Wednesday, October 20

Why King James Version Onlyism Denies Sola Scriptura

What I'm hoping to show in this piece is that adherents of KJVOnlyism, while claiming to be faithful to the Bible as the final arbitrator of faith and practice, in reality use something other than scripture as the final arbitrator of faith and practice when it come to the issue of acceptable texts and translations of the scripture. First, let me point out that I'm not dealing in this post with those who prefer to use the King James Version of the Bible, or even those who prefer to use only the King James Version of the Bible, but with the strain of KJV Onlyism that believes that the King James Version of the Bible is the only true word of God in the English language. (This last category is the only catergory that I would describe as KJV Onlyist. The first two I tend to call KJV preferred.)

You can find the doctrinal statement that I'll be referring to here. This particular one was chosen because it's on the internet where everyone reading can access it easily, it's laid out in an organized, easy to read form, and it's position is quite moderate and reasoned as far as KJV only statements of faith go. I've gone straight to the doctrinal statement of this organization (BibleBelievers.Net), because a doctrinal statement is a statement of faith. (And I think if you read this whole doctrinal statement, you'll find that in this particular case, it is also, in part, a statement of practice).

This doctrinal statement does claim that BibleBelievers.Net adheres to sola scriptura. You'll not find the statement under point I, which is the statement on scripture; but rather, in the last item, No. XV: the statement on good works.
The Bible is the believer's absolute Standard of faith and practice, his perfect Counsel. The Word provides him with "all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3-4).
This means that whatever is set forth as a dogmatic or binding statement of faith (as in a doctrinal statement) needs to be either directly stated in scripture or supported by the statements of scripture. We would expect then, according to this statement of the absolute rule of scripture, that all of the doctrines outlined in this doctrinal statement would be drawn from scripture.

So, let's look at point I, the doctrinal statement pertaining to the scripture, and see if the statements made there are either directly asserted within scripture or supported by scripture. The first part of the statement is affirming the God-breathedness (or divine inspiration) of what the authors of scripture wrote. There is a clear statement in scripture of this, for Paul tells us "all the writings are God-breathed". We can also conclude, as the doctrinal statement also states, that if God himself exhaled the scripture, then the God-breathed writings were "inerrant" and "infallible".

The statement goes on to assert that the same sort of miraculous intervention that "God-breathed" the original writings has also been at work all throughout history preserving a "pure text to this day." Here's where the problems with this statement start. I assume what is meant by this statement is that a word-for-word copy of what was originally put down by the original authors is still in existence, and we have it due to miraculous divine intervention. However, while the scripture tells us a little bit about how the writings of scripture came about--they were exhaled by God, so that holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Spirit--it tells us nothing about the method of preservation of the scripture. It might seem reasonable to think that that this would be the way that God would choose to do it--miraculously preserving a perfect word-for-word copy of all the God-breathed writings; but since it is never stated for us that way in scripture, it isn't something those who truly adhere to scripture as the only source of things binding upon a believer should put in their doctrinal statements.

The next statement after this declaration of divine preservation of a pure text is this:
We have, therefore, the very Word of God preserved through the Hebrew Masoretic Text and the Greek Textus Receptus.
If you follow the argument being made, the word therefore refers back to the statement about a preserved pure text. This quoted statement is saying, then, that because we have a preserved pure text, the preserved pure text is the Hebrew Masoretic Text and the Greek Textus Receptus. The logic is faulty--there's no way the last statement follows necessarily from the first; and in addition, it is going beyond anything we are told in the text of scripture. There is no mention in scripture of texts or text types, and certainly no mention of which compilation of manuscript readings into text form make up a perfectly preserved text. In fact, what evidence scripture does give us--the various quotes of Old Testament scripture in the New Testament--points to more than one text being "scripture". What we have in this doctrinal statement on scripture, then, is one extrabiblical statement combined with another extrabiblical statement, put forward dogmatically as right belief.

There's one more statement in the paragraph:
In the English language, the only Bible translated from the aforementioned texts is the King James Version.
This statement, besides being an extrabiblical one (I've yet to find the word version in any version of scripture!), is false. There is at least one other translation from these exact texts, one that is actually more faithful to these texts than the King James Version: the New King James Version.

Do you see how this doctrinal statement holds extrabiblical assertions to be authoritative?

Just to be fair, I asked the following question of the KJV onlyists that participate in the forums of the Baptist Board (and I paraphrase here): If you believe the Bible is the absolute rule of faith and practice, how do you support, from the Bible, your belief that only the KJV is the true word of God in English?

I got two answers. The first one was that 400 years of history can't be wrong. This answer is really an appeal to the infallible authority of tradition, rather than scripture; and in an interesting twist, the absolute authority of tradition is a doctrine sola scriptura stands opposed to. The second answer was that those who are faithfully in tune to the Holy Spirit are enlightened by him to this truth. It's an appeal to the final rule of an individual's perceived experience of the Holy Spirit, another of the ideas that sola scriptura stands against. Sola scriptura does not argue, of course, that any individual's true experience of the enlightenment Holy Spirit is wrong, but rather that what any individual feels they have been taught by the Spirit is to be tested against scripture, and can only be held as binding upon others--or put forward dogmatically--if it can be garnered from the scripture.

KJVOnlyists, then, accept extrabiblical standards as bindingly authoritative when it comes to the doctrine of the Bible, and because they do, they cannot truthfully claim that the Bible is their absolute rule of faith and practice.