It is well known that the publication of the Greek New Testament by Erasmus in 1516 had a profound effect upon the Reformation, the variation between the Vulgate – being the Bible for those with education — and the Greek NT being a basis for much of the doctrinal challenge. However, the primary purpose of Erasmus was not to publish a Greek NT (Greek although not exactly rare, would not been as widely known as Latin at this time):
But note that he [Erasmus] keys [his annotations appearing after the Latin/Greek NT] to the Latin, to his own Latin. For to put the Greek text first is to get this volume very wrong. Erasmus’s chief aim was to correct the Vulgate; to make a new Latin text from the Greek that would avoid, and correct, the Vulgate’s many mistakes.That is the Novum instrumentum; the Greek is there to explain his Latin, for whoever can follow. The quality of learned mockery iin the Annotations, paralleling the tone of the Praise of Folly, is aimed at those who relied on the Vulgate as it stood …..
Thus, ironically, Erasmus sought to correct the Latin translation at the time the Latin translation was becoming of less value. The weight of biblical work would now be in the original languages. While learned work would still be done in Latin, translation would be from Greek and Hebrews to German and English and the many other languages which have since recived the Bible.
The Tyndales, successful people in one of England’s most prosperous counties, could hold their heads high. By 1522, the Tyndale family had risen to positions of real affluence and influence.
Daniell, William Tyndale, 11. William Tyndale could have led a life of great comfort and status. He plainly excelled in language. He had marvelous control over English & had tremendous ability to learn. His family was wealthy and well-connected. He could have had all the ease which anyone of his station could have imagined – if he had merely given up pursuit of translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into English.
Christianity – the true dedicated pursuit of God (not the use of religion as a cloak for social respectability) — sees this pattern repeat: The one who gives us up all; gives up status and ease to give all to Christ. This inversion of “normal” aspiration to follow after Jesus as Lord is built into the very fabric of what it is to be a Christian:
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first. Matthew 19:16–30 (ESV)
Tyndale did leave all to follow Jesus. When we read of the Apostles, we sometimes think of them as absolutely foreign to us. But that is not so. Yet, when we see other men closer to our time and more similar to our world give up all, we have further pictures of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
In Tyndale’s case, to leave all meant to become an expert of Hebrew and Greek and Latin and German and English. It meant to write alone in a room for years, giving up comfort and prestige for loneliness and study.
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 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.
 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.