s inerrancy and preservation, without upholding one English translation as the litmus test for Christianity.
If you disagree with the KJV-only teaching, how should you view those who follow it? Rather than scorning them all as heretics, keep in mind that there are various kinds of people who were in error in the New Testament. For example:
- Apollos was an eloquent preacher of the Scriptures, yet he needed Priscilla and Aquila to explain the word more accurately to him. Although he was initially ignorant in some part, he was teachable.
- Others had misinterpreted the Bible’s teaching, while wanting to avoid sin. In I Corinthians 5:9-11, Paul corrected the church’s misunderstanding regarding associating with the sexually immoral etc.
- Peter was guilty of being inconsistent toward the Gentiles, and Paul confronted him. Peter’s error was temporary and his identity as a Christian was never in question.
- The apostles also referred to those who are deceived and living in error. For example, Paul called the Galatian church “foolish” and “bewitched” in their thinking. (Gal. 3:1)
- The churches were affected by deceivers—infiltrators who purposefully sought to dissuade believers from the truth. (source: Robert Sheehan)
How to respond
Teach the truth. In all of the above examples, the right responses included admonition and/or instruction. If you desire to avoid needless schism in the Church, you should understand the KJV-only issue and be able to apply the truth. Don’t pass it off as a “waste of time.” At least be able to refer others to a helpful resource on Bible preservation. At the same time:
Keep the main thing the main thing. What is the Bible’s “main thing”? The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the glory of God! If you are going to commit yourself to Bible study and discussion, spend it on promoting the gospel, both to Christians and non-Christians. The attention you give to the KJV issue should be proportionate to God’s exaltation of his glorious Son.