“Translation...Openeth The Window”: Lessons From The Preface To The Authorized Version -- By: Gerald M. Bilkes

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 04:1 (Jan 2012)
Article: “Translation...Openeth The Window”: Lessons From The Preface To The Authorized Version
Author: Gerald M. Bilkes

“Translation...Openeth The Window”:
Lessons From The Preface To The Authorized Version

Gerald M. Bilkes

The original 1611 edition of the King James or Authorized Version included a “Preface to the Reader,” which for a variety of reasons is not usually included in contemporary reprints.1 This eleven-page preface was composed by Dr. Miles Smith (1554-1624), a noted linguist and theologian, who wrote it on behalf of the translators. He had worked at all levels of production of the King James Version translation. First, he was a member of one of the six companies doing initial work; his company worked specifically on the books of Isaiah to Malachi. He was then one of the twelve people selected to revise the work. Finally, he and Bishop Bilson took the work through its final stage of examination, including adding the summaries at the beginning of each chapter and running heads at the top of each page.2 One scholar suggests that “his contribution to the King James Version is perhaps greater than any other from among the translation teams.”3

After his work on the King James Version, Smith would be appointed by the king as Bishop of Gloucester.4 It is interesting that Smith is noted for (and sometimes faulted for) being a “strict Calvinist.” Some have believed that the Scripture quotations he chose to use in the preface “reflect his Puritan tendencies.” David Allen writes: “Smith’s heart was ever with the Puritan party, even though he wrote in his Preface, ‘We have on the one side avoided the scrupulosity of the Puritans, as on the other we have shunned the obscurity of the Papists.’”5

The Preface provides us with valuable information about the beliefs and goals of the translators. Clearly, Smith was concerned to defend the work against the considerable opposition to a new translation. But besides a defense of the work, Smith also gives a brief history of previous translations of the Word of God, including theological material that helps us understand how those translators regarded Scripture and the work of translating it. No reader of the Preface can miss both its modesty and its magnificence: its modesty regarding man’s abilities, and its magnificence regarding the glory of the Word of God. According to one author, this “noble preface...stands as a comely gate to a glorious city.”6 Given the 400th anniversary of the Authorized Version this past year, i...

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