To Make an Existing Translation Better, or to Make It Perfect? The Intention of the KJV Translators


Miles Smith, one of the principal translators and editors of the King James Version, writing in the name of all the translators, penned “The Translators to the Readers,” an eleven-page preface or introduction to the original edition of the KJV, which, sadly, has been omitted from most KJV editions for the past 350 years. Therein, on unnumbered page 9, he wrote [I normalize spelling]—

Truly (good Christian reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new Translation nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, … but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against; that hath been our endeavor, that our mark.”

Some have taken this remark and hastily deduced from it that the KJV men aimed at making a perfect translation—“not to be justly excepted against”—and then leap to the conclusion that not only did they aim at this mark, but they accomplished what no translators before at any time, in any place, in any language attained—a flawless, defect-free, indeed perfect translation, one never needing revision or correction, apparently to the end of time.

But we would do well to seek out what Smith and the other translators said and did elsewhere regarding the designs and results of their translation efforts. And we need not seek far. In this same “The Translators to the Readers,” Smith, speaking of earlier translators and translations, wrote—

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 holpen by their labours, do endeavor to make that better which they left so good; no man, we are sure, hath cause to mislike us; they, we persuade ourselves, if they were alive, would thank us.

Mark their words: “endeavor to make that better.” Not “to make it perfect” nor “to make it final,” nor to absolutely complete and end forever the task of making English Bible translations and revisions.

And if this is not enough to settle the matter, let us turn again in the original KJV to the Epistle Dedicatory, a three-page fulsome expression of gratitude to King James for sponsoring the translation project. On the second page of that epistle, we read,

For when your Highness had once out of deep judgment apprehended, how convenient it was, That out of the Original sacred tongues, together with comparing the labours, both in our own and other foreign Languages, of many worthy men who went before us, there should be one more exact Translation of the holy Scriptures into the English tongue [italics in original].

Again, mark their words, “one more exact Translation,” NOT “one perfect, error-free, final, unalterable” translation. Let us not impute to the translators aims—or accomplishments—which they never claimed for themselves.

Add to this the fact that two of the original KJV revisers, John Bois and Samuel Ward, participated in the 1638 revision of the KJV published at Cambridge, a thing unimaginable if their first effort in 1611 had been flawless. Need I say more?

Follow-up—apparently some thought that I did need to say more, or, rather, raised objections to what I had written. One zealous individual wrote, seeking to interpret (or, more accurately, spin) the English phrase quoted from the Epistle Dedicatory “one more exact Translation” in such a way that he severed the comparative “more” from the adjective “exact” that followed it, and referred it instead to the number “one” which preceded it, as though the translators actual intended meaning was equivalent to saying “one more translation, an exact one,” thereby negating my assertion that the KJV translators had claimed no more than having produced a better translation, and not a perfect one.

However, to so re-interpret the English is to torture normal English syntax, as evidenced by the KJV itself. Regularly in the KJV, when “more” precedes an adjective (as it does in the phrase in question from the Epistle Dedicatory), the “more” always modifies the adjective that follows, and not anything that precedes. In the several dozen examples I gleaned using Strong’s concordance, I found not a single exception. We find such phrases as “more subtle,” ‘more honorable,” “more mighty,” “more stiff-necked,” “more blameless,” “more righteous,” “more strong,” “more right,” “more upright,” “more abominable,” “more glorious,” “more precious,” “more wise,” “more ready,” ‘more bitter,” “more abundant,” “more fierce,” “more tolerable,” “more blessed,” “more perfect,” “more excellent,” “more diligent,” “more bold,” “more evident,” “more precious,” and “more sure” (some of these occur more than once).

Ergo, judging the syntax of the KJV translators in Epistle Dedicatory by the syntax uniformly displayed in their English Bible translation itself, we are compelled to conclude that the “more” in “one more exact translation,” goes with “exact,” not with “one.” My original presentation of the translators’ purpose—to make a better (“more exact”) translation, but not a perfect, or entirely exact one—is thereby fully vindicated, and the attempt to reinterpret the phrase as though the translators did claim an aim of perfection is exposed as nothing more than a desperate attempt to rescue the false doctrine of an infallible KJV from the obvious claims of the translators themselves.

Douglas K. Kutilek Bio

Doug Kutilek is the editor of, which opposes KJVOism. He has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a BA in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an MA in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College and a ThM in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). His writings have appeared in numerous publications.