The secular world is full of people who have more than a fond appreciation for the classics. Jazz aficionados will tell you that the genre achieved its zenith in the mid-1960s. And they’ll say that from the day Miles Davis started incorporating electric instruments, it’s been all downhill ever since. Poetry purists scoff at the rise of free verse, claiming that anything without a clearly defined meter is just prose with superfluous line breaks. In a less cerebral sphere, classic rock fans will insist that nothing after the glory days of the Rolling Stones is any good—including more recent albums by the Rolling Stones.
Within Christian theology, there’s a similar reverence for the tried and true. Despite the hundreds of translations of the Bible in existence, hundreds of thousands of Christians maintain that the King James Version is the only legitimate translation of the Hebrew Masoretic Text, today’s Old Testament (or Tanakh), and the Textus Receptus (the New Testament in its original Greek). What is the King James Only movement, why has it become popular, and why, as strange as it may seem, may there be something to it?
What Is It?
The King James Only movement is what it says on the tin: a steadfast belief in the primacy of the 1611 Authorized Version, which King James VI and I of Scotland and England commissioned as the first widely available translation of the Bible into English. “High church” services of the Church of England and the Episcopal Church, for whom King James commissioned the King James Version, still prefer the King James Version. Both evangelical and mainline Protestant churches in America often favor the King James Version. Moreover, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints also recommends the KJV alongside its proprietary Book of Mormon.
Why Is It Popular?
What is the King James Only movement but an appeal to tradition? People become set in their ways, and there’s great value in continuity. By insisting upon one version of the Bible—one that happens to be among the oldest and most influential—congregations can keep everyone quite literally on the same page. Christians have many reasons for holding this book so dear. Some KJV-Only believers feel that no subsequent translation has achieved the beauty and accuracy of this edition. Others go further in stating that the translation process resulted from divine inspiration. And some people go further still, claiming the translation’s divine inspiration makes it superior to the original texts.
Is the KJV Only Movement Correct?
This comes down to how you approach language. Is translation about preserving words or thoughts? If you believe in maintaining a text’s general ideas while keeping it readable, the King James Only movement seems antiquated. On the other hand, if you believe that a translator’s responsibility is to be as true to the original texts as possible, going with the King James Only movement is a sensible approach to Christian scripture.