Book Review: The Daring Mission of William Tyndale
The Daring Mission of William Tyndale By: Steven J. Lawson, Reformation Trust, 2015. 180 pp. $16.00
When you walk into church on a Sunday morning carrying your Bible, do you take any thought to the work and sacrifice that took place so you could have that book in your hands? Do you feel a weight of responsibility when carrying a book with an author unlike any other? Probably not. We focus on the people we will meet, expectant of the worship band, and possibly thinking about what we will be having for lunch afterward. Though these are not bad, our church experience has become so routine that we forget why we do what we do and focus on common things. We pay little attention to how we came to the place we are in today.
Steven Lawson, in his series, “A Long Line of Godly Men,” directs our attention to William Tyndale – the man largely responsible for the English translation of Bible. Lawson provides a compelling work which makes the history of William Tyndale fascinating. Building on great historical works of Tyndale, Lawson takes us back to the time of Tyndale and provide an in-depth look at his life. I found this to be a sobering read as Tyndale went to great lengths so ordinary people could know as much of scripture as the Pope. The reason I have my own Bible which I can read at home and take to church is largely because of William Tyndale.
Tyndale lay his life down so English speaking people could have a Bible to call their own. A Bible true to the original language. Lawson writes regarding the work of Tyndale, “Never have so many owed so much to so singular an effort.” The English Bible came with a price, as this biography plainly displays, and should be treated as such.
Steven Lawson starts by showing us a quick glance at the portrait of Tyndale, then meticulously describes in detail the significance of each brush stroke. Lawson’s pastoral care radiates from the pages as he exhorts and encourages readers to love the scriptures as Tyndale did – even to the point of laying one’s life down for them.
The underlying focus of this book is on is the belief which drove Tyndale to translate the Scriptures. What was it that caused William Tyndale to lay down his life so that the common English folk could read the Bible in their own language? The answer: It was the sovereign grace of God in saving sinners. Tyndale, along with other reformers, saw that the Church was corrupt in doctrine, and could not be changed. Since there was no English translation, those who did not know Latin had no idea what the scriptures said. This meant the church could say what it wanted with very little opposition. Lawson writes, “Tyndale was convinced that the power of God alone could change the hearts of kings and plowboys alike. The glorious truth that Christ would build His church compelled Tyndale to bring the Scriptures to the English people in their own language, regardless of the dangers he faced.”
The remainder of the book takes us on the journey from the conception of a plan to translate the Bible into English until Tyndale’s death. Tyndale’s goal throughout this work was the same: “to allow a plow-boy to know as much of Scripture as the pope.” He believed that saving faith required knowledge of the truth, and that meant having the truth in one’s own language. This belief drove him with great passion to translate the New Testament first, and later, part of the Old Testament. His work was so good that eighty-four percent of the King James New Testament is a word-for-word copy of Tyndale’s translation, and of the parts of Old Testament, seventy-six percent is the same.
He tried to make the wording as simple as possible while keeping the flow of the scripture smooth. In doing so, he created quite a few phrases we still use today. In fact, Shakespeare owes a lot of his literary brilliance to Tyndale. Some have said that without Tyndale, there would be no Shakespeare, and our modern English would not be what it is today.
The condition which Tyndale wrote was, for the most part, unpleasant. Always on the run and hiding under pseudonyms, he wrote at a furious pace. Since England was hostile to any translation work, Tyndale had to work in various parts of Europe. Having to flee from one city to the next, losing some of his work in a shipwreck, and smuggling his translation in cotton bales to England, Tyndale was faithful to the end to produce the English Bible.
His death was a martyr’s death. Tied to a wooden post, he was strangled to death. If this wasn’t enough, the fury over Tyndale’s mission caused one man to light the wooden post covered in gunpowder so that nothing would be left of his body. Although William Tyndale was dead, his work was a catalyst that changed the English world forever.
Steven Lawson does a great job at explaining the course of Tyndale’s life as though he was a part of it. From a grand overview of Tyndale to the small details, all seems accounted for in this biography. Although Tyndale’s life was a life constantly moving from one place to the next, Lawson never seems to lose track or get left behind in The Daring Mission of William Tyndale. A great read which I highly recommend for all who love the Scriptures.