Wednesday, April 11, 2018

DeWitt Talmage and King James-Onlyism

In two previous posts – King James in The Menace of Modernism and KJV-Only predates Wilkinson – I have addressed the common assertion of the KJV-Discreditors[i] that “King James Onlyism” originated in 1930 with Seventh-day Adventist Benjamin Wilkinson. While conducting newspaper searches I came upon an 1881 sermon or lecture by “the Greatly Beloved Divine” Thomas DeWitt Talmage. Taking the text of 2 Samuel 6:6-7, Talmage spoke on “The New Revision. A Mutilation and a Profanation,” (“The New Revision. A Mutilation and a Profanation—Talmage’s Sermon,” The North Alabamian, Tuscumbia, Alabama, Friday, June 24, 1881, p. 4).[i]

Here Talmage is a clear proponent of the King James Bible and an opponent of the new Revised Version New Testament. He says, “I am willing to take it as a commentary, and to stand it respectfully on my book shelf behind other human opinions of the word of God. But to put it upon my private stand, or in my family room, or on my pulpit as a substitute for the King James translation, I never will. I put my hand on the old book and take the oath of allegiance. So help me God!” Further he states, “...this pedantic and capricious and false to the principles which they declared at the outset would guide them—namely, that they would make no unnecessary change…The work is a literary botch, which will never be adopted if all the people fearless of criticism and rebuke speak out their real sentiments.” He rejected the new version:
  • for its amazing triviality. (By this he seems to mean trivial changes that require as much or more explanation as what it replaced. “Instead of ‘Show me a penny,’ ‘Show me a denarius.)
  • because it comes at the most inopportune date. (“While the forces of heaven and hell are in hand-to-hand fight it is asked that we stop to discuss whether our weapons might not be hammered into a little better shape...”)
  • for it shakes the faith of many in the truth of the Bible. (“The greatest work of the last two hundred years has been to have the people understand that this was the word of God, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”)
  • because it opens the door to revisions innumerable. (“Hence we shall have another revision to revise this, and another revision to revise that…”)
While this may stop a little short of some types of “King James-Onlyism,” such statements by any regular Joe would get him labeled KJVO! I decided to dig a little further to see what I might find from Talmage.

Talmage held the doctrine of preservation, and seems to apply it to the King James Bible.
“…the Bible in its present shape has been so miraculously preserved.”[ii]
“The Bible is not only divinely inspired, but it is divinely protected in its present shape. You could as easily, without detection, take from the writings of Shakespeare ‘Hamlet,” and institute in place thereof Alexander Smith’s drama, as at any time during the last fifteen hundred years a man could have made any important change in the Bible without immediate detection. If there had been an element of weakness, or of deception, or of disintegration the Book would long ago have fallen to pieces. If there had been one loose brick or cracked casement in this castellated truth, surely the bombardment of eight centuries would have discovered and broken through that imperfection. The fact that the Bible stands intact, notwithstanding all the furious assaults on all sides upon it, is proof to me that it is a miracle, and every miracle is of God.”[iii]
Talmage applies “perfect Bible” to the King James translation.
“God says that the Bible is true—it is all true. Herbert Spencer laughs. John Stuart Mill laughs. All great German universities laugh. Harvard laughs—softly! A great many of the learned institutions of this country, with long rows of professors seated on the fence between Christianity and infidelity, laugh softly...I take up this Book of King James’s translation. I consider it a perfect Bible, but here are skeptics who want it torn to pieces, and now with this Bible in my hand, let me tear out all those portions which the skepticism of this day demands shall be torn out.”[iv]
It would be hard to apply Riley’s expression “such fogies in Biblical knowledge” to T. DeWitt Talmage, but he certainly appears to be part of “the old conception” who believed the King James Bible was inerrant. Some of Talmage’s statements may have preceded those of William Bell Riley by 30 or so years, and predates Benjamin Wilkinson’s book by nearly 50 years (at least in one case).[v] Agreeing or disagreeing with Talmage is one thing – but denying that his position and pronouncements existed is quite another! Again I say to Anti-KJV historians, please revise your history – and your polemics based on that history.

[i] In this period there were numerous newspaper articles about the “new revision” – many of them informational, and quite a few promotional. The proponents of revision were wildly optimistic. At least one thought the Revised Version would replace the King James Bible “within five years”! Talmage’s sermon, either fully or in parts, was also carried by a wide range of newspapers. I have consulted some of those accounts as well. (You can only view the newspaper link if you have an account to
[ii] Mending the Bible, sermon by T. DeWitt Talmage, 1895
[iii] “Splendors of Orthodoxy,” sermon found in The Authentic Life of T. De Witt Talmage, the Greatly Beloved Divine (John Rusk, N.P.: L. G. Stahl, 1902) preached February 3, 1884; other sermons by Talmage may be found in Great Pulpit Masters, Volume VII, T. DeWitt Talmage
[iv] The Laughter of the Bible, sermon by T. DeWitt Talmage, April 18, 1886
[v] Unfortunately, the online sermons I found – other than the one on the new revision – did not give the date the sermon was delivered.

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