This is a good biography of William Tyndale by a Protestant — and of course the Protestant take on Tyndale is that, for translating the Bible into English, the Catholic Church hunted him down and killed him (by strangulation, explosion, and burning — you can’t take any chances with these heretics!). The Catholic Church, also of course, has a different take, denying among other things that it had any objection to translating the Bible into English so long as it was a non-heretical translation (in this regard I’ll just note that the first complete Catholic Bible was not published in English until 1609, 74 years after the first complete Protestant version, so apparently the Catholic Church thought a non-heretical translation required great care indeed). An additional complication is that Tyndale opposed Henry VIII’s attempt to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, which ensured that (for a while, at least) neither the king of England nor the pope had much use for this particular Englishman.
In all events, it’s interesting and comforting to think about how differently we — especially we Americans — would now view the matter of translating the Bible into English. Aside from books that contain either the hardest of hardcore pornography or instructions for building weapons of mass destruction, it’s difficult to imagine any American now raising any serious legal objection to the translation into English of any book. As for Scripture, we have lots of different translations, and it would be hard to imagine anything that would be more strongly protected under the First Amendment than their publication: Such a bar would be a triple violation of that amendment, since it would likely be held to establish some religion(s), otherwise prohibit its free exercise, and abridge freedom of the press. And then there are the guarantees the courts have found elsewhere in the Constituion in the equal-protection, due-process, and privileges-or-immunities clauses …. Best of all, and regardless of what the courts would say regarding the Constitution, I think that few Americans today would favor such restrictions even if they were constitutionally allowable.
For a Protestant especially, I think, being able to possess a Bible that you can read goes to faith’s core. That’s what makes Tyndale’s biography such an inspiring one. And, again, can any present-day American — Protestant or Catholic, Muslim or Jew, believer or nonbeliever — imagine the defense of any official prohibition on reading a Bible of one’s choice? Inconceivable.
A couple of items from the book’s concluding chapter:
- It begins (163) with an epigraph from C.S. Lewis’s English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (that is, a book from Lewis’s “day job” as a university professor): “[Tyndale] is like a man sending messages in war, and sending the same message often because it has a chance if any one runner will get through. … [Tyndale] was directly or indirectly devoted to the same purpose: to circulate the ‘gospel’ either by comment or translation.”
- And there is this from the book’s penultimate paragraph (165): “We need Tyndales who translate the Bible into the languages of forgotten people groups [sic] around the world. We need Tyndales to proclaim the gospel through the written page in the face of imminent danger.” Alas, while we Americans are lucky, there are many places elsewhere in the world where those needs remain.