Saturday, July 7, 2012

Tyndale, by David Teems {Book Review}


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With eager anticipation I agreed to review David Teems's latest book, Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice. Beyond the tidbits from history classes that he died for the cause of the English Reformation, I had never read much about William Tyndale, the first to translate the Bible into English from the original languages.

That enthusiasm lasted through the first half of the book. It was pure delight and amazement to read the lists of words he introduced to the English language. It had not registered with me until now that the Bible which shaped the words of Shakespeare was not the King James Version (published only a few years before the playwright's death) but the translation of Tyndale and his colleague Myles Coverdale. A very many of the beautiful Bible phrases which have shaped not just English-speaking Christianity but English literature as a whole originated with William Tyndale as he wrestled with Greek and Hebrew to put God's Word into the hands of the common person.

Here is a small sample of his New Testament renderings which have endured to our day:

  • Behold the lamb of God
  • In my father's house are many mansions
  • For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory
  • With God all things are possible
  • Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith
  • For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Teems, xx).
This labor and Tyndale's other "Lutheran" writings provoked conflict with the Catholic religious and political hierarchy fairly early on, with the result that much of the translation work occurred in Germany and Belgium. This brave man faced voluntary exile for approximately a third of his life. He devoted time and strength to giving people like me a vernacular Bible to read and through which to know God. Eventually he was martyred for his commitment to the Reformation solas and the privileged duty of every Christian to read and know the Scriptures.

The narrative bogged down for me as the conflict heated up. The book describes how other English Reformers were put to death and driven from England. Once Sir Thomas More began engaging Tyndale in literary sparring, I found myself putting the book down and delaying to pick it up again. Reading long quotations from their acrimonious exchanges seemed to warrant sackcloth and ashes, the weeping and rending of garments; the narration linking the quotes, however, seemed more concerned with the verbal skill and rhetorical prowess of these two masters of the young English language. The lightness of tone seemed to me at odds with the gravity of the subject matter.

From More's entrance into the tale, the pressure intensified incessantly until Tyndale was betrayed by a supposed friend, arrested, and imprisoned in a dungeon until he was hanged and his body burned. Even in his confinement, isolated from all who loved him, he wrote to the authorities begging a bit of warmer clothing and his Hebrew study tools, ink, and parchment to continue his work. That level of perseverance and love for the Scriptures (and their dissemination) humbles me.
Though a man had a precious jewel and a rich, yet if he wist [know] not the value thereof nor wherefore it served, he were neither the better nor the richer of a straw. Even so though we read the scripture and babble of it never so much, yet if we know not the use of it, and wherefore it was given, and what is therein to be sought, it profiteth us nothing at all. It is not enough therefore to read and talk of it only, but we must also desire God day and night instantly to open our eyes, and to make us understand and feel wherefore [why] the scripture was given, that we may apply the medicine of the scripture, every man to his own sores (William Tyndale, quoted in Teems, 207-208).
At the time of his execution in 1536, he had translated the Old Testament books from Genesis through 2 Chronicles, Jonah, and all of the New Testament. What he left incomplete, Miles Coverdale finished and published (illegally) during Tyndale's incarceration.

In summary, the Mr. Teems succeeds marvelously in acquainting the reader with the monumental service William Tyndale rendered to English-speaking Christians, and indeed to English literature. Mr. Tyndale's commitment to the Scriptures and to translating them showed me my deficiency in love for God's Word. Many of the extended quotes provide rich food for further meditation. That said, the mismatch of style and reader in the latter half of the book left me personally lukewarm about this particular presentation of Tyndale's life, though not about the man himself.

Words like these demonstrate why this underappreciated hero has my lasting esteem after reading about him in Teems's book:
God hath created us and made us into his own likeness; and our Saviour Christ hath bought us with his blood. And therefore are we God's possession, of duty and right; and Christ's servants only, to wait on His will and pleasure, and ought therefore to move neither hand nor foot, nor any other member, either heart or mind, otherwise than he hath appointed. God is honoured in his own person, when we receive all things, both good and bad, at his hand; and love his law with all our hearts; and believe, hope, and long for all that he promiseth (Tyndale, quoted in Teems, 216).


I review for BookSneeze®
The BookSneeze blogger book review program provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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