8 Sep 2008

The Kings Men: A Talk With the KJV Translators

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Books, Church History, Exegesis, Hermeneutics, King James Version, Ministry, Preaching, Restoration History

One of the tragic victims to the god of capitalism for the classic King James Version was the Translators to the Reader. The Translators to the Reader was printed in the beginning of the King James Version for hundreds of years but began to be omitted as a cost cutting measure in the early 20th century in the United States.  Today most American readers of the KJV have never seen or heard of this document by the translators themselves. This was the defense of the original 1611 KJV authored by Myles Smith who later became Bishop of Gloucester. This 11 page document is commendably honest about the art of biblical translation into the English language. The intention of this essay was to respond to the anticipated avalanche of criticism towards the labor of the men who had worked on the 1611 version. In this post I will simply offer a series of quotations from this amazing document that speak to our own situation today … I have preserved the spellings used by the Translators …

The translators knew that all efforts to improve virtually anything are usually criticized:

Things Have Been Calumniated

Zeal to promote the common good, whether it be by devising anything ourselves or revising … is welcomed with suspicion instead of love, and with emulation instead of thanks … For was there ever anything projected, that savoured any way of newness or renewing, but the same endured many a storm of gainsaying or opposition? …

The translators devote many words to the praise of the Scriptures. Quoting such luminaries as Augustine and Jerome and many others they point to the incalculable value of the word of God. It is profitable to be meditated upon “day and night.” But how can one meditate upon what cannot be understood? The answer is translation:

Translation Necessary

But how shall men meditate in that which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue? … {S}o, lest the Church be driven to the like exigent, it is necessary to have translations in a readiness. Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most holy place … Indeed without translation into the vulgar tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) without a bucket or something to draw with!

Then the translators review the history of translation beginning with the Septuagint and the Vulgate. They review many other translations and link them to mission and evangelism. The church has always sought to place the word of God in the common language of the people. There is tradition on the side of translation. Neither Rome nor the tradition bound Protestant should resist the coming of a new translation (i.e. the KJV). The translators then indicate their purpose which was revision

The purpose of the Translators, witht their number, furniture, care, etc.

But it is high time to leave them, and to show in brief what we proposed to ourselves, and what course we held, in this our perusal and survey of the Bible. Truly (good Christian Reader) we never thought from the beginning that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make a bad one a good one … but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against; that hath been our endeavor, that our mark…

The translators then insist however that a translation, any translation, is not to be held against another but against the original language of the word of God: the Hebrew and Greek

If truth be to be tried by these tongues, then whence should a translation be made, but out of them? These tongues therefore … we set before us to translate, being the tongues wherein God was pleased to speak to his Church …

Then the translators confess that they do not know enough to do the job. Rather they sought all available help from where ever they could find it to correctly understand the text and then translate it.

Neither did we think much to consult the translators and commentators … Neither did we disdain to revise that which we had done, and to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered: but having and using as great helps as were needful, and fearing no reproach for slowness, nor coveting praise for expedition, we have at the length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to that pass that you see.

The Biggest Surprise

The biggest surprises that comes to those who are not familiar with this remarkable document are: 1) the translators of the King James

Reprint of Translators to the Reader. All Bible students should read it.

Reprint of Translators to the Reader. All Bible students should read it.

Version were not then, and never would be, King James Onlyites; 2) Even within this document itself a large share of the scripture quotations made by the translators themselves are from the GENEVA BIBLE rather than the King James Version!!!!!!; 3) The translators knew they were not producing a fresh or original translation but rather they were part of a living tradition and were highly dependent upon the work of William Tyndale; 5) we learn that the translators believed it would be folly to try to understand and translate the text without seeking aid in various other translations and scholarly works such as commentaries; and finally 6) we learn that the translators fully expected to be roasted for their work … and they were for quite a long time after 1611.

We can learn a lot from the Translators to the Reader. We learn a lot about the men and the translation of the KJV. If you have never read this document I recommend it for your edification. The Translators to the Reader has been republished by the American Bible Society with an introduction and notes by Erroll F. Rhodes & Liana Lupas … more than worth the 14 dollars to get it

Bobby V

5 Responses to “The Kings Men: A Talk With the KJV Translators”

  1. David Says:

    Thanks Bobby. One of the most beneficial 8-week bible classes I ever taught was a ‘How We Got The Bible’ class that spent some time talk about the nature of translations. In the church I was preaching at the time (at which many members used the KJV), I never got again the comment during a textual Bible study, “Hey, that’s different than my King James!”

    Once people realize that ‘authorized version’ does not mean ‘authorized by God himself’ the walls start to break down and a lot of the foolishness that passes itself off as defense of Holy Writ goes away.

    If people want to use the KJV, that’s fine with me, as it has proven beneficial to many people for almost four centuries. But someday I hope that we don’t have to keep dealing with the ignorance of people like you showed in your previous post.

  2. Tim Archer Says:

    I’ve really loved this document since I found it a few years ago. The Bible software I use includes it with their basic package.

    As with so many things, you have to ask… how did we get so far away from the original intent?

    Grace and peace,

  3. Frank Bellizzi Says:

    With how many other books are we required to purchase the Preface or Introduction separately? Greedy shmucks!

  4. Cheryl Russell Says:

    Great information here, thanks! I think this is difficult for some because it tends to shake some foundations. On the positive side, it can lead to putting ALL of our faith in Christ.

  5. preacherman Says:

    Wonderful thoughts on this topic.
    It is the best I have read concerning this issue. Keep up the great work brother. You are always in my thoughts and prayers. I hope things are going well. I hope you have fantastic weekend. Get on the chopper for me. Have a great time!

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