William Tyndale's New Testament and the Power of Change
By Phil Cooke
In a blogging, Facebook, and Twitter world, it’s difficult to understand the level of sheer concentration it took for William Tyndale to pursue his goal of translating the Bible into English. Today, all of us have some form of Attention Deficit Disorder as we struggle to navigate hundreds of TV channels, billions of websites, and the constant (and nagging) stream of email and social media messages. But for Tyndale, the distraction wasn’t about digital technology, although the battle he fought was just as real. It was a world of radical change. The advent of the printing press was putting information into the hands of everyday people, and challenged the authority of government. The Reformation was challenging the authority of the church – a power largely unchanged, and locked in the centuries old battle for control of it’s own people.
Tyndale’s decision to disobey the authorities and pursue his translation would require a level of concentration that few of us living in the distracted world of the 21st century could even begin to understand. But the truth is, his journey toward the publication of an English New Testament, has powerful and compelling lessons that can help us as we pursue our dreams and calling today.
First, William Tyndale understood the value of hitting a wall: With the awesome authority of Church and State allied against him, Tyndale was forced to leave England to accomplish his task. For most people, a death sentence would have ended their dream, but for Tyndale, it simply narrowed his options. When we hit bottom our first thought is simply to give up, but we need to realize that hitting bottom or hitting the wall can be the greatest gift of all because it simplifies our choice and eliminates our ability to take the easy way out.
Second, Tyndale didn’t fight technology, he embraced it: Tyndale used every possible means to accomplish his goals. He sought the best printers and presses available, and reached out to the black market to smuggle his printed pages into England. In a world of large, over-sized Latin texts, perhaps his greatest innovation was to print his New Testament into a pocket-sized version, allowing anyone to carry it, easily hidden from the authorities. His innovations literally changed the publishing industry.
Third, Tyndale didn’t let the past dictate his future: After being spurned by the Church, Tyndale could have easily spent the rest of his life complaining, and he would have been right. However, it would have brought his work to a standstill. At some point in our lives, most of us fail, are cheated, or have had others take advantage of our work.As a result, thousands of people live under the bondage of asking “Why?” They spend the rest of their lives asking questions for which there is no answer.In Tyndale’s case, he was enormously qualified, and approached the Bishop for official permission to translate, but was repeatedly turned down.But instead of wallowing in being wronged, he gave it to God, let it go, and moved on. His great future would have never happened had Tyndale not been able to let go of his past.
Fourth, Tyndale understood the power of focus: Tyndale played for keeps. During his life, people were routinely burned at the stake for challenging the Church. At one time, a young man was tortured and burned for the “crime” of having a fragment of the Lord’s prayer written in English in his pocket. The stakes were high, and Tyndale answered it with unbelievable focus. After fleeing to Antwerp, Belgium, he simply never gave up. His press was destroyed, and he was relentlessly pursued by the King’s forces.But with each set-back he became more and more determined and innovative. In one case, he actually saved his printing mistakes and had them smuggled into England so they would be “discovered” by the King’s soldiers. Thinking they had found his real translations, they held a massive bonfire, never realizing they were only burning Tyndale’s mistakes. While they were distracted with the celebration, Tyndale’s allies were smuggling the real manuscripts into the country.
Finally, Tyndale realized his priorities. William Tyndale lived his entire adult life under an alias, was never able to marry, have a home, or raise children. During his lifetime, he never received professional respect for his abilities or his expertise. But his work transformed the Western world. At the end of his life, he was betrayed by a close friend, forced into a show trial, strangled, and burned at the stake. But some 70 years later, when the official King James version was produced, scholars agree that Tyndale’s contribution was unmistakable and enduring. Because of that Bible, literacy exploded in the West because everyone wanted to read this remarkable book. As a result, the English Bible has transformed our literature, art, and music, and it’s contribution to our cultural development can never be measured.
William Tyndale understood the power of change, and his ability to navigate a changing world, transformed that same world for the better. Today, we live in a new era of global change. The question is, will we answer as William Tyndale did?
Phil Cooke is a filmmaker, speaker, and author of “Jolt! Get the Jump on a World That’s Constantly Changing” published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. Find out more at philcooke.com.
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