The Serious Life of William Tyndale / Ron Hale

April 10, 2014

by Ron F. Hale

 

Seriousness is the first step toward a life of significance.  

More and more people can’t get serious because of mind-numbing substance abuse or chasing the silliness of this world. While “having a good time” is a high priority of so many Americans—such soul-shallowness accelerates our moral decay as a principled people.

James Emery White reminds us of a letter written by John Adams to Thomas Jefferson at the sunset of their lives, as Adams reckons, “you and I have lived in serious times.”[1] These men lived serious lives and America is a better nation for their purposefulness.

William Tyndale was a serious soul! As a newly ordained priest, Tyndale expressed his frustration to an older priest at the lack of biblical knowledge among the clergy. The older priest verbally chastised Tyndale’s forthrightness. Tyndale passionately replied, “If God spares my life, before many years pass I will make it possible for a boy behind the plow to know more Scripture than you do.”[2]

Tyndale was serious about translating the Holy Scriptures into the English language; however, he was denied permission for printing an authorized English version. To proceed ahead with his dream would be deemed unlawful. This would be serious business in England as King Henry VIII was in the process of cutting the Roman Catholic cord of papal authority in England and instituting the Anglicana Ecclesia, or the Church of England. In 1534, the Act of Supremacy declared, “The king’s majesty justly and rightly is and ought to be and shall be reputed the only head in earth of the Church of England.”[3]

The pope had once bestowed on Henry the title “Defender of the Faith” as he attacked Luther’s reforms. In his paper entitled “A Defense of the Seven Sacraments,” King Henry called Luther a “poisonous serpent” and a “wolf of hell.”[4] Therefore, Catholic dogma would remain intact under Henry with minor changes.   

While John Wyclif[5] had caused no small stir years before by translating the Latin Bible (Vulgate) into English, Tyndale would use the original languages of Greek and Hebrew to translate Scriptures into the English of the common man. In doing so, important changes like the Latin rendering “do penance” would be changed to “repent” or “repentance.”[6] Tyndale had studied the Greek edition of the New Testament published by Erasmus and discovered the truths of justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers. He realized that the English people were in spiritual darkness, following errors and superstition, because of ignorance of the Scriptures.[7]

After his studies at Oxford and Cambridge, Tyndale fled England to begin work on his unlicensed translation. Avoiding spies and opponents of the Reformation, Tyndale worked in several different cities until he finally printed his New Testament in 1525. It was the first translation of the New Testament from the original Greek into English. Actually it was the first Greek book in history to be translated into English.[8]  

Working with a group of merchants who were smuggling the works of Luther into England, they helped Tyndale smuggle his fresh copies into his homeland. King Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, and Sir Thomas More were furious at this unlicensed translation. Thomas More wrote a work attacking Tyndale’s translation as a mistranslation full of heresy. Agents were dispersed across the Continent to find Tyndale. In 1534, Tyndale was betrayed by a false friend near Brussels, arrested by imperial forces, and thrown into prison.[9]

After 17 languishing months in prison, early in the month of October, 1536, Tyndale was led to the stake where he would be chained and burned. A final appeal was made for him to recant. His feet were bound to the stake, the iron chain fastened around his neck, and the hemp noose was place at his throat. Only the Anabaptists and heretics were burnt alive.  His last prayer was, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” Tyndale was quickly strangled, and the pile of brushwood, torched.[10] 

Tyndale’s last prayer would be answered in the next couple of years, as the separate works of Miles Coverdale and John Rogers eventually became an authorized version called the “Great Bible.” Both men built off the foundation that Tyndale laid in translating the Bible from the original languages into English.  

SØren Kierkegaard told a story of a clown rushing on stage to announce a fire backstage. Thinking it part of the show, the people laughed and applauded the clown as he made his serious plea. Kierkegaard concludes, “So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe it is a joke.”[11] 

You and I live in serious times—Lord, open our eyes!

© Ron F. Hale, March 20, 2014  


[1] James Emery White, Serious Times: Making You Life Matter in an Urgent Day, (Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 9.
[2] Bruce L. Shelly and revised by R. L. Hatchett, Church History in Plain Language (Fourth Edition), Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 279.
[3] Ibid. 277.
[4] Ibid. 278.
[5] Also spelled: Wycliffe, Wycliff, Wiclef, Wicliffe,and Wickliffe.
[6] Ibid. 279.
[7] http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1501-1600/william-tyndale-gods-outlaw-11629936.html
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1987/issue16/1612.html
[11] James Emery White, Serious Times: Making You Life Matter In An Urgent Day, (Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 69.

 

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volfan007

Ron,

As always….very good and very interesting….and very challenging.

Thanks,

David

    Ron F. Hale

    David,
    Thanks my friend. With so many Bibles in my home and office (and different English translations) it can become easy to take for granted the price others have paid in translating the precious Word of God. Blessings!

Tim Rogers

Ron,

Great subject and very well presented.

Rick Patrick

Ron,

Outstanding, as usual. Most readers of this blog will be serious men and women. Because we stand for something, we will occasionally be called a few names by those who disagree, as Luther was called a “poisonous serpent” and a “wolf of hell.” Thank God that our blood purchased Baptist contribution of religious liberty allows us to stand for something without being chained, strangled and burned like Tyndale. Religious passions in America today are fortunately expressed through relatively harmless name calling—unpleasant, to be sure, but thankfully not lethal.

Ron F. Hale

Thanks Tim and Rick –as you both well know–it only takes a short word of encouragement to keep a writer going for weeks. Thanks for taking the time to read it and drop a note. Blessings!

Norm Miller

Ron: Here is a short word. Hope it keeps you going for weeks.
Writing is not a spiritual gift, but your writing is a gift to our spirits. — Norm

    Ron F. Hale

    Norm … That’s deep — it’ll keep me going for months–not weeks! Blessings!

Doug Sayers

Thanks Ron. These stories are inspiring. Thank God for the people who have gotten us the Bible in our language and have kept it going. It can look bleak out there if we only look at the battles and casualties but there is much to be encouraged by. The Gideons, alone, are giving out over 80 million Bibles and New Testaments each year in over 80 languages. The grass withers and the flower fades but….

    Ron F. Hale

    Doug — thanks for the kind word and for helping us remember the great work of the The Gideons,,.Wow!…80 million copies each year is an amazing thing. Blessings!

D. L. Payton

Ron
Thank you so much. I needed this post today. I become very discouraged in the rhetoric, name calling, etc. that I hear among the brothers in our SBC. As Rick pointed out this is nothing compared to what our forefathers endured to give us our Bible So I will quit whining when someone calls me a name. It is just that I was raised in the inner city of ST. Louis. I would hate to think of where i would be today if it were not for the precious Word of God and a people called Southern Baptist who introduced me to it and helped me to understand it.

    Ron F. Hale

    D.L. — hang on and hang in–the waters get choppy sometimes and then we experience some smooth sailing. Yes, the rhetoric can sting but it is nothing like what some have endured for the Gospel and sending forth His Word. Before being hanged by Hitler and his Gestapo, Dietrich Bonhoeffer called death …”the last station on the road to freedom.” And then on April 9, 1945, Bonhoeffer met his Savior at dawn– free at last! Since the crematorium at the prison was out-of-order, his body was taken and burned on a deep pile of Jewish bodies. The people he lived to save–now his ashes would mix with theirs. Eric Metaxas has a great book entitled: 7 Men. He writes about the life and death of Bonhoeffer.

      D. L. Payton

      Ron
      I read Metaxas book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. To say the least, many have suffered greatly for the precious Gospel of our Lord. Thanks for the word of encouragement. We got through the 20 years following 1979, so I am confident that God will get us through this. Sometimes I just have to whine but I get over it. Again thanks for the post and the encouragement. Have a good day.

        Norm Miller

        D.L. I am intrigued by that brief bit of testimony about being raised in STL, and how Southern Baptists helped you understand God’s Word. Would you be interested in writing down that testimony in a longer form — tell the story of how you came to Christ? If so, then send me an email, please, to sbctoday@gmail.com.
        Thank you,
        Norm Miller, editor/moderator

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