Blog Entry

Was Spurgeon King James Only?

By Elijah Hixson Jan 18, 2018

Spurgeon loved the King James Version of the Bible — it was the version he used the most. But Charles Spurgeon was not King James only.

On occasion, Spurgeon mentioned textual variants from the pulpit. Sometimes he even rejected the reading of the KJV in favor of the reading in the critical Greek text, represented in the Revised Version.

Here are three times that Spurgeon rejected the reading of the Scripture found in the King James Version.

1. Romans 8:1

KJV:    "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."

ESV:    "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

In 1886, Spurgeon said that the phrase at the end of Romans 8:1 was not part of sacred scripture. He acknowledged, “The Holy Ghost meant to say this very thing a little further on, in its proper place [in v. 4].” Justification must come first, and only after that may good works follow. Spurgeon added, “The more nearly the text of Scripture is restored to its original purity, the more clearly will the doctrines of grace be set forth in it. The more we get back to true Scripture, the more we shall escape all interference with the complete and perfect salvation which comes of our being in Christ.”

2. 1 John 3:1

KJV:    "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not."

ESV:    "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him."

Spurgeon’s most famous break from the KJV happened in July 1885, when he preached a sermon titled “'And We Are' – A Jewel from the Revised Version.” The great preacher trusted the judgments of textual critics and based his sermon on a phrase not found in the KJV. He began by saying,

"A genuine fragment of inspired Scripture has been dropped by our older translators, and it is far too precious to be lost. Did not our Lord say, 'Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost?' The half lost portion of our text is restored to us in the Revised Version. ... They ought never to have dropped out. In the judgment of the most learned, and those best to be relied on, these are veritable words of inspiration."

3. Luke 4:18

KJV:    "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised."

ESV:    "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed."

If you are concerned about the differences between the KJV and modern Bible translations, you are not alone. Spurgeon himself admitted to being startled when he opened up to Luke 4:18 and saw these words were missing.

In the case of Luke 4:18, scribes added the extra phrase to some manuscripts because the verse is a quotation from Isaiah 61:1. Well-intentioned scribes intended to make the quotation complete, even though Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chose not to keep the phrase when he wrote his Gospel. Spurgeon wrote,

“I intended to have preached from these words in Luke 4:18, but when I looked at the Revised Version and found that the words were not there at all I was somewhat startled.”

Spurgeon remarks about a scribe who added the phrase, “It is a pity that the unknown brother ventured to improve that which was perfect from the beginning.” If you are worried that your Bible seems to have “left out” verses and phrases in the KJV, hear Spurgeon’s words of comfort to his congregation:

"Concerning the fact of difference between the Revised and the Authorized Versions, I would say that no Baptist should ever fear any honest attempt to pro- duce the correct text, and an accurate interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. ... [W]e have nothing but the Bible; and we would have that as pure as ever we can get it. By the best and most honest scholarship that can be found we desire that the common version may be purged of every blunder of transcribers, or addition of human ignorance, or human knowledge, that so the word of God may come to us as it came from his own hand."

About the Author

Elijah Hixson is finishing up his PhD at the University of Edinburgh, where he is writing his dissertation on Greek New Testament manuscripts from the 6th century. He also likes to read Spurgeon. This post is derived from Elijah Hixson’s article, “New Testament Textual Criticism in the Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 57.3 (2014): 555–70

The CSB Spurgeon Study Bible is available from Holman Bibles, featuring thousands of excerpts from Spurgeon’s sermons, chosen and edited by Alistair Begg. Learn more at spurgeonstudybible.com.