University Libraries Exhibits The King James Bible Virtual Exhibit The “Translators’ Preface to the Reader”

The “Translators’ Preface to the Reader”

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The “Translators’ Preface to the Reader” is integral to the King James Version of the Bible (KJV), in spite of the fact that many modern editions downplay its significance or omit it entirely from their contents. By the time the KJV was first published in 1611, there were already eight different versions of the Scriptures in English, with two of them—the popular, Puritan-minded Geneva Bible and its more orthodox but less fashionable counterpart, the Bishops’ Bible—struggling for textual and social supremacy. Recognizing that none of these earlier translations were likely to inspire widespread doctrinal, ecclesiastical, political, or social harmony, King James I called for the creation of a new translation of the Bible that would offer the English-speaking world a single authoritative and agreeable version of Scripture.

Between James’ 1604 decree calling for a new translation and its ultimate publication in 1611, forty-seven scholars worked together intensively to create this new version. Presented in eleven pages of tightly packed text, the “Translators’ Preface to the Reader” remains a crucial document in the history of scriptural translation, and it stands as an indispensable record of the translators’ collective motivations, the intentions behind their work, and the methods they used to overcome the many obstacles they faced. Perhaps most importantly, however, the Preface reminds us that the Bible—regardless of its edition or translation—is a living document that testifies to humanity’s millennia-long struggle to understand and explain its own place in the cosmos.

Presented here in its entirety is the text of the “Translator’s Preface” digitized from OSU’s copy of the 1611 folio edition of the King James Bible. Page through these leaves for yourself, and read why forty-seven men spent nearly seven years of their lives collating, comparing, and contrasting the biblical text in a variety of languages in their effort to create a single, paramount, and enduring English translation of Scripture.