English-speaking Christians owe a great debt of gratitude to William Tyndale (1490-1536). He was the first one who started to translate the Bible in English from the original languages. He translated the whole New Testament and several books of the Old Testament, A great deal of his translation survives in the King James Version. The great desire of Tyndale was that the king of England would give his official endorsement to a vernacular Bible for all his English subjects. King Henry VIII refused to do that. He was angry with Tyndale for promoting Martin Luther’s Reformation teachings.
In particularly he was provoked by Tyndale’s book An Answer to Sir Thomas More. The king let send a message to Tyndale, who lived as an exile on the European continent, that he was willing to forgive this fault. Tyndale’s condition for accepting this offer was that the king authorized an English Bible from the Hebrew and Greek in the language of the common people. The king refused and five years later Tyndale was burned at the stake in the castle of Vilvoorde not far from Brussels. He was betrayed by a man he supposed to be a friend. His last words were: ‘Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.’
Tyndale’s Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue makes clear why he wanted to translate to Bible in English so that a boy that drives the plow should know more of the Scripture than the popish clergy. The Bible must be translated for the liberating, life-giving gospel. Tyndale was complete sure that the whole mankind is dead in trespasses and sins and that the grace of God revealed in Christ and received by faith as gift of the Holy Spirit is the only remedy.
Reading Tyndale’s Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue is a good antidote for the postmodernism that invades the church. Being assured that the Bible contains the message of the condemning power of the law and the liberating grace of the gospel is characterized as being no more a contextual persuasion. We must be willing to listen to other voices in the church and give them in principal an equal place to this message. In this way this message is in fact completely denied. We cannot see this as an option or possibility but also the only way to understand what God really says in his infallible Word.
We must not consider it a strange thing when Christians, who are influenced by postmodernism, accuse us of being haughty fundamentalists. Certainly, a real Christian is a humble man. But that does not exclude that he is completely convinced of the truth of justification by grace alone, received by faith alone and based on the work of Christ alone. Luther, to whom Tyndale owned so much, said that we must by haughty in regard of the matter and context of the biblical message and not give them who disagree the smallest concession, but with regard to our bearing the image of Christ, we have every reason to be humble and must confess that we are still on the way of becoming a Christian.
The Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue shows the importance of a reliable translation of the Bible. I give just some examples for the Extract published by the Banner of Truth. The Greek word presbyteros must not be translated as ‘priest’ but as ‘elder’. For agapè we must not use the English word ‘charity’ but ‘love’. We have to understand the Greek word charis as ‘favor’.
Tyndale defend that the gospel precedes the church. The church can fail and err and has done this many times. Only knowing the gospel can we ascertain where to find the real church. Living in days where not only roman-catholic theologians but also quite a lot of protestant ones suggest that the Reformation is over and that it must be seen as having caused a temporary divide in the Christian church, we need to listen to Tyndale, who unashamedly states the pope and his sect are schismatic and are not the church of Christ. Tyndale did not desire that Christians of the Reformation would finally go back to Rome. He prayed for the fall of the antichrist, who he identified with the pope. He longed that the whole visible church would be reformed, liberated form the chains of papacy and worldwide proclaiming the condemning message of the law and the life giving remedy of the gospel.
From Tyndale we can learn that when we have a living faith in Christ it will always be assaulted. We must not think it strange when we are beaten at with desperation. When God nurtures us he shows us own hearts, our hypocrisy and false thoughts. So we realize that we almost have no faith at all and that our love to God is so little and small. So when we learn to value the power of gospel. Our strength is not our faith, but Christ to whom we flee in faith.
In 2017 the British publishing house the Banner of Truth published an extract from Tyndale’s Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue. John Piper wrote a lively introduction narrating the main facts of Tyndale’s life and highlighting the essence of his message and theology. In an epilogue Robert J. Sheenan summarizes in ten points Tyndale’s enduring legacy. This little booklet give you an appetite of Tyndale’s powerful gospel message. When you want to read more of him, I can point you to the edition of all his works also published by the Banner of Truth.
Introducing Tyndale: An Extract from Tyndale’s Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue, With an Introduction by John Piper and Epilogue by Robert J. Sheehan (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2017), paperback 103 pp., ₤4,40 (ISBN 9781848717558)
The Works of William Tyndale: 2 Volume Set: Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2010), hardcover ₤19,80 (ISBN 9781848710740)