William Tyndale: My Hero!

Luke 1 in the Tyndale New Testament

I have a limited number of people whom I would call my heroes. In fact, one time in an interview I was asked to name a hero of mine: “Uh…Abraham Lincoln” was all I could come up with. In fact, it was President’s Day, and the picture of Lincoln hanging on the wall of the room helped me out of my jam.

Now that I have had some time to think about it, I can say that William Tyndale is one of my heroes, for giving his life for the translation of the Bible into English. At a time when we can have more than 100 English versions, literally at our fingertips, it’s hard for us to imagine having zero. You can read his New Testament here.

Here is how I described Tyndale in another place: [1]

‘As a young man Tyndale became convinced that God was calling him to produce the first Bible translation from the original languages into English, so that it would be available to everyone, not just those who could read the Latin Vulgate. The problem? “The Oxford Constitutions of 1408 had imposed stiff penalties on those found guilty of reading, writing, selling, or even owning any part of the Bible in English. Such persons could face excommunication, imprisonment, trial for heresy, and, worse, capital punishment.” [2]

‘Tyndale was a brilliant linguist, with a fluent knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and the modern European languages. He tried to get the English clergy to support his work, but was refused. So he sailed over to Germany; there he made the first translation of the New Testament from Greek into English and published it in 1526 [this was 85 years before the King James Version]. Because of opposition from the church, copies had to be smuggled into England and Scotland. His (Christian!) enemies publicly burned the Tyndale New Testament in bonfires and also accused him of twisting the meaning of Scripture by false translations. Tyndale then began to translate the Old Testament from Hebrew, but before he could finish the task, he was executed as a heretic in 1536.

‘The leaders of the church in England should have welcomed this wonderful new work, the Bible in the language of the people! But they responded, not with joy, not even with indifference, but with bitter hatred.’

And so, Tyndale was not martyred by atheists or Muslims;  he was a victim of “friendly fire”, the military term that refers to being shot by people on one’s own side.

William Tyndale

The values I learn from Tyndale, which make him heroic:

  • the great importance of translating the Bible;
  • the importance of good academic training;
  • the application of solid scholarship to a task;
  • the study of the biblical languages;
  • love for the Word of God;
  • love for the people of God;
  • the willingness to disobey unjust laws;
  • the willingness to accept the consequences of one’s illegal actions.

Here is a section of Tyndale’s version of Matthew 5, showing how readable it still is after a half a millennium.

Blessed are the poor in spirit:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the maintainers of peace: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

A PERSONAL NOTE:

Tyndale has lately become even more one of my guiding lights. I have been doing part-time volunteer work for Wycliffe Associates for five years now. (By the way, if any reader with a good grasp on Scripture and theology would like to get involved with WA, there are always part-time tasks to be had!) This month I finished a very basic course on Symbolic Universal Notation (SUN), a new language invented for the world’s 600 thousand blind-and-deaf people to read; which is also being readied for the millions and millions of deaf people who are illiterate and who do not know any sign language. It is read by touch. The NT was published a few months ago, and I am doing some proofing of the Old Testament.

Here is 1 Thess 4:13a SUN, which in the NIV is “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep.”

1 thess 4 13
The bold mark after the first word you can guess is a comma, and that raised circle at the end is a period. For the rest, a literal translation would be, with seven symbols making seven words:

Brother-brother [ie, brothers], we want you know about dead [people].

Imagine: people who have never communicated deeply with anyone, can now learn a very simple language and read all about Jesus Christ! And also join a community that can understand them and can talk back to them!

NOTES:

[1] Taken from my upcoming book, Iceberg Ahead: When God’s Servants crash into cold, hard reality, Kerigma Publications, Salem OR.

[2] From Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (rev. ed.; Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2013), p. 329. I highly recommend the book in general, and chapter 7 on Tyndale in particular.

“William Tyndale: My Hero!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD en New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

 

 

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