The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations?

By James R. White
Minneapolis : Bethany House (1995). 286 Pages.

Reviewed by
8.1 (Spring 1997) : 125-127


Into the dark days of confusion about modern translations, a light of clarification has shone. James R. White has produced a balanced, thorough, clear, and uplifting book. The King James Only Controversy will serve many useful purposes. It will build confidence in modern Greek texts for those who suspect the plethora of twentieth-century translations. Those who are unfamiliar with issues of textual criticism will find a friendly presentation of crucial issues. Anyone confused by the King James Version Only (hereafter KJV Only) position will find a fair representation of the position, along with a persuasive refutation of its arguments. If any voice can pierce the high decibel noise of rhetoric, ad hominem arguments, and fomenting hatred that pervade the dialogue over this issue, James R. White's plea stands the best chance.

White simplifies the issue in chap. 1 by classifying KJV Only advocates: those who simply prefer the KJV as their translation, those who believe that the original language texts used by the KJV translators were the most accurate, those who insist that the Textus Receptus has been supernaturally preserved or inspired, those who believe the KJV itself, as an English translation, is inspired, and those who believe that the KJV is new, inerrant revelation. It is crucial to know where someone falls on this spectrum before pursuing further discussion with that person.

In chap. 2, White humorously shows how the arguments used against modern translations by KJV Only proponents are the same as the ones used against Jerome because of his Latin Vulgate translation and Erasmus because of his Greek NT, the one that became essentially the Textus Receptus. His argument shows how the real issue is man's resistance to changing his tradition rather than the accuracy of a Bible translation.

Chapter 3 takes a scholar's knowledge of ancient manuscripts, text-types, and textual variants, condenses it, and leads the reader by the hand through a very understandable discussion of crucial issues. He answers such questions as: "What were the original languages of the Scriptures?", "What are the disputed textual issues?", "What are the differences in the translations?", "What is textual criticism?", "How did we get our Bible?", "Why do some manuscripts differ from others?", and "How do we tell which text is the best?" After building this foundation, chap. 4 uses this information to show that the KJV is simply a translation into English, and thus not infallible or inerrant in itself. KJV Only defenders usually oppose the use of textual criticism, yet the genesis and development of the Textus Receptus came about as Erasmus used a form of textual criticism to arrive at his Greek text. They also oppose marginal notations, yet the translators of the KJV attested to their uncertainties through substantial textual notes and alternate readings that most editions of the 1611 KJV do not retain. Most striking are White's discussion of the rules that governed the translation of the KJV and quotes from the translators themselves which put them directly at odds with present-day KJV Only advocates.

In order for the reader to understand the controversy more fully, White exposes him to the leading adherents of the KJV Only position in chap. 5, thus setting the stage for a comparison of the KJV with modern translations. Then chaps. 6 and 7 can present translational and textual differences between the basic texts behind the two types of renderings and prove that no one has changed, deleted from, added to, or altered the Word of God. No grand conspiracies involving an "Alexandrian cult" exist. Instead, modern translators have gone to great lengths to preserve and pass on God's Word accurately for future generations. The two chapters deal convincingly with many of the disputed passages.

 Rounding out his argument, White uses chapter eight to dispel those worst-of-all attacks, that modern translations diminish the deity of Christ. He shows that an examination of the facts reveal that modern versions often translate valuable passages proclaiming the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ more clearly than the KJV. Having no desire to bash the KJV, however, White cautiously ends his discussion in chap. 9 by pointing out indisputable errors in the KJV, a point that is an insurmountable obstacle for the KJV Only camp.

All that is left is to answer a few questions and provide an appendix for those who desire to probe more deeply into the issue. White does both well.

One of the greatest strengths of the book is White's clear history and presentation of textual criticism and related issues. His resource of more than a hundred key texts connected with the debate—many with a thorough discussion—is indispensable. At least equal to those, however, is White's gracious tone even toward those who have called him a heretic. Nevertheless, most satisfying to this reviewer was White's apt exposé and correction of Gail Riplinger's New Age Bible Versions.

As valuable as The King James Only Controversy is, some cautions are needed. One may get the impression that all modern translations are equal in their representation of original manuscripts. Since White is primarily interested in defending the modern Greek manuscripts against the attacks of KJV Onlyism, he often places the NIV, NASB, NKJV, RSV, etc., on an equal footing, making no distinction between possible theological biases or methods of translation. He does discuss the difference between formal and dynamic equivalence in translation, but does not warn the reader of the dangers inherent in dynamic equivalence. Translators' hermeneutics very heavily influence renderings in that type of translation, making them more susceptible to error.

In short, though providing much vital information about the controversy, White never answers the question posed on the back cover, "Is your Bible translation reliable?" Perhaps a chapter discussing the various translations and what is important in a translation would have given a more complete answer.

The King James Only Controversy will long serve as a trusted companion for scholar, pastor, and layman alike. White has accomplished a work that is refreshingly easy to read, yet complete in its persuasive answers to KJV Only arguments. Christians owe this servant of God a great debt of gratitude.