The Daring Mission of William Tyndale

In this session, Dr. Steven J. Lawson traces the daring mission of William Tyndale, who was used by God to ignite the English Reformation, which ultimately cost Tyndale his life.

A fuller teaching by Dr. Steve Lawson, including notes on PDF are found at this link.

Tyndale on Divine Election

tyndaleSteve Lawson writes:

William Tyndale was committed to the biblical teaching of the sovereign election of God. He believed God acted before time began, in eternal love, in choosing a people whom He would save. God set His heart upon a people, elected out of the mass of fallen humanity, to be His own possession. This election of man was not based upon any foreseen choice within man. Rather, it was entirely by the free exercise of God’s will:

Predestination … and salvation are clean taken out of our hands, and put in the hands of God only … for we are so weak and so uncertain, that if it stood in us, there would of a truth be no man saved; the devil, no doubt, would deceive us.

Tyndale was clear that God set His affections upon His elect in eternity past. He stated that God sovereignly chose to love them with a saving love. Tyndale also said that God chose to love His elect for His own glory and for their good:

God is ever fatherly minded toward the elect members of His church. He loved them, before the world began, in Christ.

The end of all things shall be unto His glory and the profit of the elect.

Tyndale understood it was God who first chose His elect, not sinners who first chose Him, and that God made this distinguishing choice in eternity past. This is to say, all saving grace is traced back to this sovereign choice of God unto salvation:

God chose them [the elect] first, and they not God.

In Christ God chose us, and elected us before the beginning of the world, created us anew by the word of the gospel, and put His Spirit in us, for because that we should do good works.

Divine election is unto salvation, not to be explained away as merely to service. The divine choice determines those chosen would be no longer in Adam, but in Christ. Tyndale taught that election is unto eternal life:

By grace (that is to say, by favor) we are plucked out of Adam, the ground of all evil, and grafted in Christ, the root of all goodness.

You are chosen for Christ’s sake to the inheritance of eternal life.

Tyndale explained that sovereign election leads to the personal knowledge of Christ in the gospel. The elect are chosen by God to know Christ:

In Christ God loved us, His elect and chosen, before the world began, and reserved us unto the knowledge of his Son and of His holy gospel.

Tyndale believed not all who attend church are numbered among the elect. Only those chosen by God make up the true church. He explained:

There shall be in the church a fleshly seed of Abraham and a spiritual; a Cain and an Abel; an Ishmael and an Isaac; an Esau and a Jacob; as I have said, a worker and a believer; a great multitude of them that be called, and a small flock of them that be elect and chosen.

While many contend that election is a dangerous doctrine to be feared and withheld from people, Tyndale held the complete opposite. He believed this divine truth emboldens the preacher because it ensures the ultimate success of his preaching ministry. No matter how hardened man’s heart may be, Tyndale insisted, sovereign election guarantees the reception of the gospel:

When Christ is … preached … the hearts of them which are elect and chosen, begin to wax soft and melt at the bounteous mercy of God.

In summary, Tyndale believed that sovereign election exalts God as worthy of all honor. This truth sets God apart from man and above him. God is not subject to man’s wisdom or will. This truth of unconditional election exalts God as the supreme ruler over man:

Why does God open one man’s eyes and not another’s? Paul (Rom. 9) forbids to ask why; for it is too deep for man’s capacity. God we see is honoured thereby, and His mercy set out and the more seen in the vessels of mercy. But the popish can suffer God to have no secret, hid to Himself. They have searched to come to the bottom of His bottomless wisdom: and because they cannot attain to that secret, and be too proud to let it alone, and to grant themselves ignorant, with the apostle, that knew no other than God’s glory in the elect; they go and set up free-will with the heathen philosophers, and say that a man’s free-will is the cause why God chooses one and not another, contrary unto all the Scripture.

Tyndale affirmed that sovereign election glorifies God, humbles man, initiates salvation, and honors Scripture. This doctrine gave Tyndale great confidence in all his endeavors as he was reliant upon God for all things.

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William Tyndale: The Father of Modern English

With his New Testament, William Tyndale became the father of the Modern English language. He shaped the syntax, grammar, and vocabulary of the English language more than any man who ever lived more than the author Geoffrey Chaucer, the playwright William Shakespeare, or the poets Percy Shelley and John Keats.

The English language at the dawn of the sixteenth century was crude and unrefined. It lacked precision and standardization, a strange mixture of Anglo-Saxon and Norman features with ancient Latin vocabulary, contained in disorganized syntax. Tyndale proved to be its change agent. As he translated the Bible, giving careful thought to words, phrases, and clauses, Tyndale shaped the language at its transition point from Middle English to Early Modern English. The speech of a nation was constructed in his mind and flowed from his pen. In providing the English Bible, Tyndale became the father of Modern English.

Moreover, Tyndale is recognized as the father of the English Bible. His influence upon how the English Bible would be written, read, studied, and preached reaches to this present hour. His translation became so foundational that until the twentieth century, every succeeding English translation was heavily dependent upon his labors. Eighty-four percent of the King James New Testament is a word-for-word copy of Tyndale’s work. Of the Old Testament books that Tyndale translated, seventy-six percent of the King James is found in Tyndale. Daniell notes that Tyndale wrote in “short Saxon sentences with largely Saxon vocabulary, a manner like proverbs.” In so doing, Tyndale translated the Bible into the vernacular of the people, which accounts for its widest possible audience and prolific influence throughout the English-speaking world.

Further, Tyndale is widely regarded as the father of the English Reformation. What most Reformers accomplished through preaching, Tyndale did by his Bible translation. Though he did preach during his younger years in England, in later years his full attention was set upon translating the Bible into the English language. Instead of proclaiming the Scripture, he gave the actual words of the Bible to Englishmen in their native tongue. If the people could read and understand the Word, he believed, God would kindle in their hearts a zeal for the truth. It was to this daring mission that Tyndale set himself, directing all his energies to this God-appointed task for the remainder of his life.

William Tyndale, the Prince of Translators

tyndaleReaders of the Bible in the English language owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the labor and genius of William Tyndale, as Dr. Steven Lawson explains in a blog article at Ligonier:

William Tyndale (ca. 1494–1536) made an enormous contribution to the Reformation in England. Many would say that he made the contribution by translating the Bible into English and overseeing its publication. One biographer, Brian Edwards, states that not only was Tyndale “the heart of the Reformation in England,” he “was the Reformation in England” (Edwards, God’s Outlaw: The Story of William Tyndale and the English Bible [Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 1999], 170). Because of his powerful use of the English language in his Bible, this Reformer has been called “the father of modern English” (N. R. Needham, 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power, Part Three: Renaissance and Reformation [London: Grace Publications, 2004], 379).

John Foxe went so far as to call him “the Apostle of England” (John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000], 114). There is no doubt that by his monumental work, Tyndale changed the course of English history and Western civilization.

Tyndale was born sometime in the early 1490s, most likely in 1494, in Gloucestershire, in rural western England. The Tyndales were an industrious and important family of well-to-do yeoman farmers, having the means to send William to Oxford University. In 1506, William, age twelve, entered Magdalen School, the equivalent of a preparatory grammar school located inside Magdalen College at Oxford. After two years at Magdalen School, Tyndale entered Magdalen College, where he learned grammar, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music, rhetoric, logic, and philosophy. He also made rapid progress in languages under the finest classical scholars in England. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1512 and a master’s degree in 1515. Before leaving Oxford, Tyndale was ordained into the priesthood.

Cambridge and the White Horse Inn

Tyndale next went to study at Cambridge University, where it is believed he took a degree. Many of Martin Luther’s works were being circulated among the instructors and students, creating great excitement on the campus. In this environment, Tyndale embraced the core truths of the Protestant movement. Continue reading