Bible Translator William Tyndale Gave English Language 'Nobility,' Says Author
While the words "16th century England" likely call to mind images of Shakespeare, Henry VIII, and Queen Elizabeth, one author has argued that another name should be held in higher renown.
David Teems, author of the recently released Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice, argues that a Bible translator named William Tyndale was extremely influential in shaping the English language.
"Tyndale emancipated the English language," said Teems in an interview with CP, adding that Tyndale's translation of the Bible gave the English language "nobility."
"He taught us how to shape our words, but is still largely uncelebrated," lamented Teems, who added that "England has a very poor memory of William Tyndale."
In the book, Teems focuses on the life of the translator, and also lists many words and phrases that come from Tyndale's rendering of Greek and Hebrew Scripture into English.
According to Teems, it is from Tyndale's work in the early 1500s that we get English phrases like "I am the way, the truth, and the life," "Seek, and ye shall find," "With God all things are possible," and "Fight the good fight."
Tyndale also makes crucial translation decisions, like changing what was translated into Latin as "God is charity" to "God is love."
"Tyndale has given the English-speaking world something truly revolutionary," writes Teems, "the Latin Vulgate refuses God this kind of warmth and immediacy."
A Life "On the Run"
In Tyndale's time, putting the Latin Bible into a vernacular language was considered both sacrilegious and illegal.
The Vulgate of St. Jerome was the authorized version of the Bible. People like the 14th century scholar John Wycliffe were declared heretics if they propagated a translation in the common language.
"[Tyndale] translated the Bible while on the run," noted Teems.
Early on, Tyndale was exiled from England, doing much of his work in modern-day Germany and the Netherlands. Oftentimes he was able to take advantage of environments like the religiously tolerant city of Antwerp, a major commercial metropolis that had a high number of printing presses for the day.
Even while working in locations strongly supportive of Martin Luther, agents of England and the Catholic Church were always seeking his arrest. At times, Tyndale would flee a location at the last minute, carrying his notes and papers in both arms.
According to Teems, this likely had a profound effect on Tyndale as he translated the Greek words of Paul of Tarsus.
"As a man who is translating the words of Paul, he is actually living this way," said Teems, "he is actually living it as he is translating it."
While eluding officials seeking to stop his work, Tyndale also found himself in many written arguments with apologists for the Catholic Church, including chancellor and author Sir Thomas More.
The Monster in the Man
In the modern day, Sir Thomas More has a positive image. Canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church and remembered by many as a man who was martyred for his conscience, More was nevertheless a fierce persecutor of Protestants while Chancellor of England.
More had many English Protestants, including friends of Tyndale, burned at the stake for propagating ideas contrary to Catholic doctrine.
"He is known as the champion of the individual conscious while denying it to others," said Teems, who noted that the English word "paradox" is first attributed to More.
While never meeting in person, More and Tyndale had frequent literary exchanges over the validity of Tyndale's views. These written arguments could sometimes get nasty as well as lengthy, including one rebuttal by More that was about a half-million-words long.
Despite being exposed to the less amiable side of More, Teems nevertheless believes that More "deserves his applause for being a great man" and had some undeniable strengths.
"It is a monstrous age that tends to bring out the monster in a man," said Teems.
Even five centuries later, controversies still exist for translations of the Bible into English – albeit not as violent and rarely involving legal prosecution.
Last year, the Committee for Bible Translation released the New International Version (2011), an update of the widely distributed NIV 1984.
Although mostly keeping the 1984 translation, the NIV 2011 has been under fire for claims of excessive usage of "gender inclusive language" among other things.
Teems, who described himself "to be a 1984 guy" when it came to his preferred NIV translation, said he had no real position on the 2011 version.
He believes most modern-day Bible translators have "really good intentions" and would have Tyndale's nod of approval."
However, Teems also said he is "not a big fan of some of the new translations" and felt some Bible translations and paraphrases forget that "there is a big difference between translation and interpretation."
The author hopes to continue writing about Tyndale and is planning to work on a devotional that would have passages from Tyndale's writings with some commentary attached.
David Teems' Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice, was released in January 2012 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.