King James Version Only Controversy- Does the KJV Reign Supreme?

Most of us probably know at least a few people who are staunchly “King James Version Only.” Maybe you believe that the KJV is the superior translation. The goal of this article is to provide the historical background for the production of the KJV and hopefully facilitate a more reasonable outlook on the KJV as well as modern translations. While it’s perfectly fine for someone to prefer to use a King James, it’s another thing all together to take the extreme position that the King James Version is essentially an “inspired” translation and all others are “corrupt.”

Truthfully, most individuals who take this position do so because they have a poor understanding of the history of the English Bible and how various Bible translations come to be. The important thing for Christians today to remember is that regardless of the particular Bible translation you prefer (within the realm of reputable scholarly translations of course- not translations such as the New World Translation used exclusively by Jehovah’s Witnesses), no doctrine depends on any disputed text.

How Did We Get the King James Version?

In 1516, a Roman Catholic scholar by the name of Desiderius Erasmus published the first printed edition of the Greek New Testament. This translation was, in fact, the prelude to the Reformation. As James R. White mentions in his article, Is Your Modern Translation Corrupt?, “It was from this text, for example, that Luther recognized the vast difference between the Latin Vulgate’s ‘do penance’ and the Greek’s ‘repent.’” While Erasmus’s text was indeed used by all the Reformers, White points out that this was due to the fact that it was the most easily obtainable. A man named Stephanus carried on Erasmus’s work, followed by Theodore Beza (John Calvin’s successor) who published additional editions of the Greek New Testament.

While Erasmus was indeed considered the premier Greek scholar of his day (the 16th century), Greek and New Testament professor Daniel Wallace’s article From the KJV to the RV notes, “…as good as Erasmus’s Greek was…he still created seventeen variant readings that have not been found in any Greek New Testament manuscript (except, of course, for the one that was a copy of Erasmus’ printed text).”

The editions above are the texts (all based on Erasmus’s text) that the King James translators used to produce the King James Version in 1611. White writes, “Since these editions differed at various points, the translators also played the role of textual critics, weighing the various readings and making decisions as it seemed best to them, just as modern editors and translators do. […] It is important to note that…there is no family of manuscripts, or even a single manuscript, that reads exactly as the King James New Testament. The translators used an ‘eclectic’ methodology, recognizing that no single manuscript should be elevated to the status of the ‘standard,’ but that each manuscript contained scribal errors of various kinds, and that the true and original text was best sought in the plurality of texts.” Indeed, this is the same logic used to compile modern translations. Multiple manuscripts are compared (all of which contain variants) in order to ascertain what text is most likely original.

Predecessors to and competition of the KJV included the Geneva Bible (which was produced in 1560 by John Calvin and other English refugees in Scotland) and the Bishop’s Bible (which was produced under the authority of the Church of England in 1568). There were translations subsequent to the 1611 KJ: Edward Wells 1724 revision named The Common Translation Corrected; William Whiston’s 1745 Primitive New Testament; and a translation by John Wesley in 1768 among others. However, the popularity of the KJV was virtually unanimous for a whopping 270 years!

Is the KJV the Most Accurate Translation?

Not by a long shot. Thousands of manuscripts predating the ones used in the production of the KJV have been discovered which modern translators have been able to take advantage of. Wallace notes, “The KJ was based on half a dozen Greek manuscripts, no earlier than the tenth century AD. Today, we know of 5,600 Greek Manuscripts- and some of them are as early as the second century AD.” Erasmus’s translation is based on one line of the Byzantine family of manuscripts (the only ones he had available to him), which date from 500 to 1000 AD. White writes, “In point of fact, if we make the most primitive form of the NT text the standard, the Byzantine text type (and hence the KJV itself) shows evidence of having the largest number of scribal errors, additions, and expansions, and hence would be, in the most accurate use of the term, the most ‘corrupt’ form of text.”

And here we come to another confusion that factors into KJV onlyism error. The definition of the term “Textus Receptus.” KJV only advocates often state, “The Textus Receptus is the text which the King James translators used.” White explains the origin of the term, “A few decades after the publication of the KJV, an advertisement appeared for the printed edition of the Greek New Testament that claimed, as advertisements are prone to do, that it represented the ‘text received by all.’ In Latin this phrase boiled down to the textus receptus, and hence an advertising blurb became associated with the Greek texts of the Erasmus–Stephanus– Beza line so that today one will find the phrase used to describe the text from which the KJV was translated. It is important to note, however, the Textus Receptus (TR) normally used by KJV Only advocates did not exist in 1611. That is, the TR used today is normally the one created by Scrivener in 1894, which took as its basis the English translation of the KJV, giving the reader the Greek textual choices made by the KJV translators.”

Now that we have older manuscripts from varying manuscript families with which to compare the Textus Receptus, we can see that it “misses the wording of the original New Testament in about 5,000 places. Most of these places cannot be translated, but a few of them are fairly substantial.”

Does this mean the KJV is not a good translation? No! Despite the variations among translations (ranging from minute to the more substantial), no doctrine depends on any disputed text. That being said, individuals who prefer the KJV should be aware of the linguistic differences. Our language evolves over time and the meaning of a particular word today is not necessarily the same as it was in the 1600’s. Wallace writes, “…by 1881, over 300 words in the AV (the AV, or Authorized Version, is what the KJV is called in England) had changed their meaning.” Therefore, Wallace suggests that a necessary companion to the KJV is “the 13- volume unabridged Oxford English Dictionary”, which traces the history of the usage of each entry.

Are the Manuscripts that Modern Translations are Based on Corrupt?

This point requires more historical background. To date, there are over 5800 Greek manuscripts which come from a variety of geographical locations. These manuscripts are divided into 3 groups or “text-types”:

      • Alexandrian– this type is commonly referred to as the “Neutral” or “Minority Text” and comes from “Alexandria, Egypt and the Alexandrian Church” and dates from the 2nd to 4th centuries. This text underlies most modern translations, however modern translators also take into consideration the later Byzantine texts.
      • Western– these texts dates from the 3rd to the 9th centuries and comes from a “wide geographical area stretching from North Africa to Italy from Gaul to Syria.”
      • Byzantine– this type is referred to as the “Majority Text” simply because 80% of the 5800+ manuscripts we have come from this group. These texts date from the 5th to the 16th centuries. This text was “dominant at Constantinople from the 5th century on and was used throughout the Church in the Byzantine Empire.”
Byzantine Illuminated Manuscript 1020

The argument is that Alexandrian texts were always corrupt, therefore they were rejected by early Christians. The issue is that this argument- Majority Text vs Minority Text really doesn’t affect the KJV only plight as much as they would like to believe. The KJV is based on the Byzantine Text, but only one particular line of manuscripts within the Byzantine text- 6 papyri to be exact. The majority of the “Majority Texts” were not utilized in the translation of the KJV. Since Erasmus’s texts are what have become known as the Textus Receptus (remember the history of that term recounted by White), that means the Textus Receptus has no basis in the majority of the Byzantine text.

Yet this is the “logic” that you get from an ardent KJV only-ite, “The ‘Minority Text’ consists of only 5% of existing manuscripts. The main texts, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (both of these are within the Alexandrian text family) contradict each other over 3,000 times in the gospels alone, and they disagree with the ‘Majority Text’ in 13,000 places.” What’s wrong with this statement? All the manuscripts have variations- no matter what text family they come from! That’s the entire point (and immense benefit) of having thousands to compare- so that you can find the commonalities which are likely original and reject the variations that don’t have a good representation among the thousands of other manuscripts. As Wallace points out in his article, Majority Text and Original Text- Are They Identical, “The Textus Receptus differs from it (the Majority Text) in almost 2,000 places—and in fact has several readings that have ‘never been found in any known Greek manuscript,’ and scores, perhaps hundreds, of readings that depend on only a handful of very late manuscripts.” In simple terms: The KJV manuscript base is neither equivalent to nor synonymous with the Majority Text, though it is contained within it.

The logical conclusion is that modern translations are subject to far less corruption, simply because they are able to utilize ALL Greek manuscripts that are available, rather than one line within one text family. Therefore, the claim that modern translations are based on “corrupt” texts is simply ludicrous. White writes, “Modern Greek texts, such as the Nestle-Aland 27th edition and the United Bible Societies 4th edition, which underlie modern English translations and are used most often in college and seminary-level Greek classes, are based not upon just a few texts, but upon all Greek manuscripts. Unlike the TR, which was derived from only one stream of the large Byzantine family of texts, the modern texts draw from the entire range of Greek texts. The modern Greek texts also provide extensive textual notes indicating what readings are to be found in which manuscripts. This is important for the person who wants to check the choices made by editors and translators, as well as for the person concerned about alleged “secrecy” on the part of modern textual scholars. Modern Greek texts are open in allowing the reader to examine all the relevant manuscript readings, leading to honesty and accountability.”

Now that we have established the history of the KJV and discussed the scant manuscript basis for the KJV compared to modern translations, lets turn our attention to common claims made by KJV only advocates:

  1. The KJV preserves the New Testament in its inspired original autographs.

The following quote is from Samuel Gipp’s book, The Answer Book, “The original autographs were inspired. The King James Bible is those same autographs preserved up to today.”

Besides being demonstrably false based merely on the manuscripts we now have which predate the manuscripts used in the production of the KJV by 8 centuries, this is a claim that even the translators of the KJV would vehemently deny. In fact, the original 1611 KJV contained a very lengthy preface, in which multiple quotes denounce this very claim. Unfortunately, this preface is no longer included in modern reproductions of the KJV. The translators state that “perfection is never attainable by man” and Wallace paraphrases the translators’ further clarification that “only the original was inspired” and that “no translation was perfect or ever would be.”

Another element of the 1611 KJV that is missing from modern reproductions are the “8500 marginal readings, many of which expressed doubt about the meaning or wording of the text.”

Wallace writes, “The translators were humble men, who wanted to alert the reader when they just weren’t sure what the Hebrew or Greek text meant. It is only the omission of these marginal readings that has given some folks the illusion of certainty.”

Finally, there are literally hundreds of differences between the 1611 KJV and the modern KJV, which should dispel any notion that the KJV is the “preserved original autographs.” I’ll list a few, but don’t take my word for it- you can reference F.H.A. Scrivener’s The Authorized Edition of the English Bible which documents all the differences beginning on p 147 and continuing through p 202:

1611 KJV

Modern KJV

Numbers 6:14: and one lamb without blemish and one ram without blemish
Joshua 13:29: half tribe of Manasseh half tribe of the children of Manasseh
Judges 11:2: and his wives sons grew up and his wife’s sons grew up
Job 39:30: where the slain are, there is he where the slain are, there is she
1 Cor.12:28: helps in governments, diversities of tongues helps, governments, diversities of tongues
  1. Modern translations are missing verses contained in the KJV!

Everyone has probably seen this meme shared by a well meaning KJV only-ite:

Graham Pockett, has an excellent article addressing each and every passage stated in the list above titled, “Omissions” From the NIV.

I believe we’ve established that the thousands of manuscripts dating back to the 2nd century utilized in the production of modern translations have certainly resulted in much LESS corrupt translations than the KJV. While it is true that the KJV contains verses that are lacking in modern translations, this is because the verses in question are not present in any of the earlier manuscripts or are not present in the manuscripts considered less compromised. That doesn’t mean that the modern translations have “left out” verses or pieces of verses- it means the KJV included additional material that didn’t belong. Furthermore, for the verses whose authenticity is questionable, modern translations add marginal or foot notes notating the missing text and stating that it is included in some manuscripts. The goal of modern, scholarly, reputable translations is to represent the original text as accurately as possible. If that means leaving out verses that individuals are emotionally attached to because they are in the KJV, so be it.

Let’s take a look at how the KJV handles Mark 16:9-20 in comparison to modern translations. For those who aren’t aware, verses 9-20 of Mark chapter 16 do not appear in any of the earliest manuscripts. While most of the verses contained in this questionable passage would be considered orthodox according to the rest of Scripture, verses 17-18 are unusual and contain the phrase “they will pick up serpents, and if they drink deadly poison it will not hurt them.” This passage alone is the basis for “snake handling” practiced by certain churches which has resulted in numerous deaths. Since these verses are absent in all early manuscripts, it is likely that the passages are not included in the original autographs. The KJV includes all the questionable verses with no marginal note or footnote. While modern translations vary in their treatment of the verses in question, they ALL make note that these verses are not included in the earliest manuscripts. This is certainly information one would like to be made aware of before grabbing a copperhead on faith.

  1. Modern Translations Contain Doctrinal Corruptions!

This is another easily refuted claim. We’ll look at the most commonly alleged “doctrinal corruptions.”

A. Modern Translations Take Out the Blood of Jesus!

      • This is a reference to Colossians 1:14, which reads in the KJV, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:” Examples of modern renderings are as follows:
        • NASB: “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
        • ESV: “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
        • NIV: “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
      • Yep, no blood. Wallace points out that, “…the KJV’s reading at Colossians 1:14 is the minority reading based upon only a few comparatively late manuscripts.” So, we know that the modern translations are correct. But, how and why did this get added into the newer manuscripts? Wallace explains that this is an example of scribes trying to “help out” the text by “harmonizing” parallel accounts. Ephesians 1:7 is the parallel to Colossians 1:14. As you can see, the blood is most certainly included among all translations in Ephesians 1:7:
        • KJV: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;”
        • NASB: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace,”
      • NIV: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”
      • Wallace writes, “The phrase ‘through his blood’ in Ephesians 1:7 is found immediately after ‘in whom we have redemption.’ Hence, later scribes, possibly inadvertently, inserted the phrase in Colossians as well. […] It should be emphasized that all the modern translations contain the phrase at Ephesians 1:7. Why? Because they are seeking solely to translate the Greek text, and the Greek text — the best Greek text no matter how one slices it — has this reading. There is no conspiracy, no cut-and-snip methodology occurring in these reputable translations.”

B. Modern Translations Alter the Gospel Message!

      • This allegation stems from modern translations’ alternate rendering of John 6:47:
        • KJV: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.”
        • NIV: “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.”
      • Since modern translations omit “on me,” KJV only advocates claim these versions are preaching another gospel in which an individual could “believe in anything and receive everlasting life.” Again, rather than being insidious, modern translations are merely keeping true to what appears in the original. Wallace states, “As we have seen all along, the modern translations are simply translating the text before them, and in this case the phrase ‘in me’ is not found in the most ancient manuscripts of the Gospel of John.”
      • Wallace also clarifies that modern translations mirror the same gospel taught in the KJV, even though this particular verse conflicts with the erroneous KJV rendering, “The NASB and NIV are brimming with the phrase ‘believe in me.’ Just a few verses before John 6:47 (in v. 35), the NASB reads, ‘Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst”’ (emphasis added). And in the immediate context of John 6, v.40 reads, ‘For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day’ (emphasis added). Other places in John where the phrase appears in modern translations include John 7:38, 11:25-26, 12:44, and 46. If the modern translations are trying to preach ‘another gospel,’ why do they include all these references that contradict this ‘other gospel’? What’s more, how do they explain the many places where the KJV has the simple phrase ‘believe,’ such as at Mark 9:23 and Romans 1:16 and 10:4? Is the KJV guilty of teaching ‘another gospel’ because it does not have the specific phrase ‘in Him’ or ‘in Christ’ at these places? Of course not.”
    1. C. Modern Translations Don’t Teach the Trinity!
      • This claim references the variations in wording of 1 John 5:7-8 and omission of the latter portion of verse 7 in modern translations. This KJV addition is famously called the Comma Johanneum:
        • KJV: “7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. ”
        • ESV: “7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”
      • Interestingly, this Comma Johanneum was NOT included in Erasmus’s first 2 translations. Remember, the KJV is derived from Erasmus’s text. However, Wallace notes that Erasmus included it in his 3rd edition in 1522 due to complaints from the “Roman Catholic hierarchy.” Wallace adds, “To date, only four Greek MSS are known to have this reading (all from the sixteenth century or later) and four others have marginal readings to this effect. The source of the wording has been traced to a homily on the passage, written in the eighth century, in a Latin allegorical commentary on this text.”
      • Regardless of how strongly one feels about the necessity of the doctrine of the Trinity, adding a statement that is not original to the text is wrong- therefore modern translations do not add it. The doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t rest solely on this verse as this article for Blue Letter Bible, The Biblical Basis for the Doctrine of the Trinity, attests.
    1. D. Modern Translations Remove Verses Supporting the Virgin Birth!
      • This claim references the wording for Luke 2:33:
        • KJV: “And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.”
      • ESV: “And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.”
        • The argument is that by replacing “Joseph” with “father,” modern translations attempt to deny the virgin birth, thus calling into question Jesus’ deity. Logically, if modern translations were trying to “censor” the virgin birth, it follows that they would remove other Scriptural references to it as well. However, this is clearly not the case. For example, the ESV references the virgin birth 3 three times in Luke 1:27, and 34, and two more times in verse 35. What’s worse, KJV only advocates seem to take no issue with the fact that the KJV also refers to Joseph as Jesus’ “parent” or “father” in Luke 2:41 and 48. This is a very poor argument indeed.


I sincerely hope that a more complete understanding of the history of the origin of the KJV Bible as well as modern translations has been sufficient to put to rest the many conspiracy theories that whirl among those who attempt to elevate the KJV to a position that it doesn’t deserve and indeed was not intended by its very own translators. Whichever reputable, scholarly translation you prefer to use, you can feel confident in doing so. I’ll include a closing quote from White which serves as an apt summary of the goals of this article, “Many other examples could be examined that confirm that modern translations such as the NASB and NIV, far from being corrupt, are in fact the best examples of faithful English translations of the best Greek texts we have available to us. The Christian who studies, memorizes, and obeys the Scriptures as he or she finds them in modern English translations can be confident in the text he or she uses. While the KJV remains to this day a venerable translation, those who attempt to make it the standard to the detriment of more readable (and in many instances more accurate) modern versions are in serious error.”