Review of The King James Only Controversy

The King James Only Controversy The King James Only Controversy
Can You Trust Modern Translations?
Author: James R. White
Soft Cover, 364 pages
Publisher: Bethany House
Language: English
ISBN-13: 9780764206054

Thanks, first, to Jim Hart at Bethany House for this review copy of The King James Only Controversy.

This was a very informative book, which balanced sound reasoning with fairness of judgment.  That being said, my initial reaction to this controversy can be described as incredulity; I saw this book as likely being little more than a thrown-together argument against something unworthy of the time and energy. Instead, the author has made a compelling case for our ability to trust modern translations. It provides readers with an appropriate background to understand how their Bible has come to possess the text it does and make an informed decision when selecting a Bible for study in the future.

The introduction adequately presents the need for a book of this kind, sharing briefly the general attitude of those involved in the “controversy”, the idea that the King James Version (KJV) alone is scripture and that anything other is a departure from the whole truth of the gospel. The introduction also addresses the need for well-informed believers who can process their faith and their Biblical study without the hindrance of faulty logic. Finally, it stresses the ability to trust in the integrity of what has been transmitted to us over time in the Bible.

Chapter 1 discusses the spectrum within those who might self-describe as KJV-only. These include those who like the style and text of the KJV best, those who argue for the Greek underpinning the KJV to be the best, those who see the KJV as God’s providential protection of Scripture, those who see the English of the KJV as having the same level of inspiration as the source texts, and those who see the KJV as new revelation, even “correcting” mistakes in the source manuscripts. This chapter also concludes with appropriate guidelines for selecting a Bible – things like translation methodology, use of a particular translation by spiritual leaders, study notes and content – noting that acceptance by the fellow-Christians and intimidation should not be considerations in the selection of a Bible. I thought he was wise to suggest using multiple translations.

Chapters 2-4 presents a historical backdrop to the controversy. Chapter 2 presents the controversy as essentially repeating the mistakes of previous generations which also clung to established translations and traditions. I found it highly readable – full of irony but written in a style that was not confrontational or demeaning. Chapter 3 discusses textual criticism and text transmission, and is not solely focused on the KJV position. It is brimming with information, but is not “bookish”. White’s intention throughout is to make the material approachable. It is worth noting that the information presented is mostly focused on the Greek manuscript base. Chapter 4 addresses the Textus Receptus and its relationship to the KJV-only position.

Chapters 5-8 provide the main rebuttal of the KJV-only position. Chapter 5 focuses on the nature and character of the debate, and is meant to establish the way in which major proponents of the KJV-only position think, speak and write. It is slightly unpleasant to read, not because White makes it so, but because of the clarity with which White describes KJV-only rhetoric that spans the gamut between misrepresentation and hate-speech. Chapter 6 deals with commonly used arguments/references that are based on differences in the English words used to translate the same underlying Greek expressions. Chapter 7 addresses arguments resulting from differences in the underlying Greek used as the basis for translation, and is dependent on a thorough understanding of the material presented in chapter 3. Chapter 8 addresses those arguments which suggest modern translations, over against the KJV, intend to hide or reduce the deity of Christ.

Chapter 9 is a critical response to the KJV itself. Though not meant to attack those who would use the KJV, it demands a response by anyone who would make a claim for inerrancy of the KJV text by pointing out mistranslations of the Greek and poor decisions made by translators. Chapter 10 follows this with questions and answers geared at those who would read the book critically. Finally, a rich index is provided with key passage references (Old Testament and New) as well as references to Greek terms covered.

The text is free from noticeable errors, though I did note a couple of issues in the footnotes (e.g. an improper citation on p. 216 and a misplaced form of a Greek word on p. 257). White’s reasoning is clear and logical for the most part, though I did find some of his claims about “circular logic” to be misplaced. He is quite right that the arguments presented within KJV-only resources are often circular. But he mistakes asking different questions (thus not working from the same assumptions or with the same goals) for circularity of logic (see chapter 6), which is not always the case.

I would give this book ★★★★☆. The early sections are a good introduction to text criticism, while the latter ones are full of examples without too much repetition. It was much better than I had imagined it would be!

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About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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