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Review: James White’s King James Only Controversy

Review: James White’s King James Only Controversy: from Domain for Truth
White, James R. The King James Only Controversy. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 2009.

This is a great resource for any pastor to have, concerning the King James Only (hereafter, KJVO) debate. James White has done a good job addressing this controversy in a matter that is Christ-like and fair, contrary to the attitude seen in the works of some proponents of KJVO. Even before reading the book, I was looking forward to reading on a topic that I know little about, having minimal interaction with it online and in the Marines. Overall, I thought the book was a good example of how one can disagree with an issue and yet remain charitable, not resorting to personal attack against the other side. I want to give some of my personal highlights in reading this book.

The KJVO controversy requires a bit of background, and White does a good job explaining what the controversy is, and the different shades of KJVO. White also provides a good introduction at a lay level to the history of the Bible, Bible translations, the concept of textual criticism and a useful discussion on biblical manuscripts. White’s presentation on the manuscripts and textual criticism covers largely the New Testament rather than the Old, which is a legitimate criticism of the book. However, in all fairness, one must realize White’s strength has been in New Testament textual criticism. Furthermore, there are very few Evangelical scholars engaged in Old Testament textual criticism; there is probably one percent of Old Testament Textual critic that are Evangelical Christians.

So often King James Only advocates are theologically driven such as the instance of an advocate pointing out how John 6:47 in the NASB does not state believe “on Me” (that is, Jesus), when it does in the KJV (218-220). This seem to be a case where there is a denial of believing in Jesus, but as White points out, this is not the case, citing counter-examples of how the KJV does not name the object of faith (Jesus) in other verses. There is a problem in this line of argument used by those in the KJVO camp as well, since the same form of argument used by KJVO proponents can be turned back against them. White cites Acts 4:25 of how the NIV names the Holy Spirit as the source of inspiration of David writing Psalms 2, whereas the KJV fail to have this reading (222). One who argues for a theological superior reading would prefer the NIV here over the KJV Only, since it is theologically more superior, having mention the Holy Spirit.

James White’s presentation is largely quite fair. There are times he adopts what the KJV reading as the original, such as in the instance of Philipppians 1:14 against the NASB (229). It’s moments in the book like this, that should make the reader cautious when one read online criticisms from the KJVO camp that question White’s motivation in writing the book. White however, does offer problems of the KJV in chapter 9, but even then the purpose is not so much to destroy the KJV as to demonstrate that like any other translation, the KJV as a translation is not infallible. It is subject to critique and corrections, like any other version. He cites the KJV reading of 1Corinthians 10:24, which sounds as if it is encouraging to seek someone’s wealth (294), and the saying in the King James, “fetch a compass”, as an Old English idiom that most probably do not understand today, which means “turn around”(293). From these observations, White provide a devastating critique: “Some AV defenders insist that all one needs is a good dictionary at hand and all will be well when encountering such terms. But why should we always need a dictionary at hand when reading the Bible? Why make reading the Scriptures a laborious task when rendering them in our modern tongue would do just as well?” (295-296).

I was glad to see White address the argument that I heard as a young Christian of how there were homosexuals in the NIV committee (299-300). I have always wondered if that was true, and who were these individuals and their role in the translation process. White discusses this, informing the reader that the person in question was a certain Virginia Mollenkott, and how she was not part of the Committee but was consulted briefly in a minor way in the beginning, and had no influence on the final decision of the NIV production. White also provides here a devastating counter-argument, reducing the KJVO argument to absurdity by pointing out how there are scholars who now believe that the King James behind the KJV was a homosexual. Should the KJVO camp be consistent, they would be led to reject their favorite version.

A KJVO argument I heard in the past was how the KJV was superior because of its lack of footnotes. The certainty of the Word of God in the King James is implied here. White mentioned twice in the book that the KJV has notes also (see 122-124, and 263-264). All counted, the KJV has 8,422 marginal readings and notes when it was first published! It is hard to imagine that this is what most KJVO followers would like to hear. It is also quite enlightening, as it reveals the translators of the KJV understood the importance of interacting with the original languages and manuscript evidences, the process in which is still carried on in the works of modern translations.

In review of the book at large, I would definitely recommend this work to every pastor, to be equipped in handling KJVO. I would also recommend this work to anyone who struggles through this divisive issue, and wants an informed and balance response.

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