The dangers of translation

June 28, 2011

Here are wise words, written, as you can easily tell, quite some time ago:

Whoſoeuer attempteth any thing for the publike (ſpecially if it appertaine to Religion, and to the opening and clearing of the word of God) the ſame ſetteth himſelfe vpon a ſtage to be glouted vpon by euery euil eye, yea, he caſteth himſelf headlong upon pikes, to be gored by euery ſharpe tongue. For he that medleth with mens Religion in any part, medleth with their cuſtome, nay, with their freehold, and though they find no content in that which they haue, yet they cannot abide to heare of altering.

—“The Translators to the Reader,” [p. 2], 1611 printing of KJV

For those of you who struggle with reading 17th C. English (which is not what you’re reading in a modern KJV—that’s a late 18th C revision!), here is a translation into reasonably contemporary English.

Whoever attempts anything for the public, especially if it has to do with religion or with making the word of God accessible and understandable, sets himself up to be frowned upon by every evil eye, and casts himself headlong on a row of pikes, to be stabbed by every sharp tongue. For meddling in any way with a people’s religion is meddling with their customs, with their inalienable rights. And although they may be dissatisfied with what they have, they cannot bear to have it altered.

— Erroll F. Rhodes and Liana Lupas, “The Translators to the Reader, Modern Form,”
in The Translators to the Reader: The Original Preface of the King James Version
of 1611 Revisited
(New York: American Bible Society, 1997), 69.