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Some people believe the King James Version of the Bible is the only version English-speakers should be using, as it is the only inspired translation. (This is referred to as "KJV-onlyism.")

Basically, the KJV-only position is that:

  • The Bible is God's word

  • God promises to preserve His word

  • This preservation is accomplished via a perfect translation (one per language)

  • The KJV is His perfect, preserved translation in the English language

  • The reason other English Bibles differ from the KJV is because those other Bibles have been tainted by sin and error

What are the main counterarguments to this view?

I am specifically looking for answers which would be convincing to an English-speaking Protestant with a high view of Scripture.

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Related: Common Criticisms of KJV – Thomas Shields Jun 17 '12 at 2:26
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Could you please add references from the KJV only side for the second point, namely "God promises to preserve his word"? – LoveTheFaith Jun 17 '12 at 3:53
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Daniel Wallace, a respected scholar and curator of NT manuscripts, wrote this article a while ago to address the counter-argument to KJV-only. – swasheck Jun 18 '12 at 22:48
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James White is another opponent of the KJV-Only position with scholarly credentials and criticisms. He served on the Lockman Foundation translation team that was responsible for the NASB. – Justin Jun 8 at 21:38

Some major problems with "KJV-onlyism" lies in the assumptions it makes and some of which you enumerated.

From an evangelical perspective, we accept the idea that the Bible is, indeed, the word of God. Specifically, "men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."

20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:20-21 ESV

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any priuate Interpretation: 21 For the prophecie came not in olde time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moued by the holy Ghost. 2 Peter 1:20-21 KJV 1611

Preservation via a perfect translation

The problem starts with the third point you enumerated, specifically that the preservation is via a perfect translation, that is one for every language.

Why does the preservation have to be in a translation? Why can't the preservation be in the original languages and those manuscripts? How could we know that the KJV is the perfect translation into English? The KJV was certainly not even the first translation into English, as it was preceded by the Wycliffe, Tyndale, Bishop and Douay-Rheims translations, among others.

Does it follow that the first translation into any language is a perfect translation and should never be updated, no matter how much the language changes?

In fact, the KJV has been changed quite a few times since it's original release. No one reads out of the 1611 edition anymore, as our language has changed significantly since that time.

Also, the whole idea that there must be a preservation in each language at all times misses the point that most languages didn't have any translation until recently, and there are many that still don't.

So, this assumption has a hard time fitting reality and even logic.

Sin and error in other English translations

The assumption that only one translation can be accurate in any language for all times leads the KJV-only people to assert that any other translation into English must be somehow imperfect, and many even assert that sin is the reason. The translators of the KJV must have been the holiest of men, and all other people who ever attempt to translate Greek and Hebrew into English today must somehow be sinful.

That doesn't even make sense. The English language is different today than it was 400 years ago. Even if there were a perfect translation at that time, we don't speak that language anymore.

Also, why must experts in Hebrew and Greek today who translate the Scriptures into English be somehow tainted by sin? Is it not possible that they could also be men and women who fear God as much or more as the translators of the KJV? There are certainly men and women today who are translating the Scriptures into new languages. Is it holy and righteous to translate into new languages, but the same people who translate into English somehow introduce sin and error?

Conclusion

The KJV-only teaching is rife with assumptions that are just illogical. There certainly are poor translations into English. Translation is not an exact science all the time. Conveying meaning of one language into another is sometimes quite difficult. The KJV is an excellent translation, among several others. If you lived in the 1600's, there was nothing as good as that, even if you wanted to read the Apocrypha (which was in the initial printing). Today, the language of the KJV is no longer spoken. The NASB and ESV are probably two of the very best of the bunch, in my opinion. I also use the NIV.

There are quite a few other allegations from the KJV only crowd. It could be interesting to address each of these in separate question. I know James Melton has a booklet entitled "How I know the KJV is the Word of God", which has some statements that are absolutely ridiculous in it.

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Thanks for your post. (+1) It sounds like your main counterargument is that it is difficult to understand how KJV-only could be rational. However, I've heard some compelling arguments from the KJV-only camp, and I'm not sure this answer would be effective in dismantling (countering) their arguments. (But I do think this is helpful.) Out of curiosity, does the first part of your answer imply that all Scripture is "prophecy"? – Jas 3.1 Jun 17 '12 at 21:11
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@Jas3.1 The logic seems convincing until you start analyzing the assumptions and asking questions, like I have done here. The preservation of the Scriptures has been in the original manuscripts--not any particular translation of the text in any particular language. – Narnian Jun 18 '12 at 14:59
    
@Jas3.1 The "prophecy" may or may not be specific. Other Scriptures attest to divine authorship more explicitly. – Narnian Jun 18 '12 at 15:00
    
"The translators of the KJV must have been the holiest of men, and all other people who ever attempt to translate Greek and Hebrew into English today must somehow be sinful." Well that's debunked by Romans 3:10-18. – Devsman Mar 31 at 14:50

Opponents to the KJV-Only position generally don’t disparage the King James Version (KJV) or treat it as necessarily inferior to contemporary English translations, but instead point out that it faces many of the same challenges and errors that face any English translation. Depending on the opponent you ask, each will probably tell you one of any number of translations is their personal favorite, and some even prefer the KJV for its beautiful, memorable language and reverent tone, if not it’s decidedly literal-leaning and mostly non-dynamic translation. Here are some common responses to the points you listed.

1. On The Bible As God's Word

Virtually all of the notable opponents of the KJV-Only position who belong to mainline denominations agree that The Bible is indeed God’s word.

2. On God's Promise to Preserve His Word.

They also acknowledge that God does indeed promise to preserve His word. There is some disagreement as to how this preservation is manifested, however. KJV-Only Advocates claim that God actively preserves the exact wording of Scripture through translators to produce a perfect translation of the original Greek and Hebrew into each language. Opponents hold that God merely preserves the message and meaning of Scripture, and that the language is, by necessity, somewhat fluid. They further hold that God has preserved a wealth of ancient manuscripts (totaling 972 Old Testament and 5,686 New Testament fragments and copies) for translators to work from, which is another fulfillment of His promise of preservation.

3. On Preservation of God's Word via a perfect translation (one per language).

This is an assumption that opponents of the KJV-Only stance find illogical and difficult to support convincingly from scripture or any extra-biblical sources.

Dr. James White (one of the most outspoken and persistent opponents of KJV-Onlyism) asserts that the discovery and analysis of the Dead Sea scrolls (including comparison to the more modern manuscripts translators and scholars had previously been working from) confirms that God did preserve His word through the millennia. He often points to the fact that no significant doctrine hinges on the textual differences that do exist between the more ancient manuscripts and those used by the translators of the original 1604-1611 King James Bible.

There is no doctrine of the Christian faith that is based upon any single text; and no doctrine of the faith is changed or altered by any variation of the text. If one applies the same rules of exegesis to the TR and the NA 27th edition, the results will be the same. The variations do not change the message. ~James White, The KJV Only Controversy

White claims that “KJV-Onlyists” (his term) misinterpret God’s promise to mean that He will preserve not only His word’s precise text, but that He will also divinely inspire Bible translators to translate the text perfectly into languages other than Greek and Hebrew. Instead, White interprets God’s promise to mean that He will preserve His word’s precise meaning, if not every single syllable, and it is up to His church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to accurately translate and preach the word to all nations. This means that all Biblical translations will encounter some translational issues and human errors. This includes the King James. White also takes issue with the notion that God only so inspires one translation in each language as the standard, citing pre-KJV English Translators:

The problem is, the KJV is not the standard, and cannot be the standard. Think about it for just a moment. Were there not translations before the KJV? Of course. Wycliffe, Tyndale, the Geneva Bible, the Bishops' Bible, and so forth, all served the needs of English speaking Christians prior to 1611. So why not choose one of these as the "standard"? ~James White, “A Response to a Brother in Christ”

Opponents also tend to argue that the KJV is no longer a perfect translation for modern English speakers, as it can be very difficult for modern English speakers to read, and sometimes even more difficult to derive the correct meaning from.

4. On The KJV as God's perfect, preserved translation in the English language.

This is a point that opponents of the KJV-Only position dispute. They point out that that KJV-Only Proponents ignore the fact that the KJV translators were working from a set of manuscripts known as the Textus Receptus (TR), which has its faults. The TR was created by Desiderius Erasmus, a Catholic Priest and scholar. He published the 1st edition of the Greek New Testament in 1516, and released subsequent editions, the 3rd being the most influential. After Erasmus’ death, the TR was edited by Stephanus in 1555 and Beza in 1598. Basically, the contention is that Erasmus rushed his first edition in order to beat Spanish scholars to print. He succeeded, but the haste resulted in a book riddled with errors. According to Wallace:

He was under pressure to get it to the press as soon as possible since (a) no edition of the Greek New Testament had yet been published, and (b) he had heard that Cardinal Ximenes (of Spain) and his associates were just about to publish an edition of the Greek New Testament and he was in a race to beat them. Consequently, his edition has been called the most poorly edited volume in all of literature! It is filled with hundreds of typographical errors which even Erasmus would acknowledge. ~Daniel B. Wallace, “Why I Do Not Think The King James Bible Is The Best Translation Available Today”

Opponents also question which revision the KJV-Only proponents have chosen as the infallible and preserved translation of God’s word and why:

…The King James Bible has undergone three revisions since its inception in 1611, incorporating more than 100,000 changes. Which King James Bible is inspired, therefore? ~Daniel B. Wallace, “Why I Do Not Think The King James Bible Is The Best Translation Available Today”

5. On Contemporary English Translations being tainted by sin and error.

Opponents of the KJV-Only position point to several different errors in the text of the KJV, like the following:

…the KJV includes one very definite error in translation, which even KJV advocates would admit. In Matthew 23:24 the KJV has ‘strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.’ But the Greek has ‘strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.’ In the least, this illustrates not only that no translation is infallible but also that scribal corruptions can and do take place-even in a volume which has been worked over by so many different hands (for the KJV was the product of a very large committee of over 50 scholars). ~Daniel B. Wallace, “Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible Is the Best Translation Available Today”

Most opponents of the KJV-Only stance point out that there is no conspiracy or occult influence that corrupted the Alexandrian Texts used as the basis for modern English Bible translations, and often refer back to the fact that the differences between the TR and Alexandrian/Westcott-Hort texts is minimal and has no effect on doctrine. They often point to the lack of examples of where the texts used for modern translations have been corrupted. They acknowledge that there were occultist sects in ancient Alexandria during the 1st and 2nd Centuries, but deny that they had any influence on the texts. They further point out that the allegations of key manuscripts and translations being edited and re-purposed by scholars who happen to be homosexual or believe in evolution are irrelevant unless it can be demonstrated that the resulting text lends itself to those ideas in ways that the manuscripts do not. In response to the assertion that Westcott, Hort, Nestle, and Aland shouldn’t be trusted with the word of God because they believe the theory of evolution, James White says this:

The issue is not the personal beliefs of the individuals but, did those beliefs materially impact the text? If Dr. Morris would like to provide examples of textual decisions in our modern Greek texts that he thinks are perversions of the truth, let him do so. I have yet to have a defender of KJV-Onlyism back up their allegations against modern texts from the original sources themselves. While a few have pointed to variations, they have never been able to demonstrate that any theological "bent" on the part of the editors resulted in a particular textual choice. ~James White, “A Response To A Brother in Christ”

In summary, the opponents of “KJV-Onlyism,” as White puts it, tend to argue in terms of the manuscripts, as that is the main difference between the modern English translations and the KJV. They posit that the KJV is one of many viable English translations of God’s Word, not the only infallible translation of God’s Word in English. They back this up by pointing out various translation issues and errors that the KJV faces and find that it is in no way superior to more modern translations, except possibly in terms of its rich language and its monumental importance to the development of the modern English language. They argue that, aside from its historical and linguistic significance, that it should not be treated as any more or less authoritative than any other Bible translation that is rooted in the ancient manuscripts currently available.

Related Readings and Links:

James White's AO Ministries List of Articles Related to KJV-Onlyism

White, James R. "The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations?." (1995).

"Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible Is the Best Translation Available Today" by Daniel B. Wallace - Bible.org

Price, James D. "King James Onlyism: A New Sect." (2006).

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I fully believe in the Bible as the perfect word of God without any error whatsoever. I also like the KJV. However, there is no Biblical basis for believing in an inspired translation, from one language to another. This would put translators at the same level as prophets and apostles for they would need a special anointing that determines what scripture is.

The belief of inerrancy is that the 'original text' was without error, but even here insignificant trace errors have crept into copies of the original texts. I think God allows this partly to keep us from being so insecure about our faith in Him. Our security should rest in Him, in the ideas he has imparted to us through His word, not each syllable. If we are so insecure, that we need to put our faith in men, we will become worshipers of ink, not of God.

Translation from one language to another can be made by sinners without any inspiration. What matters is if the translation is technically honest to the original text, or no. God has not left the business of translation dependant upon the personal holiness of the translators, otherwise all translations would be fully corrupt.

Besides, there is no logical basis to believe that those who translated the KJV were holier than those who have made other English translations.

God will preserve many good translations to us in various languages. He himself has said:

18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19 NIV)

As God has made this warning in the last book of our Bible, and will execute it, we can be confident God is interested enough to preserve the Bible for us. Therefore we do not have to rely on one small group of people who made one single translation.

Having said this, if a specific conflict arises between two translations, one must identify which is less honest to the original text, whether the weakness is in the KJV or other version, the test must be made for each instance. One cannot not just wildly assert for the whole Bible translation itself, that it is better than another. Each conflict must be argued specifically. It would not surprise me if the KJV is often the winner.

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This didn't answer my question at all. – Jas 3.1 Jun 17 '12 at 3:16
    
@Jas3.1 - I guess we see the KJV argument from different perspectives. I do not see a rational basis for it, so I cannot create an argument against it, other than denying that it has any validity. I see it as an emotion based assertion. My favorite version is the NIV, but I do not consider it better just because I like it. I do recommend it over the KJV though because it takes into account more recent language. I find the KJV difficult to read because I do not speak in that kind of language. It's really this simple for many of us, maybe even most of us. – Mike Jun 17 '12 at 5:58
    
I don't think you can apply the passage from Revelation you quoted as speaking of the NT (which wasn't in existence then) or even larger portions of the Bible. It's specifically speaking about Revelation ("this book" is referring to Revelation—the book that John is told to write down). – mojo Jun 26 '12 at 11:06
    
@mojo - I agree with you yet still think God implies with it the whole OT and NT. The book is a story with beginning, middle and end, at it is no coincidence that the end-piece of the Messiah puzzle is annexed with the warning. On this ground I sort of take it out of context within the greater context of the entire Bible. However I am not dogmatic about it. Just an opinion. Cheers – Mike Jun 26 '12 at 14:12
    
@Mike I'm with Mojo on this. The Bible is a collection of books. I do not see any basis for the warning to be applicable to any other book than The Revelation. Kind regards, – Michael Vincent Jun 9 at 10:04

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