In his 1930 book, “Our Authorized Bible Vindicated,” Wilkinson defended the text of the King James Bible and gave some evidence of its textual primacy among Bible believers through the centuries. Large portions of Wilkinson’s book were republished in David Otis Fuller’s 1970 book, Which Bible.
That much is fact. Whether Fuller was right or wrong in reprinting some of Wilkinson’s writings (and hiding the fact that Wilkinson was an Adventist) is something each reader will have to decide for himself.
I believe that he was wrong. Wilkinson’s writings added nothing of substance to the debate and by using Wilkinson, Dr. Fuller gave his enemies something to use against him and his position on the Bible.
Further, Wilkinson was wrong in some of his facts, having leaned heavily upon the writings of Adventist “prophetess” Ellen G. White. (I obtained the vast majority of the books cited by Wilkinson for my own library with the objective of checking his documentation.) It is not true, for instance, that the Waldenses had a Bible that is exactly like the King James. While the Waldensian New Testaments were much closer to the King James than to the modern versions, they were not exactly like the KJV. I have had examined two of the seven extant Waldensian Bibles--the one at Trinity College, Dublin, and the one at Cambridge University. Both are based on Latin and have the textual corruptions that typically pertain to Latin. For example both omit “God” in 1 Timothy 3:16. Wilkinson claimed that the Waldensian Bibles were based on an “old Latin” rather than the Latin Vulgate and were textually perfect, but this is not true (if we believe that the Greek Received Text is pure).
At the same time, to claim that Fuller’s views on the Bible version issue were derived from Wilkinson and to make Wilkinson the father of King James Bible defense is unadulterated nonsense.
Further, I am convinced that it is MALICIOUS nonsense, because even though this silly little myth has been refuted (such as in my book For Love of the Bible, first edition 1995 and second edition 1999, as well as in this article, which was first published in 2000) the aforementioned men continued to perpetuate it. As of September 8, 2008, their articles purporting this myth are still on the web.
THE DEFENSE OF THE KJV PRE-DATED BENJAMIN WILKINSON
First of all, long before Benjamin Wilkinson wrote on the Bible version issue, there were pastors and Christian leaders defending the King James Bible in the same way that Dr. Fuller defended it. I have extensively documented this in For Love of the Bible: The Defense of the KJV and the Received Text from 1800 to Present.
One example is the Trinitarian Bible Society (TBS) of England. The Society was formed in 1831 from a conflict within the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) over the doctrine of the Trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ. The BFBS refused to take a stand against Unitarianism, and those men who were concerned for doctrinal purity left to form the TBS. In the early years of the TBS, the matter of different Bible texts and versions was not a serious issue in the sense it was to become at the end of the nineteenth century. Though there were textual critics in the first half of that century, they did not exercise wide influence in ordinary Christian circles. The battles faced by Trinitarian in its earlier years were in other directions.
With the publication of the English Revised Version New Testament and the Westcott-Hort Greek text of 1881, the TBS began to take a more active position on texts and versions. A number of articles were published in the TBS Quarterly Record at the turn of the century critiquing the ERV and supporting the Received Text. Some of these drew heavily upon John Burgon’s Revision Revised, as well as the research of F.C. Cook and F.H.A. Scrivener. From that time to this, Trinitarian has stood solidly behind the Received Text and the King James Bible. Their published writings have promoted all of the major points commonly given in defense of the KJV. Consider a few selections:
“The architects and advocates of the modern English translations of the Holy Scriptures often assure us that their numerous alterations, omissions and additions do not affect any vital doctrine. While this may be true of hundreds of minute variations there is nevertheless a substantial number of important doctrinal passages which the modern versions present in an altered and invariably weakened form” (God Was Manifest in the Flesh, TBS Article No. 10).
“For too long the ‘science’ of Textual Criticism has been in bondage to the authority of a small class of ancient manuscripts, with the Sinai and Vatican copies at their head, which are in thousands of instances at variance with the Greek Text preserved in the great majority of the documents now available for ascertaining the true text. ... The result has been that even in the ‘evangelical’ seminaries generations of theological students have been encouraged to accept without question theories which involve the rejection of the historical text and the adoption of an abbreviated and defective text cast in the mold of the Vatican and Sinai copies” (Many Things, TBS Article No. 33).
“No evangelical Christian, learned or unlearned, would wish to follow [modernistic] writers along the perilous paths of infidelity in which they strode with such presumption. There is another danger, no less serious, in that Textual Criticism, the evaluation of the actual manuscripts in the ancient languages, the preparation of printed editions of the Hebrew and Greek Text, and the modern translations now being made in English and many other languages, are very largely conducted under the direction or influence of scholars who by their adoption of these erroneous theories have betrayed the unreliability of their judgment in these vital matters. WE MUST NOT PERMIT OUR JUDGMENT TO BE OVERAWED BY GREAT NAMES IN THE REALM OF BIBLICAL ‘SCHOLARSHIP’ WHEN IT IS SO CLEARLY EVIDENT THAT THE DISTINGUISHED SCHOLARS OF THE PRESENT CENTURY ARE MERELY REPRODUCING THE CASE PRESENTED BY RATIONALISTS DURING THE LAST TWO HUNDRED YEARS. Nor should we fail to recognise that scholarship of this kind has degenerated into a skeptical crusade against the Bible, tending to lower it to the level of an ordinary book of merely human composition” (If the Foundations Be Destroyed, TBS Article No. 14).
It is obvious that defense of the King James Bible and its underlying text predated Benjamin Wilkinson in the Trinitarian Bible Society.
Another example was fundamentalist leader William Aberhart (1878-1943), who stood for the Received Text and the King James Bible in western Canada during the first half of the twentieth century. Aberhart was a pastor, Bible school dean, radio Bible teacher, and a political leader. He was Premier of Alberta from 1935-43. In the late 1920s, Aberhart separated from the Regular Baptists over issues such as Bible inspiration and prophecy, and in 1924 he established the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute. The first student enrolled in this Bible Institute was Ernest Charles Manning, who eventually became the premier of Alberta, holding that position from 1943 until 1968. Aberhart also founded the 1,250-seat Bible Institute Baptist Church, which often featured the preaching of well-known fundamentalist leaders such as William B. Riley and Harry Rimmer.
Aberhart trained his people and his students to have confidence in the divine preservation of the Bible. He defended the King James Bible as the preserved Word of God. A summary of Aberhart’s teaching was given to me personally by Pastor Mark Buch (1910-1995), who was educated by Aberhart in the 1930s. Buch was the founder and pastor of the People’s Fellowship Tabernacle in Vancouver, British Columbia. This church was a stronghold for biblical fundamentalism in western Canada from the time it was founded in 1939. Buch knew and preached with many of the well-known fundamentalist leaders of the last century, including J. Frank Norris, G. Beauchamp Vick, and Bob Jones, Sr.
When I was doing research for the book For Love of the Bible, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pastor Buch on multiple occasions. Buch took the second year Apologetics course Aberhart taught on the subject of inspiration and preservation at the Prophetic Bible Institute. Note how Pastor Buch described Aberhart’s position on Bible preservation:
“Mr. Aberhart was one of the greatest Bible teachers in Canada. He was the first person I came in contact with WHO KNEW THE TRUE STORY OF THE DIVINE INSPIRATION AND PRESERVATION OF GOD’S HOLY WORD. He explained how it came down from the first apostolic faultless autograph, its safe keeping through the Byzantine church, the majority reformation copy by Erasmus of Rotterdam, William Tyndale’s translation, the Authorized committee of mental and spiritual giants, and the resultant glorious treasure—the Authorized Version” (Mark Buch, In Defence of the Authorized Version, People’s Fellowship Tabernacle, Vancouver, British Columbia, p. 25).
Aberhart’s influence was large.
“At its peak in 1935 Aberhart’s radio audience was computed at three hundred thousand (it is likely that not more than 65 per cent of the three hundred thousand were Albertans), while the Bible Institute listed one thousand two hundred and seventy-five supporters and the radio Sunday school with its printed lesson material reached eight thousand families. Such was the influence Aberhart wielded through his radio broadcasts and Institute in 1935” (Barrie Oviatt, The Papers of William Aberhart of Minister of Education, 1935-1943, Master of Education Thesis, University of Alberta, 1971).
The position William Aberhart taught on the Bible version issue in the 1920s is exactly the position that David Otis Fuller taught in the 1980s, and Aberhart was writing and teaching this some years before the publication of Wilkinson’s book.
In the course of my research, I looked into the sources of Aberhart’s position. One of his sources was the writings of John William Burgon, whose book The Revision Revised was first published in 1881 and was reprinted many times. Mark Buch testified to me that Aberhard used Burgon’s material in his Bible institute classes.
TO SAY THAT FULLER WAS BRAINWASHED BY ANY ONE CERTAIN MAN OR BOOK IS TO IGNORE THE FACTS
While it is true that David Otis Fuller published some of Wilkinson’s writings, he also published the writings of a wide variety of men on the Bible version issue, and to focus on Wilkinson as the basis for Fuller’s views is something that is done to malign Fuller and other defenders of the KJV.
By his enemies, David Otis Fuller (called “Duke” by his friends) is made out to be some sort of scheming madman, and an ignorant one at that! The fact is that he was a graduate of Princeton Seminary and a noted pastor, author, and Baptist leader. He obtained the Master of Divinity degree at Princeton and was honored with a Doctor of Divinity degree by Dallas Theological Seminary. He pastored the prominent Wealthy Street Baptist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for 40 years (1934-74). While there, he founded the Grand Rapids Baptist Institute, which later became the Grand Rapids Baptist Bible College (today called Cornerstone). Fuller co-founded the Children’s Bible Hour radio program in 1942 and was its chairman for 33 years. Fuller was on the board of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism and on the Council of 14 of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. Fuller published between fifteen to twenty books.
When he first began investigating the Bible version issue for himself in the 1960s, Fuller found Philip Mauro’s Which Version, John Burgon’s Revision Revised, and Alfred Martin’s doctoral dissertation against the Westcott-Hort Text. Martin, Vice President of Moody Bible Institute, refuted modern textual criticism in his doctoral dissertation to the faculty of the Dallas Theological Seminary graduate school. Martin corresponded with Fuller on the Bible text issue and allowed Fuller to publish a condensation of his dissertation in Which Bible.
To say that Fuller was brainwashed by any one man or book is to ignore the facts. Whatever Fuller accepted from Ray or Wilkinson or anyone else he accepted because he believed it was affirmed by other reputable sources.
Fuller was only a man, with the faults and weaknesses of a man. I respect him, but I do not idolize him. The eternal treasure is held in “earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7) and those who preach the Word of God are “subject to like passions as we are” (Jam. 5:17). But there can be no doubt that Fuller was a scholarly individual who studied the Bible Version issue from many angles. He even visited the British Library to seek out John Burgon’s unpublished works. He said, “It was the privilege of this compiler, after struggling through several rounds of red tape, to see for myself three of the sixteen folio volumes Burgon had written in his own hand, a compilation of eighty-seven thousand quotations from the early Church Fathers. I make bold to say there is no other collection like this in existence” (Fuller, Counterfeit or Genuine, introduction, p. 11). (I examined two of those massive volumes myself on a visit to the British Library in March 2003.)
Altogether, Fuller edited three major volumes on the Bible version issue totaling 900 pages: Which Bible? (1970), True or False? (1973), and Counterfeit or Genuine? (1975). These volumes are evidence of Dr. Fuller’s diligent research on the subject of texts and versions. He located many books long out of print and made the contents available to his generation. Fuller’s three volumes on this subject contain the full or summarized works of many older authorities on the textual issue, including John Burgon, Herman Hoskier, Philip Mauro, Joseph Philpot, Samuel Zwemer, and George Sayles Bishop, as well as the works of a number of contemporary writers, including Edward Hills, Terence Brown, and Wilbur Pickering. Fuller was influential in obtaining and publishing some post-graduate theses that defended the TR and the KJV in opposition to the modern versions. These include the following:
A Critical Examination of the Westcott-Hort Textual Theory—Alfred Martin’s dissertation to the faculty of the Graduate School of Dallas Theological Seminary, May 1951.
The Preservation of the Scriptures—Donald Brake’s dissertation to the faculty of the Department of Systematic Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Theology Degree, May 1970.
An Evaluation of the Contribution of John William Burgon to New Testament Textual Criticism—Wilbur Pickering’s thesis presented to the faculty of the Department of New Testament Literature and Exegesis at the Dallas Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Theology Degree, May 1968.
Contrary to the wild-eyed caricature that some have drawn of him, Dr. Fuller did not claim that the King James Bible was given by inspiration or that it contains some type of advanced revelation or that it could not be improved or changed. He claimed simply that it is the only reliable English translation of the preserved Greek and Hebrew text of Scripture. He did not believe the KJV has errors, but he differentiated between improvements and errors.
“We do not say that the KJV does not permit of changes. There are a number that could be AND SHOULD BE made, but there is a vast difference between a change and an error” (Fuller, Is the King James Version Nearest to the Original Autographs? nd., p. 1).
Fuller believed that versions other than the King James could be used in study, if used carefully:
“I do not say that you cannot profit from reading other versions. You can. But if they are based on the Westcott and Hort text, they are immediately suspect and you should be mighty careful that you check that version with the KJV as closely as possible” (Fuller, Which Bible Is Preserved of God, message preached in the 1970s).
Dr. Fuller’s position on Bible versions is given on pages 5 and 6 of his first book, Which Bible:
“The compiler of this book, and the able writers whom he quotes, all contend that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant and authoritative word of God and that there has been a gracious exercise of the divine providence in its preservation and transmission. They are also deeply convinced that the inspired text is more faithfully represented by the Majority Text—sometimes called the Byzantine Text, the Received Text or the Traditional Text—than by the modern critical editions which attach too much weight to the Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus and their allies. For this reason the reader is encouraged to maintain confidence in THE KING JAMES VERSION AS A FAITHFUL TRANSLATION BASED UPON A RELIABLE TEXT” (Fuller, Which Bible? pp. 5,6).
“A faithful translation based upon a reliable text.” That is what David Otis Fuller believed about the King James Bible. For various reasons, many have not been content to allow D.O. Fuller to state his own position. Instead, they have caricatured him as a wild-eyed traditionalist who believed that every word of the KJV was penned by direct inspiration. One would think that Dr. Fuller went around saying, “If the KJV was good enough for Paul it was good enough for me.” This caricature is convenient as a straw man that those who despise the Authorized Version can pummel in a very grand manner.
A more honest evaluation of Fuller’s Which Bible? was given by Dr. John Holliday in the Gospel Witness:
“WHICH BIBLE? is not a repudiation of scholarship. It is not an argument for the inerrancy of a translation. It is not a defense of out-dated forms of speech. It is an exposure of the presence of enemies in the field of Bible translation. It is a warning against adulterated versions of the Scriptures, particularly versions which show evidence of having been deliberately corrupted in order to destroy belief in vital Biblical truths. It is a long-overdue defense of the worth of the old Authorized Version ... A DEFENSE THAT IS GROUNDED UPON THE TRUSTWORTHINESS OF ITS UNDERLYING TEXT AND THE FAITHFULNESS OF THE TRANSLATION.”
David Otis Fuller was powerfully conscious of the fact that he stood before God in his life and ministry. He was not an armchair theologian; he was a soul winner and a pastor. He died leading a little Sunday School girl to Jesus Christ. His chief concern was for the authority of God’s Word in the lives and hearts of people. He believed that the Bible text issue must be approached by faith based on God’s Word itself and not by science falsely so-called. His wisdom was not ivory tower; it was down-to-earth. It was with D.O. Fuller as it was in the days of Jesus, in that the common man heard him gladly.
D.O. Fuller loved the blessed Word of God. It was not merely another book to him, and a great many men who think of themselves as scholarly today simply do not understand a genuine, heart-felt zeal for the Bible. As with the late Lester Roloff, to “Duke” Fuller the Bible Version issue was not merely about scholarship, about conflation, recension, inversion, eclecticism, conjectural emendation, intrinsic and transcriptional probability, interpolation, harmonistic assimilation, cognate groups, and genealogical methods. It was about the divinely inspired, infallible, living Words of God. Roloff testified that he looked upon the King James Bible as he looked upon his mother (1 Pet. 1:23). It was a heart-felt issue with him. He was no more willing to look upon omissions and changes in the Bible text with scholarly calmness as he would look upon someone trying to cut a few “unnecessary” pieces off of his mother!
This is the way that David Otis Fuller felt about the King James Bible. Consider the following quotation:
“Please remember this. You and I are facing, as I have said before, the most vicious and malicious attack upon the Word of God that has ever been made since the Garden of Eden, and the modern attack began with the publication of the Revised Version of 1881. This is an unpopular cause at present in Christian circles. I have found this out again and again, and I am going to find it out in the future. But I can say as far as I am concerned it doesn’t make any difference what happens to me, but it makes a whale of a difference what happens to the cause of Jesus Christ. And someday you and I, my friend, will have to stand before a holy God and give an account to what we did or did not do in seeking to open the eyes of people to the facts that have been covered up for so long concerning His holy, indestructible, impregnable Word” (D.O. Fuller, letter to Dr. Paul Tassell, National Representative of the GARBC, Jan. 8, 1982).
Some have questioned Dr. Fuller’s motives in his stand for the King James Bible, but I had the privilege of corresponding with him before he died and of having a close relationship with some men who knew him well and of having diligently studied all of his writings on the Bible version issue. I have seen no evidence that he was motivated by anything other than principle. He said he was motivated by love for the Bible. Those who knew him best believed this. I am convinced that for those who are not predisposed to vilify the man or to despise his position on the Bible, all of the evidence points to one conclusion: Dr. Fuller was a brave Christian gentleman who was motivated by his God-given conviction that the King James Bible is the preserved Word of God in English and that the modern versions are corruptions.
If he made some mistakes along the way, can that be surprising? Every book that has ever been written by a man has had to be revised, usually sooner rather than later and usually more often than less often. The only exception is the 66 books that make up the Holy Bible.
Fuller certainly did not gain anything, from an earthly perspective, for his stand for the King James Bible. He was a highly respected pastor and Christian leader BEFORE he published Which Bible, True or False, and Counterfeit or Genuine. He certainly did not gain in personal prestige or influence, speaking in a general sense. Rather, he was mocked, ridiculed, slandered, and ostracized, even by many of his own fundamentalist and Baptist brethren. He made no personal financial gain from the sell of his books, turning the profit back into the printing ministry.
Countless Christians today who have confidence in their Bibles, who have been delivered from the fog of critical textual theorizing and from the confusion of an unsettled text of Scripture, have David Otis Fuller to thank.
I close with the words of Pastor Robert Barnett, Calvary Baptist Church, Grayling, Michigan, who knew “Duke” Fuller well:
“One may not have understood the arguments and details Dr. Fuller was presenting, but when you left the room, you knew that God was real to Dr. Fuller, and the King James Bible was his infallible authority in every area in which it spoke. You also knew that Dr. Fuller had a genuine concern for both your soul and your life” (Robert Barnett, Calvary Baptist Church, Grayling, Michigan, March 1990).
Having studied the Bible Version issue for 40 years and having built a library on this subject that contains most of the material that has been published on all sides of the issue for the past 200 years, I am convinced that David Otis Fuller’s enemies today have a spiritual disease. It is a disease that he identified and labeled. It is a disease that, as Princeton educated man, he had to fight in his own flesh. It is a disease called “scholarolatry.”
“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18
“Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.” Proverbs 26:12
“Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD. ... Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.” Jeremiah 17:5, 7
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Colossians 2:8
“O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.” 1 Timothy 6:20-21
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