William Tyndale and the Law

William Tyndale and the Law

William Tyndale and the Law

William Tyndale and the Law


This carefully edited volume is issued to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of William Tyndale, the great English translator of the Bible. The theme of this book is Tyndale and his view of civil as well as canon law and how his views have relevancy in this century. Some of the contributors include David Daniell of University College, London; Peter Auksi of the University of Western Ontario; and Donald Dean Smeeton of Cape College of Theology in South Africa.


Summing up an argument in his 1528 classic of civil disobedience, The Obedience of a Christian Man, William Tyndale wrote, “The way is Christ and the promises in him are our salvation if we long for them.” But, possibly finding this formulation too sentimental, he emended it in his list of “the faults of printing” to read, “The way is Christ and the promises in him are our salvation if we long for them; and the law is our work” (ps 1:317).

For those of us who live under constitutional governments, it is difficult and challenging to reconstruct what “the law” would have meant to Tyndale. the normative systems that could affect a person in his circumstances included canon law, English common law, Roman civil law (in the lands of his exile), domestic mores, the bindings and loosings of the Bible, and the joker, Realpolitik—and they were often in conflict. Add to this historical situation an extraordinary personal sensitivity to norms, and you have much of the poetry in Tyndale’s tense and impassioned prose. Longing to regulate himself and others, but also to liberate the overregulated, Tyndale was predisposed to feel the force of every contemporary body of law under whose jurisdiction he conceivably came. God’s law, based on the two Testaments, seemed as if it could silence this hubbub of warring imperatives, but Tyndale could not get rid of Erasmus’ conviction, not purely Bible-based, that human beings deserved to be free, natural, and happy.

Eight of the ten essays in this collection have been revised from papers originally presented at the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference held in Philadelphia on October 17–19, 1991—the 200th year of the ratification of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. the four sessions on Tyndale at that conference were conceived and coordinated by Anne Richardson, coeditor of this volume. We thank those who worked with us to make our presentations a happy event for students of Tyndale from three nations.

Emphasis added. the Reverend Henry Walter, Tyndale’s Victorian editor, overlooked Tyndale’s addition in the errata.

Dr. Richardson acknowledges her indebtedness to the scholarship of Professor Leonard W. Levy of the Claremont Graduate School, whose remarks on Tyndale in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Origins of the Fifth Amendment: the Right against Self-incrimination, rev. ed. (London: Collier Macmillan, 1986) were the original inspiration for the sessions on William Tyndale and the Law.

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