Translators to the Reader

Topic:   KJV Type:   Articles Translator: A. Allison Lewis


But it is high time to leave them, and to show briefly what we proposed to do ourselves, and what plan we held, in this our careful study 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 of a bad one a good one (for then the charge of Sixtus had been true in some measure, that our people had been fed with gall of dragons instead of wine, with whey instead of milk) but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones one principal good one, that could not justly have objections made against it. That has been our endeavor, that our goal. To that end there were many translators chosen, who were greater in other men’s eyes than in their own, and who sought the truth rather than their own praise. Again, they came, or were thought to come, to the work, not to learn (as one said) but learned. For the chief overseer and taskmaster under his Majesty, to whom not only we, but also our whole Church was much bound, knew by his wisdom, which thing also Nazianzen taught so long ago, that it is a preposterous order to teach first, and to learn after. Yes, to learn and practice together, is neither commendable for the workman, nor safe for the work. Therefore such were selected, as could say modestly with Jerome, "Both we have learned the Hebrew language in part, and in the Latin we have been thoroughly taught almost from our very cradle." Jerome makes no mention of the Greek language, in which he did excel; because he translated not the Old Testament out of Greek, but out of Hebrew. And in what attitude did these assemble? In the trust of their own knowledge, or of their sharpness of mind, or deepness of judgment, as it were in an arm of flesh? No, not at all. They trusted in Him Who has the key of David, opening, and no man shuts. They prayed to the Lord, the Father of our Lord, after the manner that Augustine did; "O let your Scriptures be my pure delight; let me not be deceived in them, neither let me deceive by them." In this confidence, and with this devotion, they did assemble together. Not too many, lest one should trouble another; and yet sufficient, lest many things accidentally might escape them. If you ask what they had before them, truly it was the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New. These are the two golden pipes, or rather conduits, through which the olive branches empty themselves into the gold. Augustine calls them original languages. Jerome calls them fountains. The same Jerome affirms, and Gratian has not spared to put it into his decree, "That as the authority of the old books (he means of the Old Testament) is to be tried by the Hebrew volumes; so of the New by the Greek language," he means by the original Greek. If truth be to be tried by these languages, then from what should a translation be made, but out of them? These languages therefore (the Scriptures, we say, in those languages) we set before us to translate, being the languages wherein God was pleased to speak to his Church by his Prophets and Apostles. Neither did we run over the work with the haste that was done with the Septuagint, if it be true which is reported of them, that they finished it in seventy-two days. Neither were we barred or hindered from going over it again, having once done it, like Jerome, if that be true which he himself reports, that he could no sooner write any thing, but it was taken away from him and published, and he could not have opportunity to revise it. Neither, to be brief, were we the first to take part in translating the Scripture into English, and consequently destitute of former helps, as it is written of Origen, that he was the first basically, who put his hand to write commentaries upon the Scriptures, and therefore it is no wonder if he went too far many times. None of these things are true. The work has not been done hastily in seventy-two days, but has cost the workmen, as little as it seems, the pains of twice seven times seventy-two days, and more. Matters of such weight and consequence are to be speeded with maturity: for in a business of importance a man fears not the blame of lazy slackness. Neither did we hesitate to consult the translators or commentators, Chaldee, Hebrew, Syrian, Greek, or Latin; no, nor the Spanish, French, Italian, or Dutch. Neither did we consider it worthless to revise that which we had done, and to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered. Now having and using as great helps as were needful, and fearing no reproach for slowness, nor coveting praise for speed, we have at length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to publication in the form that you see.

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This Page Last Updated: 12/09/98 A. Allison Lewis