• “Yet for all that, as nothing is begun and perfected at the same time, and the later thoughts are thought to be the wiser: so if we building upon their foundation that went before us, and being helped by their labors, do endeavor to make that better which they left so good.”

• “Whatsoever is sound already . . . the same will shine as gold more brightly, being rubbed and polished; also, if anything be halting, or superfluous, or not so agreeable to the original, the same may be corrected, and the truth set in place.”

In view of the smoothness of flow for which the King James Bible is matchless, the statement in the preface about what is “halting” in earlier translations is particularly noteworthy. It shows that the translators were consciously seeking rhythmic excellence. Adam Nicolson notes that “Tyndale was working alone, in extraordinary isolation. His only audience was himself. And surely as a result there is a slightly bumpy, stripped straightforwardness about his matter and his rhythm.” Even though Tyndale and the King James translators might agree in basic content, the King James translators “are memorable where Tyndale stumbles over his grammar.”

Although modern debunkers sometimes try to portray the King James translators as introducing inferior changes, the scholarly consensus has been that on balance the King James Bible is a refinement of what had preceded. This is not to deny that we can find passages in the King James Bible that are entries in the “what were they thinking?” category, such as this: “Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermedleth with all wisdom” (Prov. 18:1). Nonetheless, it is indisputable that the King James translators had wonderful intuitions in regard to retaining what was excellent and adding touches of improvement where they could. Here are representative scholarly statements:

• “Some of their adjustments had the Midas touch. . . . In a cumulative way, all the virtues of the various translations which preceded it were gathered up.” – Benson Bobrick, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible

• The KJV “was no sudden miracle but rather the harvesting or refining of the previous century’s experience of translating the Bible into English.” – Craig R. Thompson, The Bible in English

* “It forms a mosaic of all that was best in the work of preceding translators. . . . [Sometimes] the improvement is effected by a change in a word or two; but, in addition, there are entire clauses and sentences, the independent work of the Authorised Revisers, which have passed unscathed the critical tests of modern scholarship.” – Samuel McComb, The Making of the English Bible

• Conclusion drawn from a comparison of parallel passages in Tyndale, Geneva, and King James translations: “Even a superficial examination of the three renderings bears witness to the good judgment and taste of the revisers in selecting the best elements of preceding versions, and then adding a few fine touches of their own. . . . Omission of what is unnecessary to the thought is one of the effective means of heightening the style.” – M. Ellsworth Olsen, The Prose of Our King James Version

• “Compared with its predecessors, the King James version shows a superb faculty of selection and combination, a sure instinct for betterment.” – Charles C. Butterworth, The Literary Lineage of the King James Bible

Refining a Text

Sixteenth-century translators could not have seen the process of refinement that was going on with the same clarity that we can see it with the advantage of temporal distance from the event. The process of change for the better that is evident in the following specimens was repeated hundreds of times. Here are three successive versions of John 15:12–13, reprinted in original spelling: