The KJV Preface Constrained (Part 3)

This is the third part of Christopher Yetzer’s treatment of the KJV Translator’s Preface to the Reader. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Thanks again to Christopher for allowing us to repost his work without modification. Blessings.


Because the preface is the words of just one translator, it is not always known how well it represents all the translators or the historical truth in general. Before all the complaints and accusations hail down upon just the mention of such a possibility, give me just a moment to clearly demonstrate this happening in another British religious book written by committee in the 17th century. The Italian annotations by Giovanni Diodati were translated into English and printed in 1643. 2 years later around 12 English scholars, perhaps including one KJV translator, printed their own annotations. In the preface (possibly written by John Downame) to the first printing of those annotations it was said, “We have made speciall use of the Italian Annotations of Deodat, and of the Dutch Bibles…” and “…[we] have submitted our private Dictates to the censure and correction of our Colleagues in this Service daily assembled together, for the perusall of every ones part.” Normally neither of these points would be any problem at all and are fine points of publicity. However the next time Diodati’s annotations were printed, it’s preface, talking about the scholars of the 1645 English annotations, mentions, “they, I say, all so highly approve of Diodati’s Annotations, that any one who shall please to compare those severall Notes of theirs, with the first Impression of this in English, shall finde many thousands of this our Authours inserted, but especially in Ezekiel, Daniel, and all the minor Prophets, where there is hardly any one Note of Diodati’s forborn, but in theirs printed verbatim by our Translation:” Plagiarism! It was such a grave accusation that the English annotators had to respond and they did, “The Annotations of the foresaid Divines were finished, and given up to the Stationers the year before the first Edition of Diodati’s Annotations, translated into English, were published: so as they could have no help from that English Translation. As for the Italian, in which language, Diodati’s Annotatations were first composed, many of the foresaid Divines understood not that tongue: nor had any translation thereof for their help… one of the Annotators to whose share, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the smaller Prophets fell, hath manifested himself to be Plagiarius; shall his crime be imputed to all the rest…”

In summary:

  • 1643 Diodati’s annotations printed
  • 1645 English annotations printed. The preface claims that they made “special use” of Diodati.
  • 1648 preface to 2nd edition of Diodati’s annotations claims that the 1645 annotations plagiarized Diodati’s work.
  • 1651 preface to the 2nd edition of the English annotations claims that most of them didn’t know Italian or have a translation available.

An analysis of the 1645 English annotations demonstrates that 2 sections of the work contain heavy plagiarism from the English translation of Diodati’s notes. 3 other sections contain many of Diodati’s annotations but most likely from his Italian Bible and not from the English translation. The rest contain small traces of acceptable use of Diodati as a source. Which preface lied, the 1645, the 1651 or both? The point here is only to demonstrate that in the 17th century the preface was a commercial product of publicity and secondarily that the authors of them often had agendas and at points were errant or dishonest. The English Annotations were not the only ones either. [see this authors unpublished work on Diodati’s annotations.]

Possibly one misleading example from Smith’s preface in KJV can be found in the phrase “for we have seen none of theirs of the whole Bible as yet.” Smith claims that the KJV translators had not yet seen a whole English Bible translation by the Catholics. The Rheims New Testament was printed in 1582 and clearly available and used by the translators (see John Bois’ notes during translation). The Old Testament was printed at Douai, France in two volumes in 1609 and 1610. According to the 1609 preface, these were made to complete the work of the 1582 Rheims New Testament and create a whole Catholic translation of the Scriptures. The approbation for both volumes is dated November 8, 1609. The first volume surely would have been available at least to the general committee which met in London. Bois’ letters to Casaubon near the end of 1610 demonstrate that most likely the second volume would have been available as well.[Labourers in the Vineyard of the Lord – Revising the King James Apocrypha by Nicholas Hardy] There also appears to be evidence within the text of the KJV that shows use of both volumes.[For some examples from the first volume see Genesis 48:22 “took”, 50:15, “requite”, 50:26 “coffin” etc.] Rather than go through lists of examples from the first volume, we will concentrate only on the second edition since it was the later of the two to be printed.[There is some probability that both the KJV and the Douai translators came to the same readings simultaneously, or that the Douai translators actually copied from the KJV, “But as we heare in a new Edition (which we have not yet sene) they translate it almost as in the first.” – Preface to the 1610 Douai. ]

Psalms 145:21

  • AV1611 – My mouth shall speake the praise of the Lord: and let all flesh blesse his holy Name for euer and euer.
  • Bishops(printed 1602) – My mouth shall speake the praise of the Lord: and let all fleshgive thankes unto his holy name for ever and ever.
  • Geneva(printed 1606) – My mouth shall speake the prayse of the Lorde, and all flesh shallblesse his holy Name for ever and ever.
  • Douai – My mouth shal speake the prayse of our Lord: and let al flesh blesse his holie name for ever, and fore ever and ever.
  • Coverdale, Great and Matthew’s all have “let all flesh give thanks”.

Psalms 147:11

  • AV1611 – The Lord taketh pleasure in them that feare him: in those that hope in his mercie.
  • Bishops(printed 1602) – But the Lordes delight is in them that feare him: and put their trust in his mercie.
  • Geneva(printed 1606) – But the Lord delighteth in them that feare him, and attend upon his mercie.
  • Douai – Our Lord is wel pleased toward them that feare him: and in them, that hope upon his mercie.
  • Coverdale, Great and Matthew’s all have “delight” for the first word and “trust” for the second.

Proverbs 20:12

  • AV1611 – The hearing eare, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made euen both of them.
  • Bishops(printed 1602) – The eare to heare, the eye to see, the Lord hath made them both.
  • Geneva(printed 1606) – The Lord hath made both these: even the eare to heare. and the eye to see.
  • Douai – The eare hearing, and the eie seing, our Lord made both.
  • Coverdale and Matthew’s both have “hearing/sight”, while the Great Bible reads like the Bishops’ and Geneva.

Proverbs 26:4

  • AV1611 – Answere not a foole according to his folly, lest thou also be like vnto him.
  • Bishops(printed 1602) – Give not the foole an answer after his foolishnesse, lest thou become like unto him.
  • Geneva(printed 1606) – Answere not a foole according to his foolishness, lest thou also be like him.
  • Douai – Answer not a foole according to his follie, lest thou be made like to him.
  • The other English Bibles have “foolishness”. [There is a book titled A Commentarie Vpon the Booke of the Prouerbes of Salomon published in 1596 that has this reading]

1 Maccabees 1:17

  • 1611AV – Wherefore he entred into Egypt with a great multitude, with chariots, and elephants, and horsemen, and a great nauie,
  • Bishops(printed 1602) – Upon this entred hee into Egypt with a strong hoste, with charets, elephants, horsemen, and a great number of ships,
  • Geneva(printed 1606) – Therefore hee entred into Egypt with a mightie companie, with Charets, and Elephants, and with horsemen, and with a great navie,
  • Douai – And he entered into Egypt with great multitude, with chariots and elephants, and horsemen, and a copious multitude of shippes:

1 Maccabees 12:10

  • AV1611- for there is a long time passed since you sent vnto vs.
  • Bishops(printed 1602) – For it is long since the the time that ye sent word unto us.
  • Geneva(printed 1606) – for it is long since the time that ye sent unto us.
  • Douai – for much time is passed, since you sent to us.

Like Downame’s (or whoever the author of the 1645 English Annotations preface might have been) denial of using Diodati’s annotations, Smith denied seeing all the volumes of the Douay-Rheims Bible. The text of the English Annotations proves Downame wrong as the text of the KJV appears to prove Smith wrong. The problem is that often students and scholars have taken Smith at his word without understanding the context of the 17th century preface. In the last section of this study I made reference to Smith replying primarily to the 1582 Rheims preface. That is true, but it also seems that he may have made use of the 1609 preface which itself often repeats the information found in the Rheims preface.

  • Smith’s 1611 KJV preface: on the other side we have shunned the obscurity of the Papists, in their AzimesTunike, Rational, HolocaustsPræpuce, Pasche, and a number of such like,
  • 1609 Douay preface: And why then may we not say Prepuce, Phase or Pasch, Azimes, Breades of Proposition, Holocaust, and the like? Rather then as Protestants translate them: Foreskinne, Passeover, The feast of swete breades, Shew breades, Burnt offerings: &c.
  • 1582 Rheims preface: The Pasche. The feaste of Azymes. The bread of Proposition. Which they translate The Passeover, The feast of swete bread, The shew bread.

Besides the words which match the 1609 preface better, another reason this may more clearly represent the 1609 text is that the 1582 Rheims used breast-plate in Ephesians 6:14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8 instead of rational which was only used in the Douai Old Testament. Also the New Testament never used tunic as the Old Testament did. These points seem to eliminate the possiblity that Smith might have written the preface much earlier than is normally thought or that he was simply unaware of what other resource the other translators might have been using.

At times Smith seems to represent well the group and at other times he might have embellished a bit to accomplish his task. In order for one to claim “the translators believed” in reference to words in the preface, there should be some effort made in analyzing if the words might reasonably have been believed by all the translators or if there is any external evidence to support the claim. Some of Smith’s statements are upheld by separate witnesses and others seem to be refuted by them. Here are two very clear statements which are backed up by other witnesses and at times other translators and an analysis of the text.

  • Miles Smith in the KJV preface: Another thing we think good to admonish thee of, gentle reader, that we have not tied ourselves to an uniformity of phrasing, or to an identity of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done,
  • Possible first Oxford Company translator Daniel Featley in Transubstantiation Exploded 1638: The same word in divers places of Scripture may be diversly taken, according to the diversity of the matter and circumstances of the Text.
  • Textual analysis: “dabhar (word or thing) is translated by eighty-four English words, panim (face) by thirty-four, sim (to set or place) by fifty-nine, shubh (to turn back) by sixty, nasah (to lift up) by forty-six, abhar (to passover) by forty-eight, and rabh (much) by forty-four.” [A Monarch’s Majestic Translation: The King James Bible by Donald Brake]

Example number two where agreement can be found is in regards to the works the translators consulted.

  • Miles Smith in the KJV preface: 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;
  • Second Oxford Company translator George Abbot in The Reasons Which Doctor Hill Hath Brought for the Upholidng of Papistry 1604: There is not in the world, any fit meanes to come to the right sence of Scripture, which our men doe not frequent. They seeke into the Original tonges, wherin the booke of God was written. They conferre translations of all sortes: they lay one text with another, & expound the harder by that which is lesse difficult: they compare circumstances of Angecedents and Consquents: they looke to the Analogy of faith prescribed in the Creede of the Apostles, They search what the first Councels did establish: they seeke what was the opinions of the Fathers concerning textes in question, and refuse not therein to cope with you about the highest points…

This same fact is also demonstrated by the notes taken by Second Cambridge Company translator John Bois. He cites the Rheims New Testament at Colossians 2:18, Latin at Romans 9:6 and 1 Corinthians 9:5, “old Interpreters” at 1 Corinthians 11:10, Septuagint at 2 Timothy 2:19, Italian at Revelation 7:15, “major number of translators” at Hebrews 10:12 and “others” is mentioned throughout. John Selden who was a friend of several translators also said, “The Translators in King James’s time took an excellent way. That Part of the Bible was given to him who was most excellent in such a Tongue, (as the Apocrypha to Andrew Downs); and then they met together, and one read the Translation, the rest holding in their Hands some Bible, either of the learned Tongues, or French, Spanish, Italian, etc. if they found any Fault, they spoke, if not he read on.”

Analyzing the text itself is difficult because of the number of possible sources consulted and the fact that those sources commonly agree with one another. Here are some possible examples: Genesis 23:6 most translations have something like “Prince of God”, but the KJV translates it as “mighty prince” similar to the 1588 French Bible which read “Prince excellent”; Genesis 37:36 most of the previous English translations have “chief steward” or something similar, but the KJV has “captain of the guard” similar to the 1569 Spanish which read “capitan de los de la guarda”; Hebrews 11:28 most English translations had “effusion” but the KJV uses “sprinkling” similar to Diodati’s 1607 Italian Bible which read “spruzzamento”; Matthew 9:4 most English translations had “seeing” but the KJV uses “knowing” possibly following the quote by Chrysostom; 2 Corinthians 2:10 most English translations had “in the sight” but the KJV uses “in the person” like the 1582 Rheims; 1 Corinthians 7:35 most English Bibles had “separation”, but the KJV uses “distraction” like Beza’s Latin translation which read “distratione”.

Other instances of agreement could be noted: John Bois’ quotes from a paragraph of the preface in An Exposition of the Festivall Epistles and Gospels and the opinion that Christ and the Apostles quoted from the Septuagint is cited in several different translators’ works. So while some of the preface is substantiated by other sources, it is not true that every word of the preface accurately and universally represented the opinions of all the translators, even though Smith’s intention was certainly to do so as much as his agenda would permit. KJV researcher Timothy Berg, in talking about the section titled A satisfaction to our brethren, has noted that Smith’s, “rebuttal of Puritan objections to the project for example could hardly be said to reflect the thinking of, say, John Rainolds.”

Clearly not all the translators could have ratified the final draft of the preface given that a few of them had died before Smith’s quill was dipped into the inkwell for the first stroke (Richard Eedes 1604, Edward Lievely 1605, Ralph Hutchinson 1606, William Dakins 1607, John Rainolds 1607, Thomas Ravis 1609, John Harding 1610, John Aglionby 1610, Richard Bancroft 1610). Besides this, there seems to be some evidence that at least a few of the translators might have disagreed with some of the wording in the preface.

  • Miles Smith in the KJV preface: we have at the length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to that pass that you see.
  • The youngest KJV translator[if he was one] at the time of publication (29 years old), Daniel Featley, in The Dippers Dipt: a worship of God devised by man may be taken in a double sense, either for a whorship wholly devised by man, without any precept or president in Scripture; and such a worship is not agreeable unto God, but condemned in his Word, under the name of will-worship: or for a worship in substance prescribed by God, but in some circumstance, manner, or help thereunto devised or composed by man; and such may be and is acceptable unto God: as for example, reading Scripture is a religious act prescribed by God, yet the translation of the Originall into the Mother-tongue, divisions of the text into Chapters and Verses, diverse readings, interlineary glosses, together with the Contents, and fitting them to the times and seasons, are from man.

Miles Smith seemed to have believed that God had an active part in the work, while Featley talks of a very human, yet pleasing to God, process. Likewise the example below possibly shows a slight difference in the words the translators might have used to describe the Geneva Bible.

  • Miles Smith in the KJV preface: 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…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 endeavour, that our mark…. And to the same effect say we, that we are so far off from condemning any of [the brethren’s] labours that travailed before us in this kind, either in this land or beyond sea,
  • Daniel Featley in The Dippers Dipt: Featley: “none ought to take upon them the Office of a Pastour, or Minister of the Word, who are not able to reprove and convince Hereticks, and all gain-sayers: but your lay and unlettered men are not able to convince Hereticks, and stop the mouthes of gain-sayers, because they can alledge no Scripture but that which is translated into their mother-tongue, in which there may be and are some errours: for, though the Scriptures be the infallible Word of God, yet the Translators were men subject to errour, and they sometimes mistooke.” Scotch-man: “Will you say that those learned men who translated the Bible at Geneva committed any errour in their Translation?” Featley: “I will…I could produce many other errours in that translation, which are corrected in the Kings translation.”
  • Leader of the Second Westminster Company William Barlow speaking of the opinions concerning the Geneva and Bishops Bibles by First Oxford Company translator John Rainolds and King James himself at Hampton Court: [Reinolds] moved his Maiestie, that there might be a new Translation of the Bible…After that, he moved his Maiestie, that there might be a new Translation of the Bible, because those which were allowed in the reignes of king Henry the eight, and Edward the sixt, were corrupt and not answerable to the trueth of the Originall… (professing that hee coulde never, yet, see a Bible well translated in English, but the worst of all his Maiestie thought the Geneva to bee)[The Summe and Substance of the Conference, which, it pleased his Excellent Maiestie to have with the Lords bishops, and other of his Cleargie, (at which the most of the Lordes of hte Councell were present) in his Maiesties Privie-Chamber, at Hampton Court. 1605]
  • Again William Barlow in One of the foure Sermons preached before the Kings Majestie1606 spoke about a passage , “which the Geneva hath not well translated”.
  • John Bois in An Exposition of the Dominical Epistles 1610 laments the Latin translation of Erasmus and Beza at Matthew 24:34 and goes on to attack the footnote of the Geneva translation, “and the translators of Geneva following them in our lesser English Bible, This age shall not passe: but as well the translation as the observation is defective…”

At least 3 translators and King James were critical of the Geneva Bible in some places in their published works. Possibly their actual feelings about the Geneva would be slightly different than the charitable speech of the preface. KJV researcher Timothy Berg has summarized, “I think it is wise to speak of the preface as having a “sole author” (Miles Smith) who was commanded to write “in the name of all the translators” (to quote from the editor of his 1632 collection of sermons). This can help us most fruitfully dialogue without the – to my mind unwarranted – claims that “all the translators” either agreed perfectly with Smith at every point, or disagreed in unison with him at any point.”


One thought on “The KJV Preface Constrained (Part 3)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: