Jerome’s fourth century Latin Vulgate was enforced by the medieval Roman Catholic Church as the only acceptable version to be studied to the exclusion of original language sources. Roman Catholic clergy studied Latin and gained some knowledge of Scripture, but were chiefly schooled in theology with little critique of it in light of Scripture. They accepted tradition and papal decrees as equally legitimate sources of divine revelation intended by God to inform the faith and practice of the Church.
The Renaissance emphasis of “ad fontes” brought original language scholarship into vogue among some Roman Catholic scholars. Comparison of the Latin Vulgate with original language sources led many to criticize the Latin translation, and comparison of medieval church tradition with Scripture and patristic writings also led them to criticize Roman Catholic doctrine and practice. Numerous calls for Reformation were diligently suppressed for centuries until the civil government began to side with the views of the Reformers in the sixteenth century, with an eye on the economic and nationalistic advantages that they saw could result as well.
Generally speaking, the modern fundamentalist proponents of the exclusive use of the King James Version of Holy Scripture repeat this history. Like medieval Roman Catholicism, many modern fundamentalist King James Onlyists similarly discourage or exclude all critical comparison of their favored translation with original language sources. This is inconsistent with the work of the Protestant Reformers who risked and sacrificed so much for years for the right and privilege to translate the original language sources of Scripture into the language of the common man. This rejection of modern translation of even the Hebrew and Greek texts which underlie the King James Version leaves the English Bible less readable to the common man, ministers and laity alike, who are not well-versed in reading the often archaic English of a version translated almost four centuries ago.
Modern extreme fundamentalists seem to refuse to learn the lessons of even their own Protestant heritage, and in this way, among others, repeat the mistakes of history. Fundamentalist discouragement of critical thinking and study is a tyranny comparable to that of medieval Roman Catholicism, while exposure to the views of the broader evangelical community in regard to textual critical and translational issues will inevitably prove both enlightening and liberating to the truth-seeking fundamentalist. Words Martin Luther directed toward the tyranny of the medieval Roman Catholic Church apply well to modern Protestant fundamentalist King James Onlyists: ” 90. To suppress them by force alone, and not to refute them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christian people unhappy. ” Although King James Onlyists don’t have the civil authority to literally force their followers to abstain from modern biblical scholarship and modern Bible translations, and do, in fact, offer reasons for this expectation, the social pressure exerted in their preaching and personal relationships, likewise “makes Christian people unhappy” who seek to honestly examine for themselves the competing claims of both sides of the English Bible Version debate.
Consider the following passage from William Tyndale: A Biography by David Daniell (copyright 1994 by Yale University). On page 287, Dr. Daniell writes, under the heading of Scripture as a Whole Book:
” . . . that there was a language called Hebrew at all, or that it had any connection whatsoever with the Bible, would have been news to most of the ordinary population. Religion was in Latin: the Mass was in Latin; all the other services, like baptism, were in Latin; everything the priest did was in Latin; the Psalms in the Mass were in Latin; the Bible-readings in the services, such as they were, were in Latin; the Bible, when visible, was a big Latin volume; some priests, and most laymen, had only a few words of Latin, if that.”
This was the passage that opened my eyes to the way the extreme King James Only movement repeats the history of the medieval Roman Catholic Church in placing obstacles between the laity and the Word of God. Indeed, considering the common discouragement of critical thinking and research among modern fundamentalist King James Onlyists, it is almost as if the fact that there is a language called Hebrew at all (or Greek, for that matter), or that it had any connection whatsoever with the Bible, would have been news to most of the followers of King James Onlyists.
Funny how history repeats itself. From St. Jerome (Jerry) to King James (Jimmy), there is nothing new under the sun.
Illustration of Tyndale by www.reformationart.com