Those who want to take a neutral position on the issue of Bible texts and versions often claim that the current defense of the King James Bible and its underlying Greek Received Text is an unnecessarily divisive, near-cultic position that has no historical precedent among fundamentalists and other strong Bible believers. This is historic revisionism of the worst sort. The fact is that only recently have professing fundamentalists begun using and defending the modern versions. Though some fundamentalist leaders might have had their “fingers crossed” when they spoke of the King James Bible as the preserved Word of God in English, multitudes of others believed it was exactly that and believed it without equivocation. And thousands of strong Bible believers during the past two centuries have defended the Greek Received Text as the preserved Word of God and have condemned modern textual criticism as heresy. This is not a new and obscure position that was devised only a few decades ago by a Seventh-day Adventist or by Peter Ruckman, as some would have us believe!
In the book FROM THE MIND OF GOD TO THE MIND OF MAN: A LAYMAN’S GUIDE TO HOW WE GOT OUR BIBLE (1999, Ambassador-Emerald Press, Greenville, South Carolina), we find a recent example of the aforementioned revision of history. This book is edited by James B. Williams. Contributors and other men associated with the book include John Ashbrook of the Ohio Bible Fellowship; Keith Gephart of International Baptist College; William Smallman of Baptist Mid-Missions; Ernest Pickering of Baptist World Mission; Larry Oats of Maranatha Baptist Bible College; James Price of Temple Baptist Seminary; Douglas McLachlan of Central Baptist Theological Seminary; Sam Horn of Northland Baptist Bible College; and David Beale of Bob Jones University. This book was promoted at the World Congress of Fundamentalists at Bob Jones University in 1999. An autographed copy was presented to Bob Jones III at an evening session, and he made a passionate speech about it. Within a matter of hours, their stock of the book was sold out and more copies were delivered the next day.
In the Introduction to this book, Dr. J.B. Williams called the defense of the KJV a “cancerous sore” that has resulted in “a deplorable condition in Fundamentalism.” He described the defense of the KJV a “mass of misinformation.” Dr. Williams then traced the history of what he calls “King James Onlyism” back to Seventh-day Adventist Benjamin Wilkinson and to Dr. Peter Ruckman, editor of the Bible Believer’s Bulletin. He then listed “others who have joined in this parade of misinformers, including D.A. Waite, E.L. Bynum, Jack Chick, and Walter Beebe” (page 7). He said: “The list increases with time as more unqualified proponents of the KJV Only view join in the confusion.”
Those are not mild words, my friends. These men say they are concerned about the “mean-spiritedness” and divisiveness of those who defend the KJV, but FROM THE MIND OF GOD TO THE MIND OF MAN sounds very mean-spirited and divisive to me.
Furthermore, having studied this topic diligently for 25 years, having spent many thousands of dollars to purchase related books, having developed one of the most extensive bibliographies on the subject, having gone to great expense to travel to serious research facilities such as the British Library, having corresponded with hundreds of men on all sides of this subject, and having written an extensive history of the defense of the Received Text and the King James Bible, I am convinced that Dr. Williams presents a slanderous caricature of the truth. Dr. Williams ignores the fact that many King James Bible defenders have scholarly credentials at least equal to that of the contributors to From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man.
It is an unequivocal fact of history that the defense of the Received Text and the KJV did not originate with a Seventh-day Adventist, but with godly men in Britain in the 1800s who defended the Greek text underlying the KJV against the new theories of textual criticism, which they considered to be unbelieving and heretical. I have documented this extensively in my 500-page hardcover book For Love of the Bible: The History of the Defense of the KJV and the Received Text from 1800 to Present [available from Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061. http://www.wayoflife.org (web site), firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail), 866-295-4143 (toll free), 519-652-2619 (phone)].
This series of articles is an attempt to help set the record straight. The following is an example of the men and organizations that have defended the Received Text and the King James Bible during the past 150 years:
DR. EDWARD F. HILLS
Edward F. Hills (1912-1981) was a respected Presbyterian scholar. He was a distinguished Latin and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Yale University. He also earned the Th.B. degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and the Th.M. degree from Columbia Theological Seminary. After doing doctoral work at the University of Chicago in New Testament textual criticism, he completed his program at Harvard, earning the Th.D. in this field. Though largely ignored by professional textual critics and translators, Hills has encouraged thousands of pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and Bible teachers by his defense of the Received Text and his exposure of the unbelief of modern textual criticism. In 1956, he published The King James Version Defended: A Christian View of the New Testament Manuscripts. Key chapters include “A Short History of Unbelief,” “A Christian View of the Biblical Text,” “The Facts of New Testament Textual Criticism,” “Dean Burgon and the Traditional New Testament Text,” and “The Textus Receptus and the King James Version.”
Hills devastated the Westcott-Text theories and exposed the rationalistic foundation of the entire modern version superstructure. Hills saw the issue of authority in the field of Bible texts and versions:
“In regard to Bible versions many contemporary Christians are behaving like spoiled and rebellious children. They want a Bible version that pleases them no matter whether it pleases God or not. ‘We want a Bible version in our own idiom,’ they clamor. ‘We want a Bible that talks to us in the same way in which we talk to our friends over the telephone. We want an informal God, no better educated then ourselves, with a limited vocabulary and a taste for modern slang.’ And having thus registered their preference, they go their several ways. Some of them unite with the modernists in using the R.S.V. or the N.E.B. Others deem the N.A.S.V. or the N.I.V. more ‘evangelical.’ Still others opt for the T.E.V. or the Living Bible.
“But God is bigger than you are, dear friend, and THE BIBLE VERSION WHICH YOU MUST USE IS NOT A MATTER FOR YOU TO DECIDE ACCORDING TO YOUR WHIMS AND PREJUDICES. IT HAS ALREADY BEEN DECIDED FOR YOU BY THE WORKINGS OF GOD’S SPECIAL PROVIDENCE. ... Put on the spiritual mind that leads to life and peace! Receive by faith the True Text of God’s holy Word, which has been preserved down through the ages by His special providence and now is found in the Masoretic Hebrew text, the Greek Textus Receptus, and the King James Version and other faithful translations!” (E.F. Hills, The King James Version Defended, pp. 242,43).
Was Hills some kind of crackpot? Of course not. Even those who disagree with his position admit that he was a conscientious Christian scholar. Hills saw more in the history of Bible transmission than mere men bumbling around with the text; he saw the hand of God on the Bible through the ages. He plainly understood the rationalistic position underlying the modern versions:
“Has the text of the New Testament, like those of other ancient books, been damaged during its voyage over the seas of time? Ought the same methods of textual criticism to be applied to it that are applied to the texts of other ancient books? These are questions which the following pages will endeavor to answer. An earnest effort will be made to convince the Christian reader that this is a matter to which he must attend. FOR IN THE REALM OF NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL CRITICISM AS WELL AS IN OTHER FIELDS THE PRESUPPOSITIONS OF MODERN THOUGHT ARE HOSTILE TO THE HISTORIC CHRISTIAN FAITH AND WILL DESTROY IT IF THEIR FATAL OPERATION IS NOT CHECKED. If faithful Christians, therefore, would defend their sacred religion against this danger, they must forsake the foundations of unbelieving thought and build upon their faith, a faith that rests entirely on the solid rock of holy Scripture. And when they do this in the sphere of New Testament textual criticism, they will find themselves led back step by step (perhaps, at first, against their wills) to the text of the Protestant Reformation, namely, that form of New Testament text which underlies the King James Version and the other early Protestant translations” (The King James Version Defended, “Introduction,” p. 1).
Hills’ constant emphasis was the preeminence of faith above human reason. He believed God’s promises of biblical preservation. One of Hills’ books is titled Believing Bible study. Note the keyword BELIEVING. Though trained in textual criticism at the graduate level, Hills boldly challenged the unbelieving attitude that permeates the entire field:
“Of all the English Bibles now in print only the King James Version is founded on the logic of faith. Therefore only the King James Version can be preached authoritatively and studied believingly. Many conservative Christian scholars deny this. THEY TRY TO USE THEIR MODERN ENGLISH VERSIONS IN THE SAME WAY THAT BELIEVING BIBLE STUDENTS USE THE KING JAMES VERSION. BUT THE LOGIC OF THE SITUATION SOON ASSERTS ITSELF AND MAKES THIS IMPOSSIBLE. FOR ALL THESE MODERN VERSIONS ARE FOUNDED ON A NATURALISTIC NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL CRITICISM WHICH IGNORES OR DENIES THE SPECIAL, PROVIDENTIAL PRESERVATION OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES. Hence if you use these modern versions, you never can be sure that you have the true New Testament text. Even worse, you cannot be sure that the original New Testament Scriptures were infallibly inspired. For if God has not preserved these Scriptures down through the ages by His special providence, why would He have infallibly inspired them in the first place?
“... the Bible is God’s infallibly inspired Word which has been preserved by God’s special providence down through the ages. ... And the providential preservation of the Scriptures did not cease with the invention of printing. For why would God watch over the New Testament text at one time and not at another time, before the invention of printing but not afterward? Hence the formation of the Textus Receptus was God-guided. THE TEXTUS RECEPTUS, THEREFORE, IS A TRUSTWORTHY REPRODUCTION OF THE INFALLIBLY INSPIRED ORIGINAL NEW TESTAMENT TEXT AND IS AUTHORITATIVE. AND SO IS THE KING JAMES VERSION AND ALL OTHER FAITHFUL TRANSLATIONS OF THE TEXTUS RECEPTUS” (Hills, Believing Bible Study, p. 87).
“It was this common faith which guided Erasmus providentially in his task of editing the first printed Greek New Testament (1516). Although he was not himself outstanding as a man of faith, yet in his editing of the New Testament text he was guided by the faith of others. He was desirous of publishing an edition of the New Testament which would be well received and offend no one. Hence in his labors on the New Testament text Erasmus was probably expressing not so much his own views as the views of his contemporaries, views with which he would have become very well acquainted through his correspondence and his travels. In short, as editor of the first printed Greek New Testament, Erasmus was providentially controlled by the common faith in the providential preservation of the Scriptures. Luther, Melanchton, Stephanus, Calvin, Beza, and the other scholars of the Reformation Period who labored on the New Testament text were similarly guided by God’s special providence. These scholars had received humanistic training in their youth, and in their notes and comments they sometimes reveal traces of this early education. But in their actual dealings with the biblical text these humanistic tendencies were restrained by the common faith in the providential preservation of Scripture, a faith which they themselves professed along with their followers. Hence in the Reformation Period the textual criticism of the New Testament was different from the textual criticism of any other book. The humanistic methods used on other books were not applied to the New Testament. In their editions of the New Testament Erasmus and his successors were providentially guided by the common faith to adopt the current text, primarily the current Greek text and secondarily the current Latin text. ... THUS THE LOGIC OF FAITH LED TRUE BELIEVERS OF THAT DAY, JUST AS IT LEADS TRUE BELIEVERS TODAY, TO THE TEXTUS RECEPTUS AS THE GOD-GUIDED NEW TESTAMENT TEXT” (Hills, Believing Bible Study, p. 63).
“It is customary for naturalistic critics to make the most of human imperfections in the Textus Receptus and to sneer at it as a mean and almost sordid thing. ... But THOSE WHO CONCENTRATE IN THIS WAY ON THE HUMAN FACTORS INVOLVED IN THE PRODUCTION OF THE TEXTUS RECEPTUS ARE UTTERLY UNMINDFUL OF THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD. For in the very next year, in the plan of God, the Reformation was to break out in Wittenberg, and it was important that the Greek New Testament should be published first in one of the future strongholds of Protestantism by a book seller who was eager to place it in the hands of the people and not in Spain, the land of the Inquisition, by the Roman Church, which was intent on keeping the Bible from the people” (Hills, The King James Version Defended, p. 203).
Hills did not see merely a bumbling Erasmus or a pompous King James or a sectarian Authorized Version translation committee, he saw God; he believed God’s promises to preserve His Word. Detractors of the “King James Only” position tend to scoff at or make light of this, but the very fact that they scoff is frightful. It is a very dangerous thing to scoff at faith that is founded upon the Word of God.
We could quote Hills’ books extensively if we had space, because they are filled with important information. Since his books are still readily available, we will note but one thing more for the purpose of this study. Hills presented an excellent overview of the history of the Received Text, including a description of the various editions of the Received Text which were published from Erasmus to the Elzevirs. Hills also pointed out that the King James Bible represents a unique form of the Received Text, and he believed it was this form which should be followed:
”... THE KING JAMES VERSION OUGHT TO BE REGARDED NOT MERELY AS A TRANSLATION OF THE TEXTUS RECEPTUS BUT ALSO AS AN INDEPENDENT VARIETY OF THE TEXTUS RECEPTUS. ... But what do we do in these few places in which the several editions of the Textus Receptus disagree with one another? Which text do we follow? The answer to this question is easy. We are guided by the common faith. HENCE WE FAVOR THAT FORM OF THE TEXTUS RECEPTUS UPON WHICH MORE THAN ANY OTHER GOD, WORKING PROVIDENTIALLY, HAS PLACED THE STAMP OF HIS APPROVAL, NAMELY, THE KING JAMES VERSION, or, more precisely, the Greek text underlying the King James Version” (Hills, The King James Version Defended, pp. 220,223).
As an interesting sideline, the following comments by Jay Green, who knew Dr. Hills, offer a window into the way Hills was treated by modern Bible proponents:
“Ed Hills was treated shamefully. He was ridiculed, blacklisted among fellow scholars (many of whom were unworthy to unlatch the thongs of his sandals). He counted some of his old professors as friends, but William Hendriksen wrote him a sharp letter taking him to task for defending 1 John 5:7, calling it the nadir, the lowest point in textual criticism” (Letter from Jay Green, March 15, 1995).
In my estimation, Dr. Hill’s book The King James Version Defended is one of the most important books available on the subject of Bible texts and versions. It is available from Bible for Today, 900 Park Ave., Collingswood, NJ 08108. 800-564-6109 (orders), 856-854-4452 (voice), 856-854-2464 (fax), BFT@BibleForToday.org (e-mail).
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