Publisher’s Weekly Review

Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible
By David Teems Thomas Nelson, $14.99 paper (304p)
ISBN 978-1-59555-220-4

[Author of article not given by PW]

For generations, Protestant Christians trusted the King James version of the Bible as the only Bible, dictated to good divines word for word, inerrant in every way, and motivated by a true devotion to God and to the Most Holy Faith. Over time, however, scholars have come to dismiss the idea of the inspiration of the King James version, opening the way for a variety of modern biblical translations. So who was this king who commissioned this version of the Bible? Teems’s engrossing and entertaining study of King James I offers a multifaceted view of this 17th-century scholar/scoundrel, a man of counterpoints and contradictions. James is presented as a study in contrasts–a man given to saintly proclamations and vulgar outbursts, but a man who yearned for his own immortality as well as the perpetuity of the monarchy and the patriarchal order, all enshrined in the pages of his Holy Bible. Teems, an active Bible teacher and musician, pulls together the story of this enigmatic king with humor and pathos. This early entry in a full-court press of books marking the 400th anniversary of the translation is a delightful read in every way. (Oct.)

Washington Times

Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God An English Voice
Thomas Nelson, $15.99 paper (336p)
ISBN 978-1-59555-221-1

Review by Mark Kellner

If you’re not familiar with the work of William Tyndale, you should be. Even today, English speakers owe a debt to the man martyred at age 42 for the “heretical” act of translating the Bible into English. Long before, Tyndale, a scholar with a gift for languages, was impassioned about making the sacred books accessible, once answering a critic: “If God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”

Although that prophecy wasn’t fully realized in Tyndale’s too-brief life, it would soon take a form that would, indeed, sweep the globe: 75 years after his death in 1536, the translation commonly known as the King James Version of the Bible was released. Much of the KJV’s cadence and idiom is owed to Tyndale, including the renderings of the Lord’s Prayer, as well as phrases such as “seek and you shall find,” “ask and it shall be given you,” “judge not that you not be judged” and “it came to pass.” The words “Jehovah,” “Passover” and “beautiful” are Tyndale’s inventions, drawing, as he did, on a solid knowledge of Greek and Hebrew.

Between his youth and education at Oxford and Cambridge, and his death at the stake, where he reportedly cried, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes,” as his last words, there was plenty of adventure and drama in Tyndale’s life. David Teems, who brought the story of King James I – and that “authorized” Bible – to life in 2011’s “Majestie” (Thomas Nelson), is back with Tyndale’s story, aptly subtitled “The Man Who Gave God an English Voice.”

Translation is a tricky business, as just about any exchange student will affirm: A friend once recalled using a grammatically correct word to describe “catching” a bus ride in Spain. Her hearers, however, leapt to a far more colloquial, and ribald, meaning. The rendering of thoughts expressed in one language precisely into another can be daunting; add in the notion of expressing the very Word of God and you have a potentially heroic challenge.

Moreover, the prevailing religious authorities of Tyndale’s day, the Roman Catholic Church (which still held sway in Tudor England), had as its leaders those opposed to the “simple and unlearned” having the Scripture available in the vernacular, especially if such translations would challenge established doctrine. The Greek “presbuteros” was rendered “elder,” not as “priest”; assemblies of believers were “congregations,” not a “church.” Such changes might have been more faithful to the original Greek texts, but they challenged the way the official church read the Bible. Once that got into the public’s consciousness, how long could that church survive?

That Tyndale’s work was hard on the heels of Martin Luther’s Reformation, as well as being sometimes favored by Anne Boleyn, the woman for whom Henry VIII would break with Rome, did not bode well for the cleric turned critic. Thomas More, whose career descended from its utopian heights into playing Bull Connor as he sought out and burned “heretics,” ultimately would find great error in Tyndale and, worse, someone whose voice must be stopped lest all of England be turned aside from the noble and true faith.

Mr. Teems is a great storyteller, and he transports the reader back to the Tudor era with great style. We see Tyndale’s progression from scholar to chaplain for a rich family to itinerant translator and publisher, working mostly in Belgium and Germany because his work was considered a crime in England. No Internet was needed for Tyndale; rogue publishers in Ghent and elsewhere were only too happy to print Tyndale’s New Testament, while sympathetic merchants smuggled books back into England in bales of fabric.

Ironically, both More and Tyndale opposed the divorce (or annulment) of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, albeit for different reasons: Tyndale thought it was a conspiracy to set Henry against Rome; More opposed not only the divorce but also Henry’s setting himself as head of the Church of England. Also ironically, both paid with their lives. More was executed about 15 months before Tyndale.

Mr. Teems captures all of this, and Tyndale’s legacy, with passion and verve. He weaves in a detailed understanding of the life of an exiled writer, drawing from the lives and works of the late poet Czeslaw Milosz as well as American novelist Thomas Wolfe. Though seeming digressions, these more contemporary examples give the serious reader much to learn of Tyndale’s passion.

Although great and deserved fanfare was given to the 400th anniversary of the King James Version last year, the life of Tyndale, it seems, needs to be told afresh every few decades or so. Mr. Teems‘ introduction to this remarkable life is worth the effort a reader would invest: The payoff is an understanding of a vital episode of Christian history and a knowledge of what the mission of a translator entails.

• Mark Kellner writes the On Computers column for The Washington Times.

The Tyndale Society Journal

Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice
By David Teems
Thomas Nelson, $15.99 paper (336p)
ISBN 978-1-59555-221-1

Review by Dr. Bill Cooper (TSJ)

Not long ago, a book arrived on the scene titled Majestie. It was about King James I, and is noted for its entirely new and revealing approach to that king, for it was more about the king as a person (child and man) than about the people and events which surrounded him, and it has quickly established itself as required reading for any who would study the man who gave us (under God) the King James Bible. Well, from the author of that book there has come another, and its subject this time is our own William Tyndale.

When I first heard that someone was writing a new biography of William Tyndale, a silent groan rose within me. The expectation that came immediately to mind was that this was to be a rehash of David Daniell’s biography of Tyndale, a book which in any case would be a very hard act to follow. When Daniell wrote his book, he brought to his subject a level of scholarship which was not only very high, but was stated so clearly and so ably that it was difficult to imagine anyone even approaching it in sweep, quality and readability. So the best that one could ever hope for – so it seemed – was a mere rehash of Daniell’s work. But then the galley proof arrived from the printers.

I am delighted to say that it is no rehash of Daniell, nor of any other work on Tyndale. The established sources are all there, of course: Mozley, Demaus, Daniell – the Bibliography runs to five pages – and our author makes full and proper use of each one of them. But it is the author’s approach to his subject that is original. Let me explain.

To begin with, Teems, our author, is not afraid to recognize and to speak of the spiritual dimension of William Tyndale. It is an unfashionable thing today to speak of spiritual matters in any biography, but Teems rightly, is not afraid to do so:

“The only explanation for William Tyndale is a spiritual one. All other explanations fail to satisfy or convince. What history we have of him is patchwork and unstable. Even a literary consideration of Tyndale fails to explain…. The suitable treatment of Tyndale, therefore, is always spiritual.”

Teems concentrates not on what was important to Tyndale’s peers and contemporaries, nor yet to his more modern biographers, but on what was important to William Tyndale himself. To do that, we must meet Tyndale on his own terms. We have to take him as we find him here and there, wherever he emerges into the light of day. And, crucially, we have to listen to what Tyndale says, and not merely to what his contemporaries (or even his more modern critics) thought. It is an unusual and daring approach. But it works, and it works very well indeed.

Teems uses his authorities wisely and well, and makes important connections between them and his subject. He writes pithily and concisely; this is no stodgy pudding served up on a pedant’s plate, so don’t expect to be left with the usual bout of mental indigestion halfway through. On the contrary, the book makes light reading at first, but then leads you inexorably into depths and heights which often and unexpectedly surprise in the implication.

The main thrust of Teems’ book is to bring out for us the sheer uniqueness of William Tyndale as a man. The breadth and quality of Tyndale’s scholarship are second to none for the early 16th century, and are hardly to be approached by modern scholars. Tyndale’s mind, it appears, was a multi-lingual encyclopedia, generating knowledge as well as absorbing it. But the true uniqueness lay in the fact that Tyndale was devoted utterly to the Word of God. Making the Word of God known to others – in terms which they could readily understand – was his all-consuming passion. It was the engine which drove him on into a lonely and hazardous life, even to the point of sacrificing that life in the flames.

With all this in mind, Teem’s biography will refresh many people’s thinking concerning the unique and remarkable man. William Tyndale, ‘the man who gave God an English Voice.’

pages 64-65, by Bill Cooper

Huffington Post

Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice
By David Teems
Thomas Nelson, $15.99 paper (336p)
ISBN 978-1-59555-221-1

By David Teems, Guest Writer

When asked about the pioneers of our language, the architects, the real ventriloquists, those who put the words in our mouths, who taught us how to shape our thoughts, if you’re like me, the first name that comes to mind is William Shakespeare. His wordcraft is so integrated, so thoroughly interfused into our speech, so much a part of the sound we make, we are hardly aware of it.

But hold that thought for a moment.

2011 was the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. And it is right that we celebrate. The offspring of a poetic age, the KJB is part of our deepest cultural memory, and after 400 years, this great book remains a testament to what has proven excellent in our linguistic past.

While it certainly deserves the attention, truth is, the King James Bible gets the applause that rightfully belongs to William Tyndale, who translated the first English New Testament 85 years before the first printing of the King James. Indeed, 90 percent or more of the King James New Testament is Tyndale’s translation, and most often word for word.

Though associated with the KJB, the following expressions made their first appearance through Tyndale. While old and well rehearsed to you and me, to the Englishman in 1526 they were astonishingly new.

Give us this day our daily bread
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory
Behold the Lamb of God
I am the way, the truth, and the life
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Seek, and ye shall find
Let not your hearts be troubled
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak
Fight the good fight

The presence of Tyndale’s New Testament was electric. It was also forbidden, which only added to the enchantment. An English Scripture was against the law — to translate, own, smuggle or speak. The punishment was often death, and by burning.

Tyndale translated roughly a third of the Old Testament as well (Genesis to II Chronicles, and the Book of Jonah). The following are Tyndale translations:

  • Let there be light
  • Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh
  • Am I my brother’s keeper
  • Let my people go
  • Entreat me not to leave thee
  • The Lord bless thee and keep thee
  • A small still voice

Any study of Tyndale’s craft must also include his single word innovations: Godspeed, busybody, thanksgiving, network, seashore, waves, ungodly, Jehovah, zealous, rose-colored, intercession, passover, atonement, impure, longed, brotherly, sorcerer, viper, godless, brokenhearted, dearly beloved and hundreds more.

And it is not enough to say that Tyndale merely Englished the text before him (Hebrew or Greek). It needed the right negotiator, a broker of authentic genius. In his 2011 book, “The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible,” renowned literary critic Harold Bloom said that

“Tyndale’s New Testament is so vast an aesthetic improvement upon the Greek text that I am perpetually delighted … Nearly everything memorable in the English New Testament is the achievement of the matchless William Tyndale and not of the early Christian authors. No honest critic able to read the koine original could resist the conclusion that Tyndale throughout transcends his proof-text [original ms] to a sublime degree.”

Tyndale had to live and translate as an outlaw. His book was outlaw. His thoughts were outlaw. He had a price on his head and a target on his back. He was forced to leave England to work and survive. But the severity, far from crippling his text, seemed only to empower it.

In Jesus and Yahweh, Bloom, vociferously non-Christian and a confessed Bardolator [Shakespeare zealot], said that William Tyndale is the “only true rival of Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Walt Whitman as the richest author in the English language,” that only Shakespeare’s prose “is capable of surviving comparison with Tyndale’s.” This is no small endorsement.

And here we come to the main event.

Considering his impact on the English language, and Englishness itself, even the great playwright must concede that he is but heir to what the translator left behind. Because English in the early 1500s was considered “the bottom of the pond,” that is, a somewhat scruffy and inglorious tongue, to suddenly quote an English Scripture, and one that came to them in such splendor and clarity, put a new taste in the mouth for the English word. It ennobled the tongue, and long before there was a Hamlet or a Lear. That same nobility is traceable throughout the Shakespearean canon.

Here, Tyndale alone is the architect.

Indeed, it was a vernacular Scripture that liberated the English voice, and the English conscience along with it. It had the effect of an awakening. It came upon the English spirit with arousal, the way perhaps only great art can (though the word art itself can hardly explain). An English Scripture kindled a new English pride.

It is in Tyndale that the English became a people of the book. Tyndale scholar, David Daniell, said that, “Tyndale gave to English not only a Bible language, but a new prose. England was blessed as a nation in that the language of its principal book, as the Bible in English rapidly became, was the fountain from which flowed the lucidity, suppleness and expressive range of the greatest prose thereafter.” The sound and shapes of our language are largely due to Tyndale’s wordcraft and the peculiar working of his genius.

But what is dumbfounding to me, and which is, in part, the point of this article, is how hidden Tyndale remains, how misprized and how thoroughly uncelebrated. Tyndale had little choice but to make a science of flight, of working and hiding while on the run. But I think he may have learned to hide too well. Though his presence in our language is inescapable, though we owe him a debt we are hardly aware of or could ever hope to repay, by some curious injustice William Tyndale remains in a kind of exile to this day.

David Teems is author of ‘Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice’ and ‘Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible.’

Michael Hyatt (blog)

To Love Is Christ
By David Teems
Thomas Nelson, $14.99 paper (383p)
ISBN 978-1-4041-7562-4

This is a guest post from David Teems. He is a close, personal friend and the author of several books, including his most recent, Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God An English Voice. Be sure to check out his blog and follow him on Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

I admit, when I hear someone suggest that you can take your blog posts and turn them into a book, I am skeptical. But when I really thought about it, for all my skepticism, and as much as it pains me to admit it, my first book, To Love Is Christ, came about just that way. Let me explain.

On August 1, 2002 I made a vow to God. He and I weren’t on the best of terms at the time, and when I finally got fed up hearing myself complain, or filling my journal with more whine, I decided to do something dramatic. My strategy was both simple and logical. That morning I decided since the Scripture tells me that God is love, I would write every day for one year on that one subject, love. That was it. That was my strategy.

Having a successful marriage (a ridiculously wonderful wife), I knew I was good for a few months of self-generated text, all my pent up wisdom, all the ooze and rhapsody of a well-tuned lyric. But beyond that, beyond those first few months, my thought was that God himself would have to supply the details.

Being 2002, I could hardly call it a blog at the time, but I did vow to post one entry on my web site every day and to do so by 12 noon. I obligated myself to a deadline and to an audience. It wasn’t long before I began to add a benediction to each post, such as “May your Christ be a warm one. May your Christianity be a door and not a wall.”

Fifteen months from that first day in August, I had a manuscript that was eight inches deep. Somewhere during that time, Benita and I moved to Franklin, Tennessee.

I had been introduced to Jack Countryman by Gloria Gaither. Jack published beautiful devotional books for Thomas Nelson at the time, often with a CD in the back. I gave Jack a proposal with a copy of my recording In The Mourning: For Those Who Grieve in the hope of getting a book deal (I had put a booklet together to go with the music). Jack and his crew ultimately turned down the project, but his editor gave me a wonderful review of my writing. Jack told me if I had anything else, please bring it to him.

It was a start.

Once this huge manuscript had grown under my hand, I took the benedictions (there were one thousand of them) and put together what I then called The May Book because each benediction began with the word “may” and the metaphor of the month itself is so powerful with its suggestion of new life, I couldn’t resist. Nelson liked it, and wanted to publish it, but thought it might work better as a devotional. That was fortunate, I told them, because I had eight inches of devotional.

They asked me to compress each entry to two hundred words or less. After moaning a bit, I worked with their editor, Alice Sullivan, for months to compress this tall, wordy, over-the-top mess to a trim, readable, accessible devotional. During the editorial process, some days were as long as sixteen to eighteen hours. I hardly noticed.

Two things came out of the experience. Okay, maybe three. I will list them.

  1. The regularity, the discipline, the day to day obligation made a writer out of me.
  2. Forcing myself to condense each entry to 200 words or less taught me the art of compression, of discovering what was necessary, what was excess, and what was not (what Williams Tyndale and Shakespeare called “pith”). To discover where the true music lay. I developed a kind of editorial savagery. Being a songwriter, I suppose I had a head start on the process.
  3. I got a book deal. The advance was not huge by any standard, but who cared? I WAS PUBLISHED. And the little event did wonderful things to my thought life, to my confidence, and to my renewed perception of God, and life.

I am forever grateful to Thomas Nelson, who worked with me in my nativity as an author to awaken my instincts, to season and sharpen them for good use. I’ve written many books since then, for Nelson and other publishers. I am grateful to God as well, who proved himself as good as his description, as John defined him, and for putting the dare in me in the first place.

God is love. Of that I am certain.

To Love Is Christ, as I titled it, will always be special to me. It is deliciously tweetable. Certainly, its voice is more lyrical than my other books, but it was the logical step in my evolution as a writer, in my transition from music to books.

So, I have put a muzzle on my skepticism. Your blog content can, indeed, become a book. That is, with a few necessary conditions. And as much as writers writing about writing on the internet borders on downright creepy at times, here are five conditions, five necessary obligations, that must be satisfied if your blog is to be publishable.

  1. Hard work. There is no way to circumnavigate this one.
  2. Obligating yourself to write every day. No exceptions.
  3. Developing an editorial savagery, or even better, a great ear. I have become somewhat lactose intolerant, that is, I am (hopefully) able to detect cheese when I am guilty of manufacturing it, or when I hear it. Ernest Hemingway called it by another, more colorful name, but to be able to detect it is critical. The ear is the primary organ for the writer.
  4. Learn and develop the art of restraint.
  5. Love language. Love it. Never stop learning the craft.

That’s it. Happy blogmaking. Of the list above, I’m particularly fond of #5. Content is great. It’s critical. But it is execution alone that will set you apart.

Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible
By David Teems
Thomas Nelson, $14.99 paper (304p)
ISBN 978-1-59555-220-4

By David Teems, Guest Writer

“May your Majesty be pleased that the Bible be new translated?” It was a suggestion that changed the world. The year was 1604. James VI of Scotland had been crowned James I of England the previous year. Among his many obligations as the new monarch, he called three conferences that year. One was to end a twenty-year war with Spain (the Somerset House Conference). Another was an attempt in Parliament to join the realms of England and Scotland, to make a single kingdom called Great Britain. The Somerset Conference was a success. The attempt to join Scotland and England was not.

The third conference was called the Hampton Court Conference. Since the monarchy was supreme authority over the Anglican Church, there were issues that needed to be sorted out. The Bishops had questions about their new king. Since he was a Scot, was he Presbyterian? Was he Catholic as his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, had been? There was also a group within the church that were unsatisfied with certain elements of worship—the Puritans. A conference was necessary.

Being a Puritan was not easy. The word “Puritan” itself was derogatory. They were no fun, and were not well liked. James was not fond of them either. The Hampton Court Conference (so called because it was held at the magnificent Hampton Court Palace) lasted three days. The first day, the Puritans (only four were invited) were not allowed into the session. James spoke for three hours that day to about twenty bishops and other leaders of the church to settle their concerns.

The second day of the conference, the Puritans were finally allowed to make their complaints known. They wanted the cross to be taken out of the worship service because to them it was idolatrous. There was also too much singing. And even the use of rings in the wedding ceremony was suspect, as the use of too much symbolism was to the Puritan.

James, having little patience with them, shot down every request they made. He gave them nothing. Well, that is not exactly true. There is one suggestion the Puritans made that changed everything. As a matter of fact, John Reynolds, the spokesman for the Puritans, was the big winner of the conference. And the suggestion for a new bible was not even on their agenda. It was not on any list of grievances. It was more of an afterthought.

But when the suggestion for a new bible was made, James’s first response was pure delight. He admitted that he had “never yet seen a Bible well translated into English,” and that he longed for “one uniform translation.” The thought came over the king like epiphany. James and his archbishop Richard Bancroft chose the fifty some odd translators, established the rules of translation (there were fifteen rules) and set the enterprise in motion.

King James’ History

For a little backstory, James Stuart had been orphaned at eleven months old, crowned King of Scotland at thirteen months, and kidnapped no less than nine times before he was a teenager. He was a brilliant child, and yet damaged psychologically and emotionally. He was for the most part unloved. He could speak Greek and Latin before he was five years old, and could quote whole chapters of the Bible in either Latin or English. He was often asked to translate the Bible, in front of guests, from Latin into French and into English.

Coming from a troubled and divided Scotland, and having a troubled psychology himself, James saw a new translation, in part, as a way to heal a troubled and divided realm. But that is not all.

Before entering into his English kingdom, he had grown to be a formidable Scottish King. He believed in divine right and in absolute monarchy. It was important to him for this new Bible to reflect majesty. Indeed, he saw it as a way to disperse majesty among his people in one uniform translation.

In our time, words like “absolute” and “divine right” are held suspect. And yet we worship a God whose rule is indeed absolute. No other translation reflects majesty quite like the King James Bible. It is intrinsic, written in the subtext of the Bible itself. James even specified that the language be “sett forth gorgeouslie.” The following quote from my book, Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible summarizes nicely.

“Other than linguistic issues, the difference in tone, mood, the depth of its rhapsody, the stateliness, and perhaps age, the major difference between the King James Bible and all other Bibles is that the KJB is the only Bible that has the seal and imprimatur of a king. Other translations may have an organization behind them, a movement, a single personality, maybe even a corporation, but nothing quite like a king, and definitely nothing quite like James.

“If this book preaches anything, it preaches election, the peculiar appointments of a sovereign God, an absolutist God, a monarchist who tolerates only one head, a God whose choices don’t often make sense. For all of his unloveliness, for all the negative spin that has followed him throughout history, for all his crude Broad Scots, James Stuart was the right king at the right time for the right historical event. Only James could have given us the Bible he did, and only by the conditions that existed in culture—the brooding aesthetic, the powerful linguistic genius of the times, the ambivalence (the going national neurosis), the roll and pitch of the English language.”

There is indeed a king behind the King James Bible. He was not perfect by anyone’s standards. Quite the contrary, he was a damaged man, flawed in many ways. And yet he was used by God to do the extraordinary. That gives me comfort, and cause to hope.

By David Teems, Guest Writer

Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice
By David Teems
Thomas Nelson, $15.99 paper (336p)
ISBN 978-1-59555-221-1

By David Teems, Guest Writer

From the very first words of Scripture we learn that God has a voice. Creation and redemption live agreeably and prosper together in that voice. It is, therefore, no real surprise that it should come to us in splendor, and at a height that often makes us reach. We have all memorized parts of the Bible at some time or other—a verse here, a passage there—directly or indirectly. Consider the following phrases from the King James Bible [KJB]:

Behold the Lamb of God

I am the way, the truth, and the life

Take, eat, this is my body

Give us this day our daily bread

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory

Blessed are the poor in spirit

Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling

I am not ashamed of the Gospel

A man after God’s own heart

Death, where is thy sting?

The glory of the Lord

I am the vine, and ye are the branches

Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might

In my father’s house are many mansions

Seek, and ye shall find

With God all things are possible

In him we live, move, and have our being

Be not weary in well doing

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith

Behold, I stand at the door and knock

Let not your hearts be troubled

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light

Fight the good fight

2011 was the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible (1611). And it is only right that we celebrate. According to scholars, the King James Bible continues to hold its place with the works of William Shakespeare as the greatest work of prose in the English language.

The offspring of a poetic age, the KJB is part of our deepest cultural memory, and after 400 years, this great Bible not only remains a testament to what has proven excellent in our linguistic past, it has allowed God to speak to us in his accustomed beauty and highness, and with an English voice.

But that is not the whole story.

Truth is, each of the passages above had their beginning not with the King James translators, but in the translation of William Tyndale some eighty-five years earlier, at a time when an English translation of the Bible was not only against the law in England, it was punishable by death.

While it certainly deserves the honors it has received, the King James Bible gets the applause that rightfully belongs to William Tyndale (1494-1536). 90% or more of the King James New Testament is Tyndale’s translation, and most often word for word.

Tyndale also translated roughly a third of the Old Testament (Genesis – II Chronicles, and Jonah). The following are Tyndale translations: Let there be light, Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, In the cool of the day, Am I my brother’s keeper, Let my people go, Entreat me not to leave thee, The Lord bless thee and keep thee, A small still voice.

Any study of Tyndale’s wordcraft must also include his single word innovations such as: Jehovah, thanksgiving, passover, intercession, holy place, atonement, Mercy seat, judgement seat, chasten, impure, longed, apostleship, brotherly, sorcerer, whoremonger, viper, and godless.

What is dumbfounding to me, and which is the point of this article, is how hidden Tyndale remains, how misprized, and how thoroughly uncelebrated.

In his 2011 book, The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible, renowned literary critic and Yale professor, Harold Bloom, said that “Nearly everything memorable in the English New Testament is the achievement of the matchless William Tyndale and not of the early Christian authors. … No honest critic able to read the koine original could resist the conclusion that Tyndale throughout transcends his proof-text [original ms] to a sublime degree.” In his book, Jesus and Yahweh, Bloom, vociferously non-Christian, says also that William Tyndale is the “only true rival of Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Walt Whitman as the richest author in the English language,” that only Shakespeare’s prose “is capable of surviving comparison with Tyndale’s.”

This is an endorsement of the first order.

A memorial was placed in Vilvorde (Belgium) near the spot where Tyndale was martyred (there is a William Tyndale Museum in Vilvorde as well). In London, a statue of Tyndale was erected in 1884, and a stone monument overlooks the town of North Nibley, Gloucestershire, England, where he is thought to have lived as a child. He has been given a day of recognition by the Anglican Church (October 6), and a brief prayer (collect proper). These honors are well deserved, doubtless, but for his contribution to the English language, to English thought and piety, for all he has done to effect growth, aesthetics, motion, architecture and sound of the English language, Tyndale has been given what amounts to a formal nod, a gold watch, and a citation for his service.

What fascinates me perhaps even more about William Tyndale are the conditions by which he translated the Bible. He was outlaw. His translation was outlaw. His very thoughts were outlaw. He was exile. He lived in poverty. He was continually hunted, and therefore he was forced to be on the move continually. And yet these elements, far from crippling the text, only empowered it. There is something magnificently alive in Tyndale’s translation of Romans 8:35.

Who shall separate us from the love of God? shall tribulation? or anguish? or persecution? or hunger? or nakedness? or peril? or sword? As it is written: For thy sake are we killed all day long and are counted as sheep appointed to be slain. Nevertheless in all these things we overcome strongly through his help that loved us.

The life Tyndale was forced to live was not unlike the Paul he translated. Much more than an exercise of the mind, his translation represents a kind of linguistic empathy. There is a certain cooperation between Tyndale and Paul in all that Greek. Indeed, something lives in Tyndale’s Paul beyond mere equivalents of language.

William Tyndale’s story is one of true greatness, and yet he continues to suffer a curious injustice. Compared to English writers of greater name, but much less weight per pound, he is magnificently underprized, and thus remains in a kind of exile.

Eventually his life was demanded of him. He was held in the dungeon of a castle in Vilvorde, Belgium for 500 days. He was denied both light and visitors. He suffered a mock trial, was led to a scaffold, strangled, and then burned at the stake. No symbol went unused. By strangling Tyndale, the Church thought to silence him forever.

They were wrong.

by David Teems, Guest Writer