View from the Vicarage
Cheddington Village Newsletter June 2011
One of my heroes from history is a man called William Tyndale. You may never have heard of him, but Tyndale, born in 1490, taught himself 8 languages and was the first to produce an unauthorized version of the New Testament in English. At the time, churches in England only had a 1000 year old Latin version of Scripture which even most priests could not understand. Tyndale paid with his life. He was charged with heresy, half strangled then burned at the stake in Belgium. He was killed on the orders of Thomas More who was later made a saint. Ironically, only three years later, Henry VIII commanded there should be an English Bible in every church, and the version issued was largely Tyndale.
Other versions followed, but they were of variable quality until exactly 400 years ago the King James or Authorized Version was published. This was the only Bible I had when I was young. We knew no other. It was still the version I was given when made a priest in 2004. The language, of course, is unparalleled. 75% of the material is still largely Tyndale. The words and phrases have entered our collective consciousness. They have a unique beauty. The language is concise and clear. Instinctively we use phrases such as a stumbling block, kill the fatted calf, holier than thou, money is the root of all evil, physician heal thyself and so on. All from the King James Bible.
Just as you would not read an instruction manual for your iPhone in 16th century language, it is unwise to rely on such a translation for your whole reading of Scripture. For one thing, many of the words are outmoded, and many important manuscripts have been discovered even last century that correct many errors. That does not mean we should resort to some of the truly awful modern translations, several of which are still produced each year. There are beautiful, poetic, and accurate versions like NRSV and NIV you can buy which combine majesty of language, even read aloud, with good scholarship.
Likewise we should not rely solely on services from the Book of Common Prayer. They have their rightful place, although I for one, whilst admiring everything else about last month’s Royal Wedding, was sad the couple chose the 1662 service which hardly reflects a modern view of the equality of both partners in marriage.
So, whilst rightly celebrating the stupendous achievement of the martyr William Tyndale, and his legacy found in the King James Bible, we should remember that Scripture is for our salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (II Timothy 3:15-17) and that, despite numerous movies, God does not exclusively speak to his world in Shakespearean English.
The Revd. Robert Wright