Are Mormons “King James Only”-ers?

By August 31, 2009

A few minutes ago I was reading a Talking Points Memo article on the guy who took an AR-15 rifle to an Obama event earlier this month. Apparently Chris Broughton attends a fundamentalist Baptist church whose pastor Steven Anderson has prayed that Obama die and go to hell, sentiments that Broughton shares. While there are many interesting elements to this story, it’s this quote that I want to focus on, where Broughton described the church as an “old-fashioned, independent, fundamental, King James Bible only, separated Baptist church.” Prior to reading this, I hadn’t heard the adjective “King James Bible only” to describe a church. Glancing at the Wikipedia article on the subject, it seems the phrase has been used since around the mid-1980s to describe a wide variety of groups that for one reason or another prefer the KJV.  The wiki quotes James White to describe five such groups:

“I Like the KJV Best” – Though White lists this group as a division of the King James Only group,[citation needed] this division does not believe that the KJV is the only acceptable version. Individuals in this category simply prefer the KJV over other translations because their church uses it, because they have always used it, or because they like its style.[10]

  • “The Textual Argument” – Individuals here believe the KJV’s Hebrew and Greek textual basis are the most accurate. These conclude that the KJV is based on better manuscripts. Many in this group may accept a modern version based on the same manuscripts as the KJV. White claims Zane C. Hodges is a good example of this group.[11] The Trinitarian Bible Society would fit in this division; however, “the Trinitarian Bible Society does not believe the Authorised Version to be a perfect translation, only that it is the best available translation in the English language”[12], and “the Society believes this text is superior to the texts used by the United Bible Societies and other Bible publishers, which texts have as their basis a relatively few seriously defective manuscripts from the 4th century and which have been compiled using 20th century rationalistic principles of scholarship.”[13]
  • “Received Text Only” – Here, the traditional Hebrew and Greek texts are believed to be supernaturally preserved. The KJV is believed to be a translation exemplar, but it is also believed that other translations based on these texts have the potential to be equally good. Donald Waite would fall into this category.[citation needed]
  • “The Inspired KJV Group” – Individuals in this group believe that the KJV itself was divinely inspired. They see the translation to be preserved by God and as accurate as the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts found in its underlying texts. Sometimes this group will even exclude other language versions based on the same manuscripts claiming the KJV to be the only Bible.
  • “The KJV As New Revelation” – This group of individuals would believe that the KJV is a “new revelation” or “advanced revelation” from God, and can and should be the standard from which all other translations originate. Adherents to this belief may also believe that the original-language Hebrew and Greek can be corrected by the KJV. This view is often called “Ruckmanism” after Peter Ruckman, a staunch advocate of this view.
  • I’d place most Mormons in the first group, but what do y’all think? I don’t recall Barlow discussing this in Mormons and the Bible, does anyone have it handy to check? Would some Mormons fit in any of the other categories?

    Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Modern Mormonism Cultural History


    1. Wow. I’m not sure any of the categories describe the LDS position, which didn’t really emerge until the J. Reuben Clark era. I think it is rooted more in mistrust of 20th-century translators and translations (regardless of their merit) than in any belief in the superiority of the KJV. The use of the KJV text by the 1981 LDS Bible pretty much sealed the deal for the KJV.

      But it is worth noting that LDS scholars and even General Authorities sometimes use non-KJV Bible quotes in books directed to LDS readers. There’s no rule against non-KJV Bibles, just convention.

      Comment by Dave — August 31, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

    2. In a recent Sunday School calling, I occasionally quoted from the NIV (to avoid extremely awkward, horrible translations of specific Old Testament verses that are nearly unintelligible without 20 footnotes and a German dictionary). I was called out by both leadership and class members and asked to confine my quotes to the KJV.

      Comment by Bro. Jones — August 31, 2009 @ 12:40 pm

    3. Whoops, hit “Add comment” too early. When I respectfully asked leadership why, I was given the “Group 2” answer from the OP.

      I should note that I wasn’t really bothered by this, just surprised. It’s not like I was quoting heavy doctrine, just things like Daniel 3 with its medieval descriptions of musical instruments.

      Comment by Bro. Jones — August 31, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

    4. Very interesting. I can see us fitting in the first group, but I still see the Church making the KJV somewhat more authoritative than that group allows (since the Church publishes its own KJV bible). I also think J. Ruben Clark-ites would fall in group 2, since Clark made a big deal of the correctness of the KJV version.

      I think another major reason we cling to the KJV is that our other restoration scriptures are in KJV language, so we feel that is the inspired or sacred language (not to mention it was the version the early Saints used).

      It’s a shame, IMHO, ‘cuz I love my NRSV.

      Comment by Ben — August 31, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

    5. If it is any condolence, Bro. Jones, I have taught Sunday School a number of times using translations for the Bible other than the KJV, and I intend to continue to do so as the curriculum moves in the study of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament this next year.

      Comment by The Yellow Dart — August 31, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

    6. Like Dave, I’d also place the Church’s position in its own category. Included in the Bible Dictionary at the end of the 1981 LDS Bible is this statement (p. 623-4):

      With the discovery of more ancient mss. not available to the King James translators, many translations of the Bible have been produced since 1900 by Bible scholars. However, based on the doctrinal clarity of latter-day revelation given to Joseph Smith, the Church has held to the King James Version as being doctrinally more accurate than these recent versions. The newer versions are in many instances easier to read, but are in some passages doctrinally weaker in theri presentation of the gospel. Therefore, the King James Version remains the principal Bible of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

      And Dave, I’m sure, is referring to the J. Reuben Clark work Why the King James Version which McConkie summarized in the 2nd ed. of Mormon Doctrine (421-3) and from which the Bible Dictionary statement was pretty obviously derived. Here’s what McConkie summed up:

      English versions that have come forth since the King James Version, and particularly the Revised Standard Version, have been translated by individuals and groups some of whom have questioned the divinity of Christ and his mission. As a consequence, there are passages in many of these versions which have been so altered as to leave in question our Lord’s Divine Sonship and other basic doctrines of the gospel. It is no wonder that the King James Version has been and remains the official version of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This official usage most assuredly will not be changed until such time as the Lord directs that the needed corrections in the Inspired Version be completed.

      Perhaps this last sentence merits some discussion?

      Comment by Nate R — August 31, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

    7. Nate R, # 6, regarding that last sentence:

      This official usage most assuredly will not be changed until such time as the Lord directs that the needed corrections in the Inspired Version be completed.

      I seem to recall other arguments that Elder McConkie forwarded in MD that turned out to be not so permanent. It would also seem that Elder McConkie’s objections are more about the motives and beliefs of the translators, rather than the translation itself.

      Comment by kevinf — August 31, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

    8. Thanks David G., and #6, yea, maybe discussion in terms of analyzing how people think about the KJV, along the lines of this post, but probably not as some actual foreshadowing of future events.

      Comment by Jared T — August 31, 2009 @ 2:18 pm

    9. #7 and #8, That’s just what I meant. How does this sentence help explain the unique Mormon view of the KJV–and does it really sum it up? Has the view of the KJV & it’s relationship to the IV changed? I think Ben was spot-on with his comment regarding the Church clinging to the language of the scriptures that early Mormons would have had.

      Ben #4–Although some restoration scripture is in “KJV language”, I think it’s inaccurate to say that it all is. A more formal English, probably. But I’m not well-versed in the lit on that train of thought.

      Comment by Nate R — August 31, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

    10. Upon further consideration, I think that group # 1 would fit as well as any to an “official” church position, as much as there is one.

      However, and Elder McConkie would seem to fit this as well, # 2 would include many members of the church. We seem to understand a “scholarly” use of other translations, but for general church use, those translations seem to be frowned upon by many members. We have a couple of older HP in our ward that sometimes use the RSV or other translations, more by accident than design, and they will get called out for it. “Don’t forget your real bible, next time, Bob!”

      I’m constantly intrigued, though, by the JST Inspired Version. I recall once that I found a reference in a gospel doctrine manual a few years back that referred to a specific JST passage. When I looked in my current LDS version of the KJV, it wasn’t in there, so I looked in an older copy of the Inspired Version, and found the corrected reference. Apparently not all the corrections in the Inspired Version made it into the notes for the LDS KJV.

      I’ve seen some things, though, that lead me to wonder if there is an updated LDS KJV in the works, based on a recent article in BYU Studies, on sorting out the editing marks in Joseph Smith’s copy of the KJV that he used while doing his new translation, specifically the New Testament. Anybody know any details about that?

      Comment by kevinf — August 31, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

    11. #10: I just use the Faulring, et al, New Translation for that kind of material. Works great.

      Early LDS lambasted the KJV as generally misconstrued and often materially misleading in its translation. It’s only with the rise of critical scholarship and the fear that this scholarship is corrupting that the KJV per se becomes important. (Remember Smith holding aloft his German Bible during a sermon or two.) Of course for Mormons Ben is exactly correct that a great deal of early Mormon exegesis is _extremely_ specific to the KJV, relying on revelatory insights based on inopportune phrasing in KJV that is nowhere present in older or newer texts. It doesn’t make the revelations invalid, but it makes them harder to contextualize.

      I like the KJV because it’s a dinosaur and allows us to situate the post-testamental aspects of our religion in something at least slightly resembling its original milieu. (Of course when I’m trying to understand the Bible as a Hebrew manuscript, I prefer the NRSV.)

      Let me put that last point less flippantly because as I write it down, it strikes me as rather an important point. If we understand revelation as a conversation between God and a prophet, and if a central component of God’s conversation with Joseph Smith was framed in the language of the Authorized Protestant Bible, then we lose at least in part our ability to understand the conversation they were having when we move to later Biblical projects. So when I’m trying to understand Joseph Smith’s revelations, I read KJV. When I’m trying to understand the revelations to the Hebrew people and the early disciples of Jesus, as refracted through the lens of various editorial hands, I turn to the NRSV with supplementation from the Anchor Bible commentaries and texts.

      Comment by smb — August 31, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

    12. The KJV has long served the Church in it’s prooftexting. As a missionary in the 70’s, I was given a long list of OT/NT scriptures to refute protestant doctrine. I have since read many other translations where the wording would not be as supportive of LDS teachings.

      Also, Joseph Smith was highly influenced by the KJV in the language used by the many BOM, D&C, and POGP quotes from the OT/NT. We are still encouraged as a people to pray using the KJV “thee/thou” language.

      Comment by larryco_ — August 31, 2009 @ 5:14 pm

    13. smb: I also use the Anchor Bible commentaries. Good stuff.

      Comment by larryco_ — August 31, 2009 @ 5:15 pm

    14. I agree with #11 for sure. I also think the idea that thee and thou as sacred speech is knee deep in present authorities.

      Personally I feel what is said is what makes something sacred but I have to say at times I fall into category 1 as KJV just sounds nicer to me… not that I completely understand it.

      Comment by JonW — August 31, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

    15. If you run into people giving you guff for citing non-KJV Bibles, just explain that you’re following Apostolic examples and produce a photocopy of particular Ensign articles.

      Comment by Nitsav — August 31, 2009 @ 7:02 pm

    16. I remember attending a singles ward in California in the 70s in which we used at least 3 different bibles in Gospel Doctrine class and we compared the three constantly. It made the class much more interesting, and gave us much more to talk about.
      Having read Barlow’s book, I understand some of the history of this, but I find it frankly silly that we must only use the KJV. On the other hand, I do love KJV language.

      Comment by john — September 1, 2009 @ 5:43 am

    17. 1. The Book of Mormon and articles of faith point to problems with the KJV. (as far as it is translated correctly, “plain and precious parts removed, etc.) So if anything I would say mormons are suspicious of the accuracy of the KJV.

      2. Mormons are linked to the KJV that would be hard to shake because much of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants quote that translation. To abandon it would possibly call into question those other revelations.

      Comment by Trevor — September 1, 2009 @ 10:39 am

    18. I’ve never thought of Mormons as being KJV Onlyists, but then I conceive of KJV Onlyists as being those further down on White’s paradigm. Most Mormons would fall under no. 1, and a few under no. 2 due to JRC, but as time goes on that number is becoming increasingly small.

      Comment by Kevin Barney — September 1, 2009 @ 11:14 am

    19. #2: I’ve repeatedly used non-KJV translations (and, for the NT, Koine Greek interlinear editions) when teaching Gospel Doctrine with no pushback whatsover, so I suspect your problem has far more to do with your bishop than with official Church policy.

      And you can bet that the next time I get to teach Book of Mormon in Gospel Doctrine, I’ll have Skousen’s “The Earliest Text” handy. ..bruce..

      Comment by bfwebster — September 1, 2009 @ 12:32 pm

    20. Oh, and no one has yet brought up the simple issue that the KJV is in English, and a large chunk of Church membership speaks other languages (and therefore uses other Bibles). Of course, there are issues there as well (cf. the Church’s new Spanish Bible). ..bruce..

      Comment by bfwebster — September 1, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

    21. This post neglects that most Mormons now do not read in English (?) How does the KJV preference hold up in that situation?
      Would a KJV translation in Hebrew be a better Bible?

      Comment by Bob — September 1, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

    22. […] 1, 2009 by Todd Wood 1.  LDS are discussing the KJV . . […]

      Pingback by 400 years later on Bible translations . . . « Heart Issues for LDS — September 1, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

    23. Gentlemen, James White tries to describe all the nuances among Independent Baptist Fundamentalists, from the scholarly to the hairbrain.

      And as an independent Baptist fundamentalist pastor, I said “YIKES” to Steven Anderson, when I heard this on the first news coverage.

      Interestingly, in Southern Idaho, you will find representatives of all four groups mentioned in the post.

      Comment by Todd Wood — September 1, 2009 @ 10:32 pm

    24. Nice post, David. I was thinking what Bruce and Bob bring up … that most LDS don’t even read the Bible in English.

      The views of fundamentalists like Anderson and Broughton (who champion the KJV as a marker of true Christianity) raise interesting questions about their notions of linguistic superiority, which of course is closely related to notions of whiteness and nativism here in the U.S.

      Comment by Christopher — September 1, 2009 @ 11:40 pm

    25. The interesting, and perhaps unexpected wrinkle in all this Chris, is that Broughton is black.

      Comment by David G. — September 2, 2009 @ 5:25 am

    26. Whoa. Interesting indeed.

      Comment by Christopher — September 2, 2009 @ 9:10 am

    27. Many black preachers and their passionate congregations love the KJV.

      They just don’t live in Idaho, the place that has its own skeletons.

      Comment by Todd Wood — September 3, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

    28. Well, I suppose the state is changing somewhat, there are some black brothers who are making a go of it.

      Comment by Todd Wood — September 3, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

    29. _Many black preachers and their passionate congregations love the KJV._

      No one said otherwise, Todd.

      Comment by Christopher — September 3, 2009 @ 3:53 pm


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