Silliest KJV Only Argument?

A friend referred me to this page in which there are numerous really bad KJV only arguments–what other type are there?–but there was one I wanted to note in particular, because it is an argument that is often used in weaker form, but is here carried to its logical (and silly) conclusion.

First let me note that while the author of the article waxes enthusiastic on the semantic range of “epi” in Greek, he fails to discuss the semantic range of “in” and “on” in English, which, according to my Webster’s IIIrd International actually overlapped in Jacobean times. I didn’t make a particularly thorough study of that. Perhaps someone with an OED handy will comment. He should also have done further research on the semantic range of “charagma” though he probably didn’t because he really bases his conclusions on the following argument:

The modern Greek student is little more than a babe compared to these men who learned the language long before the dumbing down of education took its toll on today’s academy. They spoke the language, were able to write prose in it, and were entrenched in it. There are a few universities with classics departments like Bryn Mawr and Berkley in modern times that have standards of Greek scholarship that are truly outstanding, but few truly well-rounded students of the language are produced on the whole, and none on the level of the great scholars of the 17th century. . . .

The normal form of this argument goes like this: My expert is smarter than you, therefore my argument is true. I see this quite regularly. Some young earth creationist finds someone with a PhD who supports their argument and then asks me who am I to argue the Dr. X, PhD? For someone like me who is not a scientist, the simple answer is, “I see your PhD and raise you several hundred PhDs.” Or something like that. (I don’t play poker–don’t bother to correct the form!) More than one person can play the “expert” game. Quite often, one will find that the person citing the expert hasn’t even understood what the expert said.

In this case, however, we have taken a step further. Bible translators in the 17th century knew more Greek than anyone today, thus any translation they produce must be better than one produced by modern translators.

If this were a valid argument, all cases of disagreement would be settled by simply referencing the one person with the best credentials. Argument over. Of course, we don’t do that, because even the person with the best credentials can make mistakes. New people get their reputations by overturning the tried and true theories of previous generations of experts.

But even if the folks in the 17th century were head and shoulders above all modern academics in the area of Biblical languages, would that mean their translation was the best? Even if they conversed and wrote in Greek themselves (though Latin was more common), they did not converse in Koine Greek, and thus are no more native speakers of that language than I am. I do agree that there is a considerable problem with the education of pastors in Biblical languages. The increase in the number of people who are trained to some extent has resulted in a crowd of people who are supposedly expert enough to have an opinion, but who really know very little. I’ve often commented that when you hear the phrase “what the Greek/Hebrew here really means is . . .” you’re about to be misinformed. But none of that means that the 17th century scholars should be given the final word.

They also lacked a few things:

  • Freedom to follow their best scholarly judgment at all times.
  • Hundreds of manuscripts available to us.
  • Substantial vocabulary studies of a variety of Greek literature.
  • Evidence of the papyri and inscriptions that have given us significant new insights in the New Testament Greek vocabulary.
  • Wonderful tools for the study of a broad range of texts. Using software on my own computer and a few web sites I can do fairly extensive vocabulary studies. Truly covering a topic completely requires some additional resources, but the possibilities are quite substantial.

The idea that the 17th century had the final say on this subject is simply ludicrous. The translators of the KJV may have been excellent scholars, and I believe they were. They may have done the best they could with the resources at hand and the conditions under which they had to work. I believe they did so. But there were many things they simply could not know because they had not been discovered yet. They were so far from the time at which the source texts were written that they gained no benefit from proximity of time, as we might suppose the early church fathers had, but they also came before much of the textual evidence we have today had been discovered. The situation only becomes bleaker in terms of the Hebrew scriptures.

I’m not certain this is the silliest KJV only argument, but it certainly is an excellent candidate!

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  1. Martin LaBar says:

    Thanks. I hadn’t heard that argument, but I’m not a Bible scholar.

  2. Peter Kirk says:

    Oh, I’ve seen even sillier. There really are people who argue for KJV because it was the good enough for the apostles! But this argument is certainly good in terms of silliness.

  3. PamBG says:

    I have actually heard someone say that if the KJV was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for him!

    I love the “my expert is smarter than you” argument. I saw this amusingly played out on a board the other day when a Woman A disagreed with a male pastor being quoted in a post. Woman B said “He’s studied theology and Greek, have you?” Woman A answered “As a matter of fact, I have studied theology and Greek and have three graduate degrees in theology”. 🙂

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