The KJV-only debate often focuses the detailed outcomes of the viewpoint: verse comparisons, historical discussions and the like - but few people step back and look at the bigger picture, the essense of the KJV-only doctrine itself.
Every KJV-only supporter I have ever heard of or have been in contact with asserts the same thing: that the KJV is completely inerrant and the "only" true Bible for us in English, i.e. that the KJV, and no other translation, is the only authoritative rule of faith and practice. Also, every KJV-only supporter I have ever heard of or have been in contact with believes in "sola scriptura" ("by scripture alone"), meaning that the Bible is the only inspired and authoritative word of God and the only source for Christian doctrine1. However, these two positions (which are the core of the KJV-only belief) are mutually exclusive!
Let me explain by way of some examples:
So why do KJV-onlyists, who claim that doctrine must come from the Bible (and who reject other doctrines that do not come from the Bible), believe in the doctrine of KJV-onlyism when it does not come from the Bible ?
When I point this out to some KJV-only supporters, I get a range of responses. I will deal here with the common ones:
While I grant that there may be some individual KJV-only supporters who can legitimately claim this for themselves, the vast majority cannot. Many KJV-only churches, books and preachers teach KJV-onlyism along side, and just as "authoritatively", as any other orthodox Christian doctrine. Many KJV-only congregations also include it in their church's "Doctrinal Statement" (sometimes called a "Confession of Faith", "What we Believe", "Articles of Faith" or similar) - this is especially ironic (and contradictory), considering it is usually in the same paragraph as the assertion that only the Bible is the doctrinal authority! They are able to provide scriptural references (book, chapter and verse) for every other doctrine asserted in their doctrinal statements, but because of this inherent doctrinal contradiction of KJV-onlyism, they don't and can't provide scriptural references for their doctrine about the KJV. That doctine does not come from the Bible, it comes from their own limited and unathoritative preferences and understanding of history. Here's some examples, pulled from various typical KJV-only church websites (contradictory statements emphasized):
"We believe that The King James Bible is infallible, verbally inspired, and is the only rule of faith and practice. 2 Timothy 3:16-17."3Hmmmm, 2 Tim 3:16-17 doesn't mention the King James Bible. If it's the "only rule of faith and practice", why have faith in and practice the doctrine of KJV-onlyism?
"We believe: 1. The Bible to be the divinely inspired, divinely preserved, only infallible, authoritative Word of God, and He has preserved it for the English-speaking world in the Authorized King James Bible (II Timothy 3:16,17; II Peter 1:20,21; Psalm 12:6,7; Matthew 5:18; Matthew 24:35)".4Neither do those verses. So by what authority can they say "He has preserved it for the English-speaking world in the Authorized King James Bible"?
"We believe that the Holy Bible, consisting of sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, was written by men divinely inspired and it is a perfect treasure of Heavenly instruction; that is has God for it's Author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter; that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us; and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true Center of Christian union, and the supreme Standard by which all human conduct, creeds and opinions should be tried. We believe that the preserved Word of God for the English speaking people is the King James Version of the Bible. Bible Reference: II Tim. 3:16-17; II Peter 1:21; II Sam. 23:2; Acts 1:16; Acts 3:21; John 10:35; Luke 16:29-31; Prov. 30:5,6; John 17:17; Rev. 22:18,19; Rom. 3:4; Rom. 2:12; John 12:47,48."5Have they tried their own opinion of the KJV against the supreme Standard? The Bible says nothing about the KJV.
"We believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. We believe the Bible to be without fault and fully trustworthy. We believe the Bible to be the final authority of the church and believer, and that it is the sole basis for all practice and doctrine. We believe God has preserved the Bible through the majority or received text and only use the Authorized King James Version."6This one is interesting because not only does it explicitly say the Bible is the "sole" basis for all practice and doctrine, but also because this church is named "Berean Baptist Church" - the Bereans in Acts 17 searched the scriptures daily to see if asserted doctrines were true - have these modern-day "Bereans" done the same with their own doctrine? Nope.
"We believe the Authorized King James Bible of 1611 (in any edition) is the providentially preserved, given by inspiration, inerrant, written words of God, which contains both the Old and New Testaments, and it is the FINAL ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY IN ALL MATTERS. Psalm 12:6-7, 119:40; Proverbs 30:5; Matthew 24:35; Luke 24:27; 1 Timothy 5:18; 2 Timothy 3:15-17."7Wow, a lot of verses that don't say anything about the King James Bible (in any edition).
Hundreds of more examples from the doctrinal statements of KJV-only churches could be provided. KJV-onlyism is indeed a doctrine (an extra-Biblical one), and usually appears as the first item in the doctrinal statement of KJV-only churches. If your church mentions the KJV (or any other version for that matter) in its doctrinal statement, I urge you to prayerfully consider the contradiction its presence there creates. Consider what you would think if you saw a doctrinal statement of a Baptist church that contained "only the NIV" or "only purple pants can be worn" or "the angel Moroni was the guardian of the golden plates containing new scripture" or "Xenu brought people to Earth 75 million years ago in a spaceship and then blew them up in volcanos" - wouldn't your first reaction rightly be "scripture doesn't teach those things!"?
It is true that the Bible doesn't explicitly use "rapture" or "Trinity". However, such doctrines still appear in the Bible. The Bible refers to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, refers to each as God, and says there is only one God. The word does not appear, but the concept certainly does. Likewise with "rapture" - the English word does not appear in the Bible, but the event the word refers to certainly does (although people debate the timing of the event).
More importantly, unless you believe in advanced revelation like the Mormons, new Christian doctrine cannot pop into existence with the production of a new translation. Certainly doctrines can be clarified and better understood with the passing of time, but the truth of these doctrines was in existence prior to the doctrine being explicitly stated by the church. God existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit before man first used the term "Trinity", and the truth of the rapture was found in scripture long before the English term "Rapture" was coined to describe it. This is not possible with KJV-onlyism - the KJV could not have been the final authority in all matters of faith and practice before the KJV existed. The Trinity is a doctrine that spans the church age (and beyond). The rapture is a doctrine that spans the church age. KJV-onlyism is a doctrine that could not have existed until 1611. If one could not possibly believe a doctrine in 1500 A.D., one should not believe it in 2000 A.D.. Scriptures that promise preservation, authority and inspiration of God's word cannot mean one thing in 1610, and then change meaning in 1611 - those verses cannot mean "the King James Bible" in 1611 and after but "the available [but ungathered and uncollated] Antiochian manuscripts"8 in 1610 and prior. Even if they could, how could anyone authoritatively know ? Who or what authority could tell them this change took place?
Even if one says "God, because I asked him and he told me this is true", that person still has the doctrinal contradiction: they obtained a doctrine from someone/something other than the Bible (their own fallible feelings of what God is telling them), while claiming only the Bible is the source for doctrine. In order to claim that only the KJV is the authority in matters of doctrine, that person had to make themself an authority to claim that doctrine in the first place.
Again, this is correct. Not all truth is contained in the Bible. I can't find any verses that tell me how fast the speed of sound is underwater, who the first president of the United States is, or that I like vanilla milkshakes. However, just because something is true does not make it authoritative christian doctrine. Doctrine deals with matters of faith and practice, the truths God deems important for us to know to live according to his will. Things like historical facts, scientific facts, etc. do not need to be spelled out in scripture for they do not essential to our spiritual relationship with God. Personal preferences, while relatively true for the person holding that preference (e.g. "This vanilla shake is delicious!"), are not authoritative truths for the church in general. Conversely, think about why Baptist churches don't put things like the chemical composition of Silly Putty®9, the area of Antarctica in square miles or their pastor's favorite type of cheese into their doctrinal statements.
It is also true the Bible doesn't tell us that the Bible is made up of 66 books, or even which 66 books those should be. Many Protestant churches include reference to "66 books" in their doctrinal statements. However, I think that if those churches also claim sola scriptura, it is wrong to hold "66 books" as doctrine for the same reason it is wrong to hold KJV-onlyism as doctrine - if you believe sola scriptura, your doctrines must come only from scripture. Believing the canon of scripture is 66 specific books is certainly a general concensus of Protestant churches, a result of tradition and historical issues. Thus, if one believes in sola scriptura, one must recognize that their Protestant view of canon is not and cannot be authoritative doctrine. One may believe it, but their "final authority" is silent on the matter. Bringing this back to the issue of KJV-onlyism, I'll close by simply pointing out that just because there are other non-scriptural things that are considered important truths (such as canon), that does not mean anything (such as KJV-onlyism) can therefore be considered truth.
The doctrine of KJV-onlyism is inherently and intrinsically self-contradictory. Those who hold to it claim that only the Bible is the source of Christian doctrine - yet the doctrine of KJV-onlyism is not found in the Bible. There are passages that talk of the preservation of God's word, but those passages don't say in what form that preservation will take place. To assert that any particular translation is the sole and final authority of doctrine, and then put that assertion along side Biblical Christian authoritative doctrine is contradictory, unauthoritative and extra-biblical.