is it right to be NASB-only?

In a previous thread, one of my good on-line friends posed a real dilemma that he says happened in our circles. I am sure he is reporting accurately, I am not accusing him of making any misstatements or misrepresentations at all.

The scenario is that of a missionary from a fundamentalist mission board who is required by his board to use the KJV when preaching in English in the USA. He wants to present his mission at a local church that has made the NASB the only version that can be used in its pulpit.

Obviously, if there is no give on either side, the missionary would have to forego that meeting. (From a missionary’s perspective, given the odds of getting support from any given church, missing one isn’t that big a problem.)

And from a local church perspective, I think establishing such a policy is certainly within the rights of a local church. We can quibble as to the wisdom of the policy, but it is within the purview of any local church to make a decision about a standard version for their church.

However, the scenario raises a few questions that I wonder how my readers might answer.

  1. While I can understand standardizing on a version for your local ministry, wouldn’t it be better to allow visiting speakers some flexibility in use of translations?
  2. Wouldn’t a rigid inflexibility here tend to communicate the same error that rigid King James Onlyism makes? (i.e., Only the KJV is the Word of God … or, in this scenario, Only the NASB is the Word of God.)
  3. How would you feel if you did allow guest speakers limited flexibility and they used…
    1. … the KJV in your services?
    2. … the NASB?
    3. … the ESV?
    4. … the NKJV?
    5. … the Holman?
    6. … _______? (you fill in the blank)

Just a little thought experiment. I am not pontificating, just wondering.

I am also, of course, assuming that versions other than the KJV are permissible. So, my KJO friends, this is not a thread to raise the KJV debate. I won’t post any comments that get into that fight. I am just interested in discussing this scenario and these questions. If you would only ever use the KJV, then this thread is probably not for you.



  1. Don,

    None of the churches that I have been a member of in my adult life have been in any sense KJVO. They have all valued the original languages as the ultimate textual authority and have recognized the value of other conservative modern translations. Nevertheless, each church has also used the KJV as its official version for teaching and preaching. I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask a guest speaker to honor our church’s choice of an official version. I say that as someone who would prefer to use something like the ESV. There are lots of good reasons for wanting an official version that don’t have anything to do with the errors of the KJVO position.

    In the scenario you have suggested, I don’t think it would “kill” the church to be flexible but I think that is the tail wagging the dog. The mission board should be servant to the local church.

  2. “While I can understand standardizing on a version for your local ministry, wouldn’t it be better to allow visiting speakers some flexibility in use of translations?

    Wouldn’t a rigid inflexibility here tend to communicate the same error that rigid King James Onlyism makes? (i.e., Only the KJV is the Word of God … or, in this scenario, Only the NASB is the Word of God.)”

    That was similar to my point regarding the fundy mission boards requiring KJV–the inflexibility is catering to the KJO people. You bring up another good point–it also communicates the error of the KJO, that it is the only version to use.

    Why would you have an issue with a church dictating the NASB (or another translation) as the only version for their church but not have a problem with a mission board doing that for their missionaries? The local church would seem to have more authority to do that than the mission board would.

    This is, again, where it seems like you are more willing to give a pass to your friends than you are to others.

    (FWIW, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We all tend to give more latitude to those we are close to than those we are not. But, we should at least recognize that is what we are doing.)

    • Hi Ed,

      I’m really not commenting on the mission board’s policies. A mission board is between a rock and a hard place on this one, I think. They are trying to satisfy a very broad constituency and don’t want to offend anyone. This usually results in offending somebody. So while you may be right in principle, I am just not going to get into that side of the discussion.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  3. Forgot to answer your questions.
    1. yes
    2. possibly, depending on how you communicated this to your church
    3. I’m not a pastor, but as a member I wouldn’t have a problem with it (as long as they were using a good translation; i.e., not The New World Translation). I would imagine a pastor would have a decent read on the speaker and would know if he might use a more out there translation and could address it if it was going to be an issue.

  4. The problem doesn’t lie with the local church. It is with the mission board that is imposing their policies/preferences upon the local church.

  5. Roger Carlson says:

    Like you, I give room for guest speakers. Typically the guest preachers that come in will use KJV. I started preaching fromt the NKJV about 3 years ago (but probably would have rather gone to the NASB or ESV, but wanted to be sensitive to my congregation).

    I do believe mission agencies and colleges are in a tough spot. But I think there is a local church autonomy issue that has been put aside. Which I believe is why he was taking a stand on the translation they as a church used. He has no problem with the KJV, but for unity in the local church God called him to, they unified around a modern translation.

    While, I give lattitude to those who come to BBCRF and preach, I still think the heart of the problem are the KJV preferred or only. If they say they have no problem with others using a modern translation out of one side of their mouth, but then out of the other say, ” I won’t let a missionary in my pulpit who used a different translation at another church” they are not being honest with themselves on this issue.

    I have never insisted someone use the NKJV or any other translation, because I want to be gracious. But I am not certain those on the KJV side are willing to do the same.

    • @D. Harris, I would think the board is imposing on the missionary, rather than the local church. It has ramifications for the missionary/church relationship, but it requires nothing of the local church, does it?

      @Roger, I think there is a problem when a local church starts making demands of a missionary about what he might do in another local church. Surely local church autonomy means something.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  6. Roger Carlson says:

    D. Harris,
    I would agree. But I would also say local churches and it’s pastors can play a role. If they will not a parachurch ministry the lattitude to set policies that will allow for autonamy of all churches then they are causing a problem too.

  7. Actually, the board is imposing on the local church if the local church that sends the missionary does not agree with that policy. IOW, why is the board the one determining what translation the missionary will use rather than the sending church?

    • Hmm… point taken. The sending church should have some say, but of course not over the pulpits of other churches, correct?

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  8. d4v34x says:

    1. Yes.
    2. I think rigid inflexibility communicates that one is rigidly inflexible. Doesn’t have to communicate more.
    3. I’d be fine with 1-4. Don’t know about 5. I’d be fine with any fairly literal translation.

    I think the missionary is with the wrong board, unless he agrees with them, and then the choice is simple.

  9. The church can’t dictate to other churches what they will do (including the translation in their pulpit), but it should have a significant say for what its missionary will do, and that may affect the missionary’s relationship to other churches.

    • So you would be fine with the mission board’s policy if it came from the sending church, not the board?

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  10. It would be better if it was from the sending church (i.e., it would be coming from the proper authority), but I still think that if a church is not KJO, then they should have no problem with the use of another translation. IOW, the only reason a church would have that policy (only allowing missionaries to use the KJV in other churches) is if they were KJO (or, at best, weren’t thinking clearly at all on the matter). If they were merely KJV preferred, then they would be alright with a church using another version and their missionary using that at that church. If they were simply concerned with not offending others, then they would have the missionary use the translation wish of the church he was speaking at. (If they were majority text only, then they would allow at least the NKJV.)

    The same would be true for any other translation–if a church dictated that a missionary could only use the NASB when preaching at other churches, they would either be de facto denying the validity of other translations or would not be thinking clearly at all.

    It’s one thing for a church to decide that they will only use a particular translation at their church (whether for preference, conviction, consistency, etc.). Once they extend that outside of their own church, they are now communicating something entirely different about their stance on that issue.

    • Ok, one more question for you. What about the missionary himself? How does the sending church have this kind of authority? I realize they can withhold funds, but if one’s support is from a whole host of churches, what will that matter?

      We once had a fellow visit our services and ask about my use of the KJV. I explained that at the moment we use the KJV mostly out of tradition and for uniformity reasons (consistency with Sunday School materials, etc). I said that we might switch to another conservative version at some point, but not now. He asked me who would make that decision. I hadn’t ever really thought about it and said, “I guess I do.” Probably that answer isn’t exactly correct, because I wouldn’t make the decision unilaterally without our mission church being fully on board with the change. But of course, I am the person with the most input in the teaching times, so I would have a huge amount of influence on any decision like this.

      In the end, it seems to me that it comes down to a question often asked at ordinations (and was asked at mine): “What will you do if we decide not to ordain you?” My reply was that I would prayerfully consider their rebuke and advice, but that I believed the Lord was putting me in the ministry and I’d find someone else to grant the ordination eventually. I think that is the usually expected answer (although I didn’t expect the question at the time). In any case, they bought it and ordained me. A lot of those men had some differences with me, but they still felt I exhibited the calling, training, desire, etc. required.

      So I say all that to say this: surely the preacher himself has some say in what version he would preach from. I wouldn’t want to cause problems for another local church, but if they were an NASB church, I wouldn’t think it problematic for me to preach out of the KJV because that is what I have always used. And I think the vice versa should also be true, but that is where the rub comes in, eh?

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  11. If you’re asking whether the missionary should have a say in what translation he uses on deputation, I would answer yes. But, if he didn’t agree with his sending church on that matter, then they probably shouldn’t be his sending church. The reason the sending church has that kind of authority is because they are the sending church (i.e., he is going out under their authority).

    If a church uses a particular translation normally, but they don’t have a policy about it per se, then I would think they would have no problem with the missionary using the version he is most comfortable with. If they do have a policy, then the missionary should submit himself to that when he speaks there or not go there for support.

    FWIW, I would think a missionary would normally want to respect the normal practice of the church he is speaking at even if there is not a hard and fast rule. So, if they normally use the ESV, then he should preach from the ESV to better serve that church (after all, isn’t he there to serve the church, not himself?)

    • I think you are right, but I have a huge problem preaching from most modern printings because of paragraph format. When I say, “Look at verse X”, if it is in paragraph format, it is hopeless to find it at a glance. And I can’t imagine a missionary carrying around four or five Bibles just to fit in with every church he might come across.

      Ok, I really need to beat it. I am heading for the office but have been messing with a computer/phone/syncing issue and have given it all the time I can give it today. So… any further posts will be delayed until later in the day when I get home to approve them.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  12. Four or five Bibles? Don, all you have to do is bring up one iPad and you have them all in one handy package!

    • Sheesh! A Mac product? Then I would truly be going over to the dark side!

      Seriously, though, I have it on my wish list. Hadn’t thought of using it for a Bible, but have thought of putting my notes on it. Save on printing, etc. (And on storing all my printed sermons… can’t throw anything away.)

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  13. David Barnhart says:


    I use only my iPhone as my Bible now, and I have a good deal more than 5 translations available, including a couple in German, cross-references, a complete Strong’s with lexicons that works with the text, several commentaries, note taking and highlighting abilities, etc. Plus, I have the ability to use the history to swap back and forth with multiple texts while the speaker is preaching, etc. I even have a good number of the Bible maps. About the only thing I don’t have on the iPhone is my 1611 reprint. And the good thing is, I always have my phone (and consequently, the scriptures) with me, unlike the print Bible which I now haven’t carried to church in about 2 years.

    Now if I were going to speak from it, I’d probably want an iPad for the larger text sizes that would be available — I’m getting old enough to notice the effect of age on my eyes.

    Back to the topic at hand, I think mission boards should give the latitude to use any good translation if the church being presented to requires it. The church is the organization with the real NT authority, not the other way around.

    • Well, we are sort of getting off track overall. I realize that we have mainly been discussing the board policy, but that’s not really what I was wondering about to start this off. Maybe I should have left the board angle out of it entirely.

      It does seem to me that if we adopt an ‘onlyist’ position for a modern version, we are committing a similar error to the ‘onlyist’ error for the old version.

      On the technology front, I wonder how easy it would be to have notes and Bible open at the same time on an iPad? But that is another discussion, I am sure.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  14. Roger Carlson says:

    I agree with you. But I would also say if a church sets a policy to have the whole church use one translation publically, I don’t have a problem. I just got an Ipod touch…finally…Man I am way behind the times…LOL

    • I should rephrase my statement. I don’t mind a church having one version for use in its ministries, but it seems a tension arises when you invite someone in who uses a different conservative version. I think there should be flexibility for guest speakers to some extent, because we don’t believe in an ‘onlyist’ position.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3