Monday, July 05, 2010

Reading the Preface

I mentioned recently that gender language in the English Standard Version can only be understood as the translators intended it, if you read the preface. Yesterday a friend handed me a copy of this thesis about the preface of the King James Bible by Edgar Goodspeed. It is an excellent academic response to the KJV only folks.

The author points out the inappropriateness of publishing a book without its preface. There is the added problem that those who read the Bible often do not read a preface even if it is provided. Goodspeed writes,

    Especially for students, the Preface, with its wealth of contemporary materials and attitudes, is indispensable. In a humanities survey course for college Freshmen, a western university recently purchased 43 copies of the King James Bible without the Preface. In no other field of study would such a course have been dreamed of. To approach that version historically, and as any student should, without the Preface, is simply impossible. What has been said of the importance of the Preface to the general reader is even more true of the student, and it is high time our teachers of the English Bible in colleges awoke to the fact. But how can they be expected to awaken to it, when very few of them have ever seen a Bible containing the Preface? For the past hundred years, from the point of view of everyone -- ministers, professors, students, general readers, pious readers -- the Preface has been virtually suppressed.

    The chief edition of the Bible containing it since 1821 is the English royal quarto, published by the Oxford University Press. This is an expensive pulpit Bible, seldom seen in America, which we cannot expect colleges to place in quantities in their reading rooms. On the other hand, the British and Foreign Bible Society and the American Bible Society seem never to have included the Preface in their Bibles at all. It has been included in only two other printings of the Bible, so far as I can learn, in the past hundred years.


Anonymous said...

Good! I do read the preface of all the books I read - especially my Bibles. However, I have been amiss in not insisting my students do the same.
Thanks for the reminder.

Mark Baker-Wright said...

I've always read (with interest!) the prefaces of the Bibles I've owned, but don't think I've ever seen the KJV's. Since the link in the article is to the thesis (not the preface itself), but the preface is linked to that, allow me to point out that the preface is linked there (and here, for those who just want to skip ahead).

Donald Johnson said...

A preface is an attempt by the author(s) to say why they wrote the book. Do not miss it.