Saturday, January 19, 2008

The KJVO Debate in Light of “The Translators to the Reader,” Part 2

by Doug Smith @

Author’s Note: I have provided page numbers for quotations using The Holy Bible: King James Version (1611 Edition. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, n.d.). From the title page: “a word-for-word reprint of the First Edition of the Authorized Version presented in roman [sic] letters for easy reading and comparison with subsequent editions.” I have updated some words with modernized spelling and inserted my own explanatory notes in brackets, however.

See Part 1.

This is the final installment of a two-part article on the relevance of the KJV Preface for issues raised by some King James Version Only (KJVO) advocates. [1] The idea of an inspired or perfect Bible translation, the propriety of a translation in modern English, and the concerns about marginal notes were addressed in part 1. This article examines four more issues Bibleraised by KJVO proponents that are addressed in the KJV Preface, written by translator Miles Smith. [2]

4. The Source for Translations

Instead of translating from the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament (the original languages of the Bible), some have advocated using the KJV as the basis for their translations into other languages. What would the KJV translators have thought?

Smith said, regarding the source of the translators,

If you ask what they had before them, truly it was the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, the Greek of the New. These are the two golden pipes, or rather conduits . . . If truth be tried by these tongues, then whence should a Translation be made, but out of them? These tongues therefore, the Scriptures we say in those tongues, we set before us to translate, being the tongues wherein God was pleased to speak to his Church by the Prophets and Apostles. (pp. 9-10)

Prior to the Vulgate, Latin translations of the Old Testament

were not out of the Hebrew fountain . . . but out of the Greek stream, therefore the Greek being not altogether clear, the Latin derived from it must needs be muddy. This moved Saint Jerome, a most learned father, and the best linguist without controversy, of his age, or of any that went before him, to undertake the translating of the Old Testament, out of the very fountain with that evidence of great learning, judgment, industry, and faithfulness, that he had forever bound the Church unto him, in a debt of special remembrance and thankfulness. (pp. 4-5)

So, clearly, the KJV translators believed that one should translate the Bible from its original languages. While a translation from the KJV to another language may be better than no translation at all (so long as it is expressing the teachings of the Bible clearly), it will necessarily be “muddy” in comparison to the translation that could be made from the fountains of Hebrew and Greek.

5. The Existence of the Septuagint

Some KJVO advocates allege that the idea that the Septuagint existed before the time of Christ is a fairy tale. But what did the scholars of the early 17th century say? Smith wrote that

it pleased the Lord to stir up . . . Ptolemy Philadelph King of Egypt, to procure the translating of the Book of God out of Hebrew into Greek. This is the translation of the Seventy Interpreters, commonly so called, which prepared the way for our Saviour among the Gentiles by written preaching . . . the Greek tongue was well known and made familiar to most inhabitants in Asia, by reason of the conquest that there the Grecians had made, as also by the Colonies, which thither they had sent . . . Therefore the word of God being set forth in Greek, becometh hereby like a candle set upon a candlestick, which giveth light to all that are in the house . . . It is certain, that that Translation was not so sound and so perfect, but it needed in many places correction; and who had been so sufficient for this work as the Apostles or Apostolic men? Yet it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to them, to take that which they found, (the same being for the greatest part true and sufficient) rather than making a new, in that new world and green age of the Church, to expose themselves to many exceptions and cavillations, as though they made a Translation to serve their own turn, and therefore bearing a witness to themselves, their witness not to be regarded. (p. 4)

Obviously, the KJV translators believed that the Septuagint existed.

6. Conspiracy Theories

New Age Bible Versions is not the first source to allege a diabolical conspiracy in regard to translations. The KJV was controversial even before its release. The translators heard from those who said, “Hath the Church been deceived . . all this while? . . . ‘Do we condemn the ancient?” They replied, “In no case: but after the endeavors of them that were before us, we take the best pains we can in the house of God’” (p. 6). While one may not agree with all their choices on texts and translation philosophy, producers of many modern versions may be able to sincerely echo the answer of the KJV translators.

7. Does Using a Variety of Bible Translations Unnecessarily Confuse God’s People?

It need not. The translators themselves thought it was profitable to consult a variety of translations.

Neither did we think much to consult the Translators or Commentators, Chaldee, Hebrew, Syrian, Greek or Latin, no nor the Spanish, French, Italian, or Dutch; 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 length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to pass that you see. (p. 10)

The preface looks to early church history for a commendation of using a variety of translations. In the context, this refers to alternate readings in the margin, but based on the principle and on the fact that they utilized many other translations themselves, the KJV translators would think it absurd to only use the Bible they produced. “Therefore as Saint Augustine saith, that variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out the sense of the Scriptures” (p. 10).


The KJV translators may not have the final word on the KJVO debate, but their voices should not be ignored when thinking through these issues. They may not have written their preface by divine inspiration, but their helpful thoughts are worthy of consideration. They certainly reveal how unlikely the translators would be to embrace a KJVO position if they could speak to us in person today. Rather, they would desire to see an English Bible that faithfully conveyed the words of God in today’s vernacular.


1. I gladly refer the reader to the following journal article for a more thorough treatment of the KJVO controversy and the KJV Preface. See William W. Combs, “The Preface to the KJV and the KJV Only Position” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, vol. 1, no. 2 (Fall 1996), 253-267. Download for free at
2. For a free online version of this document, see “The Translators to the Readers: Preface to the KJV” as printed in the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, vol. 1, no. 2 (Fall 1996), 269-290, available at

smith_doug.jpgDoug Smith is happily married to Krystal and glad to be the father of three children.

He is a member of Cornerstone Chapel in Bristol, Tennessee, teaches music in a Christian school, is pursuing an M. Div. through Southern Seminary, preaches in a supply capacity through the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply, and blogs at Gazing at Glory.

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