The Scriptures in the Eyes of William Tyndale

November 30, 2018

Although remembered primarily as a translator and scholar, William Tyndale (c.1494-1536) was also engaged in preaching, teaching, and writing, driven by a desire to make Christ known.

Tyndale was deeply concerned that many did not know the Scriptures and, worse yet, would not know what to do with a Bible in their own language. Thus, from his first publications, Tyndale explained the unique role of the Scriptures and how to read and benefit most from his new translation.

The following quotations reveal Tyndale’s high view of God’s Word and pastoral concern for his readers.1 It also reminds and encourages us today to “apply the medicine of the Scriptures.”2

A Light Leading to Christ

Tyndale believed that the Word was a light and stream of living water leading to salvation in Christ. In an age when the Scriptures were hidden behind the ceremonies of the church, his convictions were revolutionary and would eventually cost him his life.

The Scriptures are the light and life of God’s elect, and that mighty power by which God creates them and shapes them according to … the very manner of Christ.3

So, now, the Scriptures are a light, and show us the true way, both what to do and what to hope for…4

The Scriptures spring out of God and flow unto Christ, and were given to lead us to Christ.5

A Defense From Falsehood

Not only would the Scriptures lead to Christ, they would also protect the true followers of Christ from sin, despair, and false teachers.

The Scriptures are … a defense from all error, and a comfort in adversity so that we don’t despair, and they cause us to tremble in prosperity so that we don’t sin.6

God cares for His elect and has, therefore, provided them the Scriptures, to try all things and to defend them from all false prophets.7

For the Scriptures are God’s, and theirs who believe, and not the false prophet’s.8

A Message With Meaning

During his studies at Oxford, Tyndale was taught to interpret the Scriptures allegorically, setting aside the “plain text and literal sense” in search of subjective interpretations that he considered mere dreams and imaginations. In response, Tyndale repeatedly wrote about the proper way to interpret the Scriptures.

You will always find this learning and comfort in the plain text and literal sense.9

Cleave to the text and plain story and endeavor to find the meaning of all that is described in the text… and beware of subtle allegories.10

You must understand, therefore, that the Scriptures have but one sense, which is the literal sense. And that literal sense is the root and ground of all, and the anchor that never fails. If you cleave to it, you can never err or go out of your way. And if you leave the literal sense, you can’t but go out of your way.11

A Message for the Humble Heart

Tyndale was concerned that some would read his translation in English and yet not benefit spiritually. To profit from Scripture, Tyndale urged his readers to make every effort to humble themselves before God and His Word and then to live in daily submission to it.

We should stop searching for God’s secrets and make every effort to walk according to what He has opened unto us.12

It is not enough, therefore, to read and only talk about it, but we must also urgently ask God, day and night, to open our eyes and to make us understand and perceive why the Scriptures were given, so that we may apply the medicine of the Scriptures, every man to his own sores.13

If a man had a precious and valuable jewel, yet he didn’t know what it was worth or what purpose it had, he wouldn’t be any better or richer than if he had a piece of straw. Likewise, if we read the Scriptures and babble about them ever so much, yet we don’t know how to use them, why we were given them, or even what we are to seek in them, the Scriptures will be of no benefit to us at all.14

A Final Exhortation

As we leave Tyndale, let us heed his exhortation to trust and rest in God’s promises, and to enjoy the riches therein. Tyndale spent his life preaching, teaching, and translating God’s Word so that others might “there rest.”

In His promises alone does He want us to trust and there rest, and to seek no further.15


Notes

1 The author has updated Tyndale’s English; when substantial changes were necessary, the original quotation is provided in the note for reference.

2 William Tyndale, Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures, ed. H. Walter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1848), 398. “…that we may apply the medicine of the scripture, every man to his own sores.”

3 William Tyndale, Expositions and Notes on Sundry Portions of the Holy Scriptures, Together with the Practice of Prelates, ed. H. Walter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1849), 143. “Finally then, forasmuch as the scripture is the light and life of God’s elect, and that mighty power wherewith God createth them, and shapeth them, after the similitude, like-ness, and very fashion of Christ.”

4 Tyndale, Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures, 399. “So now the scripture is a light, and sheweth us the true way, both what to do and what to hope for; and a defense from all error, and a comfort in adversity that we despair not, and feareth us in prosperity that we sin not.”

5 Ibid., 317.

6 Ibid., 399. “So now the scripture is a light, and sheweth us the true way, both what to do and what to hope for; and a defense from all error, and a comfort in adversity that we despair not, and feareth us in prosperity that we sin not.”

7 William Tyndale, An Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue, the Supper of the Lord after the True Meaning of John XI. and Wm. Tracy’s Testament Expounded, ed. H. Walter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1850), 133. “God careth for his elect; and therefore hath provided them of Scripture, to try all things, and to defend them from all false prophets.”

8 Tyndale, Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures, 283. “For the scripture is God’s, and theirs that believe, and not the false prophet’s.”  

9 Ibid., 399. “This learning and comfort shalt thou evermore find in the plain text and literal sense.”

10 Ibid., 411. “Cleave unto the text and plain story and endeavour thyself to search out the meaning of all that is described therein . . . and beware of subtle allegories.”

11 Ibid., 304. “Thou shalt understand therefore that the scripture hath but one sense, which is the literal sense. And that literal sense is the root and ground of all, and the anchor that never faileth, whereunto if thou cleave thou canst never err or go out of the way. And if thou leave the literal sense thou canst not but go out of the way.”

12 Ibid., 444. “We should leave searching God’s secrets and give diligence to walk according to that he has opened unto us.”

13 Ibid., 398. “It is not enough, therefore, to read and talk of it only, but we must also desire God, day and night instantly, to open our eyes, and to make us understand and feel wherefore the scripture was given, that we may apply the medicine of the scripture, every man to his own sores.”

14 Ibid., 398. “Though a man had a precious jewel and a rich, yet if he wist not the value thereof, nor wherefore it served, he were neither the better nor richer of a straw. Even so, though we read the scripture, and babble of it never so much, yet if we know not the use of it, and wherefore it was given, and what is therein to be sought, it profiteth us nothing at all.”

15 Ibid., 413. “In his promises only will he have us trust, and there rest, and to seek no farther.”


Aaron Shryock avatar
Aaron Shryock is the Director of the Tyndale Center for Bible Translation at The Master's Seminary. He is passionate about raising awareness of the tremendous needs in Bible translation.

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