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The Translators of The Authorized Version

In the opening pages of some copies of the King James Version of the Bible, one will find a section labled, (The Translators to The Reader). Within this rather lengthy article Dr. Miles Smith writes, “There were many chosen that were greater in other men’s eyes than in their own, and that sought the truth rather than their own praise.”

Clearly the translators of this version understood the fact that more is required of a translator than a certain knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew languages. They understood the need for capturing in their translation a Bible which would be correct, point by point, with that of the original. The plain command of God being to these men, that those who have his Word should speak it faithfully and “diminish not a word.”

The great reformer, Martin Luther, recognized the danger of allowing everyone to translate the Word of God. He said, “Translating is not an art that everyone can practice. It requires a right, pious, faithful, diligent, God-fearing, experienced, practiced heart.” (P. 331, Here I Stand, Abington Press.) While it is a necessary requirement that translators of the Scriptures be sincere men of God, it also takes men of exceptional linguistic ability. The combined characteristics are necessary! One may be given by his God, a right and true heart, and yet if his knowledge of he past and present languages is insufficient, he will fail to render to the translation the correct meaning of the original.

At a court conference in 1604, Dr. John Reynolds, a Puritan leader, made the suggestion that a new version of the English Bible be produced to replace the different versions in common use. His suggestion was at first opposed and then adopted by the members of the conference, and won the hearty approval of King James I.

Fifty-four men, including “High Churchmen” and Puritans, the greatest language scholars of the age, were chosen to form six committees to complete the task. Of the fifty-four chosen some died or withdrew before the translating began. The final list is composed of forty-seven men. Each of the six committees was given a portion of the Scriptures to translate. Each of the six committees was given a portion of the Scriptures to translate. Every man in each committee was required to translate in its entirety the portion assigned to his group prior to meeting with the entire group to compare the results and agree upon the final form.

Arriving at the final form, a complete draft of the translated portion was sent to each of the five other committees for their comments and consent. And yet, another committee of selected men from each of the groups went over the entire work again. At last, two from this committee were selected to go over the work once again and were given the responsibility for the final checking.

The above process of translating is in itself a safeguard against poor workmanship. In addition, we can also see that those advocates of the modern versions, who assume that they possess scholarship superior to that of the translators of our King James Version, err in this assumption, which is not supported by the facts.

Space does not allow me to list each of the forty-seven men and their accomplishments, but a sampling* of them may serve to illustrate the quality of scholarship the translators of the Authorized Version possessed. Men whom God raised up and brought together to give us the Bible we read each day.

Dr. Lancelot Andrews distinguished himself as a diligent and excellent preacher, and became Chaplain to Queen Elizabeth I. “His knowledge in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic, besides fifteen modern languages, was so advanced that he may be ranked as one of the rarest linguists in Christiandom.”

Dr. John Reynolds represented the Puritans at the Hampton Court Conference, where he made the suggestions that the Bible be translated anew. One man living at the time relates that Reynold’s “memory and reading were near to a miracle.”

Dr. Adrian Saravia, in the controversies of the period, was often referred to as “that learned foreigner.” He was of Spanish descent and resided in Holland. He was able to assist in the translation with his firsthand knowledge of the work of Spanish as well as Dutch scholars.

Dr. John Layfield, a Greek lecturer, was specially trained in architecture, and his judgement was relied on in regard to passages describing the Tabernacle and the Temple.

Dr. Richard Kilby is the author of a work on Exodus prepared from Hebrew commentators. An interesting story is related concerning this man. Dr. Kilby and a friend from the college where he was professor in Hebrew, visited a neighbouring church one Sunday evening. The young minister spent a large amount of the time, allotted for hi sermon, explaining where the translators had failed to give the most correct reading to several words in the then recent translation. Invited together to a meal with the young preacher after the service, Dr. Kilby took this opportunity to explain to the young preacher that he could have used his time more wisely. The learned Doctor explained how the translators had given serious consideration to the points the young man brought up in his sermon, but another thirteen weightier reasons had been found to support the translation to which the young man had so seriously objected. (A case of a little learning being a dangerous thing.)

William Bedwell was recognized as the “Father of Arabic studies in England.”

Dr. Miles Smith authored the long Translators’ Preface – “The Translator to the Reader,” which can still be found in some Bibles. It is said of this man that, “He had Hebrew at his fingertips, and he was so conversant with Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic, that he made them as familiar to himself as his own native language.” Dr. Smith is one of the two men that stayed with the task of translating until its completion.

Edward Liveley enjoyed the reputation of an acquaintance with the Oriental languages unequalled in that day.

John Boys began to read Hebrew at the age of five. He was admitted to St. John’s College at the age of fourteen, where he distinguished himself by his knowledge of the Greek language. It was a language that he often studied in the library from 4 A.M. to 8 P.M.

The list of men could be continued, with their lists of achievements equalling or bettering those already presented. But we can rest most assured that the translators of our Authorized Version were qualified men.

It is not reasonable on our part to imagine that the translators were infallible, or that their work was perfect in every detail, but neither is it reasonable to lightly discard this version in favour of others that would claim greater scholarship. Of the may attempts to replace the Authorized Version by a translation in more modern English, none has excelled this volume which has held its place in the English-speaking world for more than 350 years.

*Sampling taken from an article entitled “The Learned Men” – published by the Trinitarian Bible Society.