The King James Only movement (KJO) is an interesting bunch, but first, a few words about the King James Bible (otherwise known as the Authorized Version, or hereafter, AV):

First published as a unified whole in 1611 (including the deuterocanon) for use in the Church of England, the AV has undergone a couple of revisions, the last one in 1769. The changes made weren’t revisions proper, but rather codifications of the text — the original version was published before English spelling and letter use was standardized, and as a result a number of printing errors had crept in through the years. The 1769 text is the one used by the King James Only group (and everyone else, for that matter), except minus the deuterocanonical books.  For years, it was the Protestant Bible of choice, and is still the most widely used translation; in fact, a number of foreign-language Bibles are not true Bible translations, but rather English-to-language (Japanese, Eskimo, etc., ) versions of the AV.

It should also be noted that the AV contains a number of verses that are omitted in other translations due to original language manuscript choice.

Now, onto our subject at hand:

Some KJO types are so simply because they memorized scripture from it as a child. In other words, they are KJO, “because I like it.” These aren’t really the people I’m addressing with this post.

Others are KJO because they believe the translation is based on superior manuscripts to those used in more modern translations. (I don’t know enough about manuscript tradition to comment; I’ve heard it argued well both ways.) Their problem is not necessarily with new translations, but rather the Greek/Hebrew texts that under gird the modern translations. I’ve heard one KJO proponent say he would be OK with a new translation as long as it was based on the manuscripts used in the translation of the AV.

It is important to note, however, that not all of the KJO proponents are willing to give on the idea of new translations based on the AV manuscripts. In fact, a number of this crowd have argued extensively that every English-language translation of the Bible since the AV has been flawed or otherwise perverted. Their argument is that the AV has offered a sufficient, faithful translation, and that new ones thus far have failed because of shoddy scholarship or outright nefarious tampering. This particular sub-group doesn’t believe that the AV can’t be updated, but rather that it shouldn’t.

From here, KJO proponents get a little harder to follow. Generally speaking, they follow the superior manuscript tradition idea, but adamantly deny that updates can be made to what they believe is an otherwise perfect translation.

One branch of the KJO-family believes that the King James translation is a sort of secondary revelation. The argument goes that God revealed the Old Testament completely in Hebrew (except for portions of Daniel), and likewise the entire New Testament was revealed completely in koine Greek. Thus, a third language is needed to fully unify and universalize the entire text — the language being English, and the translation being the AV. They believe that God guided the translation of the AV to such an extent that it can itself be considered inspired in the same sense as the scriptures.

Another related branch actually believes that, where the AV and the original language texts vary, the AV can be used to redact or otherwise correct the Greek or Hebrew texts. This group is referred to as “Ruckmanites,” after one of its biggest proponents, Peter Ruckman.

I’m not clear about how the last two groups reached their respective conclusions (they’re not attached to any particular ecclesiastical tradition), and I’ve had some trouble finding an argument put forward by them other than the initial assertions I’ve just presented. It doesn’t seem to be based on any kind of scholarship, pseudo-intellectual or otherwise.

Regardless of which camp a KJO proponent falls under, almost all of them would self-identify as fundamentalist, the exceptions being those rare cases who believe fundamentalism is not conservative enough. In a few rare cases, KJO is believed to be a matter of [eternal] life or death.

I’m not sure if the KJO movement is of American origin (a few KJO groups exist overseas, e.g. the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster), but it’s staunchest, most vocal supporters are American in origin.