On This Date: Tyndale Martyred For The Gospel

TYNDALE-WilliamWilliam Tyndale (c.1494–1536) was one of the most important figures in the English Reformation. He not only helped to transmit to the English-speaking world Luther’s rediscovery of the gospel of free acceptance with God for the sake of the imputed righteousness of Christ alone received through faith alone but he also gave us the first ever translation of God’s Word, from the original languages, into English. Yet he is relatively little-known and often overlooked today. We know little of early life but we know that he earned his BA in Magdalen Hall, Oxford in 1512. He proceeded MA in 1515. We know that he studied in Cambridge where he was most likely exposed to the new learning (Renaissance Humanism) there. As a Christian humanist he was interested not only in “good letters” (bonae litterae) but also in good morals and he was appalled at the immorality among the clergy. In 1522 he was denied permission by the church to translate God’s Word into English and 1524 finds him in Wittenberg learning evangelical Protestant theology. Two years later he would succeed finally in publishing the first-ever English translation of the Greek New Testament. His introduction to that work was pure Reformation theology.

Like a lot of other Reformed writers after him, Tyndale began with Luther but he did not end there. One of his great breakthrough’s, for which he receives more criticism than credit, was his turn to covenant theology. As he began translating the Hebrew Scriptures he was confronted with the question of what to make of covenant theology. Though his initial attempts to explain the covenant theology he found in Scripture have been criticized by some as a betrayal of the Reformation a better explanation is that he was learning to express his newfound evangelical theology of salvation (justification and salvation) sola gratia, sola fide and the Protestant doctrine of the consequent necessity of good works as fruit and evidence in covenantal terms. So, Tyndale pioneered not only the English translation of Scripture but he helped to lay the foundations of Reformed covenant or federal theology.

Tyndale’s evangelical theology was not welcome in England nor was his translation of Scripture well received by the ecclesiastical and civil authorities. Thus, he spent the rest of his life in Europe. Finally he was betrayed by a false friend and imprisoned in Antwerp. His last writing was a Latin letter to a friend asking for Bible and a cloak. It is with the 1st edition of his English New Testament in the British Library in London. His death sentence for daring to teach and preach the gospel was executed on this day, 6 October, 1536. He was strangled to death and his remains burned. A year later Henry would approve an English translation of Scripture that relied heavily on Tyndale’s work.

Works:

  • Pathway into Holy Scripture (introduction to the New Testament; 1525). Here is an introduction to this work by my friend Tom Wenger.
  • Parable of the Wicked Mammon (1528)
  • The Obedience of a Christian Man (1528)
  • Practice of Prelates (1530)
  • Here is a site devoted to Tyndale with some of his works.

David Daniell’s is an excellent biography of and introduction to Tyndale’s life and work.

4 comments

  1. Tyndale has long been a favorite among the reformers with me. Not only was he a theologiacal tour de force, he was a lingul genius as well – fluent in six languages and arguably the most important personal influence on shaping and standardizing the English language. How could anyone not admire and love the man who coined such words as Beautiful, Fisherman, Landlady, Seashore, Stumbling block, Taskmaster, Zealous, Scapegoat, Atonement, Modesty, Mediocrity, Industrious, Long-suffering, and Peacemakers?!

    My wife and I plan to be in London for a couple of days next year, with one of those days devoted to visiting church history sites. We hope to include several places related to Tyndale: The church he preached at for about a year (St. Dunstan-in-the-West), the place where many confiscated copies of his New Testament were burned (St. Paul’s Cross, outside St. Paul’s Cathedral), the memorial statue of him in Whitehall Park, and, as you mentioned, the British Library where one of the very few surviving first editions of his New Testament is displayed.

  2. I am also a great lover of Tyndale. It was a blessing to find the Penguin edition of his _The Obedience of the Christian Man_ in our local public library. The KJV (and hence its successors among English translations) kept a lot of his work.

    Thanks for pointing out Tyndale’s discovery of covenantal theology. I’ve also noted that Zwingli also seems to have used it in his replies to the Anabpatists; while Heinrich Bullinger’s exposition of it is justly famous. Have you ever thought of expounding the differences between Reformed covenantalism and the Lutheran Law-Gospel scheme, and how and why both seem to support the idea of justification as a forensic act of God?

    • Peter,

      I have written about this at some length. http//rscottclark.org/publications

      Ursinus correlated the covenant of works to the law and the covenant of grace to the gospel.

  3. For God applies the righteousness of Christ unto us upon the condition, that we also apply the same unto ourselves by faith. For although any one were to offer another a benefit, yet if he to whom it is offered does not accept of it, it is not applied unto him, and so does not become his. Hence without this last application the former is of no account. And yet our application of the righteousness of Christ is from God; for he first imputes it unto us, and then works faith in us, by which we apply unto ourselves that which is imputed; from which it appears that the application of God precedes that which we make, (which is of faith) and is the cause of it, although it is not without ours, as Christ says, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” (John 15:16)” HC Commentery, p 591, Ursinus. Lord’s Day 23

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