King James Onlyism and the Gospel

by Luke Wayne
Return to King James Onlyism

The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ and His redeeming death and resurrection on behalf of all who believe in Him (1 Cor. 15:1-5). King James Onlyism does not inherently contradict this message. One can believe that the KJV is the only valid English translation and still accept the free gift of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This message is plainly taught in the KJV. Even among Christians like myself who today use modern translations, many of us first heard and believed the gospel through passages in the King James Version. On the other hand, that same gospel message is also found in modern translations too, and millions of people have come to genuine saving faith in Christ through the words of the NASB, ESV, NIV, NKJV, or other sound Christian translations that are not the KJV. While Christians who use these translations may sometimes disagree, even quite heatedly, the translations themselves all present us with the same gospel message and draw us to faith in the very same Christ. Cultic Bibles like the Joseph Smith Translation or the New World Translation of Jehovah's Witnesses certainly seek to suppress true biblical doctrine, but solid, reputable modern translations do not present us with a different Jesus or a different gospel than do classics like the King James.

The Sinfulness of Man

The Bible, regardless of which reputable translation one uses, teaches us that all men are guilty of sin and therefore worthy of death and hell (Rom. 3:23; Eph. 2:3). They all agree that we are condemned before God because of our wickedness and, without a savior, we will be cut off from God forever and consigned to eternal punishment. For example, the Scriptures tell us:

"As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:10-23, KJV).

"as it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.' 'Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,' 'The poison of asps is under their lips'; 'Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness'; 'Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And the path of peace they have not known.' 'There is no fear of God before their eyes.' Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:10-23, NASB).

In either translation, we see the same solemn truth. Everyone has sinned. Everyone must give an account before God at the judgment. No one is righteous and no one will be justified before God by good works. Only faith in Christ will save us from the guilt and debt of our sins. We further read that:

"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord," (Romans 6:23, KJV).

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord," (Romans 6:23, NIV).

Not only the teaching but even the wording is virtually identical. This is the clear message, not just of one translation, but of the Bible itself regardless of translation.

The Grace of God

Just as the Bible is clear on our sinfulness and our deserving of death and condemnation, so too is it clear, regardless of translation, on how we can be freed from sin and made right with God. The way to eternal life is plainly stated in numerous places, for example:

"For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life," (Romans 5:6-10, KJV).

"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life," (Romans 5:6-10, ESV).

God loved us by sending Jesus to die and in our place and bear our punishment even though we ourselves were still enemies of God living in sin. Jesus paid our ransom with His own blood! His sacrifice reconciles us to God. His resurrection, His life, gives us life. Whether your translation is 400 years old or is not yet even 40, the teaching is the same. And how do we receive the benefits of Christ's sacrifice?

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God," (John 3:14-18, KJV).

"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God," (John 3:14-18, CSB).

It is by faith alone that we are saved (Rom. 3:28; 4:5; 5:1). Believe in Jesus and you will have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Just as the Israelites had to but look at the bronze serpent and they would be healed (Num. 21:6-9), so too we must look in faith upon the Son of Man lifted up. This is our only hope. Jesus is our perfect savior. We come to Him, not with works of our own self-righteousness, but with the empty hand of faith, believing fully on Him and on what He has done for us. This is true regardless of who published the Bible in which you are reading it.

Some Warnings

As we try to have healthy conversations about Bible translations, we must be careful not to add to this gospel. On the one hand, I have heard some extreme King James Onlyists say that if someone does not accept the KJV alone then they are not a true Christian. They argue that the Holy Spirit would lead any true believer immediately away from modern translations and that, if someone reads the NIV and thinks they are reading the word of God, they cannot be a real disciple of Jesus. This is an attack on the gospel itself. This claims that it is not enough to believe in Christ alone. It is insufficient to trust in Jesus' sacrificial death and glorious resurrection. Repentance and faith are only starting points. One must then also accept one specific Bible translation. If you don't also do that, you can't be saved. On this teaching, we are not saved by Christ alone, but by Christ and the King James Translators of 1611! Now, of course, most King James Onlysists do not teach such things. Most, while being hostile to modern translations, would still admit that someone reading the NASB but believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ is still saved. But, some do not, and this dangerous legalism that would add to Christ's gospel must be repudiated.

On the flip side, there are people outside the KJVO camp that would label all King James Onlyists as legalistic cult members who preach a different gospel. This, too, is quite false. Sure, there are King James Only extremists who do, indeed, constitute cults, but we cannot judge every King James Onlyist by such groups. Some cultic legalists believe in King James Onlyism, but not all King James Onlyists are cultic legalists. If my King James Only neighbor believes in the biblical gospel, I must embrace him as my brother and exercise godly patience with him even when he is angry that I'm reading from the NKJV. Brothers must learn to have this debate peaceably while still loving one another as brothers.

Finally, be careful not to give oneself over to imbalance. There is a King James Only church around the corner from where I live. They go door to door in our neighborhood handing out tracts and preaching the gospel. I embrace them as my brothers and sisters and I genuinely pray for their efforts! I hope many people come to Christ through their ministry and I truly hope their church grows and thrives. They, in turn, have shown nothing but kindness and cordiality to my family and I, even knowing our differences. Many other King James Onlyists I have met, however, spend more time preaching King James Onlyism than they do preaching Jesus. The tracts they carry are attacks on modern Bible translations rather than exhortations about the cross of Christ. Their message too often is not "repent and believe the gospel," but rather "repent and believe the KJV!" Sadly, many of us outside their camp are often all too ready to oblige them with a pointless shouting match. We, on both sides, can and must do better than this. As our Lord said:

"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another," (John 13:35, KJV).

"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13:35, NASB).