It is a common assertion of the KJV-Discreditors[i] that “King James Onlyism” originated in 1930 with Seventh-day Adventist Benjamin Wilkinson in his book Our Authorized Bible: Vindicated. For example, in “The Unlearned Men: The True Genealogy and Genesis of King-James-Version-Onlyism,” Doug Kutilek writes, “Every KJVO advocate is a lineal descendant of Wilkinson, Ray, Fuller and Ruckman…”
Now, I reckon there is an element of truth in that – when we view KJVO as a movement within Fundamentalism. Ray and Fuller definitely show dependence on Wilkinson in their writings, and later fundamentalists show dependence on Ray and Fuller. But every KJVO advocate is not a lineal descendant of Wilkinson, et al. Some aren’t “descendants” at all! As someone who spends a lot of time in dusty Baptist records, I could intuit that acceptance of the King James Version as THE ONLY BIBLE had a much longer history among Baptists – even if the idea might not be sophisticated and was unsupported by a writing culture (i.e., producing books like Wilkinson, Ray, & Fuller). The variety of primitivistic Baptist groups that use only the KJV – who probably never heard of Ray and Fuller before the rise of the internet, and some maybe not even now – should give the historian pause from making dogmatic assertions about the origin and extent of so-called “KJV-Only.”
In The Menace of Modernism William Bell Riley briefly referenced an “old” belief that the King James Bible was inerrant, even though he figured “that such fogies in Biblical knowledge are few, and their funerals are nigh at hand.” Lo and behold, some of the “old fogies” spoke out in Tennessee 100 years before Riley wrote his book in 1917 – yes, 1817!!
In the history of the Original Tennessee Association of Primitive Baptists supplied at the New Providence Primitive Baptist Church website, it is recorded that the Tennessee Association of Baptists “established the Authorized King James Version of the Holy Bible as its standard” in their 1817 meeting. The minutes reveal the accuracy of this statement.
Troubled by the assertions of “a Mr. John Hutchison, a Methodist circuit rider…that a translation by Mr. John Wesley had been received by the Baptists as sacred more than twenty years ago,” the association answered “from the best authority we have received from England, Wales, Germany, and the United States, such a thing has never come to our knowledge, but we are certainly informed that the Old and New Testament translated by order of King James the 1st, has been always the standard for the Baptists.” Another query followed. How should the churches “behave ourselves towards preachers, and people that have altered the New Testament and those that adhere and propagate the same?”
“Answer: We believe that any person, either in a public or private capacity who would adhere to, or propagate any alteration of the New Testament contrary to that already translated by order of King James the 1st, that is now in common use, ought not be encouraged but agreeable to the Apostles words to mark such and have no fellowship with them; and for the authority of our belief we refer to the following scriptures, viz: Deuteronomy 4th Chapter and 2 verse, Chapter 12 and 32 Chapter 28 and verse 14, Joshua 1 and 7, Proverbs 30 and 6, Rev. 22 and 18, 19, 2 John 10 verse. ”[ii]
One may object to the accuracy of their history (“King James the 1st, has been always the standard for the Baptists”) or how they determined to respond to the threat (“mark such and have no fellowship with them”). However, it is impossible not to see – and admit, if you’re honest – that this body of Baptists adhered to the King James only 113 years before Benjamin Wilkinson wrote any book, and 55 years before Wilkinson was even born. The Tennessee Association went so far as “to mark such [as make any alteration of the New Testament] and have no fellowship with them.” That sounds pretty KJVO to me!
Anti-KJV historians, please revise your history – and your polemics based on that history.
[i] While one often sees charges online about the extremes of KJV-Onlyists such as Riplinger and Ruckman, it often goes without mention that there are extremists who fight the King James Bible. In the book From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man: A Layman’s Guide to How We Got Our Bible (edited by James B. Williams) these extremists are called out and labeled “King James Discreditors” or “KJV Discreditors.”