A special brand of Fundamentalism called King James Onlyism is a particularly odd variety of faith simply because of its required backing and filling. In brief, this particular evangelical position claims that the only inspired translation of the Bible is the King James Version. It’s best not to look too closely at the KJV, however, or the problems start. Primary among them is that the version most Onlyists cite is not the original King James. Published in 1611, this translation is immediately evident by its use of “I” for “J” and for the long s (the one that looks like an f). Perhaps more troubling for Onlyists, it also includes the Apocrypha. There was still some debate at the time concerning the status of these deuterocanonical books, and they were part of the actual KJV.
The typical King James used by Onlyists is a revised KJV. In England, where the translation was done, revisions were made from time to time, leading to an Oxford version (Blayney text of 1769) and a Cambridge version (Scrivener text of 1873). On these shores further adjustments were made leading to the rather strange situation where there is no single King James Version of the Bible. There are many King James Versions. Attempts to control Scripture often end up like that. The underlying problem is the belief that there is a single version of Holy Writ. Inerrantists are pledging their faith to something that doesn’t exist. Defending this approach many would claim that the revisions are minor, but small changes can make huge differences.
The belief in one single version relies on the belief that God inspired not only the original writers, but the translators as well. It denies that the better manuscripts that have come to light since the early seventeenth century (including the Dead Sea Scrolls) contain any authentic information of what the Good Book says. Textual criticism, in the absence of any original manuscripts, is the best way we have of discovering what the original likely said. Onlyists argue that the manuscripts from which King James’ translators worked were the divinely selected ones and their work was inspired—a position against which no empirical proof can be offered. This faith trades in certainties that only bringing in direct heavenly control can achieve. And it means that Catholics are wrong, despite King James’ inspired error to include the Apocrypha. That’s the thing about a trump card like inspiration—once it’s played there’s no way to overcome it.
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