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Response to Questions About KJV-Only and Textus Receptus-Only Position

Dane Johannsson

I want to thank Corbin Hartterr for taking the time to write questions regarding my article,  Five Good Reasons Reformed and Confessional Christians Should Use the KJV, and Pulpit & Pen for facilitating this discussion. I think Corbin asked three good questions that are on many people’s minds when this topic is brought up and in this response article, I will attempt to satisfactorily answer them. Before I do, I feel it will be helpful to deal with some terminology. 

KJV-Only & TR-Only 

The terms “KJV-only” and “TR-only” are often brought up when discussing the “Confessional Text Position”. I will offer a working definition of these terms along with why I deny them as a Confessional Text advocate. Classic KJV-onlyism (as articulated by teachers like Peter Ruckman, Sam Gipp, Gail Riplinger and others) teaches that the King James Version of the Bible is the only perfect and inspired version of the Bible over and against all other original language texts or translations. In this view, the KJV is perfect and without error as an English translation, and in fact, is the only perfect Bible. There is no need to utilize the underlying Greek and Hebrew, nor any translations from them, since, in this view, they are all corrupt “perversions”. Amazingly, this view would also go so far as to state that if a non-English speaking person wants to read God’s word, they must learn English and read the KJV. For them, only the KJV is the word of God. As a confessionally reformed Christian, I reject this view, since the 1689 Baptist Confession states that the original languages of the Scriptures are “to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come.” (1.8)  

I also reject the term “TR-only” or “Textus Receptus Onlyism” as an accurate descriptor of the Confessional Text Position. The reason I reject this term is that it does not accurately describe my view. I do not only read the TR, nor do I hold it to be the only authority. I do read the TR daily in my devotions and work closely from it in my ministry, but I also read English translations. To be a “TR-Only” advocate would mean that I could not read the Old Testament in Hebrew or English, could not read from or quote from anything but the TR and could not preach from anything but the TR, and since none of the members at my Church are fluent in Koine Greek, it wouldn’t do them much good if I were to only quote from the TR in my preaching (1Cor. 14:4-17). 

I understand that many use the term “TR-Only” when describing my position and mean no harm or malice by it, but I feel it necessary to point out that it is simply not an accurate description of the Confessional Text Position (which holds both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament to be immediately inspired and authoritative and recognizes any translation from those texts as authoritative in so far as it accurately represent the original). Now I will look at each of Corbin’s three questions in turn and hopefully give a helpful response to each.

Corbin’s first question: “Does being TR-Only mean outright rejection of all other translations other than the KJV?” 

Although I am sure there are people within the Confessional Text Position that would outright reject any other translation but the KJV, by and large, those within this camp (myself included) do not reject the use of other translations from the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Confessional era. At Agros Reformed Baptist Church all our preaching and teaching is done from the KJV, but our congregational reading is done from the NKJV. Furthermore, in my sermon preparation and personal reading, I make use of the NKJV, MEV, Geneva Bible, and J.P. Green’s literal translation (published by SGP Books as the “KJ3 Literal Translation”). If you visit the Textus Receptus Bibles website you will find 14 English translations of the TR that would be largely accepted by Confessional Text Advocates. Many who hold my position read and preach from the NKJV, MEV or Geneva Bible. So, the most simple answer to this question is, “No. Being a Confessional Text Advocat does not intimate the outright rejection of all others translations other than the KJV.” 

Within Corbin’s first question he asks two follow up questions, “If I were to take Pastor Dane’s position, what must I then think of other translations? If the TR contains the very word of God, down to every letter, and is an inspired manuscript, then what am I to think of Bibles translated from other manuscripts?” 

If we are talking about translations based not on the Hebrew and Greek texts of the confessional era but based on the modern critical text platforms (Nestle-Aland, UBS, BHS) then yes I would reject them as being accurate Bibles. I would agree that translations based on these texts (ESV, NASB, NIV, CSB, NLT) are deficient. They contain much of the word of God, but not completely, and often have spurious and inadequate readings.  But I must add a personal note: I do not believe that using one of these versions means that someone is not saved or that they are in sin, nor do I think this is an issue worth breaking fellowship over. That being said, I do think that having a correct view of the text of Holy Scripture is a very important point of doctrine, a wrong view of which can lead to serious problems in doctrine and practice. This is not always the case and there are many godly people who utilize one of these versions in their private lives and ministries. Nevertheless, I advocate for the Confessional Text Position because I believe it is extremely relevant both doctrinally and practically. It is not necessary that every believer be nuanced in the textual discussion, however it is important to make the distinction between textual methodology and translational methodology. (See this article for a helpful discussion) 

Corbin’s second question: “Erasmus is often brought into this discussion. Is nobody concerned about Erasmus himself?” 

Corbin brings up a good point here. Erasmus was not a reformed believer, and he may have not even have been a Christian. Corbin states that his being a bonafide scholar does not warrant an uncritical acceptation of his work, to which I agree. Corbin further points out that if Erasmus was not a believer, we should be even less receptive of his work. Corbin adds this relevant anecdote: 

“But what if, in modern times, we were all using a Bible translated by Christians, translated from manuscripts compiled by Christians, and suddenly some eminent scholar, who was a secular man, appeared and claimed that his manuscripts were an improvement over ours. Would we, as the Universal Church, even be considering his claims? Sure, we’d have our best minds examining his work, but would this be a hotly debated subject in churches? I don’t think so. I don’t buy the work of a man who wasn’t a Christian when it comes to Christian matters, as far as anybody knows.”

I would respond to this in two ways. First, we must remember that Erasmus was not the only person who worked on what came to be known as the Textus Receptus. He wasn’t even the first. After him came two Genevan reformed scholars, Stephanus and Theodore Beza (who was John Calvin’s successor), with their multiple editions of the Greek New Testament. It is chiefly Beza’s 1598 edition that was utilized by the KJV translators themselves. So even if Erasmus was not a Christian and even if we reject his work in its entirety, we are still left with what came to be known as the TR through the work of faithful, reformed, believing scholars. 

Secondly, the anecdote which Corbin put forward is exactly one of the main reasons I reject the modern critical texts over the TR. Some of the most influential men who have worked on and are working on the critical editions of the Greek New Testament have, at best, questionable Christian professions. One need only take a few moments to research the beliefs which Kurt Aland and Bruce Metzger held concerning the canonization and inspiration of the Bible to see a serious problem with such men putting together a Bible for Christians (and this is without adding in their beliefs on the deity of Christ, the incarnation, the atonement and the virgin birth). Sadly, the case is not much better with the current teams working in the field of modern text-criticism, such as D.C. Parker and even Bart Erhman. This is why I agree wholeheartedly with Corbin’s anecdote, which he carries even further by adding, “You wouldn’t put an atheist in charge of a mercy ministry just because he’s the best man in the world at running a nonprofit.” No, nor should we have atheists and practical atheists in charge of the text-critical labors of God’s word, whether Erasmus or Erhman. 

(I use Erhman as an example since he is a professed apostate, and while I recognize that he does not have an active role in putting together editions of the critical text, his influence in the field of modern textual criticism cannot be denied, as evidenced by his editorial work in the Brill Academic “New Testament Tools and Studies” series)

Corbin’s third and last question: If one is TR-only, why be KJV-only, when there are other options?

As I mentioned above, those who hold to the Confessional Text Position by definition cannot be KJV-onlyists. This being said, there is more to Corbin’s question that warrants further interaction. He asks, “Why the heck King James; why such strong support for it? Why would we use that?” While I use and advocate for the continued use of the KJV (Dr. Joel Beeke makes 13 arguments for its continued usage here), as I have mentioned above, it is not the only translation that Confessional Text advocates utilize. Corbin puts forward an issue that he has found with the KJV (and many others share with him), namely, its at times stilted early modern English. The Trinitarian Bible Society has dealt fairly extensively with some of the issues people have with the KJV’s language and I would point the reader to them. 

Corbin also brings up a few more relevant points when he states, “If I’m being blunt, I think the claim that this position is a ‘Historical’ Reformed/Confessional Baptist position seems like it’s just a mask for ‘Traditional’ and while I understand that some traditions can be useful, this particular stand for the KJV which is so prominent instead of specifically the TR seems like a stupid hill to die on. And most of the stupid hills that people die on are ones that have no ground in anything but plain tradition.”

This is a comment which I often hear and I think it stems from confusion as to what Confessional Text advocates are actually stating. I defined the Confessional Text Position as: “the position that accepts the underlying Hebrew and Greek texts used by the framers of the major post-reformation confessions, which they called ‘authentic’ and ‘pure’, as the preserved text of the Bible.” We are not arguing for the supremacy of the KJV, but for the supremacy of the underlying Greek and Hebrew texts which it (as well as many other foreign language translations) is based on. The tradition we are holding to is the one which the puritan and post-reformation divines held to, namely, that the Scriptures are pure and uncorrupt in the original languages, and are contained in the printed Greek and Hebrew texts of the reformation and puritan era.  

The last comment that Corbin made which I will offer a comment on is this: “I realize that the author of the article was not traditionally raised on the KJV, but I would suspect that the people whom he read and spoke to that convinced him otherwise mostly were. And why not the NKJV?”

He is correct in stating that I was not raised on the KJV. Furthermore, I have spent most of my Christian life (after coming out of atheism in 2008) using the NASB and the ESV. But I did want to add that the people who helped convince me of the Confessional Text Position also had no particular affinity to the KJV, and in fact left the same position that I did. Both Dr. Jeff Riddle and Pastor Robert Truelove utilized the critical Greek text and read and preached from the ESV before re-evaluating their views on the text. As for using the NKJV, I personally use it in sermon preparation and we read from it corporately at Agros Reformed Baptist Church.

In closing, I want to once again thank Corbin for taking the time to ask questions and offer critique. Hopefully, my responses have been helpful in clarifying my position to both him and the reader. It is my prayer that we can all continue to submit ourselves to God’s Word as it stands in judgment over us as saved sinners. 

Dane Jöhannsson, lead Pastor, Agros Reformed Baptist Church

[Editor’s Note: These views are not necessarily reflective of P&P’s position, which ordinarily uses citations from the ESV. We are thankful to have a polite discussion on this issue of TR-onlyism, without anyone gaslighting the subject of textual criticism or anathematizing others as sinister or ‘dangerous.’ Thank you to the maturity of those who have contributed to this discussion]