What is the historic Christian position on Bible translations?

By Robert A. Joyner


Of all the hundreds of Bible translations around the world today and in different generations past, some people select the King James Version as the only one they use or recognize. They claim the King James translation is inspired just as the original writings were. This is certainly a claim the translators never made for themselves! The Bible says inspiration stopped when Revelation chapter 22 was complete. (Rev. 22:18-19)

Some KJV Only people disclaim inspiration for the KJV translators, but they say the KJV is God's perfectly preserved Word. That is the same thing as inspiration. It takes inspiration to have perfection.

I know some will scream at this point and say they believe in perfect preservation, not inspiration for the KJV. That is playing with words. It is not being completely honest. The bottom line is, if something is perfect, it has to be inspired. Call it what you will. To claim perfection for the KJV is to claim inspiration.

Inspiration in the Bible refers only to the original manuscripts. Each translation has to be judged on its own merits, or lack of them. This includes the KJV which is really only a revised version itself, being based on William Tyndale's translation and the Bishops Bible.


The historic fundamental position has always been that inspiration is claimed only for the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Dr. Robert L. Sumner, in his booklet on BIBLE TRANSLATIONS quotes all the great men of the past who were known to be leaders in Fundamental circles. He also quotes the greatest leaders living at the time he wrote, and all of them agree that the historic Christian position has always been that inspiration concerns the original writings and each translation has to be evaluated individually. Listed below are some of these leaders and what they have said concerning Bible translations and versions. The next eight paragraphs are quotes from BIBLE TRANSLATIONS by Dr. Robert L. Sumner.

1. Dr. George S. Bishop said, "We take the ground that on the original parchment -the membrane- every sentence, word, line, mark, point, pen-stroke, jot, tittle was put there by God. On the original parchment." (page 12)

2. Dr. William Bell Riley said that people make sort of a fetish of the King James Version. "To claim, therefore, inerrancy for the King James Version, or even for the Revised Version, is to claim inerrancy for men who never professed it for themselves." He says further, "The accepted versions of the Bible are all substantially correct." (page 13)

3. R. A. Torrey said, "By the Bible I do not mean any particular English version of the Scriptures - the Authorized Version, the Revised, or any other version - but the Scriptures as originally given. Furthermore, all versions are a substantially accurate rendition of the Hebrew and Aramaic." (page 14)

4. Charles H. Spurgeon quoted and argued from many versions including the Catholic, Syriac, and the English Revised Version. He pointed out wrong translations in the King James Version. Spurgeon said, "Do not needlessly amend our Authorized Version. It is faulty in many places, but still is a grand work taking it for all in all Correct where correction must be for truth's sake" (page 16)

5. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan said, "You ask me which is the best translation of the New Testament. I do not hesitate to say that it is the American Revision." (page 16)

6. Dr. John R. Rice said, "The beauty, the stately dignity and reverence of the language is far beyond that of any other translation." This is what he said about the King James Version, but referring to inspiration he said, "When we say that the Bible is inspired, we do not refer to the translations or copies but to the original autographs." "Translations are not inspired," he said. (page 17)

7. Dr. C. I. Scofield, when asked about which Bible to use for public work, said, "The King James, or Authorized Version, remains the Bible of the people, and is, therefore, best for the minister's public work. He should, of course, be acquainted with the revised renderings of all the passages in which important changes are made, and should not hesitate to call attention to the better and clearer readings." (page 19)

8. Dr. Robert Sumner quotes many other writers to show that all the fundamental leaders have always believed that the Bible was inspired in it's original writings. No translation should be considered inspired or "God breathed" like the Greek and Hebrew was. Others quoted by Dr. Sumner in his booklet include Dr. Louis T. Talbot, Dr. William Graham Scroggie, Dr. Arthur T. Pierson, Dr. B. H. Carroll, Dr. John A. Broadus, Dr. Carl McIntire, Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters and Dr. James M. Gray, etc.

9. On page 1213 in the Old Scofield Bible, the note at the bottom of the page says, "The writers of scripture invariably affirm, where the subject is mentioned by them at all, that the words of their writings are divinely taught. This, of necessity, refers to the original documents, not to translations and versions; but the labours of competent scholars have brought our English versions to a degree of perfection so remarkable that we may confidently rest upon them as authoritative." (underlines added)

The list of eight consulting editors at the front of the Scofield Bible reads like a "Who's Who" in the world of Bible believing scholars in the early 1900's. This group of Bible college presidents, authors, teachers, and editors all agreed with the note quoted above. So this note becomes a powerful testimony as to what early fundamentalists believed.


The very people who helped to organize and to write the beliefs of what is called "Fundamentalism" today make it clear what they believed. The great recognized writings such as THE FUNDAMENTALS and THE HISTORY OF FUNDAMENTALISM IN AMERICA, make it clearly known how Bible believers have always stood. They all believed the same as stated above.

The paradox of our times is that some people say only the King James is perfect, and they who believe this are the only real Fundamentalists. All others are Pseudo, or hypocrite Fundamentalists. The fact is, the KJV Only group is a new fundamentalism. It is a new cult developed within the fundamental movement.


Most of the Bible believing leaders of today are not KJV Only. Very few of the evangelicals are KJV Only. Most of the leading Bible schools and seminaries are not KJV Only. Examples are Bob Jones University, Tennessee Temple and Liberty University. The Baptist Bible Fellowship is the largest Independent Baptist Fellowship, and it is not KJV Only. Most of the great preachers of today are not KJV Only. 

The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship said in their news bulletin for July/August, 1984 "We reject as heretical the concept that any translation of the Bible is given by inspiration, which has in our generation fostered a cult. We believe firmly that inspiration ceased upon the closure of the canon of Scripture in the original autographs. We likewise reject the practice of exalting any version or translation to the position held uniquely by the original writings." 


It is important to notice that all reputable Bible schools which have stood for the inspiration of the Scripture, have always believed just as presented above. 

Peter Ruckman originated the King James Only view. Before the 1950's there were no Christians, Bible Schools, church fathers, martyrs or scholars who restricted Christians to the use of only one version of the Bible. Peter Ruckman admits this in his book, THE ALEXANDRIAN CULT, part one: "Every recognized church historian and Christian scholar is a member of the cult. This cult is the Alexandrian Cult of North Africa, and its tentacles stretch from Origen (184-254 AD) to John R. Rice and the faculty members of every recognized school in the world." By "Alexandrian Cult" he meant those who recommend using other versions besides the King James. The King James Only view is Ruckmanism and is opposed to all Christendom now and in the past. This is a tremendous truth. I hope the reader can absorb the impact of this statement. Only those poisoned by Ruckmanism are KJV Only.

If one goes against all the great Christian scholars of the past and present, he is sure to make a fool of himself. We should not believe something just because someone else does. On the other hand, anyone who goes off after a new doctrine different from the accepted historic Christian position is bound to be wrong because we have the faith "once delivered to the saints." (Jude 3) If any doctrine is new, then it is not true. And if it is true, then it is not new. 

The KJV Only view is a new doctrine to Christians. However, it is not completely new in the world of heresy, because the Roman Catholics claimed the same thing for their Latin Vulgate translation. About 16 popes pronounced the Vulgate infallible. Later Clement VIII had it revised and corrected. To claim a translation is infallible is an old Roman Catholic heresy.


Some of the KJV fans claim it is the only infallible version because it was translated from the "Textus Receptus." Dr. Allan A. MacRae and Dr. Robert C. Newman in their booklet entitled THE TEXTUS RECEPTUS AND THE KING JAMES VERSION, show that the "Textus Receptus" was not published until 1624, which was 13 years after the KJV. Therefore the KJV could not have been translated from it. In other words, it was not actually called the Textus Receptus until 1624.

The KJV was based on the Stephanus text, which is a revision of Erasmus' Greek text, now called the Textus Receptus. Erasmus, a Roman Catholic, prepared the Greek text that later became known as the Textus Receptus. In other words, Erasmus' Greek text evolved into what today is called the Textus Receptus. Technically speaking, the Textus Receptus was not in existence when the KJV was translated in 1611. Scholars have pointed out that the Stephanus text differs from the Textus Receptus in 287 places. In other words, the Textus Receptus is supposed to be the perfect Greek text and the KJV is supposed to be perfect because it was translated from that text. Yet the KJV was translated from a Greek text that differs from it in 287 places. How does one explain these differences?

Some people assume that the Erasmus text, the Textus Receptus, the Stephanus text and the majority text are all the same. That is not the case.

Dr. Wilbur Pickering admits that the Erasmus text differed from the majority text in about a thousand places. (THE IDENTITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT TEST, P. 177, footnote 1) Where does this leave those who say the KJV is perfect because it was translated from a perfect "Textus Receptus"? They don't know what the Textus Receptus is.

Erasmus put some words in the Book of Revelation that are not found in any Greek manuscript whatever. That is the reason why Revelation 22:14, in the KJV, teaches works for salvation.

Much work has been done since Erasmus prepared his Greek text from a few moderately ancient manuscripts. The number of manuscripts has increased today and work has reached such perfection that no more than one word in a thousand is questioned. And even these have no bearing on any doctrine, precept or promise. Most textual scholars seem to agree on this.


The King James Version is accurate and trust-worthy. It may be the best version to use for public teaching and preaching. But we may receive help from other good translations by Bible believing scholars.

One who claims the KJV is the infallible translation and all others are to be rejected as heretical, is going against the historic Fundamental stand. They are building a doctrine for which there is absolutely no Scripture to back it up. It is a completely new man-made doctrine that even King James translators themselves would not defend. One should never say, "The Bible is our sole rule for all matters of faith and practice," if they contend for the inspiration of any translation. For that is not taught anywhere in any Bible.


The Bible says we should all endeavor "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:3) But some people use the KJV to break the unity and the peace. They make the KJV the test of fellowship with other Christians. I want to get along with all God's people whether they agree with me or not. All that believe the Bible is God's Word should love one another and not make any version the test of Christian fellowship. Those who break fellowship with everyone who does not have a KJV Only view are dividing God's people. God hates those that cause a division among His people. (Proverbs 6:19)


There are some translations by liberals, modernists, and some by false cults that have serious errors and should be rejected. But even these teach the same Bible doctrines as good reliable translations. I have used Jehovah's Witnesses own Watchtower translation to prove them wrong. It is wise sometimes to use the Catholic translations when witnessing to Catholics.

Certainly all translations by good, Bible believing scholars teach the very same thing. Regardless of what version I would read and preach from, I would still believe and preach the same thing as I do now. I can take any version of the Bible and prove to anyone what I believe. 

Some seem to think that if you change one word, then you destroy some major teaching. They don't understand the way the Bible is written. Every doctrine of the Bible is mentioned over and over. No doctrine is mentioned just once and then never mentioned again later on. The Bible is a progressive revelation. For example, the second coming of Christ was mentioned by Enoch (Jude 14), but it is mentioned again and again over 300 times. If a translation was faulty in one place it would not change what the Bible taught about this subject. There are still plenty of passages that do prove it.


God in His wisdom has written the Bible so that it cannot be destroyed by mistranslation. Bible teachings do not depend on the correct translation of some word or words. The words "substitute" and "Trinity" are not found at all in the Bible, but the teaching is certainly there. The virgin birth of Christ can be proven from long passages without using the word "virgin." The teaching about hell can be proven without using the word "hell" at all. But of course the word hell is used.

Suppose someone left out or mistranslated the word "believe" in John 3:16. Would this destroy the Bible doctrine of Salvation by faith? Of course not! We have the word "believe" used several times in this same chapter. (vs. 15, 18, 36). Suppose some version left out the whole chapter? We would have the rest of John to prove it. But suppose a version left out the entire book of John? We would still have Romans, Acts, etc. If we did not even have a New Testament we could still show "the just shall live by faith." (Hab. 2:4) The apostles and the New Testament church did not have anything except the Old Testament. They still preached salvation by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The point is that the Bible cannot be destroyed by mistranslation. The only way to get rid of the Bible teaching is to get rid of the whole Bible.

Let me make it clear that I do not condone the intentional mistakes and errors that some translators have made. No indeed! I am just making the point that all of it is the powerful Word of God. You do not have to have a complete copy of the Bible to make it so. Looking at history and mankind as a whole, there have been very few people comparatively, who have had a complete copy. Many Christians and some pastors in foreign lands today do not have a complete Bible. They still believe and preach the pure gospel of Christ.

One does not have to have a whole Bible, with every word perfect, to have the Bible message.