KJV Bible Preface
But now what piety without truth? what truth (what saving truth) without the word of God? What word of God (whereof we may be sure) without the Scripture? The Scriptures we are commanded to search, John 5:39, Isa. 8:20. They are commended that searched and studied them, Acts 17:11 and 8:28-29. They are reproved that were unskillful in them, or slow to believe them, Matt. 22:29, Luke 24:25. They can make us wise unto salvation, 2 Tim. 3:15. If we be ignorant, they will instruct us; if out of the way, they will bring us home; if out of order, they will reform us; if in heaviness, comfort us; if dull, quicken us; if cold, inflame us. Tolle, lege; tolle, lege, “take up and read, take up and read” the Scriptures.
A fountain of most pure water springing up unto everlasting life. And what marvel? The original thereof being from heaven, not from earth; the Author being God, not man; the Inditer, the Holy Spirit, not the wit of the apostles or prophets; the penmen such as were sanctified from the womb, and endued with a principal portion of God’s spirit; the matter, verity, piety, purity, uprightness; the form, God’s word, God’s testimony, God’s oracles, the word of truth, the word of salvation, etc.; the effects, light of understanding, stableness of persuasion, repentance from dead works, newness of life, holiness, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost; lastly, the end and reward of the study thereof, fellowship with the saints, participation of the heavenly nature, fruition of an inheritance immortal, undefiled, and that never shall fade away. Happy is the man that delighteth in the Scripture, and thrice happy that meditateth in it day and night.
But how shall men meditate in that which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue? As it is written, “Except I know the power of the voice, I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian to me” [1 Cor. 14:11]. The apostle excepteth no tongue; not Hebrew the ancientest, not Greek the most copious, not Latin the finest. Nature taught a natural man to confess that all of us in those tongues which we do not understand are plainly deaf; we may turn the deaf ear unto them. The Scythian counted the Athenian, whom he did not understand, barbarous,
So, lest the church be driven to the like exigent, it is necessary to have translations in a readiness. Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water, even as Jacob rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well, by which means the flocks of Laban were watered [Gen. 29:10]. Indeed, without translation into the vulgar tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) [John 4:11] without a bucket or something to draw with; or as that person mentioned by Isaiah, to whom when a sealed book was delivered, with this motion, “Read this, I pray thee,” he was fain to make this answer: “I cannot, for it is sealed” [Isa. 29:11].
The translation of the Old Testament out of the Hebrew into Greek,
While God would be known only in Jacob, and have his name great in Israel, and in none other place; while the dew lay on Gideon’s fleece only, and all the earth besides was dry; then for one and the same people, which spake all of them the language of Canaan — that is, Hebrew — , one and the same original in Hebrew was sufficient [S. August. lib. 12 contra Faust. c. 32]. But when the fulness of time drew near that the Sun of righteousness, the Son of God, should come into the world, whom God ordained to be a reconciliation through faith in His blood, not of the Jew only, but also of the Greek, yea, of all them that were scattered abroad; then lo, it pleased the Lord to stir up the spirit of a Greek prince (Greek for descent and language), even of 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, as St. John Baptist did among the Jews by vocal. For the Grecians, being desirous of learning, were not wont to suffer books of worth to lie moulding in kings’ libraries, but had many of their servants, ready scribes, to copy them out, and so they were dispersed and made common. Again, 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. For the same causes also it was well understood in many places of Europe, yea, and of Africa too. 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; or like a proclamation sounded forth in the market place, which most men presently take knowledge of; and therefore that language was fittest to contain the Scriptures, both for the first preachers of the gospel to appeal unto for witness, and for the learners also of those times to make search and trial by. 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.
Translation out of Hebrew and Greek into Latin,
There were also, within a few hundred years after Christ, translations many into the Latin tongue; for this tongue also was very fit to convey the law and the gospel by, because in those times very many countries of the West, yea of the South, East and North, spake or understood Latin, being made provinces to the Romans. But now the Latin translations were too many to be all good, for they were infinite (Latini interpretes nullo modo numerari possunt, saith St. Augustine) [S. Augustin. de doctr. Christ. lib. 2 cap. 11]. Again they were not out of the Hebrew fountain (we speak of the Latin translations of the Old Testament) but out of the Greek stream; therefore, the Greek being not altogether clear, the Latin derived from it must needs be muddy. This moved St. 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 fountains themselves; which he performed with that evidence of great learning, judgment, industry, and faithfulness, that he hath forever bound the church unto him in a debt of special remembrance and thankfulness.
The translating of the Scripture into the vulgar tongues,
Now though the Church were thus furnished with Greek and Latin translations, even before the faith of Christ was generally embraced in the empire (for the learned know that even in St. Jerome’s time, the consul of Rome and his wife were both Ethnics, and about the same time the greatest part of the senate also) [S. Hieronym. Marcell. Zosim]; yet for all that the godly-learned were not content to have the Scriptures in the language which they themselves understood, Greek and Latin (as the good lepers were not content to fare well themselves, but acquainted their neighbors with the store that God had sent, that they also might provide for themselves) [2 Ki. 7:9]; but also for the behoof and edifying of the unlearned which hungered and thirsted after righteousness, and had souls to be saved as well as they, they provided translations into the vulgar for their countrymen, insomuch that most nations under heaven did shortly after their conversion, hear Christ speaking unto them in their mother tongue, not by the voice of their minister only, but also by the written word translated. If any doubt hereof, he may be satisfied by examples enough, if enough will serve the turn.
The unwillingness of our chief adversaries that the Scriptures should be divulged in the mother tongue, etc.,
Now the church of Rome would seem at the length to bear a motherly affection towards her children, and to allow them the Scriptures in their mother tongue. But indeed it is a gift, not deserving to be called a gift — an unprofitable gift [δωρον αδωρον κουκ ονησιμον, Sophocles]; they must first get a license in writing before they may use them, and to get that, they must approve themselves to their confessor — that is, to be such as are, if not frozen in the dregs, yet soured with the leaven of their superstition. Howbeit, it seemed too much to Clement the Eighth that there should be any license granted to have them in the vulgar tongue, and therefore he overruleth and frustrateth the grant of Pius the Fourth. [See the observation (set forth by Clement his authority) upon the fourth rule of Pius the Fourth his making in the Index, lib. prohib., pag. 15. ver. 5.] So much are they afraid of the light of the Scripture (Lucifugae Scripturarum, as Tertullian speaketh [Tertul. de resur. carnis]) that they will not trust the people with it — no, not as it is set forth by their own sworn men; no, not with the license of their own bishops and inquisitors. Yea, so unwilling they are to communicate the Scriptures to the people’s understanding in any sort, that they are not ashamed to confess that we forced them to translate it into English against their wills. This seemeth to argue a bad cause, or a bad conscience, or both. Sure we are, that it is not he that hath good gold, that is afraid to bring it to the touchstone, but he that hath the counterfeit; neither is it the true man that shunneth the light, but the malefactor, lest his deeds should be reproved [John 3:20]; neither is it the plain-dealing merchant that is unwilling to have the weights, or the meteyard brought in place, but he that useth deceit. But we will let them alone for this fault, and return to translation.
Reasons inducing us not to stand curiously upon an identity of phrasing,
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, because they observe that some learned men somewhere have been as exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not vary from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places (for there be some words that be not of the same sense everywhere [πολυσημα]), we were especially careful, and made a conscience according to our duty. But that we should express the same notion in the same particular word, as for example, if we translate the Hebrew or Greek word once by purpose, never to call it intent; if one where journeying, never travelling; if one where think, never suppose; if one where pain, never ache; if one where joy, never gladness, etc — thus, to mince the matter, we thought to savor more of curiosity than wisdom, and that rather it would breed scorn in the atheist than bring profit to the godly reader. For is the kingdom of God 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 commodiously? A godly Father in the Primitive time showed himself greatly moved, that one of newfangleness called κραββατον, “σκιμπους” [“a bed”; Niceph. Calist. lib.8. cap.42.], though the difference be little or none; and another reporteth that he was much abused for turning “cucurbita” (to which reading the people had been used) into “hedera” [S. Hieron. in 4. Ionae. See S. Aug. epist. 10.]. Now if this happen in better times, and upon so small occasions, we might justly fear hard censure, if generally we should make verbal and unnecessary changings. We might also be charged (by scoffers) with some unequal dealing towards a great number of good English words. For as it is written of a certain great philosopher, that he should say , that those logs were happy that were made images to be worshipped, for their fellows, as good as they, lay for blocks behind the fire; so if we should say, as it were, unto certain words, “Stand up higher; have a place in the Bible always,” and to others of like quality, “Get ye hence; be banished forever,” we might be taxed peradventure with St. James his words, namely, “To be partial in ourselves, and judges of evil thoughts.” 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 [leptologia;/ adolescia;/ το σρουδαξεινεπι ονομασι; see Euseb. προπαρασκευ. li. 12. ex Platon.], we, if we will not be superstitious, may use the same liberty in our English versions out of Hebrew and Greek, for that copy or store that He hath given us. Lastly, we have on the one side avoided the scrupulosity of the Puritans, who leave the old ecclesiastical words and betake them to other, as when they put washing for baptism, and congregation instead of church; as also on the other side we have shunned the obscurity of the Papists, in their azimes, tunic, rational, holocausts, praepuce, pasche, and a number of such like, whereof their late translation is full — and that of purpose to darken the sense, that since they must needs translate the Bible, yet by the language thereof, it may be kept from being understood. But we desire that the Scripture may speak like itself, as in the language of Canaan, that it may be understood even of the very vulgar.
Many other things we might give thee warning of, gentle reader, if we had not exceeded the measure of a preface already. It remaineth that we commend thee to God, and to the Spirit of His grace, which is able to build further than we can ask or think. He removeth the scales from our eyes, the veil from our hearts, opening our wits that we may understand His word, enlarging our hearts; yea, correcting our affections, that we may love it to the end. Ye are brought unto fountains of living water which ye digged not; do not cast earth into them with the Philistines [Gen. 26:15], neither prefer broken pits before them with the wicked Jews [Jer. 2:13]. Others have laboured, and you may enter into their labours. O receive not so great things in vain, O despise not so great salvation! Be not like swine to tread under foot so precious things, neither yet like dogs to tear and abuse holy things. Say not to our Saviour with the Gergesites, “Depart out of our coasts” [Matt. 8:34]; neither yet with Esau sell your birthright for a mess of pottage [Heb. 12:16]. If light be come into the world, love not darkness more than light; if food, if clothing be offered, go not naked, starve not yourselves. Remember the advice of Nazianzene, (Gregory of Nazianzus, also known as Gregory the Theologian or Gregory Nazianzen, was a 4th-century Archbishop of Constantinople, and theologian. He is widely considered the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age.) “It is a grievous thing (or dangerous) to neglect a great fair, and to seek to make markets afterwards” [Ναζιανζ. περι αγ. βαπτ. δεινον πανηγυριν παρελθειν και τηνικαυτα πραγματειαν επιζητειν]; also the encouragement of St. Chrysostom, “It is altogether impossible, that he that is sober (and watchful) should at any time be neglected” [S. Chrysost. in epist. ad Rom. cap. 14. orat. 26. in ηθικ. αμηχανον σφοδρα αμηχανον]; lastly, the admonition and menacing of St. Augustine, “They that despise God’s will inviting them, shall feel God’s will taking vengeance of them” [S. August. ad artic. sibi falso object. Artic. 16.]. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God [Heb. 10:31]; but a blessed thing it is, and will bring us to everlasting blessedness in the end, when God speaketh unto us, to hearken; when He setteth His word before us, to read it; when He stretcheth out His hand and calleth, to answer, “Here am I! here we are to do thy will, O God.” The Lord work a care and conscience in us to know Him and serve Him, that we may be acknowledged of Him at the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom, with the Holy Ghost, be all praise and thanksgiving. In Jesus name, Amen.