King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
Miles Smith was born about 1554 in the cathedral city of Hereford, Herefordshire. Of his parents little is known except that his father was a fletcher and "a man of no mean of taste". A fletcher was a maker of bows and arrows, a significant vocation in a time before gun powder. Of "no mean taste" indicated that his family was prosperous.
He likely had a good preparatory education at Hereford before going on to Oxford. At some point he became enamored of books and learning. He once said he was covetous of nothing but books. Indeed, he left some of his library to the Hereford Cathedral where portions of it are on display as part of the 400th King James Bible (hereinafter KJB) Anniversary Celebration.
He became a thorough going scholar of ancient languages, and a faithful churchman. Religiously, he was a Calvinist but was a conformist in his allegiance to the Church of England.
He married twice. His first wife was Mary Hawkins of Cardiff, Wales. After Mary's death he married again to a woman whose name is not known. Miles had a large family. Sons included Gervase named for Smith's friend Gervase Babington, his namesake Miles, Robert, and Matthew. He also had at least four daughters, Margaret (Morgan), Elizabeth (Williams), and Margery (Clent). The last named daughter died in childbirth.
In disposition Miles Smith was mild. It was said of him that "he leaned always in matters of discipline to the gentler side".
He died on 20 October 1624 in Gloucester, Gloucestershire and is buried in the cathedral there.
Miles Smith was likely a student at the Hereford Cathedral Grammar School where he would have received a good educational foundation.
He became a student at Corpus Christi College, Oxford about 1568. He soon transferred to Brasenose College and graduated B.A. in 1573, proceeded M.A. in 1576, B.D. in 1585, and finally D.D. in 1594. Anthony á. Wood, Smith's biographer, discussed his university experience thusly:
At Brasenose [he] took the degrees in arts as a member of that house, where in by benefit of a secure discipline that was in his time exercised, and by his indefatigable industry, he proved at length an incomparable theologist.
For Miles Smith, unlike many of his associates on the KJB translation project, his professional life was primarily taken up with church service. Despite his prodigious scholarly gift his time was not largely spent in the university setting after obtaining his degrees. In this he was much like Lancelot Andrewes, his fellow Translator.
Miles Smith's first church appointment came in 1576 when he was made a chaplain/petty canon of Christ Church College, Oxford. This was followed with obtaining a prebendary of Hereford Cathedral, a position he held for the rest of his life. He later became a canon residentiary at Hereford, and prebendary of Exeter Cathedral in 1595.
Smith's first pastoral office came with his selection in 1584 to be vicar at Bosbury, a small village near Ledbury, Herefordshire which had been associated with the Knights Templar. This was followed with the rectory of Hampton Bishop in the same diocese, and with rectories in Hartlebury and Upton Severn in Worcestershire.
His final appointment was as Bishop of Gloucester. He was consecrated in Croyden on 20 September 1612. George Abbot, by this time Archbishop of Canterbury, was instrumental in the appointment of his fellow Translator to this high office. Miles, the scholar, experienced church leader, and family man, undoubtedly brought to his service a gentle, genial, and wise touch. This style did not fit well the aggressive approach of his ambitious and high church dean, William Laud. Laud took it upon himself to institute changes at Gloucester Cathedral without consulting Miles Smith, his bishop. His insubordination deeply offended Smith.
When Miles Smith died in 1624 he left a number of his sermons in print which, along with his preface to the KJB, give a glimpse of the intellectual stature and spirituality of the man. (See
Miles Smith and the Translation
The hand of Miles Smith, as much as any other person, is evident in the work of the KJB translation. A biographer of Smith said he was chief among the Translators, and he "began with the first and was the last man in the translation".
Certainly, Miles Smith as one of the members of the First Oxford Company was involved in the translation at its beginning, and as one of the committee of two final reviewers, along with Thomas Bilson, was there at the end. His beginning to end involvement in the translation enabled him to be the person perhaps most qualified to pen the Bible's preface to the readers. He and the other members of his company translated the prophets, Isaiah through Malachi.
Miles Smith came to his position as Translator through much disciplined study over many years. It has been noted that from his youth he constantly applied himself in reading the ancient classical authors in their own languages, and that Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Chaldaic, Syriac and Arabic were almost as familiar to him as his native tongue. We are told, "he had Hebrew at his finger ends". Another called him a "walking library".
Miles Smith in his KJB preface entitled The Translators to the Reader, sheds great light on the attitude and approach the Translators took to their work. He made it clear that the Translators were greatly indebted to those who had gone before, that they were "building upon their foundation that went before us". As Translators they were attempting to make "out of many good ones [translations] one principal good one…". He explained that they "were greater in other men's eyes than their own", and they "sought truth rather than their own praise". Miles Smith explained that as the Translators came together they did not trust in their own knowledge but sought unto God for inspiration in the work, it being a spiritual as well as intellectual endeavor. He further explained that they didn't feel under any time constraints and were willing to re-visit and revise that which had previously been decided upon, in Miles Smith's words "to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered".
An example of Miles Smith's power of speech has been cited by canon John Tiller of Hereford Cathedral, a successor in office to Miles Smith. It is taken from a Christmas sermon Smith gave upon the text of Isaiah 7:14: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and she shall call his name Immanuel (God with us):
Many are the dangers whereto God's children are subject. When we lie down we know not whether we shall arise. When we ride forth, we cannot tell whether we shall come home. When we send our children abroad, we cannot tell whether we shall ever see them again. Now what is our comfort therein? God is with us, we will not care what man can do unto us. Who can hurt them that Jesus Christ vouchsafed to be born for. Doth not his very name teach us that he is with us? Then to them that love God, and are beloved of God, all things must work for the best, whether it be tribulation, or anguish, famine or poverty, or imprisonment, or loss of friends, or loss of children, or loss of living.
In all these bodily assaults we shall be more than conquerors. So shall we be also in the spiritual. Our sins do threaten God's vengeance upon us, our consciences to accuse us, the law containeth matter of indictment against us; all the creatures of God which we have abused, all the calling of God which we have neglected, do witness against us. Hell opens her mouth wide, being ready to swallow us up. The world forsaketh us, our friends have no power to help us. What is to be done in this case? What shift shall we make, what place of refuge shall we fly unto? Only this, that the son of God became the son of Man to make us the sons of God; vile he became, to exalt us; poor, to enrich us; a slave to enfranchise us; dead, to quicken us; miserable, to bless us; lost in the eyes of the world, to save us. Lastly, partaker of our nature, of our infirmity, of our habitation, to advance us to his kingdom and glory, that is, to be unto us according to his name, Emmanuel, God with us. God to enlighten us, God to help us, God to deliver us, God to save us. To him with Father and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory for ever and ever.