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David Daniell’s biography William Tyndale is marvelous from front to back. In it he states plainly what can be known about Tyndale, carefully pointing to primary sources. He debunks many falsehoods surrounding Tyndale by quoting the falsehood and making detailed comparisons with the primary evidence. Where gaps in current knowledge exist, he notes the matter plainly and even calls for further research on various topics (sort of like a professor suggesting thesis projects for graduate students). While Daniell plainly loves Tyndale, he does not go beyond the evidence to make his point.

Daniell’s biography is remarkable not merely for its extensive research into the primary sources, but also for his careful attention to the nature of Tyndale’s writing. For in the end, Tyndale is remarkable for his personal sacrifice to translate the Bible, but also for his genius of language.  This biography also comprises three separate works: First, a recounting of Tyndale’s life from birth to execution. Second, an extensive analysis[1] of the nature of Tyndale’s work: both as to the underlying translation and more importantly as the creation of an English language fit to carry the Scripture. Third, a discussion of Tyndale’s theology.

The first element of the book, recounting Tyndale’s history, is done well. While Daniell does not always seek a racy style, the writing is always good, clear and compelling. Daniell explains why he makes his conclusions and interacts well with the extant scholarship on Tyndale and the time period. In this respect, Daniell is not writing a general popular biography for the casual reader who wants to know generally about Tyndale. The work is scholarly and careful. However, the misunderstanding of Tyndale which seems apparent in much of the extant literature demands a scholarly corrective.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book; but, I must admit that the book is probably not for everyone.

The second element of the book, the analysis of Tyndale’s work as a translator requires some movement between languages.  And while does not need to know Greek or Hebrew to understand the discussion of translation, one also needs to be undaunted by discussion of the nature of language.

This element of the book is where Daniell shows evident joy. Daniell loves Tyndale and the English language.  Daniell will quote from Tyndale and analysis the sounds and rhythm of the language. In working through the particulars of the translations, Daniell has in mind the thesis which he demonstrates abundantly in the work:

What strikes the late-twentieth-century reader is how modern it [Tyndale’s NT translation] is. There are occasional words that have been lost to common use since 1526 ….But both vocabulary and syntax are not only recognizable today; they still belong to today’s language. This seems to be for two reasons. First, Tyndale goes for clear, everyday, spoken English. … The result is that Tyndale feels more modern than the Authorized Version [the KJV], though that revision was made nearly a century later. The second is that Tyndale makes a language for the Word of God which speaks to the heart: ‘And all that  heard it wondered, at those things which were told them of the shepherds. But Mary kept all those sayings, and pondered them in her heart.’ (Luke 2.) That is the end of one of the Christmas stories. Such phrases have gone deep into the consciousness of English-speakers ever since. The twelve words of the second sentence, only slightly changed in the Authorized Version have been rightly loved. (Tyndale has kept the Greek’s ‘sayings’, where the Authorized Version repeats ‘things.’) (Tyndale,  135).

The third aspect of the book covers the development of Tyndale’s theology over time.  In this, Daniell charts the manner in which Tyndale begins with Luther and then gradually works out additional elements of the Gospel as he becomes more and more deeply drawn into the text.  Through Daniell makes it plain the extent to which Tyndale’s theology derives from the text of Scripture.

In short, Daniell’s book is wonderful and well worth the time to read. It is a serious work of scholarship. It avoids the ponderousness of much academic work. It also avoids any sort of jejune hero worship or condemnation – which easily follows in the life of one who provoked such strong responses (both loving and hating).  But such strong responses are right where the subject matter concerns the most important aspects of one’s life: their eternal soul, their standing before God.

While Daniell makes plain that much work remains to be done on Tyndale, this biography certainly merits the appellation, “definitive”. Anyone who seeks to understand this time, the English Bible and William Tyndale cannot be said to have done so until they read Daniell’s work.

[1] Without question, one could write far more concerning Tyndale’s translation than appears in this volume. However, Daniell does work hard to demonstrate the genius of Tyndale, which does include substantial analysis of Tyndale’s actual work.