Is the King James Bible the Inerrant Word of God?

king james bibleSeveral readers have asked me to explain the belief that the King James version of the Bible alone is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God for English-speaking people. With this post, I hope to shed some light on what is commonly called King James-Onlyism; the belief that the only true Bible for English-speaking people is the King James version. While this system of belief is absurd and irrational, millions of Americans believe that the King James Bible is the one true Word of God. These same people, by the way, tend to be anti-evolution, young earth creationists. I grew up in King James-Only churches, attended a King James-Only Bible college, and believed, for many years, that the King James Bible was the perfect Word of God.

Engage in discussion with adherents of King James-Onlyism and you will hear all sorts of theological-sounding verbiage. Some preachers will tell you that the Bible that they use is the 1611 King James version, when in fact the version they actually use is the 1769 revision. There are numerous differences between the 1611 and 1769 editions. These alone destroy the notion that the King James Bible is inerrant. All that it takes to defeat King James-Onlyism is one error, mistake, or contradiction. Inerrancy demands perfection, and that perfection does not exist. Bruce, what about the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts? These original manuscripts do not exist either, so there is no such thing as “inerrant in the originals.” That’s a faith claim, one that has zero evidence to back it up. Despite this fact, promoters of King James-Onlyism say that there is a pure line of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts from which the King James Bible was translated. You might hear preachers say that the underlying Greek text for the New Testament is the Textus Receptus (Received Text) or the Majority Text. All sorts of arguments are made for one manuscript family being inerrant and all others being errant, false, and Satanic. Again, remember that it only takes one error, mistake, or contradiction for the doctrine of inerrancy to collapse. This is why I promote Bart Ehrman’s books as I do. I know if Evangelicals will honestly read his books, they will be disabused of the notion that the Bible is inerrant, be it at the manuscript level or the translation level.

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Imagine translating a book from French to English and, when doing the translating work, you only use some extant French manuscripts for determining the meaning of certain words or terms. Wouldn’t a competent translator want to use all the manuscripts at his disposal? Why would he ever want to limit his translating work to only a few manuscripts. So it is with the King James Bible. Translators ignored numerous manuscripts, choosing instead to use previous English and Latin translations and certain Greek New Testaments as the foundation of their translation work. According to Wikipedia:

The translators appear to have otherwise made no first-hand study of ancient manuscript sources, even those that – like the Codex Bezae – would have been readily available to them. In addition to all previous English versions (including, and contrary to their instructions, the Rheimish New Testament which in their preface they criticized); they made wide and eclectic use of all printed editions in the original languages then available, including the ancient Syriac New Testament printed with an interlinear Latin gloss in the Antwerp Polyglot of 1573. In the preface the translators acknowledge consulting translations and commentaries in Chaldee, Hebrew, Syrian, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, and German.

The translators took the Bishop’s Bible as their source text, and where they departed from that in favour of another translation, this was most commonly the Geneva Bible. However, the degree to which readings from the Bishop’s Bible survived into final text of the King James Bible varies greatly from company to company, as did the propensity of the King James translators to coin phrases of their own. John Bois’s [sic] notes of the General Committee of Review show that they discussed readings derived from a wide variety of versions and patristic sources; including explicitly both Henry Savile’s 1610 edition of the works of John Chrysostom and the Rheims New Testament, which was the primary source for many of the literal alternative readings provided for the marginal notes.

King James-Onlyism is, at best, magic and trickery. For example, one argument that King James-only believers make is that because the King James Bible has more words in it than other translations, that means modern translators are guilty of “taking away from the word of God.” After all, the Bible says in Revelation 22:18,19:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

Countless other similar arguments are made to defend the inerrancy of the King James Bible. Some Evangelicals take King James-Onlyism one step farther when they say the italicized helper words put in the King James Bible are inspired and inerrant too. People who believe this are often followers of the late Peter Ruckman. Ruckmanites, as they are often called, believe that the italicized words are some sort of advanced revelation from God; that God moved the translators of the King James Bible to put the exact helper words he wanted in the text. Amazing, right?

King James-Onlyism is widespread among Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christians. It is not uncommon to read church doctrinal statements that state unambiguously that the King James Bible is the only Bible translation allowed in the pulpit and in the various ministries of the church. All other translations are considered errant and, in many cases, Satanic.

Readers may note that I use the King James version when quoting the Bible. I do this for several reasons. First, I love the poetic flow of the King James Bible. Second, my head is filled with memorized verses from the King James Bible. I spent much of my Christian life immersed in the pages of the King James Bible. Third, I use the King James Bible in my writing because a sizeable number of visitors to this blog come from King James-Only sects, churches, and colleges. You know, when in Rome …

Were you raised in a King James-Only church? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

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9 Comments

  1. ObstacleChick

    My Southern Baptist church was not King James only, though some of our pastors favored that version. I wouldn’t be surprised if that church is now though – the same pastor is there who started soon before I left, and he was,allowing complementarian teaching. The website states that they believe the Bible to be the inerrant, inspired word of God.

    My fundamentalist Christian school only allowed the KJV. The “reason” was that students had to learn bible verses from the same translation. I suspect that they truly believed in KJV only but didn’t want to say so because they were trying to attract students from a variety of churches. Student = tuition revenue and student = convert to their brand of Christianity.

    When I learned in college how the books of the Bible were canonized, that was enough to break the belief in inerrancy. If inerrantists tried to learn anything outside their carefully constructed bubble, they woukd soon be disabused of the belief in inerrancy.

    Reply
  2. signal

    Studying canonicity was a big step in my journey of deconversion.

    Reply
  3. Polly MacDavid

    I have to laugh! I was on the subway the other day & I heard a guy tell another guy that the ONLY Bible to read was the King James Bible! Going on & on about it!

    Reply
  4. Karen the rock whisperer

    Just thinking about the “removing words” part in new translations. For my master’s thesis I had to write an abstract that could be no longer than one double-spaced page. I really worked hard on that, and my experience wasn’t unique. I still managed to say what I wanted to say.

    Sometimes you simply don’t need as many words to say the same thing.

    Reply
  5. youarealiar

    The KJV is the only english version for us today. No doubt about it. To say any other thing is to admit you haven’t done your studying, you don’t know what each Bible says and why they are different.

    “Studying canonicity was a big step in my journey of deconversion.”

    see? you’re working for satan. Stop or you’ll end up worse then just in hell, you don’t know what The Bible says so you probably didn’t realize that people who mislead God’s children receive worse punishment. Have fun with that, Mr. Dishonest.

    It’s literally the first collated Bible. Zero contradictions. If you don’t believe God wrote and preserved His Perfect Words then you shouldn’t believe any of it. And if you do, they can’t all be inspired, they all say different things. The author is just ignorant and desperate to misinform you. Don’t trust this wolf.

    KJV or bust.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      *sigh*

      Reply
    2. GeoffT

      Why is it that whenever someone says something that runs contrary to one’s belief, they are working for Satan? Have you ever considered that they are perhaps the mouthpiece of God, and that he is trying to put you right?

      Reply
    3. Grammar Gramma

      To youarealiar,
      Really? You come onto a website about which you know absolutely nothing, and vomit all over it. You didn’t even have the courtesy to read the Comment Policy or to acquaint yourself with Bruce’s background in the About page.
      You stated “you’ll end up worse then [sic] just in hell.” Really? What is worse than being fitted with a fire-proof suit and then cast into a lake of fire, to suffer for eternity? That’s what your bible calls for. Please feel free to elucidate and provide your biblical authority.

      Bruce is likely far more acquainted with the bible than you are, having read it through completely several times. He has spent literally thousands of hours in bible study over his 25 years in the ministry. Have you even read your bible all the way through once? Whether you have or haven’t, try reading the gospels and comparing them to one another. No contradictions indeed! And speaking of the King James Bible, which version do you subscribe to? The 1611 version or the 1769 version? Or another version? How are you sure that your version is the “correct” one?

      You accuse Bruce of not knowing “what each Bible says and why they are different.” I am quite sure that you don’t know what “each bible” says and why each is different. There are more than 450 English translations of the bible. I doubt that you have read even one of them entirely. It’s a pretty slippery slope you are on to make such an accusation.

      I trust you feel better now. Please go find another site that will welcome such vomitus. We at Bruce’s blog do not.

      Reply
      1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        Thank you for setting “you are a liar” straight. Of course, he read all of one post and used a fake email address. A real man, he is, standing unapologetically on the KJV, but too much of a coward to use his real email address. Generally, KJVO zealots are insufferable, arrogant assholes. Filled with self-righteousness and certainty, they wage war against a fictitious enemy. When I ponder past nasty commenters/comments, many of them are KJVO. Something about that flavor of theology that breeds hate and violent behavior.

        Reply

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