To say David Teems has been busy lately would be an understatement. Teems has published four books in less than three years: And Thereby Hangs A Tale (Harvest House, 2010), Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible (Thomas Nelson, 2010), Discovering Your Spiritual Center (Leafwood Publishers, 2011), and Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God An English Voice (Thomas Nelson, 2012).
In his latest book Tyndale, Teems not only explores Tyndale's works but delves deep into the meaning of Tyndale's work and how it still resonates today. Tyndale's translation of the Bible forever altered the English language and society as a whole. BREATHEcast caught up with the prolific author and musician at the National Radio Broadcaster Convention in Nashville to talk about his latest book Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice.
BC: What was the value of people being able to hear the voice of God in their own language for the first time?
Teems: Let me do a little back story. In England in 1526, the year Tyndale did the first testament, it was against the law to own an English Bible or have any of the Bible in your possession. In fact, in the town of Coventry in 1519 a family of six was put to death because the parents taught their children the Lord's Prayer in English. That's how severe the times were. The typical believer did not speak Latin, they did not understand Latin, yet the church services were completely in Latin. The English language, as Thomas Moore said, was at the bottom of the pond. It (English) wasn't a popular or attractive language. Here comes William Tyndale in 1526 and he gives the typical believer a Bible in their own language. Imagine you've never heard the Christmas story before and here's a guy who gives you the nativity of Christ. Tyndale introduced this God to the Englishman. And he does it with such a magnificent language. People had never heard God in your own language and someone comes along and gives you the Lord's Prayer. He not only liberated and emancipated the English spirituality he liberated the language along with it. It changed everything. Imagine being blind and all of a sudden someone turns on the lights. That's literally the effect it had.
BC: You said the English language was at the bottom of the pond. So at that time was the Bible considered an elitist book?
Teems: Actually no, in the beginning it was an outlawed book. There was nothing elitist about it. It, the Bible, opened up culture. People were starving for it, by the time Tyndale gave them the New Testament their appetite was waiting on it. It's a writer's dream, when you write a book that everyone has needed.
BC: What motivated Tyndale to translate the Bible?
Teems: There's very little documentation on his life. It was against the law to translate the Bible. You could literally be put to death. Tyndale had to leave England to do it. There was a price on his head when he left England. So he had to make a science of hiding for the next 12 years. He was a reformer. He was a brilliant man, spoke eight languages and had a master's degree. He was every bit as brilliant as Sir Thomas More. Tyndale could have been a professor or clergyman.
He goes back to his hometown and stays at the home of Sir John Walsh, a friend of Henry the VIII. The Walsh family would have local clergy stop by for dinner and they'd have Tyndale come sit with them. So here you have these Roman Catholics sitting with a young William Tyndale and they'd always get into some theological discussion and the catholic guard was always talking about the authority of the scripture, the authority of the pope over the scripture and the authority of the church over the scripture. Tyndale was arguing the counter, for the authority of God and the scripture. So finally after so many visits these clerics had enough of this upstart young man and one of the bishops stated that we would be better off without God's law than to be without the pope's law. Tyndale countered saying I defy the pope and if God grants me life I'll see to it the boy driving the plow knows more of the scripture than thou does. So that was the birth of the English Bible. It was born out of an act of defiance. At that point Tyndale goes to London and he asks permission from the bishop of London to translate the Bible, he said no. Tyndale left London for Cologne and begins the translation.
BC: With culture moving at such velocity, and with language changing with it, what makes a 500-year-old translator so significant today?
Teems: When I first got the book deal with Thomas Nelson, it was a two book deal, the first was a history of King James, and the second book became Tyndale. I didn't know that much about Tyndale at the time. One of the things that attracted me to Tyndale was I'm a Shakespeare geek. One of the first things I saw when researching Tyndale was a statement that circulates among scholars "without Tyndale, no Shakespeare. " The language was suppressed and the English Bible emancipated culture not just spiritually but linguistically and so two generations later you have the rise of the English theater. Tyndale set a sound in motion. The King James translators used the existing English Bible; they took the best lines by meaning and lyrical weight and put those words together. Nearly 94 percent of the King James New Testament is the translation of William Tyndale. Most often word for word. The King James Bible is literally Tyndale's Bible. Stephen Greenblatt, a Harvard professor, said our sense of eloquence and splendor in the English language is largely due to William Tyndale. Scholars today will tell you the English you and I speak is Tyndalian, that Tyndale's Bible liberated the English language. We as English speaking believers owe Tyndale a debt.
BC: What do you have coming up next?
Teems: Actually, I just finished a novel. I can't talk too much about it because we're just starting to pitch it. I was so saturated in the time period and had actually written a novel on King James and Shakespeare, I wrote a historical fiction. I've got three novels we're going to be pitching and that's one of them.
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