Voices of the English Reformation: A Sourcebook

By John N. King | Go to book overview

1.2. Translation Theory

A. William Tyndale, from
The Obedience of a Christian Man (1528)

After Tyndale (c. 1495–1536) published his translation of the New Testament, he spent the rest of his life in Antwerp. Johannes Hoochstraten concealed his role as printer of his polemical prose with the pseudonymous colophon of “Marburg in the Land of Hesse, Hans Lufft.” The actual Hans Lufft printed Luther’s books at Wittenberg. The Obedience of a Christian Man, Tyndale’s most important tract, defends the validity of English as a “mother tongue” suitable for scriptural translation because it is akin to the Hebrew of the Pentateuch, Koine Greek of the New Testament, and Latin of the Vulgate translation of the Bible, which were spoken by ordinary people when those texts came into existence. Affirming the Lutheran principle of sola scriptura (“scripture alone”), which insists upon the primacy of the Bible in spiritual affairs, Tyndale’s forcefully plain and popular language attacks the Roman Catholic clergy as avaricious and hypocritical “jugglers” of scripture who fail to teach the laity and are ignorant of the Vulgate Bible and the liturgical Latin that they recite. In addition to attacking them for condoning wantonness and ribaldry that he associates with popular Robin Hood ballads, Tyndale rejects the fourfold method of literal, tropological, allegorical, and anagogical interpretation of the Bible. Late medieval Scholastic scholars employed this hermeneutic method to construct arcane readings of the Bible that Tyndale regards as mystifications of the literal sense, which he defines as the only valid textual level. For a section of this book that seems to have pleased Henry VIII, see 2.1. Also see John Foxe’s life of Tyndale (6.5.A).

SOURCE: STC 24446, fol. 129–33.

EDITION: William Tyndale, The Obedience of a Christian Man, ed. David Danieli (London: Penguin, 2000).

REFERENCES: Danieli; Greenblatt.

[The following defense of translation of the Bible into the vernacular comes from Tyndale’s prefatory epistle to the reader.]

That thou mayest perceive how that the scripture ought to be in the mother tongue and that the reasons which our spirits1 make for the contrary are but sophistry and false wiles to fear thee from the light, that thou mightest follow them blindfold and be their captive to honor their ceremonies and to offer to their belly.

First, God gave the children of Israel a law by the hand of Moses in their mother tongue,2 and all the prophets wrote in their mother tongue, and all the Psalms were in the mother tongue. And there was Christ but figured3 and described in ceremonies, in riddles, in parables, and in dark prophecies. What is the cause that we may not have the Old Testament with the New

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