Were the King James Translators KJV Only?



Rowland S Ward

This is the title of an article on the web by a Dr Robert Joyner[1]. Let me use his title, and borrow liberally from his outline in summarising an answer.

There is a group today that is called the King James Only or the AV Only. This is because they insist that the King James Version (also called the Authorised Version) is the preserved Word of God and the only Bible for the English speaking people. They usually attack all other versions and delight in pointing out the errors in them.

I want to raise and answer the question, is this the position of the King James translators? If I can prove that the King James translators disagreed with the King James Only group in every point, then the KJV Only group does not have a leg to stand on. They base everything on the King James translators. The KJV advocates revere and lift them to the high heavens. They were superior translators, they say. You can see how inconsistent it is to be KJV Only and believe the opposite of what the KJV translators themselves believed.

In the original 1611 KJV there are eleven pages in the front called, THE TRANSLATORS TO THE READER of which copies are readily available on the internet.[2] In this introduction, the translators explained their philosophy and beliefs about Bible translations. I want to use their introduction, and show you that they disagreed with the KJV Only group in every point.

1. Scholarship affirmed

If you read THE TRANSLATORS TO THE READER, you will see that it is very scholarly essay with many references to earlier writers, with some praised for their translation work despite heretical beliefs. This is important because it shows the KJV men did not set scholarship over against belief in the Scriptures as do many KJV people today, or judge the value of translation by the personal beliefs of the translator.

2. The Hebrew and Greek texts must judge all translations

The KJV men believed the Scriptures were given by inspiration of God, and that all translations should be judged by the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Of course they no more had the very original manuscripts of the Scriptures than we have, but they had a number of copies to work from.

3. The KJV men did not believe translators were inspired or prevented from making mistakes

They were to work as scholarly men, depending on God, but could and did make mistakes.

4. They believed honestly executed translations were the word of God

All translations showed the fallibility of translators. Yet, as a speech of the Prime Minister translated into another language is still the PM’s speech, or a person may still be called handsome though he has a few warts or freckles, translations, even the poorest in English, were God’s word.

5. The KJV men did not believe in condemning other versions, nor did Jesus and the apostles

There were a number of versions in English in 1611 but the KJV men specifically state they are not condemning them. They believed these earlier translations had been raised up by God for the blessing of his people. In their own work they simply sought to make ‘a good work better’. The KJV men also affirmed that the Greek translation used in New Testament times was ‘faulty in many places’ ‘Yet which of the apostles did condemn it? Condemn it! Nay! They used it.’

6. The KJV men thought that fresh translations would be needed from time to time

The KJV men aimed to build on the labours of others and to try to improve them. They said earlier translations were good and they tried to make them better so England could have a common Bible. In some respects their task of revision rather than a completely new translation compromised accurate translation. They certainly had no thought that they were producing an inspired translation or one without mistakes. Indeed, no sooner was the KJV issued than a new edition was necessary because of mistakes, including printing errors, in the first. This new edition was published in 1613. In 1629 the Apocryphal books were omitted (there had been earlier opinion favourable to including these books for reading though they were not to be used to establish doctrine). Ussher’s chronology was added in 1701.

The version currently used has further updates in spelling and dates from 1769. Since then many words have become obsolete or changed their meaning, so the KJV does not fulfil its translators’ aim to produce a translation in the language of ordinary people, a translation which would be a common bible all could use.

In addition, further study of the Hebrew and Greek languages and discovery of more manuscripts means that more accurate translations can be made today, although the message of the Bible has not changed.

7. The KJV men frankly recognised translation difficulties and uncertainties

They wrote: “It hath pleased God in his divine providence, here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation, (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain) but in matters of less moment.” The KJV men believed in putting varying readings in the margin. They also wrote: “Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scripture for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty, should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgment not to be so sound in this point.” The KJV men wanted people to be aware of places where the reading was uncertain lest people make too much of the passage, and they thought giving different possible readings was helpful rather than the opposite.


What a shame today that so many exalt the KJV translators to lofty heights and yet contradict everything they stood for when it comes to Bible translations. What inconsistency! You would be wise to stand with the KJV men and not with those who go contrary to the very translators they depend upon so much.

[1] It appears to be a section of Robert A Joyner, King James Version Only? A Guide to Bible Translations published by the author in 2000, but I’ve been unable to trace further information.

[2] Conveniently, on the site of the Trinitarian Bible Society, ironically a Society which in English language circulates only the KJV: http://www.trinitarianbiblesociety.org/site/articles/trn-rdr.asp