Thought for the Day by Kevin Ward (St Michael’s)
WILLIAM TYNDALE born 1494. died 6 October 1536
The prophets of Israel spoke truth to power. They were a thorn in the flesh to King Ahab. He recognised them as messengers of God, but also despised them, and preferred the false prophets, who told him what he wanted to hear. He despaired of Elijah ‘the troubler of Israel’. He was equally frustrated by Elijah’s disciple, Micaiah. ‘I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favourable about me.’ Indeed, Ahab’s misplaced invasion of Ramoth-Gilead, against Micaiah’s advice, was the cause of his death.
In our NT reading today, Paul faced similar hostility from those in power: ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth; it is a pitie that he should live.’ (Tyndale’s translation of Acts:22:22).
Tyndale’s great legacy was to translate the Hebrew and Greek text of the Bible into a simple, direct, and austerely beautiful, English – which even the simple ‘plough boy’ could understand. At least that was his hope! ‘He wrote to the comprehension of the profoundly poor … and created one of the undoubted masterpieces of the English language,’ says Marilynne Robinson, one of the greatest of modern American novelists, in ‘Freedom of Thought’, one of her essays in the collection When I was a Child I read Books.
Tyndale was a prophet. He openly criticised Henry VIII’s political manoeuvres to divorce Catherine of Aragon. He had to flee the country. But Henry’s spies were active on the continent, and traced him to Antwerp. Henry persuaded the authorities there to arrest Tyndale, and he was strangled and burnt at the stake as a heretic. But his Bible translation lived on. Much of it was incorporated into the Authorised Version of the Bible in 1611. Today we commemorate him on the anniversary of his death on 6 October 1536.
In Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead, a preacher in the fictional town of Gilead in Iowa, nearing death in the mid 1950s, looks back on his long life and ministry, with a heart-breaking honesty, dignity and compassion.
‘I was thinking about the things that had happened here just in my lifetime – the droughts and the influenza and the Depression and three terrible wars. It seems to me now we never looked up from the trouble we had just getting by, to put the obvious question, that is to ask what it was the Lord was trying to make us understand. The word ‘preacher’ comes from an old French word, prédicateur, which means prophet. And what is the purpose of a prophet except to find meaning in trouble?’