Our Bible

FFF 13:3 (March 1967)

Our Bible

Edward F. Armstrong

Before we pass on to our English translations, mention should be made of the Greek and Latin New Testament by Erasmus, 1516, a renowned Dutch scholar who taught at Cambridge University, England, and of Martin Luther who translated the New Testament into German in 1522. Both were known to William Tyndale.

We now come to the labors of those who used the providential advantages of the art of printing, and the spread of the knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, for the setting forth of the Scriptures in the vernacular tongue.

The instrument in the hand of God for translating the New Testament and part of the Old Testament for the first time out of the original languages into English was William Tyndale, whose memory is on this account to be held in veneration by all who prize the Word of God.

If the labor of John Wiclif was a means of blessing in giving an English translation from the Latin Vulgate (See “Food for the Flock” —”The Bible” — March, 1966), how much more was that of Tyndale in rendering it from the original, and giving it forth in print.

Wiclif could only draw the water of truth from a stream which was flowing from the fountain; Tyndale could go to the well-spring itself, and give forth the water not sparingly, but with a liberal hand. Let us look at this man who is called the most spiritual of all reformers.

He became a monk, and the convent which he joined was that of the Observant Friars at Greenwich, England. (It is well to remember at this time that all religious services in England were in Latin, and the people were in pain of death for owning a Bible, or a part thereof).

What his motives were in becoming a monk, it may not be easy precisely to say, but perhaps it was with him as with so many before him; his conscience was aroused, he wished to have peace with God, and he sought, in the observance of a conventual discipline, to attain to the holiness for which he was longing. It is not possible to penetrate the motives by which Tyndale was actuated, but if it were so, it follows that as yet he was in ignorance of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the assured salvation through His precious blood to everyone that believeth. The seclusion of a cloister, with its routine of observances, might suit one who was going about to establish his own righteousness, but not the soul which really felt the polluting stain of sin, and was conscious of the need of something to put it truly away.

For several years we hardly know anything of Tyndale. It is probable that he was in his seclusion at Greenwich; all those gifts which he was afterwards to use in God’s service being buried for a time in a cloister, and yet so far as he was concerned this period may have been anything but lost time. He was afterward to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”

During a discussion with a very learned doctor, Tyndale made this pledge:

“If God spare me life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plough, to know more of the Scriptures than you do.”

A bold pledge, but nobly redeemed.

From this moment, we find Tyndale prosecuting the object which was upon his mind — the translation and publication of the Scriptures in English.

(Hexapla — Pages 40-41-42)

Tyndale now arrived in London from his native Gloucestershire. He had come with the highest recommendation to be in the Bishop’s palace, but God ruled otherwise. Tyndale’s own account of his stay in London says: “And so in London I abode almost a year, and marked the course of the world, and heard our preachers how they boasted themselves and their authority, and beheld the pomp of our prelates, and how busied they were, as yet they are, to set peace and unity in the world — and saw things whereof I defer to speak at this time; and understood at the last, not only that there was no room in my Lord of London’s Palace to translate the New Testament, but also there was no place to do it in England, as experience doth now openly declare”, and so Tyndale went forth into exile, bidding a last farewell to his native land. He was content to be without his country, that he might serve his country. He goes not for his own sake, but to safeguard the great work committed to his trust; and the wisdom of the step was abundantly proved by after events.

Sometime about the month of May, 1524, he sailed to Hamburg, never to set foot on his native land again; nearly two years had now passed. His life in exile had not been a smooth one, and he had bitter experiences to which his faith exposed him; but at last he had surmounted all difficulties and accomplished the work on which for years the whole energies of his mind had been concentrated. At length, by God’s mercy, his proud boast at Sodbury had been realized, and the poorest of his countrymen, the very boy at the plough, if he could read, might know the Holy Scriptures as well as any Doctor did; and so history records.

The issue of the first New Testament forms too important an event in the life of Tyndale to be passed with the mere historical narrative of its occurence. May I call your attention to a Scripture found in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 9, Verses 15-16, in your Authorized Bible? Kindly read it as I quote from Tyndale’s translation:

“The Lord said unto him, go thy ways; for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and Kings, and the children of Israel; For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

We had forty-seven translators for our Authorized Bible, but Tyndale is alone under the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit.

It has been recorded that our 1611 translators had every comfort and protection in their work, but Tyndale labored under fear of death every hour.

According to the testimony of an imminent German authority “Buschius,” six thousand copies of the New Testament were printed at Worms in 1526, and due to the prohibition, they were eagerly sought for and burned, so that from this edition only three copies remain.

In Tyndale’s preface to the Penateuch, 1530, he writes, “I perceived by experience how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the Scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text.”

Writing to his friend, John Frith, who is about to die a martyr for Christ, he says, “I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, to give a reckoning of our doings, that I never altered one syllable of God’s Word against my conscience, nor would this day! If all that is in the earth, whether it be pleasure, honour, or riches, might be given me.”

And so this faithful servant of God and martyr of Christ, whose labors for his Lord had led him into paths of suffering here, but who will, according to the promise on which his soul is stayed, appear before Christ at His coming, bearing His image. Vainly did his enemies show their hatred in burning his lifeless body; it was but a testimony that his service to Christ had drawn forth the enmity of Satan; and though his scattered ashes had no place of burial, yet He who has promised to change our vile body to make it like unto His own glorious body can well guard unto that day the scattered ashes of His martyred servants, as He can the mouldering bodies of those who lie in their graves until He shall come (1 Thess. 4:16).

The life of Tyndale is in all its circumstances the history of the introduction of the Scriptures in English into England. A poor, exiled monk, wandering from country to country was thus made by God, the means of incalculable blessing to his countrymen, and when, at length, his weary wanderings ended in imprisonment, he had the joy that he had been laboring in the service of a Master who both could and would reward his every toil.

Martyrs have suffered in various causes; Christian martyrs have laid down their lives for many precious portions of God’s truth, but William Tyndale was emphatically a martyr for the Word of God.

In the middle of the last century, a letter from his own hand was discovered in Belgium. It had reposed unread amidst the Archives of the Council of Brabant for more than three hundred years. It is written in Latin to someone in authority, and as we read this beautiful letter, we are reminded of 2 Timothy, Chapter 4, Verse 13, “The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, and especially the parchments.” So let us read this remarkable, very rare letter:

“I believe right Worshipful, that you are not ignorant of what has been determined concerning me (by the Council of Brabant); therefore, I entreat Your Lordship and that by the Lord Jesus, that I am to remain here (in Vilvorde) during the winter, You will request the procureur to be kind enough to send me from my goods which he has in his possession, a warmer cap, for I suffer extremely from a cold in the head, being afflicted with a perpetual catarrh, which is considerably increased in this cell. A warmer coat also, for that which I have is very thin; also a piece of cloth to patch my leggings. My overcoat is worn out. He has a woollen shirt of mine, if he will be kind enough to send it. I have also with him leggings of thicker cloth for putting on above; he also has warmer caps for wearing at night. I wish also his permission to have a lamp in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark. But above all, I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the procureur that he may kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may spend my time with that study. And, in return, may you obtain your dearest wish, provided always it be consistent with the salvation of your soul. But, if before the end of winter, a different decision be reached concerning me, I shall be patient, abiding the Will of God to the glory of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose Spirit, I pray, may ever direct your heart. Amen.” W. Tyndale

(Vilvorde Prison was eighteen miles from Antwerp, and there Tyndale remained until he was put to death).