William Tyndale: A Biographyby David Daniell
Pub. Date: 02/28/2001
Publisher: Yale University Press
William Tyndale (1494-1536) was the first person to translate the Bible into English from its original Greek and Hebrew and the first to print the Bible in English, which he did in exile. Giving the laity access to the word of God outraged the clerical establishment in England: he was condemned, hunted, and eventually murdered. However, his masterly translation
William Tyndale (1494-1536) was the first person to translate the Bible into English from its original Greek and Hebrew and the first to print the Bible in English, which he did in exile. Giving the laity access to the word of God outraged the clerical establishment in England: he was condemned, hunted, and eventually murdered. However, his masterly translation formed the basis of all English biblesincluding the "King James Bible," many of whose finest passages were taken unchanged, though unacknowledged, from Tyndale's work.
This important book, published in the quincentenary year of his birth, is the first major biography of Tyndale in sixty years. It sets the story of his life in the intellectual and literary contexts of his immense achievement and explores his influence on the theology, literature, and humanism of Renaissance and Reformation Europe.
David Daniell, editor of Tyndale's New Testament and Tyndale's Old Testament, eloquently describes the dramatic turns in Tyndale's life. Born in England and educated at Oxford, Tyndale was ordained as a priest. When he decided to translate the Bible into English, he realized that it was impossible to do that work in England and moved to Germany, living in exile there and in the Low Countries while he translated and printed first the New Testament and then half of the Old Testament. These were widely circulatedand denouncedin England. Yet Tyndale continued to write from abroad, publishing polemics in defense of the principles of the English reformation. He was seized in Antwerp, imprisoned in Vilvoorde Castle near Brussels, and burnt at the stake for heresy in 1536.
Daniell discusses Tyndale's achievement as biblical translator and expositor, analyzes his writing, examines his stylistic influence on writers from Shakespeare to those of the twentieth century, and explores the reasons why he has not been more highly regarded. His book brings to life one of the great geniuses of the age.
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When studying religion, literature, or history, it is easy for the average reader to become overwhelmed. Every now and then a writer comes along who has a unique gift for being able to assimilate complex subject matter and present it in simple terms, without sacrificing accuracy or insulting their readers intelligence. To do this, it is necessary for a writer to truly be an expert on the subject you are discussing (which often involves many years, sometimes a lifetime, of hard work) while also being able to convey this knowledge to readers who most likely are nowhere near the level of expertise of the writer. Teachers from elementary school level on up to doctoral advisers at a University know this (most of them). Roland Bainton and Heiko Oberman were such writers. David Daniell is another. In this book, William Tyndale: A Biography, Daniell is writing about another such writer. William Tyndale, as Daniell clearly articulates in the book, was able to become a master of his craft (namely, the Bible, and especially in the original languages of Greek and Hebrew) and then to present the Bible in English to the readers of his time period (and well beyond, as Daniell also demonstrates). Daniell, like Tyndale, is concerned to be as direct and clear to his readers as possible, while still giving the reader much to ponder. It is the mark of a gifted historian (such as Bainton and Oberman were, and Daniell is) that he is able to draw on what is obviously a wealth of knowledge on the subject matter at hand, without making his readers feel stupid. Daniell's research and expertise can withstand the boldest criticism, but he is not there to boast. As Daniell shows, neither was Tyndale. Instead the goal is to teach, and Daniell teaches very well and also respects his student, the reader. Tyndale likewise had a heart for the unlearned many who were starving for the Word of God. As Daniell correctly observes, it is Tyndale, not Shakespeare, who has made the English language what it is today. Tyndale did this through the Greek and Hebrew of the Bible. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the English Bible, or history or religion in general. William Tyndale is perhaps the most important figure in Bible history, and especially relevant today amid the controversies raging over the King James Version (mostly Tyndale's work) and modern translations. Tyndale's faith will also challenge any reader to evaluate their own beliefs in light of the Bible. John Bunyan has been called 'The Living Bible.' Yet the same might also be said of Tyndale, who gave Bunyan, and the rest of us, our English Bible, at the cost of his own life.