Thursday, March 15, 2018

King James in the Menace of Modernism

In recently reading about the “King James Version Debate,” I have noticed a certain ad hominem argument about the origin of the “King James Only” position. (I’m sure I’ve read this before and it just failed to sink in.) This argument finds the origins of KJVO within Seventh-Day Adventism, and some Baptists seem especially fond of applying the guilt by association label. For example, Doug Kutilek writes, “In the realm of King-James-Version-Onlyism, just such a genealogy of error can be easily traced. All writers who embrace the KJV-only position have derived their views ultimately from Seventh-day Adventist missionary, theology professor and college president, Benjamin G. Wilkinson (d.1968), through one of two or three of his spiritual descendants.”[i]

It is a fact that Benjamin George Wilkinson (1872–1968), author of Our Authorized Bible: Vindicated, was a Seventh-day Adventist – at least a missionary, educator, and theologian. He served as Dean of Theology at the Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Maryland (then known as Washington Missionary College). In 1930 he published Our Authorized Bible: Vindicated. In it, Wilkinson defended the text of the King James Bible and, according to Kutilek, “attacked the Westcott-Hort Greek text…expressed strong opposition to the English Revised Version New Testament… manufactured the erroneous idea that the medieval Waldensian Bible was based on the Old Latin version and not the Vulgate, and that the Old Latin version was Byzantine in its text-type.” It is also a fact that David Otis Fuller’s 1970 book, Which Bible, reprinted much of the Wilkinson material.[ii]

As David Cloud notes, “Whether Fuller was right or wrong in reprinting some of Wilkinson’s writings (and hiding the fact that Wilkinson was an Adventist) is something each reader will have to decide for himself” – and Cloud has definitely decided he was wrong (I agree). But Cloud also points out that Wilkinson did not always create new ideas about the Bible, but repeated argument that were made by others long before. He mentions “A number of articles were published in the [Trinitarian Bible Society] Quarterly Record at the turn of the century critiquing the ERV and supporting the Received Text…Another example was fundamentalist leader William Aberhart (1878-1943), who stood for the Received Text and the King James Bible in western Canada during the first half of the twentieth century” and that “One of his sources was the writings of John William Burgon, whose book The Revision Revised was first published in 1881.”

Perhaps Wilkinson’s book is the first book-length defense of its kind “vindicating” the King James Bible. I don’t know of another that is earlier. Perhaps one can play with the word “movement” and argue that there was not a King James Only Movement prior to Wilkinson (and more particularly, the fundamentalists who agreed with and promoted the same ideas he had). One simple fact is that there was no need for a KJVO movement prior to advanced efforts to replace it with other English Bibles.

Another simple fact is that support for the King James Bible as the English-speaking Bible may not have been sophisticated prior to this time – but it did exist. Other than the ether-world of scholars, I suspect that the average English-speaking Christian found their King James Bible to be a trustworthy repository of the inspired word of God.

The Menace of Modernism by William Bell Riley (New York, NY: Christian Alliance Publishing Company, 1917) shows that to be the case.[iii] Riley’s primary focus was a defense against modernism. In his introductory material he divides the attitudes toward the Bible into three “conceptions.” He called his view “the true conception” – wherein “The Bible is divine in origin, and human in expression (p. 13).” He disputes “the new conception” of the modernists – that “The Bible is purely human in its origin and authorship; second, the inspiration of the Bible exists only in its ability to inspire, and finally, its interpretation is a matter of mental convenience (p. 10).” He describes “the old conception” – including those who believed the King James Bible was inerrant. He incorrectly assumed that this “old conception” as on its last leg, probably thinking most inerrantists approved of his “true conception.”
On this point we are inclined to think that, even unto comparatively recent years, such a theory has been entertained. The result, of course, is to make a sort of fetish of the book. That is why, in many a family, it is kept on the center-table and seldom used. They do not want to soil its sacredness. Dr. Arthur T. Pierson tells the story of a Karen village into which a travelling Mussulman had come bearing a mysterious book, which he told the Karens was sacred and entitled to divine honors. It was accepted, and wrapped in muslin and encased in a basket work of reeds, like Moses’ cradle. The mysterious book became deified and venerated, a kind of high priest and sacristan combined. When Boardman came to the village he was asked by the Karens to examine it, and it was found to be the ‘Book of Common Prayer and Psalms,’ an Oxford edition in English, and Mr. Boardman, with joy, entered upon its exposition, and like Paul at Athens, declared unto them the true God. And even now in more remote districts, where educational advantages have been few, the history of the Bible is unknown. Of its translation from language to language they have never learned, and yet I think it would be accepted without fear of successful controversy that such fogies in Biblical knowledge are few, and their funerals are nigh at hand.
“To be sure, there are multitudes who do not understand that the Scriptures were originally written either in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek; that all the original versions were lost, and that the copies of the New Testament date many years this side of Jesus, and that our Scriptures are translations which have come by the way of the Septuagint and Coptic versions, and have been improved in the passage by Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, Tyndale, Covedale, and others; that in 1611, seventy of the most scholarly men, at the King’s command, gave us our ‘authorized version,’ and that between 1870 and 1885 the Canterbury Revision Committee, made up of a hundred of the world’s most accurate scholars, accomplished the text of the Revised Version. To claim, therefore, inerrancy for the King James Version, or even for the Revised Version, is to claim inerrancy for men who never professed it for themselves; to clothe with the claim of verbal inspiration a company of men who would almost quit their graves to repudiate such equality with prophet and apostle.” (pp. 7-9; bold italic emphasis mine; the book is now available in reprint, and a partial view Solid Christian Books: Menace of Modernism, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, October 7, 2014)
One hundred years ago (1917), fundamentalist William Bell Riley knew that a “KJVO” position existed, that is was “old,” and believed that it was laying on its deathbed. But it is still here, and shows no signs of dying any time soon! Most importantly to my post topic, Riley’s written recognition of this position predates Benjamin Wilkinson’s book by 13 years.

[i] The Unlearned Men: The True Genealogy and Genesis of King-James-Version-Onlyism; See also “The Background and Origin of the Version Debate,” in One Bible Only: Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible, p. 44.
[ii] It seems to be agreed by many that God Wrote Only One Bible (1955), by J. J. Ray, uses much of Wilkinson’s material without attribution. I have never seen this book, but discovered the 1976 edition is online HERE.
[iii] Some pages – particularly the relevant ones – are missing in this HathiTrust scan.

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