THE 47 SCHOLARS WHO TRANSLATED THE SCRIPTURES AND CREATED THE KING JAMES VERSION TELL US WHAT WE SHOULD BELIEVE ABOUT THIS BIBLE

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THE KING JAMES BIBLE PREFACE: AN AFFIRMATION OF THE PREMISES HELD BY ITS 47 TRANSLATORS.


This post is taken from Appendix 1 of REBOOTING THE BIBLE.  My assumption:  It matters what the 47 scholars who did the translating from Hebrew and Greek into the King James Version asserted about their work.  If they acclaimed it the inerrant Word of God, we should listen.  If they indicated that their work improved upon the work before and others following would improve upon theirs, we should listen.


The Preface to the King James Version (KJV) was written by these same 47 scholars.  I affirm that what they said about their own work is what I believe about their work. The book truly deserves admiration and reverence for it constitutes the single most important book in the history of English literature.  And yet, to press upon it a certification of inerrancy runs counter to the very words of these scholars.  Read carefully.  Most of the advocates of the KJV are  not aware of the modest claims made by the workmen themselves. Does it matter what they thought about the KJV?


The 1611 Authorized Version of the King James Bible

In 1611, the translators of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible believed it was essential to explain to the readers why there should be another English translation of the Scripture.

Many Bibles had already been translated into the King’s English. The Church of England previously utilized the Great Bible and the Bishop’s Bible.  But the translators, with the blessing of King James, came together to improve upon what had been accomplished before. Their remarks to the reader were, in part, to justify this new version, but also to explain their reasons why another Bible was a good idea.

Like modern translators today, they had no illusions.  The dedicated clergy and laity were not praying for another translation, feeling that their current Bible, The Bishop’s Bible, was enough. There is no doubt that most parishioners loved their Bible and were not anxious to entertain yet another version.  Change is usually rejected rather than accepted.  The translators note that this is especially so when anyone is dealing with sacred matters of faith. And this is so because it took over one hundred years (if not longer), before the KJV became widely accepted. The preface records numerous statements from the translators as to how they expected many would accuse them with mortal sin, altering the Bible that the laity had come to use, memorize, and guide their spiritual lives.

To begin with, the translators emphasized that the Bible should be readable by the ordinary person in his or her native language. God raises up scholars with great learning and insight into ancient languages, notably Greek and Hebrew, in order to ensure that the rendering of a modern native language translation is as accurate as can be hoped. For there are so many choices in selecting words (or phrases), finding the right ones which best convey the word from the original text is challenging.  We see this plainly when we look at a concordance such as Strong’s.  The same Hebrew word, for instance, may be translated into a dozen different English words.  The context generally becomes the determining factor for making the selection.

Greek Letters to English Letters

The issue of what a new translation means relative to the old implies that the old was flawed.  To this, the translators stated that “nothing is begun and perfected at the same time.” They stated that the previous translators would, by in large, praise the work of the new translators for the Word of God once delivered to the Saints should always be elevated to the highest level of quality that the elements available to scholars afford. The translators did not argue that the older translations were less the Word of God than the KJV. They compared the translation effort to communicating the speech of King James (in English) to others understanding only French, German, Dutch, Italian, or Latin. While the words employed in some such translation would not be in English, the speech nevertheless would remain the speech of King James. Likewise, God’s word was made known through the previous translations, and so it will be in the KJV. God’s Word transcends the printed book no matter how well the words are composed or ordered. God’s Spirit always provides a mediating impact upon our minds and hearts. This process we might call “illumination.”

The translators compared their situation to that of Jerome who had translated the Catholic Vulgate. It was a Latin

The 1611 Version Contained the Apocrypha – Does This Make the KJV Imperfect?

translation mostly from the Hebrew. But Jerome’s effort was not “locked up” and unavailable for correction or improvement – for it had been subject to revision many times. The scholars who colleagued together for many months to give birth to the KJV anticipated that neither would their version be locked up and beyond the reach of future translators to improve and “update” their words to the vernacular of that future day.

Which Words Were the Right Words?

The translators provided marginal notes to inform the reader what choices had been made (with other options identified) to convey the original. They were not always sure which word was the best choice, but they did their best to arrive at a consensus among the 47 experts who worked on this translation. After all, it was Augustine who said that “a variety of translations is profitable for finding out the sense of the Scriptures.”

Bill Combs, a professor at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, made these points clear in a series of articles on the DBTS website. He made note: “Prior to the KJV, there had been many English translations of Bible: Wycliffe (1382), Tyndale (NT, 1526), Coverdale (1535), Matthew’s Bible (1537), the Great Bible (1539), the Geneva Bible (1560), the Bishops’ Bible (1568), and the Douai-Rheims (1609–10). [1] The many translations speak not of the insufficiency of the previous versions, but the recognition that there are many audiences with different preferences whose educational experiences and dialects vary.

Combs quoted a pithy although lengthy passage from the KJV Preface. For clarity, I will paraphrase this portion of the Preface. Readers are encouraged to review The Preface themselves but will find the vocabulary and style difficult – hence the paraphrase here, and an object lesson in why modern versions are a necessary endeavor to equip the Saints for good works.

While there is zeal to do something that does good for everyone, whether we come up with it ourselves or improve upon what was done previously, we know that offering up our work will be greeted with a cold reception. For no matter how good we esteem our work to be, others will find fault even if the flaw they point out is trivial – or no flaw is found at all. We all know this situation to be the way life is – something altogether new is almost always condemned as a step down rather than a step up.

But King James knows, in part because he has rare wisdom supplied to him by God as well as having achieved an incomparable level of education, that whoever attempts to accomplish something beneficial for the public, will nevertheless find him or herself seated on a stage to be mocked by all with an unforgiving abundance of tongue lashing. Our king knows that it isn’t smart to meddle with anyone’s religious practice let alone to suggest an alternative way for them to conduct their privileged office (i.e., “Mind your own business!”). This is true on both counts even if they hold nothing dear regarding either one.

Already, many are outspoken (with no sign of ceasing) in complaint about the translations we have had on hand for many years, or others that have barely been considered with little more than a perusal, asking why the Church could be so deceived, paying good money for the prior translations about to be shelved. Why was the version not worthy any longer? Was it wrong when it was created? What is it that needs fixing? Why were people misled and made to believe that the prior version was the proper translation? What makes you think this version, the KJV, can escape these same criticisms?  (In fact, we can be sure it won’t.)

Is More Polishing a Good Idea?

And so, to complete the thought, allow me to share the actual wording of the translators for comparison:

Yet for all that, as nothing is begun and perfected at the same time, and the latter thoughts are thought to be the wiser: so, if we building upon their foundation that went before us, and being holpen by their labours, do en­deavour to make that better which they left so good; no man, we are sure, hath cause to mislike us; they, we persuade ourselves, if they were alive, would thank us.

Combs conveys that this is the answer to those who insist that the KJV should not be changed neither should other translations be ventured. All translations are completed by flawed human beings. The translators would have applauded the efforts to make their words more accessible to modern ears in the centuries ahead. “For by this means it cometh to pass, that whatsoever is sound already… the same will shine as gold more brightly; being rubbed and polished; also, if anything be halting, or superfluous, or not so agreeable to the original, the same may be corrected, and the truth set in place.”

Many Translation of the Bible – Is the King James Version the Only Bible That Is God’s Word?

For Combs, “It is obvious the KJV translators would be horrified at the thought their work was perfect and would be the first to commend later improvements and corrections of their work.”

Nevertheless, devotees to the King James Version that believe it is exclusively the Word of God, are unlikely to be persuaded their view is wrongheaded even if King James and the 47 translators were to arise from the dead and tell them so.  They would still contend that the opinion of these 48 men does not matter – only their finished work does. And they are satisfied that God agrees with this unflinching esteem for the King James Version because tradition has taught them so. Therefore, any opinion about the inspiration of Scripture, finally considered, must assuredly discern that 500 years ago God’s Holy Spirit exclusively inspired this English Bible the 47 translated, utilizing their expertise but more the directing control of the Spirit down to the letter. Nevertheless, when it came time for them to reflect on their work and inform the KJV reader what guidance they would give for putting this new translation into practice, the scholars’ opinion mattered not at all. For God – apparently –did not inspire their opinion regarding their work just finished. Otherwise they would have known that what they had completed was perfection and therefore, should never be revisited ever again.


[1] Combs, Bill. “The Embarrassing Preface to the King James Version.” DBTS.edu.  April 9, 2012. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from http://www.dbts.edu/2012/04/09/the-embarrassing-preface-to-the-king-james-version/.


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