I’m preparing to teach a class on Sunday, 15 January, at Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church: http://www.prlc.org. In October the congregation began a one-year commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. My class, which is titled The Bible in English, is about the history and sources of the bibles we use and read now.
Martin Luther is famous for his translation of the Bible into German from the original Hebrew and Greek. He not only gave access to the book to every reader, speaker, and hearer of German, he also shaped that language for its future. But Luther was not the only reforming translator of the era. In England John Wycliffe, an Oxford professor, did a translation into English, although only from Latin Vulgate, in 1380. William Tyndale was the real star of this reformation. He was the first person to publish a New Testament in English. This wasn’t a popular activity with the powers that be, and he was eventually arrested in 1535 and a year later strangled and his body burned at the stake. (John Wycliffe was so annoying that, after he had been dead for 44 years, the then pope had his remains dug up and all his bones smashed into powder.) Tyndale, not unlike Luther with German, is often called the “Architect of the English Language.” The choices he made for his bible translation shaped phrases and word definitions that are still in use today.
There is a terrific book about Tyndale titled God’s Bestseller by Brian Moynahan. Published in 2003, it is out of print so look for it on used book sites and at the library. Google Books has sites for it as well, and there is an ebook available there.Tom Ahlstrom recommended this a few years ago and it has remained a big favorite. It is such an amazing story full of intrigue and plotting and spies and betrayal and everything else that makes for a great read. The parts about Tyndale’s translation work are fascinating. Even though you know what will happen to poor Tyndale in the end, this is excitement page after page! Sir Thomas More is the one who is out to get Tyndale. I remember how much I loved the movie A Man for All Seasons when I was in college. God’s Bestseller (and Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels) rather changed my opinion of More! So there’s lot of history to be learned here as well and a real appreciation of language and words and how the seemingly simple, faithful use of them can be a real threat to those in power.