Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Prologue to the Translation of the Bible
Myles Coverdale (c. 14881569) and the Early Translations of the Bible
Miles Coverdale to the Christian Reader
CONSIDERING how excellent knowledge and learning an interpreter of Scripture ought to have in the tongues, and pondering also my own insufficiency therein, and how weak I am to perform the office of a translator, I was the more loath to meddle with this work. Notwithstanding, when I considered how great pity it was that we should want it so long, and called to my remembrance the adversity of them which were not only of ripe knowledge, but would also with all their hearts have performed that they began, if they had not had impediment: considering, I say, that by reason of their adversity it could not so soon have been brought to an end, as our most prosperous nation would fain have had it: these and other reasonable causes considered, I was the more bold to take it in hand. And to help me herein, I have had sundry translations, not only in Latin, but also of the Dutch interpreters, whom, because of their singular gifts and special diligence in the Bible, I have been the more glad to follow for the most part, according as I was required. But, to say the truth before God, it was neither my labour nor desire to have this work put in my hand: nevertheless it grieved me that other nations should be more plenteously provided for with the Scripture in their mother tongue, than we: therefore, when I was instantly required, though I could not do so well as I would, I thought it yet my duty to do my best, and that with a good will.
Whereas some men think now that many translations make division in the faith and in the people of God, that is not so: for it was never better with the congregation of God, than when every church had the Bible of a sundry translation. Among the Greeks had not Origen a special translation? Had not Vulgarius one peculiar, and likewise Chrysostom? Beside the seventy interpreters, is there not the translation of Aquila, of Theodotio, of Symmachus, and of sundry other? Again, among the Latin men, thou findest that every one almost used a special and sundry translation; for insomuch as every bishop had the knowledge of the tongues, he gave his diligence to have the Bible of his own translation. The doctors, as Hirenæus, Cyprianus, Tertullian, St. Hierome, St. Augustine, Hilarius, and St. Ambrose, upon divers places of the Scripture, read not the text all alike.
Therefore ought it not to be taken as evil, that such men as have understanding now in our time, exercise themselves in the tongues, and give their diligence to translate out of one language into another. Yea, we ought rather to give God high thanks therefore, which through his Spirit stirreth up mens minds so to exercise themselves therein. Would God it had never been left off after the time of St. Augustine! Then should we never have come into such blindness and ignorance, into such errors and delusions. For as soon as the Bible was cast aside, and no more put in exercise, then began every one of his own head to write whatsoever came into his brain, and that seemed to be good in his own eyes: and so grew the darkness of mens traditions. And this same is the cause that we have had so many writers, which seldom made mention of the Scripture of the Bible: and though they sometimes alleged it, yet was it done so far out of season, and so wide from the purpose, that a man may well perceive how that they never saw the original.
Seeing then that this diligent exercise of translating doth so much good and edifieth in other languages, why should it do evil in ours? Doubtless like as all nations in the diversity of speeches may know one God in the unity of faith, and be one in love: even so may divers translations understand one another, and that in the head articles and ground of our most blessed faith, though they use sundry words. Wherefore methink we have great occasion to give thanks unto God, that he hath opened unto his church the gift of interpretation and of printing, and that there are now at this time so many, which with such diligence and faithfulness interpret the Scripture, to the honour of God, and edifying of his people: whereas like as when many are shooting together, every one does his best to be nighest the mark, and though they cannot all attain thereto, yet shooteth one nigher than another: yea, one can do it better than another. Who is now then so unreasonable, so despiteful, or envious, as to abhor him that doth all his diligence to hit the prick, and to shoot nighest it, though he miss and come not nighest the mark? Ought not such one rather to be commended, and to be helped forward, that he may exercise himself the more therein? For the which cause, according as I was desired, I took the more upon me to set forth this special translation, not as a checker, not as a reprover, or despiser of other mens translations (for among many as yet I have found none without occasion of great thanksgiving unto God) but lowly and faithfully have I followed mine interpreters, and that under correction: and though I have failed anywhere (as there is no man but he misseth in some thing) love shall construe all to the best, without any perverse judgment.
Now whereas the most famous interpreters of all give sundry judgments of the text: so far as it is done by the spirit of knowledge in the Holy Ghost, methink no man should be offended thereat, for they refer their doings in meekness to the spirit of truth in the congregation of God: and sure I am, that there cometh more knowledge and understanding of Scripture by their sundry translations, than by all the glosses of our sophistical doctors. For that one interpreteth something obscurely in one place, the same translateth another, or else he himself, more manifestly by a more plain vocable of the same meaning in another place. Be not thou offended, therefore, good reader, though one call a scribe that another calleth a lawyer: or elders, that another calleth father and mother: or repentance, that another calleth penance or amendment. For if thou be not deceived by mens traditions, thou shalt find no more diversity between these terms, than between fourpence and a groat. And this manner have I used in my translation, calling it in some place penance, that in another place I call repentance; and that not only because the interpreters have done so before me, but that the adversaries of the truth may see, how that we abhor not this word penance, as they untruly report of us, no more than the interpreters of Latin abhor pnitere, when they read resipiscere. Only our hearts desire unto God is, that His people be not blinded in their understanding, lest they believe penance to be aught save a very repentance, amendment, or conversion unto God, and to be an unfeigned new creature in Christ, and to live according to his law. For else shall they fall into the old blasphemy of Christs blood, and believe that they themselves are able to make satisfaction unto God for their own sins: from the which error, God of His mercy and plenteous goodness, preserve all His!
Now to conclude: forsomuch as all the Scripture is written for thy doctrine and ensample, it shall be necessary for thee to take hold upon it while it is offered thee, yea, and with ten hands thankfully to receive it. And though it be not worthily ministered unto thee in this translation, by reason of my rudeness; yet if thou be fervent in thy prayer, God shall not only send it thee in a better shape by the ministration of other that began it afore, but shall also move the hearts of them which as yet meddled not withal, to take it in hand, and to bestow the gift of their understanding thereon, as well in our language, as other famous interpreters do in other languages. And I pray God, that through my poor ministration herein I may give them that can do better some occasion so to do; exhorting thee, most dear reader, in the mean while on Gods behalf, if thou be a head, a judge, or ruler of the people, that thou let not the book of this law depart out of thy mouth, but exercise thyself therein both day and night, and be ever reading in it as long as thou livest: that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God, and not to turn aside from the commandment, neither to the right hand nor to the left; lest thou be a knower of persons in judgment, and wrest the right of the stranger, of the fatherless, or of the widow, and so the curse to come upon thee. But what office so ever thou hast, wait upon it, and execute it to the maintenance of peace, to the wealth of thy people, defending the laws of God and the lovers thereof, and to the destruction of the wicked.
If thou be a preacher, and hast the oversight of the flock of Christ, awake and feed Christs sheep with a good heart, and spare no labour to do them good: seek not thyself, and beware of filthy lucre; but be unto the flock an ensample in the word, in conversation, in love, in ferventness of the spirit, and be ever reading, exhorting, and teaching in Gods Word, that the people of God run not unto other doctrines, and lest thou thyself, when thou shouldest teach other, be found ignorant therein. And rather than thou wouldest teach the people any other thing than Gods Word, take the book in thine hand, and read the words, even as they stand therein; for it is no shame so to do, it is more shame to make a lie. This I say for such as are not yet expert in the Scripture; for I reprove no preaching without the book, as long as they say the truth.
If thou be a man that hast wife and children, first love thy wife, according to the ensample of the love wherewith Christ loved the congregation; and remember that so doing thou lovest even thyself: if thou hate her, thou hatest thine own flesh; if thou cherish her and make much of her, thou cherishest and makest much of thyself; for she is bone of thy bones, and flesh of thy flesh. And whosoever thou be that hast children, bring them up in the nurture and information of the Lord. And if thou be ignorant, or art otherwise occupied lawfully, that thou canst not teach them thyself, then be even as diligent to seek a good master for thy children, as thou wast to seek a mother to bear them; for there lieth as great weight in the one as in the other. Yea, better it were for them to be unborn, than not to fear God, or to be evil brought up: which thing (I mean bringing up well of children), if it be diligently looked to, it is the upholding of all commonwealths; and the negligence of the same, the very decay of all realms.
Finally, whosoever thou be, take these words of Scripture into thy heart, and be not only an outward hearer, but a doer thereafter, and practise thyself therein; that thou mayest feel in thine heart the sweet promises thereof for thy consolation in all trouble, and for the sure stablishing of thy hope in Christ; and have ever an eye to the words of Scripture, that if thou be a teacher of other, thou mayest be within the bounds of the truth; or at the least, though thou be but an hearer or reader of another mans doings, thou mayest yet have knowledge to judge all spirits and be free from every error, to the utter destruction of all seditious sects and strange doctrines; that the holy Scripture may have free passage, and be had in reputation, to the worship of the author thereof, which is even God Himself; to whom for His most blessed Word be glory and dominion now and ever! Amen.