6th of October William Tyndale
On or around the 6th of October we should remember the martyr and saint William Tyndale c. 1494 – c. 6 October 1536.
Why? It is mostly thanks to him we can read and understand our Bible as we listen to it during the service on Sunday morning.
Tyndale began his studies at Oxford when he was around 12 years old, and became a Master of Arts when he was about 19 years old. That Master of Art degree enabled him to study theology. But it did not give him a systematic study of the Scriptures. And, as Tyndale later severely noted: “They have ordained that no man shall look on the Scripture, until he be noselled (nursed, trained) in heathen learning eight or nine years and armed with false principles, with which he is clean shut out of the understanding of the Scripture”. Yes, Tyndale was already at this young age fiercely interested in the ‘real’ text of the Bible.
He could be so, because Erasmus had by then (1516) published his first Greek text of the Bible taken from original Greek manuscripts found after the sack of Constantinople (1453). I think that we, in our time, tend to forget how extremely important that work by Erasmus was. For the first time in centuries, the text of the Bible was accessible to all who could read and understand Greek. Of course, this meant at first only scholars who had the time and money to study. It meant that they were not dependent on the ancient Vulgate text in Latin (as put together by Jerome in 382).Erasmus when he put together the Greek text, lay the ground for the Reformation. The main reason is that the printing process had then been invented and Erasmus took advantage of that. Luther in Germany used it as basis for his translation into German, and Tyndale did so for his translation in English. Therefore, after their translation in the respective vernacular texts, Bibles could be disseminated fast and widely and as said, much cheaper than ever before. Common households could pay for them and were eager to do so.
Tyndale was a theologian in his own right and his theology shows in his translation. (As it shows also in Luther’s translation!) Tyndale’s decisions in translating many Greek words were mostly based on his theological convictions (click here to see some examples) and less on his linguistic skills.
To the right you see a facsimile of a Tyndale bible in it original form, coloured in by hand, from the British Library. Click the image to enlarge it, you will find it now quite readable and the language is a bit different from ours, but still we can understand it. Imagine that you read this for the first time, without anybody telling you what it means and how you should understand it.
I thank Tyndale for his courage and perseverance.
What I found most interesting is that, according to Nielson and Skousen and also Tadmore, the “King James version” was mostly (around 70 – 85 %) based on his translation.
In his lecture In The Footsteps Of Tyndale. A Bible For The People In The Twenty-First Century Keith J. White gives an interesting view on translating Bibles. It does point out what considerations are today still taken about translating the Bible - mind, though, that this also a PR effort to sell this modern translation. I sadly could not find a link to what clearly was spoken during this lecture, so what Anglo Saxon does sound like, you will have to take on faith in its likeness to Tyndale’s English.
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