Over the past several years, I’ve seen a significant increase in the number of people that I know personally who have referenced James White’s book The King James Only Controversy in defense of their decision to abandon the use of the KJV in favor of various modern translations. White’s book is often presented by these individuals as a scholarly and irrefutable answer to the KJV Only position. I picked up a copy of White’s book several years back hoping to interact with a scholarly treatment of the topic, but I was sorely disappointed. I found White’s work to be childish and his arguments fallacious. I set the book aside with no plans to ever pick it up again, but with its current increase in popularity, I decided to read through it again and force myself to write a response.
Every time I’ve seen White debate a fellow believer he has started the debate with a tactic known as "poisoning the well." The introduction to his book is a text-book example of this fallacy. His first words on the first page are "The salesclerk never saw it coming," and from that negative statement, White launches into a diatribe painting those who dare to disagree with him as conspiracy theorists who are "disruptive of the fellowship in churches," who bring "disruption and contention right into the pews," and who "forcefully" produce "schisms within the fellowship and a debilitation of the local body." White presents his opponent as a caricature who believes that his salvation is "dependent upon a seventeenth-century Anglican translation of the Bible."
White claims that his book was written "because of a desire for peace in the church," but the Bible tells us that "greivous words stir up anger" (Prov. 15:1). White's book is completely devoid of the soft answers that God says will turn away wrath. It is instead filled with derisive and divisive attacks on the character of his opponents.
Chapter 1 – Definition of KJV Only
In this chapter, White attempts to group KJV Only proponents into five different categories.
1. Have a subjective, personal preference for the KJV
2. Believe that the TR is the best Greek text
3. Believe that the TR has been supernaturally preserved
4. Believe that the KJV is inspired and inerrant but not a new revelation in itself
5. Believe that the KJV is new revelation
The first category is irrelevant as White himself admits. The second and third are essentially identical. Their differences are subtle enough that they have little bearing on Whtie's arguments. The fourth category follows logically from the third. The people in this category believe that the KJV is inspired and inerrant because it is an accurate translation of the preserved text. The fifth category is an outlier that is unnecessary for White's argument. There are people who believe that the KJV was a new revelation from God, but they are few and far between. This idea tends to flare up from time to time, but it is rejected by the vast majority of those who use the KJV.
When we narrow down White’s five categories, we can arrive at a concise statement that describes the belief of the majority of those that White identifies as KJV Only: "The KJV is a faithful translation of the preserved text of God's inspired and inerrant Word." Nearly everyone who uses the KJV will agree with this statement. Even those who claim that it doesn't go far enough will agree that it is true at least as far as it goes. This is the position that I hold personally, and this is the position that I will test against the arguments presented in White's book.
Chapter 2 – Jerome and Augustine
In Chapter 2, White attempts to condemn KJV Only advocates as mere “traditionalists” who “view any suggestion of variety or novelty with suspicion.” He accuses those who disagree with him of being “not generally interested in church history as a subject,” but the “history” that White presents in this chapter is abysmal at best.
White's historical claims are based on a few unsupported anecdotes from which he draws sweeping generalizations about the entirety of Christendom. White uses a single story about a disagreement between Augustine and Jerome to claim that "Jerome's new translation was seen by many as a threat to what was familiar, customary, and 'friendly.'" And he uses a single anecdote regarding Erasmus to assert that "Just as Jerome's work had received criticism for being 'new' or 'radical' back in the fifth century, so Erasmus was berated in the same manner for daring to 'change' Jerome!" This is a poor way to prove a historical point.
White criticizes his opponents for making unproven historical claims. He writes: "Rarely, however, are such attempts truly 'historical' in nature, but are far more often meant to evoke emotional, rather than rational, responses." White condemns his own book with this criticism. His historical commentary is not actually historical in nature. It is designed to appeal to the emotions of his readers and discourage them from considering the arguments of his opponents.
White's anecdote about a dispute between Augustine and Jerome is a good example of the way that White manipulates the historical record to fit his purposes. According to White,
"In the early fifth century Jerome provided a fresh translation of the Old Testament in Latin. What made his work unique was that it was based not upon the Greek Septuagint version, but upon the actual Hebrew of the original Old Testament. Jerome was one of VERY FEW early Christians who was able to read both Greek and Hebrew (emphasis in original) ... When his translation reached North Africa, it caused a stir in the churches overseen by Augustine ... One aspect of his work that caused consternation among the people was that he did not use the traditional translation in the book of Jonah regarding the "gourd." The Hebrew is difficult here, and Jerome decided not to follow the LXX's identification of the plant as the "gourd," but instead followed the Palestinian Jewish understanding and identified it as the castor-oil plant. In any case, there was a near riot when this passage was read in Carthage."
At this point, White provides an excerpt from a letter written from Augustine of Hippo to Jerome. White claims that this excerpt explains why "Augustine objected to the reading of Jerome's translation." Here is the excerpt that White provides:
"[M]y only reason for objecting to the public reading of your translation from the Hebrew in our churches was, lest, bringing forward anything which was, as it were, new and opposed to the authority of the Septuagint version, we should trouble by serious cause of offense the flocks of Christ, whose ears and hearts have become accustomed to listen to that version to which the seal of approbation was given by the apostles themselves."
"While we can appreciate Augustine's concern over offending the "flocks of Christ," it is important to note that he does not object to Jerome's work on the basis of it being inaccurate but rather simply unfamiliar. He is basing his objections upon tradition and use, not upon the actual words of Jerome's translation." (emphasis in original)
White's twisted version of this event reveals a shocking disregard for the truth. He latched on to the dispute over Jerome's translation of Jonah 4:6 as an example of Jerome translating directly from the Hebrew, but in Jerome's response to Augustine, Jerome claimed that the dispute over the correct translation of the word "gourd" in Jonah was an "old dispute" and that his translation was consistent with the work of other translators whom he identified as "Aquila and the others." This Aquila was not the Aquila in the Bible who was a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. Jerome was referring to a second century Jewish scholar who translated the Old Testament into Greek in circa. AD 140.
Aquila's translation was very popular among the Jews, and it was referenced by several early Christians including Irenaeus in the second century, Origen in the third century, Epiphanius in the fourth century, and Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. Justinian's reference to Aquila comes from a decree that he issued in AD 553 to resolve a dispute among the Jews. Some of the Jews thought that the Scripture readings in the synagogues should only be in Hebrew while others thought that it was appropriate to read the passage in Hebrew first and then read it again in either the Septuagint or in Aquila's translation for the benefit of anyone present who could not understand the Hebrew reading. This dispute among the Jews demonstrates that the Hebrew text of the Old Testament was widely available throughout the Roman empire with plenty of Jewish scholars on hand to explain the differences between the Hebrew manuscripts and the various Greek translations.
White is being rather deceptive when he speaks of Jerome's reliance on the Hebrew text. White claims that Jerome's translation differed from the LXX both in content and in style solely because Jerome was translating directly from the Hebrew. White presents the word "gourd" in Jonah 4:6 as an example and said that "Jerome decided not to follow the LXX's identification of the plant as the 'gourd,' but instead followed the Palestinian Jewish understanding and identified it as the caster-oil plant." What White neglects to point out is that Jerome did not reference the castor-oil plant in his translation of Jonah 4:6. The furor caused by Jerome's translation of this verse originated from the fact the he had sided with Aquila's translation instead of the LXX.
Aquila's translation identifies the plant in question as an ivy instead of using the word "gourd" found in the LXX. Jerome explained his decision to Augustine.
"I have already given a sufficient answer to this in my commentary on Jonah. At present, I deem it enough to say that in that passage, where the Septuagint has "gourd," and Aquila and the others have rendered the word "ivy" (kissos), the Hebrew MS. has "ciceion," which is in the Syriac tongue, as now spoken, "ciceia." It is a kind of shrub having large leaves like a vine, and when planted it quickly springs up to the size of a small tree, standing upright by its own stem, without requiring any support of canes or poles, as both gourds and ivy do. If, therefore, in translating word for word, I had put the word "ciceia," no one would know what it meant; if I had used the word "gourd," I would have said what is not found in the Hebrew. I therefore put down "ivy," that I might not differ from all other translators."
Jerome saw what he thought was a disagreement between the Hebrew manuscripts, the LXX, and the "modern" Greek translations of his day, but he didn't boldly choose to translate this passage directly from Hebrew as White asserts. Instead, Jerome sided with the more contemporary Greek translators and called the plant an ivy. The believers in Augustine's region were upset because Jerome sided with Aquila, not because he translated directly from the Hebrew. The main difference between Aquila's translation and the LXX is that Aquila deliberately translated all of the messianic passages in a way that would not point to Jesus. Augustine's laymen recognized the influence of Aquila when they read the word "ivy" in Jonah 4:6, and they denounced Jerome's version as a false translation. Here is how Augustine initially described the event to Jerome:
"A certain bishop, one of our brethren, having introduced in the church over which he presides the reading of your version, came upon a word in the book of the prophet Jonah, of which you have given a very different rendering from that which had been of old familiar to the senses and memory of all the worshippers, and had been chanted for so many generations in the church. Thereupon arose such a tumult in the congregation, especially among the Greeks, correcting what had been read, and denouncing the translation as false, that the bishop was compelled to ask the testimony of the Jewish residents (it was in the town of Oea). These, whether from ignorance or from spite, answered that the words in the Hebrew manuscripts were correctly rendered in the Greek version, and in the Latin one taken from it. What further need I say? The man was compelled to correct your version in that passage as if it had been falsely translated, as he desired not to be left without a congregation -- a calamity which he narrowly escaped. From this case we also are led to think that you may be occasionally mistaken."
White claims that Augustine did "not object to Jerome's work on the basis of it being inaccurate but rather simply unfamiliar," (emphasis in original) but when we consider the actual record of history, we find that the exact opposite is true. Jerome chose to use a false translation of Jonah 4:6. The laymen under Augustine recognized the error and denounced it. Experts in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament were consulted, and they agreed with the laymen. Augustine wrote to Jerome to explain the problem, and Jerome admitted to using an incorrect translation for that passage. In other words Augustine did not object to Jerome's work on the basis of it being simply unfamiliar but rather because it was inaccurate. White's account is so far removed from the truth that if Augustine were alive today, he could sue for libel.
Continue reading: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
 Rev. M. Abrahams, B.A., Aquila's Greek Version of the Hebrew Bible (London: Spottiswood, Ballantyne, & Co. Ltd., 1919), 1-2
 Rev. Marcus Dods, M.A., The Works of Aurelius Augustine: A New Translation, Volume 6 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1872), 299
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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