Thursday, March 30, 2017

KJV to "UNV" to KJVO: a Journey

As I noted Tuesday, I have written a fair amount regarding the King James Bible. Many people probably assume us “older folks” just grew up with the King James and are therefore predisposed to use it. I suppose there is some truth in that, but it doesn’t reflect the whole story.

My first Bible was a King James Version. For the most part, my memories go back to the early 1960s. Back then in “our” churches everyone used the King James Bible, but there was little talk or teaching about it.[i] Folks just believed their Bible was trustworthy and were skeptical of the new Revised Standard Version. Seems most Baptists in the South warned against the RSV.[ii] The New American Standard Bible was once mentioned in our pulpit by a young visiting preacher. His idea of it was that the NASB was just the KJV with some newer, more up-to-date words (“you” for “thou” type stuff). I think everyone took his statement at face value and there was no action or reaction about it.[iii]

I own several print versions of the Bible, from a first edition facsimile reproduction of the 1611 King James Bible to a New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of the Jehovah’s Witnesses – even a few foreign language Bibles thrown in for good measure (whether I can read them or not!). I don’t I think ever carried a different version of the Bible to use in church, but I was not committed to the sole use of the King James Bible. In Sunday School when I was a nearly-grown teenager I would read from the King James Bible and “translate” it into modern English as I was read (changing pronouns and verbs and such like). I think I had a Living Bible back when those were popular. Most older people used and trusted the King James Bible, but I don’t remember any specific talk or discussion of “King James Only” in our circles.

In the fall after I surrendered to preach, I enrolled in a Bible College – against the better judgment of some and at the urging of others. “The story you are about to hear is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent” (though no names are mentioned and no one was innocent). The Bible College was generally conservative but somewhat progressive. They took the position on the Bible that only the original autographs were inspired. Its current doctrinal statement on the subject affirms, “The Holy Scriptures, which we call, ‘The Bible,’ in their original expression, are the Words of God; they are verbally inspired and the author of them is God.” It was here I began my journey back to the King James Bible.

This Bible College was covertly “anti-King James.” They did not appear so outwardly to the churches, but were so within the four walls of their sanctum. I was “UNV” – unaligned and largely unaware of the versions debate. It was the school’s mixed message which eventually caused me to study the subject of Bible versions and decide I preferred the King James Bible. I read books such as Which Bible by David Otis Fuller (pro) and The King James Version Debate by D. A. Carson (con), as well as The Men Behind the King James Version by Gustavus S. Paine (about the translators).[iv]

Most of the instructors at the Bible College were also pastors. Most were from generations that grew up using the King James Bible, and they preached from the King James Bible in their churches.[v] Though they took the position that only the autographs were inspired and that other versions – particularly the NASB – were better than the KJV, they always recommended the student preachers to use the King James Bible when they visited and filled in at churches. In the classroom they spoke plainly about their opinions of the King James Bible. In the pulpit – not so much! One leading professor emphatically exclaimed to his class (which I was in), “I had just as soon use a Catholic Bible as an Episcopalian Bible.”[vi] In my second year one of the instructors began a chapel series on one of the letters of Peter.[vii] The lesson began with his translation from the Greek (UBS/Nestle-Aland) and proceeded with a litany of what was wrong with the King James translation of this or that. After several weeks I had more of this than I could take and quit going to chapel. I can only assume that the series continued in the anti-KJV rhetoric with which it began. At the end of the year I concluded that higher-learning experience and did not return. The quest of learning about the Bible continued as part of my larger journey of learning about the church.

So there you have it. A journey. An outwardly neutral anti-KJV school took an unaligned student and turned him toward a KJV-Only supporter. It doesn’t make me right or wrong, but it is my journey. It is not what many people might suppose about (so-called) “older” King James Bible supporters. It is not just a default position.

[i] For example, the Sunday School material used the King James Bible, but a writer might comment on a Greek or Hebrew word and suggest “a better translation.” Back then I don’t suppose any of our people had ever even heard of “KJVO.”
[ii] I believe the American Baptist Association, Baptist Missionary Association and Southern Baptist Convention all made resolutions against it.
[iii] His idea was incorrect, though he may have believed what he said.
[iv] These are a sample of where I started my search.
[v] There was one exception of which I was aware.
[vi] But he didn’t use the Catholic Bible – and he did use the Episcopal Bible.
[vii] I forget whether it was First or Second Peter. I think it was First and that he eventually went through both.


Leland Bryant Ross said...

Interesting bit of historiography, Robert. I have two questions, though.
1) What does "UNV" stand for? I'm guessing your Bible College was NOT the University of Nevada...
2) In what sense do you consider yourself KJVO?

R. L. Vaughn said...

Hi, Leland. Let me see if I can clear those up.

1. “UNV” really wasn’t very clear, but at the time I didn't notice that it went unexplained. I intended it to mean something like “unaligned (with any) version.” I was brought up on the KJV, was somewhat ambivalent toward it, became a likely candidate for a more modern version but arrived back where I started.

2. It is fairly common to divide KJVO something like James White does in The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations?. (1) those who like the KJV best, (2) those who support the KJV textually [i.e., the underlying Hebrew and Greek texts ], (3) those who are Received Text only, (4) those who believe the KJV is inspired and inerrant, (5) those who believe the KJV is advanced or new revelation.

I support the underlying texts of the King James (Majority/Byzantine), and also support the accuracy and trustworthiness of the King James translation itself. I might come in as a “3.5”. I reserve the terminology “inspired” to the movement of the Holy Spirit on the original writers. I believe the translation of the KJV in our language preserves the inspired word of God and mediates it to us. I don’t agree with some of the 4’s and 5’s on whether two different translations can both be the words of God. For example, I believe “Thou art the man” and “You are the man” are the same thing (for all intents and purposes) and would both be an accurate translation of God’s words. (I prefer “Thou art the man” because it preserves in the receptor language the second person singular, which has been lost in modern English but exists in the source language.)

R. L. Vaughn said...

Note: I have edited the original text so that "UNV" has an explanation within it.