Sunday, March 6, 2011

William Tyndale--Father of the English Bible

Usually I consume a pretty steady diet of novels--about two a month. However, given that last month both of the book clubs that I belong to were reading books I had already read last year, I decided to pursue a more academic novel. I just finished reading Fire in the Bones William Tyndale -- Martyr, Father of the English Bible. This book was not masterfully crafted with language that takes you away. It was not a historical fiction novel that creates characters and embellishes stories, it simply was the life of William Tyndale according to the author's research of his life. I had been interested in reading the book since I gave a talk earlier in the year and began my talk with a brief biographical sketch about Tyndale's life which story I merely repeated from a talk given by D. Todd Christofferson at the April 2010 General Conference (here). I would encourage you to read it because it will make you curious about the life of such an extraordinary man. I wanted to share a few of the fascinating tidbits that I learned from the book.

  • William Tyndale was fluent in SEVEN languages. When I say fluent I mean that there is a historical account of a person who said that his fluency in reading and writing these languages was so complete that whatever tongue he was speaking in you would think was his native tongue. These languages were: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, French and German. He taught himself Hebrew because he wanted to translate the Bible from it's text in Hebrew as well as the Greek.

  • He was educated at Oxford and Cambridge. His education at Oxford began at age 12 because of his bright and able mind. While there, he studied rhetoric (the study or effective use of language--not the negative definitions that this word incites today). This class on rhetoric included reading Erasmus' novel De Copia, which studies how you could write the phrase, "Your letter has delighted me very much" in 150 different ways.

  • While it may seem ridiculous that the study of language and which words to place together would be very important in translation, there was an example provided by the author that shows the beauty of Tyndale's use of word to bring the Spirit into his work versus the text of the Phillips Modern English version of the Bible.

Consider this account, "Lord, if it is really you,' said Peter, 'tell me to come to you on the water.' 'Come on, then' replied Jesus. Peter stepped down from the boat and began to walk on the water, making for Jesus. But when he saw the fury of the wind he panicked and began to sink, calling out, 'Lord save me!' At once Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying, 'You little-faith! What made you love your nerve like that?' Then, when they were both aboard the boat, the wind dropped. The whole crew came and knelt down before Jesus, crying 'You are indeed the Son of God!'"


Now compare that to the King James version of the Bible of which Tyndale is responsible for about 90% of the translated copy that we use today, "Peter answered and said: If thou be he, bid me come unto thee on the water. and he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw a mighty wind, he was afraid. And as he began to sink, he cried saying: Master save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said to him: O thou of little faith: wherefore didst thou doubt? And as soon as they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshiped him, saying: Of a truth thou art the Son of God."


It's easy to hear the difference and not just hear the beauty of the language when the same words are translated differently, but to FEEL the difference. One translation brings beauty and calm and the other reads like any common account you'd hear from a person relating the experience to a friend. Listen to the sound of, "If thou be he, bid me come unto thee on the water." Tyndale believed in using simple English to bring out the beauty of the words.



  • The word Atonement with its religious meaning is Tyndale's creation. It only appears one time in the New Testament (Romans 5:11), but within my own faith it is a word commonly and frequently used. Sir Thomas More used it in a secular sense, but as applying to Jesus' act in our behalf it is Tyndale's creation.

  • Tyndale lived in hiding almost his entire adult life. He fled England because he desired to translate the scriptures into English for the common man to read, but it was forbidden by the Catholic church. English was considered a vulgar language and the priests held all of the power in their day since any repentance for sins committed was tied into penance that was determined by the priests (among other reasons). The church had a lot to lose monetarily if the Bible was in the hands of the common man. However, Tyndale felt so compelled to allow every man in England to read the scriptures for himself, that he fled his own country and lived in hiding in order to work on his translations.

  • His translations of the New Testament--though illegal to possess--were so popular and prized by the people, that the printers could hardly keep up with the demand. Initially people found with these books were punished publicly and forced to state their guilt, but after the church saw that it could no longer control the reading of these texts with public shaming, they began to burn people found with these texts at the stake. One of the leading opponents of the day was Sir Thomas More.

  • Tyndale's revised New Testament contained about 5,000 changes. Many of the changes make the text more like the original Greek. The word, "Senior" was changed to "elder." The phrase, "Blessed are the maintainers of peace" is changed to "Blessed are the peacemakers."

  • Unfortunately, at the time of his capture, Tyndale was working on translating the Old Testament, so we don't get to experience the beauty and influence that the Spirit brought to him. However, there are some examples that were included in the book which I really enjoyed:

Isaiah 53:8


KJV (King James Version): Who shall declare his generation?


Tyndale: His generation who can number [them]?


Isaiah 53:10


KJV: Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.


Tyndale: And yet the Lord determined to bruise him with infirmities. His soul giving herself for transgression, he shall see seed of long continuance, and the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.


Ultimately, Tyndale gave his life for this work which meant everything to him. Over and over again the book mentions that there was not a single record of anyone who came into contact with him that was not won over by his gentle nature and unassuming honesty. He was a man who desired only to provide Christ's words to every man to read for himself. To feel the power of the scriptures--to be touched by God's words. Even his jailers were won over by their prisoner. A mind so brilliant and dedicated so singularly to helping his fellow man with his talents. What an impressive individual. How lucky I am for his sacrifices and those of men like him.

6 comments:

Jacqueline said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing. I love the poetry of the KJV.

Lauren and Trevor said...

Wow, the book sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about it - I am going to add that to my list of books I would like to read.

rachel said...

I remember being so impressed with the account that Elder Christofferson shared. How amazing that we could have all of these scriptures available to us because of this man.I didn't realize how different the versions of the Bible are. AMAZING!

Erin said...

fascinating. That's for the recap. I'll have to add it to my goodreads.

Lara said...

Very cool. Adding to my list.

peachytiffers said...

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