A Love Song For William Tyndale

14121557592_6022a3811b_oIn my continuing celebration of Protestant Reformation October, its time to gush about William Tyndale (1494-1536).  I love Tyndale.  He is a muse and a personal hero.  For the last two years, I have engaged in a quest to convince my Catholic fiancé to name any future firstborn son of ours Tyndale.  (I think my persistence is working: when last we discussed it, he had conceded that perhaps Tyndale would make a fine middle name.)

My love for Tyndale started two years ago after reading Wide as the Waters, which devotes Chapter Two to Tyndale’s life.  For Christmas that year I requested Tyndale’s complete works, and for the next many months relied on them for my spiritual studies.  I craved Tyndale’s devotional insights and linguistic beauty, and he did not disappoint.  Now you can find me on Sundays, sprinkling talks and lessons with his extra-scriptural wisdom.

Tyndale was a kind, devout, brilliant man, and the principal translator of the Bible into modern English.  (John Wycliffe had translated it into middle English two centuries earlier, before the advent of the printing press.)  Tyndale had an impeccable gift for lyrical phrasing.  We Mormons still use the King James Version, often citing the beauty of its language – but few realize that the 50 scholars and poets who prepared the KJV (1604-1611) ultimately chose to retain 80% of Tyndale’s translations and phrasings.  Every hymn that quotes, every writing that alludes to the KJV Bible owes Tyndale a singular debt.

Faced with king and clergy who condemned his work, Tyndale fled England to the relatively liberal Netherlands; there he printed the equivalent of mass-market paperbacks and smuggled them in bulk back across the English Channel.  The Crown’s confiscation efforts couldn’t stop the influx of the Word of God the people craved.  In exasperation, then-Bishop of London Cuthbert Tunstall decided to travel to the Netherlands and buy up the complete stock of Tyndale Bibles directly from the merchant printers and shippers – so as to more efficiently burn them as heretical.  Amused, the printer went straight to Tyndale and told him of the plot.  “Well I am the gladder,” said Tyndale; “for these two benefits shall come thereof; I shall get money of him for these books, to bring myself out of debt, and the whole world shall cry out upon the burning of God’s word.”

Tyndale there showed a delightfully wry grasp of economics. Not so shockingly, all the Bishop of London’s plot accomplished was that “the bishop had the books, [the merchant] had the thanks, and Tyndale had the money.”  The Bishop of London was directly funding the operation he sought to condemn.  Tyndale immediately re-invested the cash into an improved translation, a new printing press, and even more smuggled copies.  Tyndale insisted his sole goal was to lift “the darkness of my brethren, and to bring them to the knowledge of Christ.”

Tyndale oft criticized those who demeaned him as a heretic, lamenting that they “maketh it treason unto the king to be acquainted with Christ…They do all things of a good zeal, they say they love you so well, that they had rather burn you, than that you should have fellowship with Christ.”

But as Tyndale gently reminded, “God dwelleth not in churches or temples made with hands…The temple wherein God will be worshiped, is the heart of man.”

Tyndale’s devotion to bringing the Bible to the people in their own language ultimately cost him his life.  As he sat in prison for heresy, all he humbly asked for in a letter to a friend were warm clothes, a lamp, and “most of all I beg and  beseech your clemency that the commissary will kindly permit me to have my Hebrew bible, grammar, and dictionary, that I may continue with my work.”  Tyndale would complete his English translation of nine additional Old Testament books while languishing in prison.

At his ultimate trial, Tyndale was found guilty, hanged, and then burned at the stake.  He exclaimed a final prayer as he died: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”

In that, Tyndale was only following his own teaching.  As he had written a decade earlier, “a Christian perceiveth righteousness if he love his enemy, even when he suffereth persecution and torment of him, and the pains of death, and mourneth more for his adversary’s blindness than for his own pain.”

Hymn of the Day: “If God Be For Us, Who Can Be Against Us?”   George Frederick Handel

Principal Source Text, Tyndale Translation of Romans 8

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Comments

  1. I loved Wide as the Waters and am happy to see you reference it. Thanks for the post.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    It’s heart breaking that he was executed not long before the king authorized the printing of the Bible in English. Thanks for the post!

  3. I love Tyndale’s courage, devotion and love. I serve a homeless shelter that is housed in a Lutheran church. All month the are celebrating the Reformers and the advent of Luther’s courageous act. Compared to these men, I am a mouse.

  4. BYU-TV did a documentary called “Fires of Faith” that features lots of Tyndale: https://www.byutv.org/show/123d4a82-3d47-488e-beda-2496a5a1ff2c/fires-of-faith?q=fires%20of%20faith.

    One of our sons has the middle name Tyndale. So far he likes it. :)

  5. I have mentioned this before. Tyndale gave us the names Celestial and Terrestrial (1 Cor 15:40) That is he used those two Latin based words when he should have used the English “heavenly” and “earthly” when translating into the English tongue. Wycliffe did so. That is the only place in the New Testament that Tyndale employed the Latin expressions for heavenly and earthly, all the more poignant when the subject was the glory of the resurrection. Just as interesting is the fact that subsequent translators continued to use the terms, when they had no reason to do so, until the middle of the twentieth century. So I grew up as a kid using those glorious terms for the highest kingdoms of glory not really knowing what they signified until I got to college. I have quizzed a couple of local Gospel Principles classes lately and nobody seems to be quite sure what they mean although the consensus is that they are probably from a foreign language.

  6. Michael H says:

    “You can just call me Dale. Dale is fine.”

  7. Love this — thank you!

    Some supplemental BCC Tyndale love because we Mormons really need to shift our admiration to him from his devilish persecutor Thomas More:

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2015/10/06/truly-consecrated-a-real-man-for-all-seasons/

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    If anyone is curious about the details of how celestial and terrestrial are formed, so this:

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2010/01/27/the-etymology-of-telestial/