One Wednesday in June I sat in the swing in my Secret Garden and finished reading Michael Wilcox’s book on William Tyndale, “Fire in the Bones.” It may have been the peaceful setting I was in or simply the power of a man’s life that touched my soul so deeply I couldn’t keep from shedding tears. Brother Wilcox wrote the book because he believes Tyndale’s life is not celebrated enough. After reading the book I have to agree.
The next day I attended my book club meeting and sat with a group of women to discuss a book of no account. I had read it but felt that I had wasted some precious time in the process. It was mildly entertaining but as I sat there with these women, that I have read books with for 25 years, I couldn’t help but wonder how many had read any scriptures that week. I thought of Tyndale and his sacrifices. He gave his life because he wanted every English speaking person to be able to read scriptures in their tongue. He wanted the common man to know the words of Christ better than clergy. Is that happening? Do we fill our minds with junk food words and miss the nourishing words of scripture?
Jeremiah is a story from the scriptures that speaks to my soul. He was a contemporary of Lehi, left in Israel to preach repentance to the rebellious Israelites, as Lehi went on to a new land with his family. Jeremiah stayed to be beaten, verbally abused and put in prison for his preaching. God wouldn’t let Jeremiah get married because He didn’t want him to bring posterity into such a wicked society. Perhaps the most poignant cry to the Lord in scripture comes from Jeremiah in chapter 20 of his book. He said:
7: O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed; I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me. For since I spake, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. (then perhaps the most beautiful words in all of scripture) But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forebearing, and I could not stay.”
So it was with Tyndale. So it needs to be with all of us if we are to be changed, comforted and inspired by the power of the ”word.”
On an April day in Coventry England in 1519, “7 parents were burned at the stake for teaching their children and family the Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments in English. “(p.1)
“To keep us from knowledge of the truth, they do all things in Latin. They pray in Latin, they christen in Latin, they bless in Latin, they give absolution in Latin, only curse they in the English tongue.” William Tyndale (P.9)
“Brought up from a child in the university of Oxford, where he, by long continuance, grew up, and increased as well in knowledge of tongues...as especially in the knowledge of the Scriptures, whereunto his mind was singularly addicted...” I believe that scriptures can addict us all because I have come to know that there is a power beyond the words in scripture.
“Now faith...is the gift of God given us by grace...I never deserved it, nor prepared myself unto it; but ran another way clean contrary in my blindness, and sought not that way; but he sought me, and found me out, and showed it me, and therewith drew me to him. And I bow the knees of my heart unto God night and day, that he will show it all other man; and I suffer all that I can, to be a servant to open their eyes. For well I wot they cannot see of themselves” (Tyndale, p. 37)
Michael Wilcox lays out all the events of Tyndale’s life from his youth. He eventually lives in exile to Antwerp in the Netherlands where he translates and publishes the New Testament. Tyndale's desire is that one-day the plow boy would know the scriptures as well as the clergy. The small books of scripture are smuggled into England by merchants who hide the books in their goods. The people are hungry for the words of Christ. They are willing to risk their lives for this opportunity and those caught with scriptures are punished, many at the stake.
This book made me aware of how certain men alter the chain of events necessary to allow God’s will. I wonder about the workings of God. It seems to me He only goes so far in order to influence but not control. He allows wicked men like Henry the VIII and his desire for a divorce to open a door for reform as Henry leaves the Catholic church. I will never feel the same about Ann Bolyn as she is converted by a Tyndale bible and sees the need for the common man to have it. She tries to influence Henry as she can. She will eventually lose her life in the evil stream of political events of Henry’s selfish life.
I have never thought much about translation before and how the choice of words can change things so much. Tyndale studied languages and knew many. He took the process very seriously and retranslated his work several times before he was satisfied. His New Testament translation changed the English language to a higher level as it became widely read. Tyndale’s lyrical and poetic phrases charm and soothe the soul. It created a desire within the people to be literate.
The political climate in England was becoming more accepting of the scriptures in the hands of the people when Tyndale was finally captured in Antwerp. (but not by the Catholic Church). He was placed in a cold and dreary castle for a year and 135 days before he was killed. If he had been in England he might have been spared. Within two years of his death Henry allowed the Bible to be read and ordered it to be placed in all the churches. The clergy were to “expressly provoke, stir and exort every person to read the same, as that which is the very lively Word of God.” (p. 225)
How did the people in the villages and towns respond to their new English Bible? As in London, they crowded the churches to read and discuss the truths they found therein. Throngs became so thick and the services and sermons so often ignored that Henry issued another edict requesting his people to benefit from the new Great Bible “most humbly and reverently,” using it “quietly and charitably every [one] of you to the edifying of himself, his wife and family.” (How things have changed. I believe the churches are largely empty in England today.) (p.225) The King James Version took as its core the Tyndale bible.
The power beyond the words in scripture is the power of love that comes through Christ. Tyndale believed this.
“Christ is the cause why I love thee, why I am ready to do the usmost of my power for thee, and why I pray for thee. And as long as the cause abideth, so long lasteth the effect; even as it is always day so long as the sun shineth. Do therefore the worst thou canst unto me, take away my goods, take away my good name; yet as long as Christ remaineth in my heart, so long I love thee not a whit the less, and so long art thou as dear unto me as mine own soul, and so long am I ready to do thee good for thine evil and so long I pray for thee with all my heart; for Christ desireth it of me, and hath deserved it of me. Thine unkindness compared unto his kindness is nothing at all; yea, it is swallowed up as a little smoke of a mighty wind, and is no more seen or thought upon.” Tyndale (Ibid. p. 113)
Tyndale’s lived these words. It is not surprising as the fire in his bones burned from his dedication to translating the scriptures. He understood that the message of Christ was love and he knew this message in the hands of all men would change them and society in consequence.
4 ½ years ago in February I took a challenge from Scott Proctor of Meridian Magazine to “Read Scriptures Every Day NO MATTER WHAT!” The no matter what has made the difference and as I am into my fifth year I am beginning to feel Tyndale’s addiction. The word is beginning to burn in my soul and I love it.
Mike and I made a quick weekend trip to LA recently and I forgot to pack my scriptures. (Which hasn’t happened since my commitment.) I felt a little panicky wondering how I was going to read. Mike came to my rescue as he brought his Book of Mormon. Yes, he did bring scriptures but they were in Spanish. So, I had a little experience in translation. For three nights Mike read to me in Spanish (which I thought was beautiful) and translated the words into English for me. Mike has a gift and love for language as did Tyndale. He has been teaching himself Spanish for 6-7 years. Tyndale taught himself Latin, Greek and Hebrew in order to do his bible translations.
Thank You Michael Wilcox for teaching me about Tyndale. I am grateful that I feel some of his “Fire in the Bones.”