Tyndale’s Cry: Scripture in Our Own Language!

  Before recently, I read about the English reformer William Tyndale but I never read anything he himself wrote.  So I started reading The Obedience of a Christian Man, a treatise he wrote in 1528.  This is an incredible book.  Scripture simply dripped from his pen; he wrote as if he had memorized the entire Bible.  He doesn’t just throw a bunch of proof texts together or write in a biblicistic way.  He simply knew the Bible so well he could not help but refer to it without ceasing.  To be honest, Tyndale’s writing makes a lot of the conservative evangelical books I read seem quite elementary.

For one example of Tyndale’s biblical brilliance, here are some reasons why he firmly believed the Bible should be translated into common language(s).  I’ve edited it slightly to make it easier to read.

“First, God gave the children of Israel a law by the hand of Moses in their mother tongue.  And all the prophets wrote in their mother tongue.  And all the Psalms were in the mother tongue.  …Moreover, Moses said that the people of Israel should know the law inside and out.  How did it happen that God’s word pertaineth less unto us than unto them?  Yea, how did it happen that our Moseses (the priests and prelates of Rome) forbid us and command us the contrary, and threaten us if we do, and do not want us to speak even one word of God?  How can we put God’s word into practice in our household and for our children when we are violently kept from it and know it not?  How can we give reason for the hope that is within us when we do not know what to hope for?”

“Christ commandeth to search the scriptures.  When Paul preached, the others (Bereans) searched the scriptures daily, whether they were as he alleged them.  Why shall not I do likewise, whether it be the scripture that thou papists allegedst?”

“The sermons which thou readest in the Acts of the Apostles and all that the apostles preached were no doubt preached in the mother tongue.  Why then may they not be written in the mother tongue?  The 119th Psalm saith that happy are they which search the testimonies of the Lord, that is to say, that which God testifieth and witnesseth unto us.  But how shall I do that when ye will not let me have his testimonies or witnesses in a tongue which I understand?  Will ye resist God?  Will ye forbid him to give his Spirit unto laypeople as well as unto you?  Hath he not made the English tongue?  Why forbid ye him to speak in the English tongue, then, as well as in the Latin?”

This is a goal all of us should aim for: to know, understand, and love the Bible so much that it becomes an ordinary part of our talk, thought, and writing.  Reading Tyndale is convicting and encouraging at the same time.  Convicting because I don’t know the Bible nearly like he did; encouraging because it makes me want to know it better.

shane lems