I want to thank Bethany House for the courtesy copy of The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations? (2nd ed.) by James R. White.
The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations?
James R. White
Bethany House, March 2009
I want to begin by sharing two initial thoughts. Well, actually, one thought and secondly a disclaimer. First, The King James Only Controversy is much more than a simple journalistic account of the "King James only" debate. It is a primer for the non-scholar who is, even if only casually, interested in Bible translation and the accompanying philosophies and methodologies.
Second, my only exposure to the controversy has been on the internet (other than a snide remark here or there by television preachers about "watered-down versions" ). I live in an NIV-primarily region of the country. I most frequently read the NASB, but my pastor preaches out of the NKJV, so I carry that with me on Sundays. Thus, I incline toward the author's conclusions even before reading the book. It is a bias that I don't think influences my review of the book, but it is a bias I want to disclose.
James R. White's treatment of the "King James only" debate is thorough, well supported by evidence, and written so as to be easily understood by the casual observer or participant. He begins by dividing the King James only advocates into five distinct and increasingly radical camps: 1) "I like the KJV Best" (which he takes no issue with), 2) "The Textual Argument" (that the Hebrew and Greek texts used by the KJV translators are superior), 3) "Received Text Only" (that the Textus Receptus and Hebrew text utilized by the KJV translators are inerrant), 4) "The Inspired KJV Group" (who believe the KJV is itself an inspired and inerrant translation, the group White identifies as the majority of the KJV only advocates), and 5) "The KJV as New Revelation" (that the KJV is "re-inspired" and the English text is an inerrant revelation superior even to the Hebrew and Greek texts).
White then gives the reader a brief overview of translation history and the translation process, explaining textual vs. translation disputes, translation methods, textual criticism, and the ancient texts used by translators. Then, very systematically, White explains the irony of the KJV onlyists making the exact arguments that were made against the original KJV translators and against Erasmus (whose Textus Receptus was used by the KJV translators) before that. To put it in polite terms, the argument of the KJV only camp, as well as those who opposed the original King James Version (the Authorized Version everywhere except the U.S.), is an argument for traditionalism.
The heart of the book is White's analysis of many of the verses in controversy and his defense of the various translations' renderings. Where there are variations in the ancient manuscripts that lead to different translations, White also provides convincing explanations for the textual variants which include simple scribal error, parallel influence (a scribe's attempt to harmonize scripture), and what White dubs "expansion of piety" (a scribes attempt to make a passage sound a little better, e.g. expanding "the Christ" to "Jesus the Christ").
White concludes Part One of The King James Only Controversy with a chapter devoted exclusively to questions and answers. Part Two is a 30-page technical treatment of many of the issues raised in Part One for the reader who is proficient in koine Greek and familiar with ancient Biblical texts, although it is not essential for the casual reader to read and understand Part One.
In conclusion, in his effort to counter the KJV only advocates, James R. White is necessarily critical of the King James Version. However, I suspect White would be the first to say to the reader whose preference is the KJV to continue in that preference. White does not advocate for any particular translation, only for an understanding that many modern translation are equally legitimate, and, in some instances, superior to the King James Version with respect to certain translation issues. Whether your particular interest is the "King James only" debate or not, if you are at all interested in Bible translation or the history thereof, The King James Only Controversy is well worth your time.
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