The Translators to the Reader
of the 1611 King James Version
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
It seems like everyday a new translation of the Holy Bible comes out. There’s a lot of bitterness, backbiting, and even hatred of those who’ve made such translations and a great deal of accusing concerning these versions. Who is right? Is one translation of Scripture authoritative, and all others of the devil? Who is in the better position to decide, those of such a mindset, or those who have actually endeavored to provide the translation? I say with certainty that we should not reject the words of the translators, particularly the translators of the very document in which most of the controversy has arisen – the King James Version. My opinion is to agree wholeheartedly with the translators of the King James Version. Below is their stand, directly from their own memorandum to the reader. This memo has been greatly shortened since its original submission and these words, although not lost entirely, are no longer normally published. However, they are Public Domain and can be read in their entirety by doing a general search on the internet.
Having read the entire memo, I’ve taken certain pertinent paragraphs concerning the issue and provided you with a short commentary for clarity as the English used is obviously old and difficult.
The translation of the Seventy dissenteth from the Original in many places, neither doth it come near it, for perspicuity, gravity, majesty; yet which of the Apostles did condemn it? Condemn it? Nay, they used it, (as it is apparent, and as Saint Jerome and most learned men do confess) which they would not have done, nor by their example of using it, so grace and commend it to the Church, if it had been unworthy of the appellation and name of the word of God.
Some one-version-only advocates deny the Septuagint (the translation of the Seventy) even exists. They claim it was a later invention of the Catholic Church. And yet, the translators of the King James Version not only acknowledge it exists, but that it existed in the very hands of the Apostles, and that further, it is worthy of the appellation and name of the word of God! There is a doctrine known as dual-inspiration which claims varying documents are equally inspired, even if they don’t match on all points. I don’t agree with this myself. Rather, I believe in the inspiration of the original documents as they were received and penned. Variations since then do not negate the inspiration of those originals. It appears the translators understood these difficulties and agree that the Word has been preserved enough in the Septuagint to be considered the Word of God even if it is at variance with the Masoretic Text.
Nay, we will yet come nearer the quick: doth not their Paris edition differ from the Lovaine, and Hentenius his from them both, and yet all of them allowed by authority? Nay, doth not Sixtus Quintus confess, that certain Catholics (he meaneth certain of his own side) were in such an humor of translating the Scriptures into Latin, that Satan taking occasion by them, though they thought of no such matter, did strive what he could, out of so uncertain and manifold a variety of Translations, so to mingle all things, that nothing might seem to be left certain and firm in them, etc.? [Sixtus 5. praefat. fixa Bibliis.] Nay, further, did not the same Sixtus ordain by an inviolable decree, and that with the counsel and consent of his Cardinals, that the Latin edition of the old and new Testament, which the Council of Trent would have to be authentic, is the same without controversy which he then set forth, being diligently corrected and printed in the Printing-house of Vatican? Thus Sixtus in his Preface before his Bible. And yet Clement the Eighth his immediate successor, pub- lished another edition of the Bible, containing in it infinite differences from that of Sixtus, (and many of them weighty and material) and yet this must be authentic by all means.
The finger of the translators not only points back in time to those who accuse translators of various translations of being in bed with Satan, but they point forward to modern one-version-only clubs who make exactly the same claim. Further, they make it quite clear that the Lovaine and Hentenius (John Hentenius of Louvain, 1547 ed.,) as well as the Paris (1504 Vulgate, I believe) edition are all authoritative. Additionally, the Bible published by Sixtus (Pope Sixtus V, 1590 ed.) and that also by Clement (Clement VIII 1592, 93, 98 eds.) are also of equal authority – and that the Clement had “infinite differences” from the translation of Sixtus and that of the Latin. In my opinion, to say varying translations are of the devil is to say God has allowed the enemy control of His holy Word.
Yet for all that it cannot be dissembled, that partly to exercise and whet our wits, partly to wean the curious from the loathing of them for their every-where plainness, partly also to stir up our devotion to crave the assistance of God's spirit by prayer, and lastly, that we might be forward to seek aid of our brethren by con- ference, and never scorn those that be not in all respects so complete as they should be, being to seek in many things ourselves, it hath pleased God in his divine providence, here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation, (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain) but in matters of less moment, that fearful-ness would better beseem us than confidence, and if we will resolve upon modesty with S. Augustine, (though not in this same case alto- gether, yet upon the same ground) Melius est debitare de occultis, quam litigare de incertis, [S. Aug li. S. de Genes. ad liter. cap. 5.] "it is better to make doubt of those things which are secret, than to strive about those things that are uncertain."
The translators of the King James Version believed that God had scattered words and sentences of difficulty and doubtfulness (meaning they are not sure of the exact translation, even in their own version) here and there and that, because these are in no way related to doctrinal points concerning salvation, it wasn’t of the highest moment. The quote of Saint Augustine makes their point sure. “it is better to make doubt of those things which are secret, than to strive about those things that are uncertain.” And again…
Therefore as S. Augustine saith, that variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: [S. Aug. 2. de doctr. Christian. cap. 14.] so diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is no so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded.
The King James Version Translation committee agrees that a variety of Translations is profitable for finding out the sense of the Scriptures. And not only that, but marginal notes for those “no so clear” areas are not only a little ok, but they are “must needs do good” and are …. necessary! If you’re in a “one version only” club, you probably don’t like to read these words, but they are part of the history of Biblical progression.
They that are wise, had rather have their judgments at liberty in differences of readings, than to be captivated to one, when it may be the other.
According to the translators, the wise should use varied translations. The converse then may show a lack of scholarship by those captivated by one translation. This is not a personal jab at single-version readers, but is a logical analysis based on the translators own reflections.
For is the kingdom of God to become words or syllables? why should we be in bondage to them if we may be free, use one precisely when we may use another no less fit, as commo-diously?
The translators call sticking to single words that may have alternative meanings bondage. Alternative meanings necessarily come from the exegesis of different translating committees. It is no sin for man to search for the truth concerning proper translation. Additionally, just as there are countless denominations, many of which are considered “main-stream” despite their differences, so will there be variations in translation by fully competent, Christ-centered committees of translators.
Add hereunto, that niceness in words was always counted the next step to trifling, and so was to be curious about names too: also that we cannot follow a better pattern for elocution than God himself; therefore he using divers words, in his holy writ, and indifferently for one thing in nature: [see Euseb. li. 12. ex Platon.] we, if we will not be super-stitious, may use the same liberty in our English versions out of Hebrew and Greek, for that copy or store that he hath given us.
The translators say God uses divers words in His holy Writ to make a point and that we should feel free to do the same via multiple translations in the English (or any) language.
Lastly, even though this is not addressed by the translation committee, I’d like to comment on the verse spoken by our Lord in Matthew 5:18:
For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
The English term “jot or tittle” comes from the Hebrew “kotzo shel yud.” Kotzo signifies the slightest brush stroke of a letter in the Hebrew aleph-bet. Yud (pronounced yood) is the 10th and smallest of the 22 letters in the aleph-bet. As a kotzo is not a translatable part of the language, it is impossible to say that an English version carries the entire weight and significance of the original. It is the original documents, received under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which carry all the intent and meaning intended.
Please use common sense when getting caught up in religious hype. Whether it’s faith healing by “throwing” the Holy Spirit around like a football, speaking in nonsensical tongues, or simply being led astray by personal beliefs concerning the authority of Scripture, we need to walk a narrow path of common sense and not get bogged down in issues which distract our attention from Jesus.
Attempt to hold to sound doctrine and investigate what you’re taught – to the honor and glory of the Wonderful One, Jesus Christ.