In a sermon in 2001 an independent Baptist pastor in Los Angeles, California stated, “for twelve years I have offered $1,000 to anyone who can give a well-documented quote from any leading preacher or scholar who believed that the KJV was inspired and inerrant before 1950.” [iv] Such an offer, unrequited, seems to prove that surely this position was non-existent before 1950. But as stated, it has many nuts that are hard to crack, and too many outs whereby the quote can be dismissed as not meeting the standard. Scholar may mean someone who has earned a Ph.D. or Th.D. Who and what is a “leading pastor”? What is a “well-documented” quote?[v] What if the person quoted does not define “inspired” and “inerrant” in his statement? And on it goes. Ultimately, this challenge places the representative position of Baptists among those with notoriety and scholarship. Paul, the apostle, suggests the “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble” are the routine representatives of the faith once delivered to the saints![vi]
Inerrancy (as a general rule) means the Bible is fully true and completely trustworthy in all it teaches or affirms – not only in matters of faith, but also in matters such as history and science.[vii] A quote from Harold Lindsell addresses both inspiration and inerrancy: “the authors of Scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, were preserved from making factual, historical, scientific, or other errors...God the Holy Spirit by nature cannot lie or be the author of untruth. If the Scripture is inspired at all it must be infallible.”[viii] There were Baptists who held this view prior to 1950 (and made some application of it to their thoughts about the King James Bible). A more excellent way to view Baptist history concerning the Bible is to look at the overall history of Baptists for the preponderance of evidence! Mining for that “one exact quote” will never settle the issue. Within the history of Baptists you will find Baptist people – whether preachers or laymen, scholars or farmers, in associations or in churches, who in one fashion or another, according to their own thoughts, held that the King James was inspired. This does not prove it is right, but it is not an anomaly.[ix]
From those who believe the KJV is the best English translation to those who believe the KJV is inspired and inerrant – King James Only views of God’s word have been and are now held by Baptists of various historical, theological, and geographical backgrounds. This testifies to the ubiquitous nature of the viewpoint among Baptists of the past, continuing into the present. Today, in some groups it is a minority position (e.g. GARBC, SBC), with some it is a majority position (e.g. Free Will Baptists, Primitive Baptists), and with some it is some a universal or near-universal position (e.g. Old Regular Baptists, Separate Baptists).
Over the next several days I will post King James Bible statements made by Baptists with varying historical, theological, geographical, and “sub-denominational” backgrounds. This begins to give part of the “total picture” of the historical views of Baptists.
(Links will be “hot” after they post)
[i] James White proposes five ”KJV Only” categories, at least two of which can easily accommodate traditional Baptist views on the King James Bible and inspiration existing before Peter Ruckman. On the other hand R. L. Hymers declares, “In my opinion, the term ‘King James Only’ is a misleading name for this [Ruckmanite] movement. I myself am King James Only. I believe we should preach only from the KJV because it is the best translation, based on the best Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.” (From his sermon “The Verse That Destroys Ruckmanism.”)
[ii] More often it finds vent in sermons and newspapers.
[iii] “From the historical perspective it can be said that for two thousand years the Christian church has agreed that the Bible is completely trustworthy; it is infallible or inerrant.” (The Battle for the Bible, Harold Lindsell, Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, p. 19) Even this is in question among many modern Baptists (and others). Nevertheless, “The inspiration and authority of the Bible is the foundation upon with the entire edifice of Christian truth is standing. If this foundation falters the whole Christian faith goes with it.” (Biblical Inerrancy and Reliability, J. Otis Yoder & Harold S. Martin, Harrisonburg VA: Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites, 1985, p. 30)
[v] Obviously, “I personally knew Brother So-and-So, and I know he believed that” will not be accepted – even though many of us, especially if we’ve been around since the 1960s or before, have known such persons.
[vi] To sincerely hold a strict view that only scholars can represent the position of Baptists goes against Scripture and our history. By it priestly robes of pride are showing as one tries to build a high wall between the clergy/scholar-laity/student divide. Scholars are often like dollars – not worth their face value, due to inflation.
[vii] This view does not mean that the Bible’s primary purpose is to present exact information concerning history and science. It therefore uses popular expressions of men – such as the sun rising and setting – to address men in words they understand.
[viii] The Battle for the Bible, Harold Lindsell,, Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, pp. 30-31
[ix] For examples, in association minutes: Tennessee Association of Baptists in 1817, Barren River (Kentucky) Association of Baptists in 1830, Washington District Association (Virginia) in 1896, Mates Creek Association in 1905, Yellow Creek Association (Missouri) by 1909; in newspapers: e.g., “A Voice From Cleveland County,” a letter on the King James Bible by S. C. Crawley to the The Union Republican (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), October 7, 1920; Methodist preacher Thomas McSwain Elliott in his religion column in the Atlanta Constitution; Though a Presbyterian rather than a Baptist, William Jennings Bryan was notable and well educated. He was valedictorian Illinois College in 1881 and studied law at Union Law College in Chicago. It is reputed, though not well-documented, that he testified that every word in the KJV was inspired (Asheville Citizen-Times, Asheville, North Carolina, Sunday, October 28, 1928, p. 15).