Anatomy of a KJV Only Argument

Anatomy of a KJV Only Argument

I’ve pretty much quit bothering with the KJV only folks since their arguments are so repetitive. Yet occasionally I run across one that so illustrates the failings of this entire movement that I want to take the time to comment briefly. Of course, you all know already that I rarely comment briefly . . .

The argument in this case comes from an article titled The Rudimentary Factor Underlying Infallibility by Jeffrey Nachimson, and relates to a comment made by Elgin Hushbeck, Jr. regarding the translation of John 5:44. Now the author of this article does not provide a useful reference to the material, other than author name, but a brief search of known material found Elgin’s material on this topic including the major arguments, though clearly the author of the attrocious article I am referencing was working from some other text.

[For full disclosure, I need to note here that I am the publisher of Elgin’s book series Consider Christianity, but I would also note that the treatment given by av1611answers.com web site to other authors is no more fair or appropriate than what they use in this case.]

First, the article begins in the usual KJV only manner by belittling all other Christians. I’m not going to quote it, but one can just follow the link and read the first couple of paragraphs to get the style. If you’ve read any substantial amount of KJV only material, you’re already acquainted with this procedure.

Second, the article is one that deals with accusations of inaccuracies in the KJV. This is such an interesting approach for a KJV only advocate, because this article criticizes their own approach. Any logic to be discovered here will apply equally against the vast majority of KJV only arguments, which generally start with a list of errors they find in whatever modern version they wish to attack. The one and only constant with these arguments is that we know that the tortured logic must show that the KJV is right and all others are wrong. In response, opponents of the KJV only position occasionally present error lists of their own, demonstrating simply that the KJV translators were also human and suffered from the possibility of error. KJV only advocates, however, regard this as some form of slander against the KJV. That characterization is silly. Each and every critic, not of the KJV, but of the KJV only position, is aware that translators make errors. Only against a backdrop of a claim of infallibility for the KJV does it appear slanderous, but since neither the KJV translators, nor obviously the text of the KJV Bible itself claims this level of infallibility, it is hardly slander.

Now if Nachimson cared about Hushbeck’s position, it was readily available. In his article Which Bible is the Word of God? he comments regarding a similar discussion concerning John 1:18, “If we were to follow the logic of the KJV-only supporters we would have to conclude that the translators of the KJV were trying to weaken the doctrine of the deity of Christ” (emphasis mine). Husbheck does not, in fact, believe that this kind of list of errors is the right way to deal with the problem. Rather, he is showing that the KJV is also vulnerable to that type of criticism. I would add, based on the same logic, that this approach to a translation can easily be taken as an attack on the Bible as a whole. If we find a characteristic that (1) destroys the validity of the Bible and (2) applies to all available Bibles (the KJV-only crowd do not accept the texts in their original language as authoritative), then the result is, in fact, to tear down the Bible.

But let’s look at the argument itself before I comment further on its anatomy. It goes in this way:

Nachimson says:

Elgin Hushbeck, an engineer and apologetic writer, shows us what an engineering degree can do for the text of the King James Bible:

Actually, while Elgin does have an engineering degree, he also has a master’s degree in Christian apologetics, and is the author of the apologetics series I referenced earlier. But what is the point here? Is it to suggest that engineers cannot possibly understand the Bible?

Nachimson quotes Husbheck:

” The other type of problem involved poor translations. Translation is a difficult task and humans are not perfect. As a result, no translation the size of the Bible is perfect. While the King James Version is a good translation, it does have a few minor problems.

Note here that even in the article quoted, and in the portion quoted by Nachimson Hushbeck makes his point extremely clear. He is simply pointing out something that true, and for which the evidence is overwhelming, namely that translations are not perfect. He is not slandering anything, nor is he claiming that one should abandon a translation because one finds such problems in it. He is simply pointing out to the KJV only advocates that their logic applies the other way as well. Note also that he notes that these are minor problems, something which can also be said at a minimum of most KJV only criticisms of modern versions.

Nachimson quoting Hushbeck again:

Again here are two examples: John 5:44 and Hebrews 10:23.In John 5:44 the Greek text very clearly reads “…and seek not the honor that comes from the only God.” Among other things this is a strong statement of monotheism. Yet for some reason the King James Version translates this as “and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” Here any reference to monotheism is removed, and it becomes a statement that honor only comes from God. In Hebrews 10:23, the Greek text reads “let us hold fast the profession of our hope.” Yet the King James Version translates the Greek word for “hope” as “faith” and reads “let us hold fast the profession of our faith.” I have yet to hear of any explanation of either of these translations except that the King James Version translators must have known what they were doing. ” (Hushbeck, “King James Version Only” article)

Note that I have provided a link to Nachimson’s article, something he has failed to do to Hushbeck’s.

Nachimson now quotes the Greek text, notes that there is such a thing as an adjectival use of a prepositional phrase in Greek, and then agrees with Hushbeck on the literal translation. Those who want to follow this in detail can follow the link back to Nachimson’s article.

But then he says:

The problem with Elgin Hushbeck is that he failed to notice two things:

1) That the context of the verse renders a literal adjectival translation of this passage senseless.

Here let me drop down past his second point, which I will take up in a moment, to quote his discussion of this first point.

Beginning in verse 30 in John 5, Jesus Christ discusses the plethora of witnesses that testify to his ministry and authority. He lists the testimony of John the Baptist (vs. 32-35); his works (vs. 36); the Father (vs. 37); the scriptures (vs. 39); and notice in verse 41 where Jesus Christ states exactly where he DOESN’T GET HIS HONOR FROM! Why the discussion is how to know if something or someone is from God, AND THE HONOR THAT ONLY GOD CAN GIVE! No one in this context bats an eye about monotheism! There isn’t an inclination anywhere in 47 verses that one person (including the lost Pharisees) is discussing the necessity of monotheism. For Hushbeck to conjecture that the A.V. rendering doesn’t uphold monotheism in the passage because it doesn’t translate the prepositional phrase as an adjective, is bordering on the realm of the absurd. The point is where do REAL testimonial witnesses and honor originate? REAL honor comes from God ONLY, not the only God.

Umm, so where is his argument here? If the text says it comes from the only God, that’s what it says. And it is certainly not nonsense. In a world in which one might also seek honor from other gods, it was quite appropriate for Jesus to point out that this honor came from the one God. His Jewish audience would have had no difficulty with that. The point Nachimson claims Jesus is making here is just fine. But the translation chosen by modern versions is also just fine, it does make sense in context, and there is no reason for Nachimson to arbitrarily alter the text of the gospel of John here in order to support his favorite translation. Talk about amateur critics! (See below.)

Now I return to add the second point:

2) That there are other translational possibilities that he didn’t bother to look into or inform his readers due to his prejudicial bias against the King’s English.

Where does Nachimson get the idea that Hushbeck has a “prejudicial bias against the King’s English.” Apparently he just felt the need to make up an insult. Of course I don’t have such a bias either, and yet I don’t speak “the King’s English” in daily life, I don’t preach in it, and I don’t need to use a Bible written in it. Nachimson gets the idea that others have such a bias because he has a completely irrational bias in favor of the English of the KJV, and thus any balanced perspective, such as one that approves such language in its place, appears to be a bias against it.

Nevertheless, Hushbeck’s real problem is his ignorance of Greek grammar. Here I shall quote, “A Grammar of New Testament Greek,” by James Hope Moulton, Vol. III-Syntax, by Nigel Turner, pg. 225-226:

“There is therefore not surprisingly some confusion of monos with the adv. monon: Mk 6:8- meden ei me rhabdon monon (D monen); Acts 11:19- medeni ei me monon (D monois) Ioudaiois; Heb. 12:26 OT seiso ou monon ten gen, alla kai…; 2 Tim. 4:8; I Jn 5:6- ouk en to hudati monon (B mono). In Jn 5:44 monou is best TAKEN ADVERBIAL; not from him who alone is God, but only from God (Jewish monotheism was unimpeachable; Jesus was referring to their love of human praise), IN SPITE OF THE WORD ORDER. Lk 5:21 adv. monos.”

But what is the argument in favor of taking this adverbially? Surely Nachimson is not suggesting that we should take whatever view of any passage that Moulton, or Turner who wrote the volume in question, took. If so, then we can surely destroy the KJV Only position using such authority. There is, in fact, no argumentation provided in favor of this position at all. We see here an illustration of the KJV Only method. Those quotes from grammarians which appear to support their position are authoritative, and all others are not.

The fact is that there is excellent reason to read this passage precisely as it is written and to take the term adjectivally. Of the modern versions, I found only one, the NLT uses the term adverbially. Now I want to emphasize that the simple fact that all these translations take the term adjectivally doesn’t make it so. But it does make Nachimson’s claim that Husbheck is ignorant of Greek grammar rather silly. While he tries to focus an attack on just one person he’s really saying that all of these people did not make a translational choice, but rather that they are all ignorant of Greek grammar.

It would do the reader good to examine the passage mentioned by Nigel Turner; Luke 5:21. This passage states:

“And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”

In this passage in Luke you have a similar set-up, where the discussion is centered around something ONLY GOD CAN DO! There was never any question about monotheism! Such are the devious of ways of amateur Bible critics who fool around with Greek New Testaments. It is like a toddler trying to handle a 9mm pistol. Nevertheless, in Greek, the last phrase of Luke 5:21 appear as thus:

“… ei me monos ho theos;” – Lit. “Except only God?” Hence the Greek indicative “ei,” and the Greek subjunctive particle “me,” together form and idiom that means, “except/unless.” However, in this case better English is “but.” However, the point is, you have the adjective “monos” functioning as an ADVERB just like John 5:44 even those the sentence structure is different. The point is still the same because both contexts are discussing entities that are limited to God’s discretion.

But what Nachimson misses, while busily accusing others of ignorance, is the simple fact that the syntax of these two passages is different. The probability that “monos” is an adverb in Luke 5:21 is much higher than in John 5:44. The fact that there are similarities in the context does not mean that the point must be the same. Note in addition that it is the Pharisees talking in Luke 5:21.

I now omit some paragraphs quote Daniel B. Wallace on the use of adjectives adverbially in Greek. You can again go back to the referenced article to read this if you wish, but this is a point that was never in dispute.

Therefore, it is evident that based upon the context of John 5, and the clear fact that adjectives (even if in the attributive position in a prepositional phrase) can function adverbially to form a more idiomatic structure in the English translation.

The KJV only method continues. First, Nachimson provided a substantial amount of evidence to support an idea that was never in dispute (adjectives can be used adverbially in Greek), and now he claims that he has proven something else–namely that one should take this particular instance of an adjective adverbially. There is a key difference between the examples given and John 5:44. In John 5:44 the adjective is in the attributive position, while in all the other examples, either it is not, or there is some other syntactic indication that one should take the adjective adverbially. Assuming Nachimson quoted Turner correctly, and I don’t have that volume at hand to check, I would simply have to disagree with him that one should take “monos” adverbially in John 5:44

But second, Nachimson goes on to suggest that we are taking “monos” adverbially in order to “form a more idiomatic structure in the English translation.” Does Nachimson have any comprehension of translation theory at all? If it should be taken adverbially at all, it would be because that was the intent of the Greek of this passage, not to make the English more idiomatic. We try to make the English as idiomatic as possible so that people who read it in English understand the intent.

Thus, the A.V. 1611 preserves the better reading “that cometh from God only?” instead of, “that comes from the only God?” in the modern translational perversions.

And there’s that typical KJV only quote. At the most Nachimson has demonstrated that one might, were one so inclined, justify the possibility of an adverbial translation. He hasn’t even begun to demonstrate that it is the best one, nor to provide any evidence that taking “monos” adjectivally here is a “perversion.”

POINT: LEAVE JOHN 5:44 AS IT STANDS IN THE A.V. 1611 AND LEARN SOME MORE DETAILS ABOUT GREEK GRAMMAR AND CHAPTER CONTEXTS BEFORE YOU MESS WITH THE GREATEST BOOK IN THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.

. . . and point refuted. It is Nachimson who lacks an adequte knowledge to cogently argue his point, thus he is left arguing something else, and then hoping we won’t notice his sleight of hand as he claims to have proven his original point.

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