Thursday, July 26, 2018

Mark Ward on Engaging KJV-Onlyists

We don’t normally talk KJV-Onlyism on this blog, the reason being that such discussions tend to be fruitless (a point I hope is not demonstrated in the comments).

But, today I read an article by Mark Ward who, I understand, used to be KJV-only himself but has moved away from that. The article is “3 Ways to Graciously Engage KJV-Only Believers” and it is indeed gracious. If you have friends or family who are KJV-only, you will want to read it.

I want to highlight Mark’s second point, which, though it surprised me, is probably right.

2. Don’t Talk about Textual Criticism

I suggest you take a step back: you must refuse to talk about textual criticism with KJV-only Christians.

I’m not saying it’s worthless to teach the truth on the topic; many writers have done so admirably. But now’s probably not the time.

God calls few Christians, KJV-only or not, to learn Koine Greek. This means comparatively few people on any side of the KJV debate have ever examined the evidence. Instead, most people in the church have formed their textual critical views secondhand from authorities they trust. This is natural and not necessarily bad: we all outsource complex judgments to people whose expertise we would have trouble proving exactly.

This means your disagreement with the average KJV defender is not actually about textual criticism, but about which authorities are worth trusting: Carson vs. Ruckman, White vs. Waite. You won’t get him to trust responsible authors by having him read their attacks on his viewpoint; you’ll do this by giving him other edifying books by those who’ve produced our modern evangelical Bible translations, hoping he’ll sense intuitively that they are not his enemies. This is your long game.

But your short game needs to give up on textual criticism. As Dan Wallace has labored to show, only a tiny percentage of textual differences are both meaningful and viable. The difference between “the star came to rest” over baby Jesus and “the star came and stood” over him is not worth a fight.

Graciously agree to disagree with a KJV devotee’s preference for the TR and move on.
I knew a guy in seminary who graciously pastored a KJV-only church. He was a doctoral student and was taking textual criticism with Dan Wallace at the same time as me. He was not himself KJV-only but he realized that pastoral wisdom meant playing what Mark calls the “long game.” He loved the people in his church and wanted to move them to maturity; but he also wanted to do it in the way that best served them and I always admired him for that.

What other strategies have folks used successfully in helping KJV-onlyists?


  1. I deal with this more frequently than I'd like and have found that the attitude of the person you're engaging with, and the relationship or lack thereof, that you have with them should determine how you proceed.

    If they begin with animosity, it's best to kindly disagree and leave it alone. If you don't know them at all, the last thing you should do is challenge their Bible. For many who aren't part of that circle, they don't understand that for a KJVO the KJV Bible is part of their identity. It's their parents Bible. It's the only one they read. They trust it. Pray with it. Witness with it. Any criticism of it is immediately defended against because it feels like you're attacking their very identity.

    I have found that if they are willing to have civil discussion, it's best to let them tell you why they don't trust other Translations and then ask gently probing questions from there.

  2. “The basic distinction between the Renaissance and the modern translators is one of fidelity to the original. Partly the loss of faith in the Hebrew and Greek as the definitive word of God has led to the translators’ loss of contact with it, but more responsibility lies in the belief that a modern Bible should aim not to tax its readers linguistic or interpretive abilities one bit. If this aim is to be achieved then it seems clear that a new Bible will have to be produced for every generation---each one probably moving us further away from the original text, now that the initial break has been made.”

    Gerald Hammond, The Making of the English Bible (p. 12)

  3. Thanks for the shout-out. FWIW, I was KJV-Only during high school; disabused gently but quickly in undergrad at Bob Jones 20 years ago.

    Exactly six months after the release of Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, I feel more confirmed than ever in my save-textual-criticism-for-much-later-perhaps-never-because-it-won't-be-needed approach.

    That's because of what I have heard and what I haven't heard.

    I have heard from quite a number of pastors from KJV-Only circles who seem to me to be looking for the easiest way out of their faulty bibliology. They actually want to teach the Bible to people and give the gospel, and they sense that the Elizabethan English isn't helping them—but they find textual criticism too difficult a nut to crack. My approach lets them bypass textual criticism; after all, they can use the NKJV and MEV and have a vernacular-language translation without having to re-evaluate their view of the TR. They can have their TR and read it, too.

    And what I haven't heard persuades me of my approach, too: I haven't heard any direct answers to the English-focused argument of my book. KJV-Onlyism hasn’t gotten any real talking points together yet. They keep wanting to change the subject back to textual criticism.

    I love textual criticism and have a feature article on how to teach it to laypeople coming out in Bible Study Magazine shortly. Read the proofs today. I’m certainly not in favor of keeping the topic hidden in scholarly enclaves. I just don’t think discussing it with KJV-Only brothers and sisters is helping an orthodox bibliology gain ground against their KJV-Onlyism. I care about rescuing sheep; I’m looking for what could actually work. And I think, I pray, slowly, God giving grace to his people, it’s working.

    1. Thanks for this comment Mark! Looking forward to your BSM article.

  4. Another way to look at this is that we shouldn't be "KJV-Never". This translation shaped English-speaking Christianity for more than 300 years. It is still treasured by many sincere Christians. It warrants our respect.

  5. Joel Eidsath7/27/2018 12:56 pm

    My bible reading is generally in Greek, but when reading aloud to my daughter, I do it in Greek, German (Luther's version), or the KJV in English. The KJV was the product of serious scholarship, its errors are minor and well-known, and no modern translation is enough of an improvement to make up for its own detractions. The versions that scare me -- again for reading aloud to my daughter -- are any of the "child's bible" mockeries out there. They seem engineered to destroy any poetical sense in a growing child, and are generally chock full of nonsense, describing a nice, easily conceived, simple, God rather than the God of scripture. I suppose we could read the NIV together, but why inflict that prose on ourselves when the KJV exists?

  6. "God calls few Christians, KJV-only or not, to learn Koine Greek". Are we sure of this? Shouldn't reading the NT in Greek be normal for everyone who can? Given the size of the evangelical church and the availability of the tools, shouldn't there be tens of millions who have read the NT in Greek? Aren't we evangelicals supposed to be interested in God's actual words?

    1. I appreciate this sentiment, but I spent many years of education in both undergraduate and seminary learning the languages and I still feel as though I am only half-way proficient. It takes years of intense study to learn these original languages.

      Mark Ward has the biblical support from Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Philippians 4 to say that the gifting to study, understand, teach, and exposit Scripture from the depths of understanding the original languages (and TC) is not everyone's gift.

      I affirm the root of what I think you are trying to say though. Just as though everyone in the church is not a gifted evangelist does not mean that they do not have to evangelize, just because one is not gifted in the languages does not exempt them from careful study. Is this what you were aiming for Dr. Williams?

    2. Kaspars Ozoliņš7/27/2018 7:14 pm

      I knew you, of all people, would challenge that notion, Peter! ;-)

    3. "Aren't we evangelicals supposed to be interested in God's actual words?"

      Peter, that question was behind what I *wanted* to write a recent semester paper on (alas, too steep a research curve for the time I had). I am interested in how verbal inspiration, philosophy of language, and text criticism intersect. Some views of language suggest that there are often many different ways (i.e. various verbal constructions) to convey a single idea even within a single language. Further, can an idea expressed originally in one language be reproduced faithfully in other languages? Can God's actual ideas, expressed originally in Greek, be reproduced faithfully in another language? Of course this is the goal of any well-intended translation--what did Paul *mean* by x, and how do we express x in English?

      Given all that is entailed in producing a faithful translation (intimate knowledge of the original language and the culture in which it was/is used, among many other things), it's hard to expect the non-specialist to have the time to invest. We trust specialists in other areas of our lives, shouldn't the layperson be able to trust Bible translators to produce a faithful representation of God's thoughts to us in a language we can more easily grasp (I leave myself wide open to the obvious retort there)?

      Even the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, while holding that "no translation is or can be perfect, and all translations are an additional step away from the _autographa_," allows that "the verdict of linguistic science is that English-speaking Christians, at least, are exceedingly well served in these days with a host of excellent translations and have no cause for hesitating to conclude that the true Word of God is within their reach." And further, "no serious translation of Holy Scripture will so destroy its meaning as to render it unable to make its reader "wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus"" (JETS 21/4 [December 1978], 296).

      But back to your question, "shouldn't everyone be interested in God's actual words?", I think the answer is "yes." And perhaps the fact that not everyone _is_ interested is both the fault of the able but uncommitted layperson as well as the specialist not making the tools even more accessible.

    4. Laboring under what felt like a suffocating word count =), I couldn't perhaps clarify this with sufficient care. But I think the context of the article shows that what I meant is this: few people are called to learn Koine Greek with sufficient care that they can make independent judgments about textual criticism.

    5. I can use my third rate (at best) Greek and struggle to make sense of the meaning of a NT passage or I can trust that someone like yourself with first rate Greek will make sense of the passage for me when they prepare a translation of Greek NT into English for my everyday reading. So too with the Hebrew OT.

      Matthew Hamilton

    6. PJW,
      I believe the answer to your question is a resounding Yes! I love reading the NT in Greek, even though my language skills are limited. I also do study from the Greek text. Of course I rely on specialist to insure that I don’t go off on a tangent, but my understanding and ability to explain the Word to others has been worth the effort of struggling with the Greek. I love that there are churches and bible colleges in my area that also believe that reading the Bible in original languages is beneficial and practical.

    7. Peter, are you kidding me?! Mark Ward has told us the KJV is unintelligible to Evangelicals. How in the world can we expect them to read the GNT?!

    8. Most of the particular cases that Mark addresses in the book are actually easier to understand in Greek than in English. There are far more (and far more accessible) tools for working with the lexicon and syntax of Koine Greek than exist for working with Elizabethan English.

      Reading the NT in Greek is much easier than it is often made out to be. The trick is to start reading the NT in Greek—which many seminary programs don't seem to ever get around to doing. I worked through Wallace (and learned a lot!) but one thing he doesn't teach you how to is simply read the text. You'll have the rest of your life to read and re-read the GNT. You don't have to get everything (or even much at all!) the first time, or the second, or the third, or the twelfth. You just have to keep reading, over and over and over again every day the Lord gives you breath. Keep memorizing vocab—one word at a time. Keep studying syntax—one clause at a time.

      Read in bulk—you don't have to get every detail—you wouldn't in English anyway. Take your GNT with you everywhere. Read on hikes. Read at lunch. Read while walking, while standing, while sitting, while lying down. Read while doing handstands. Read in the morning and read at night. Read a few minutes at a time if you have to—relish the opportunities when you can read for hours. Read aloud and read silently. Read and read and read again knowing that in reading these words you are reading the very words of God.
      You will not, I promise you, regret it.

    9. from Alexander Thomson

      Peter, Among Scottish working-class men in Scotland, the North of England, and some other parts of England, and parts of Wales, the Greek New Testament, and sometimes the Hebrew Old Testament, were read and studied, jn the period from about 1875 to "the watershed year" of 1963. Brethren, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians - all were involved, often setting up mutual help groups and buying mutual lexicons etc.-you may have seen books with such stamps as "Anytown [Mechanical and] Working Men's Institute" or "Anyplace [Christian] Reading Room" or many others.No small part of the motivation of Alexander Souter, in issuing his trilogy of text, canon and lexicon, was to help such ordinary men; and this trilogy, enhanced by the redoubtable F F Bruce's assistance in revising the text, was very widely used from just after the Second World War. Men who had fought or been in reserved occupations were thirsty for the Scriptures. I had my first Greek lessons from them, as a lad of ten or so. We should also remember that great Brethren men, such as Newberry and Tregelles(!), promulgated far and wide the need and knowledge of textual criticism, which was studied by ordinary men. Again, I got my first lesson in textual criticism from such men - the textual variants at Revelation 21:7 and 22:19 - yes, they knew all about Erasmus' backtranslating from the Latin! These men used the AV(KJV) in public services, but would regularly mention the RV, and occasionally would treat us to some finer point of Greek (or Hebrew).Alas, this all came to an end with the culture shift of the 1960's, and the - almost sudden inrush of the RSV etc.. These men had as much or as little leisure as men of today, but they chose to use it in the service of higher things.

  7. I completely agree with Exe Jesus (love the name...!) and and Peter. There are very nostalgic reasons why the KJV is upheld by so many. Sometimes in our scholarship we forget that emotions linked to first time experiences (first time going to church, first time memorizing a passage, first time reading though the Bible in a year, etc.) will carry more weight than almost any argument. And, if that translation is part of someone's identity, then we must make sure our arguments do not come across as attacking them/ their identity.

    Our relationship with that person is absolutely critical in how we do or do not engage this discussion. About 6 months ago I did the funeral for a high school girl who committed suicide. Her family was not attached to any church so the funeral home director asked me if I would do it. I had zero prior contact with her and her family. In my time with the family I found out that her mother did not like going to any of the churches in the area since they read out of perverted versions of the Bible instead of the KJV. I did not say anything to try to convince her of the value of other translations, I just made a note of that so that when I preached the funeral message I was preaching out of the KJV in order to keep any stumbling block out of the way of her (and her husband) from hearing the hope of the gospel in that moment.

    Now, most interactions I have had with KJV only folks are usually an agree to disagree moment where I encourage them to continue reading Scripture. I give a hearty Amen! to someone who faithfully reads Scripture. But there are other times where I am able to point out that a modern KJV is not the same as a 1611 KJV and that Bibles are updated because language morphs over the centuries. I use the illustration of the word "gay" to show how much the meaning of a word can change in just a short time. Sometimes this helps the person see the value of new and updated translations due to the dynamic nature of English.

    This is a great post! I often feel very under-qualified to comment on most posts in this (excellent) blogspot.

  8. I had an experience many years ago where I met a man at a local coffee shop who had, just that week, became a Christian. We inadvertently frequented the same coffee shop and would have long conversations over the scriptures. After a few weeks he got entagled in a KJV-only Church and began to be more and more obsessed with the differences between the bibles we were discussing; I had a NASB and he had a KJV. I would listen to his rants and then just refocus the conversation back to the passage of scripture. After about 2 or 3 months of this, he finally told me that he didn't think the differences mattered that much and that his obsession over the KJV and other versions was distracting from his growth. Shortly after he told me he had left the KJV only church and began attending elsewhere! All without me saying one thing against the KJV! Of course, I don't know who else, or what else was influencing him. However, I do think that a gracious attitude and a focus on scriptural truths had a hand in his "de-conversion" from KJV-onlyism.

  9. I like Peter's point about respecting the KJV and not being "KJV-Never". I remember once sitting through a paper that argued that when NT writers quoted the LXX, the LXX Greek would have already been quite antiquated to their ears. It was suggested, therefore, to the NT audience, hearing the LXX would have been comparable to us hearing the KJV. Accordingly, the paper suggested that this would have had a rhetorical effect on the listeners, i.e. when the NT author proof-texted from the LXX, aside from the content of the quotation itself, it simply would have sounded more authoritative. Lastly the presenter mentioned that this inspired him to use the KJV for formal occasions in church, e.g. baptisms, ordinations, marriages, etc. I've never verified that argument myself, but I always kinda liked it, and I agree that if I were being ordained to the ministry, I would think a reading from the KJV would be much more appropriate than, say, The Message.

  10. Myself, I haven't had a huge amount of experience with the KJV-Only crowd. Once my church was conducting a baptism at the public beach. After the service a passerby stopped and began to ask some questions. He introduced himself as a Christian, and said that he enjoyed studying the history of the bible. When I replied that I studied textual criticism, he immediately asked whether I believed in the textus receptus, or did I use a modern critical text. When I replied the latter, he asked me when exactly I had lost my faith! It went downhill from there.

    I did end up dealing with the movement a little bit in my dissertation. KJV-Onlyism is, at its heart, a version of the doctrine of preservation. When dealing with the subject of conjectural emendation, I found that almost everyone who rejected the method did so because of some form of preservation.

    One form of this is what I would call historical preservation. This premise does not hold that preservation necessarily had to occur - there was nothing in God's activities or the unfolding of history that required preservation to happen. Rather, this form holds that as a simple matter of history, preservation did happen to occur. It could have not occurred, but by sheer happenstance it did, and as a result we can proceed in our work based on the safe assumption that the correct text was in fact preserved somewhere in the extant manuscript base.

    A second form of preservation is what I would call theological preservation. This version holds that preservation necessarily had to occur, because God so willed it. Accordingly, God intervened in textual history to ensure the preservation of the text. He did this because he knew that it was absolutely necessary for the text to be preserved, or else how could we possibly have any confidence in the authority of the text? Unlike the first form, historical preservation, which is, ostensibly, based on an evaluation of the extant manuscripts, this version is proclaimed as a theological a priori.

    Finally, in my experience, there are quite a few evangelicals who are some combination of both those forms. Perhaps they started out as a theological preservationist, and then learned just enough about the history of the manuscript tradition that they felt their views were confirmed. Or maybe they did conduct a fairly thorough examination of the manuscript base, but their evaluation was biased by the preference of their prior theological position. Or maybe they're just fooling themselves.

  11. continued...

    Either way, it's that theological version of preservation that I think is but a kissing cousin of the KJV Only movement. Really, I think they differ only by degree.

    Their most common factor is that they are embracing and insisting on a position apart from any basis in the evidence. It's their willingness to accept a conclusion beyond the evidence that is their primary identifying characteristic. And why are they so willing? I think the commenter above, Exe Jesus, nailed it when he said that the KJV has become a matter of identity for them. It's not so much what they think about the KJV (or preservation in general), it's what they feel about it.

    It's like I read in today's paper in an article about gun control. The author, AJ Somerset, said "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; a gun, on the other hand, is never just a gun. The gun is so freighted with symbolism that we rarely approach it rationally. Whether we hate them or love them, we don't think about guns. We feel about guns. We can abandon rational ideas when proven wrong, but we do not abandon feelings."

    Similarly, for some people a bible is just a book. But for evangelicals a bible is never just a book, and in the same way, we never just think about it, we always feel about it as well. And if we feel a certain way about that book, and feel that idea of it is central to our conception of our identity as a Christian, then we will hold on to that feeling regardless of arguments or evidence about the manuscript tradition.

    1. Ryan, having grown up in a KJV-Only environment, I can agree with you that the position was primarily pushed emotionally. It was always a position based on the assumption of the KJV's authenticity, such that any deviation from it became evidence of corruption, no matter what evidence was presented for the deviation. We were thoroughly emotionally invested in that text.

  12. Ward: “most people in the church have formed their textual critical views secondhand from authorities they trust.”

    I find most laypeople (in churches other than the strict KJV-only) seem to have formed their text-critical views from whatever appears in the footnotes of their various English Bible translations, with no idea as to who inserted such and why, or how trustworthy that person might be.

    Even in my own Sunday School class, I rarely am asked (as some supposedly trustworthy authority) whether a text or footnote reading in one of the varied translations is superior or inferior, or whether one should even pay attention to such. For the most part, textual variation simply is not a major issue in our churches, but represents a venue in which mostly isolated academics tend to speculate.

    Having said all that, I still don't preach or teach from the KJV, but generally use the NKJV or even the ESV and NASV (with textual adjustments as I deem necessary -- and no one seems to object to that either).

  13. Like Mark Ward, I grew up in and around KJV-Only folks. Those who argue for that view widely differ among themselves, from those who apply the belief only to themselves, while welcoming others who use other versions, to those who will treat you as an unbeliever and an infidel for using any other (per)version! So the interaction and discussion I might have with someone who is KJVO has to be customized to the specific perspective from which one comes.

  14. Moses believed in word for word preservation. Every one of them.

    (Deu 6:6) And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
    (Deu 12:28) Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the LORD thy God.

    He taught God would hold people accountable for every single word. Every one of them.

    (Deu 17:19) And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:
    (Deu 27:26) Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.
    (Deu 28:58) If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD;

    He taught every word would be preserved and available for ever. Every one of them.

    (Deu 29:29) The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.
    (Deu 32:46) And he said unto them, Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law.

    This is only a small sampling of Moses talking about “all the words” and “every word” being passed on to every generation. Moses taught the preservation of the individual words, not the “totality of the manuscripts.”

    Moses > Mark Ward