Tyndale’s Virtues -- By: Timothy A. Bridges
FM 24:2 (Spring 2007) p. 3
Ph.D. Student in Ecclesiastical History
University of Edinburgh, Scotland1
In an elegant and thorough biography of Abraham Lincoln, William Lee Miller extols the wisdom of investigating the virtues of great men. He says that understanding their “abiding patterns of conduct”2 helps us to understand “that history does not roll on through the centuries independently of human reason and will and decision and action.”3 The problem is that delineating “abiding patterns of conduct” is a subjective endeavor. What some consider to be a virtue may be a vice to others.
Discerning universally laudable virtues in the life of William Tyndale is challenging because Tyndale’s martyrdom came after direct defiance of the king and the established church. When we consider that he defied power in order to translate Scripture into the English tongue, it becomes clear that his virtues will never be universally laudable, just as Scripture is not universally honored. However, the biblical consistency of his virtues trumps universal praise.
His skills as a translator have garnered wide approval. As Cyril S. Rodd reflects, “The pity of it. In early October 1536, William Tyndale was strangled and his body burned in Vilvorde, six miles north of Brussels. So died the greatest translator of the Scriptures that England has known, with half of the Old Testament still to be turned into clear and fluent English.”4
Too often, the story of the translation of the English Bible is told as though it took place automatically and “independently from human . . . decision and action.” The thesis of this article is that the English Bible exists as it does today as a result of God specifically working through the virtues—the abiding patterns of conduct—of William Tyndale. This article will set forth the following as virtues from a biblical perspective: his idealism, intensity, insight, and integrity.
In a sense, Tyndale is an unsung hero. Timothy George notes, “Unlike the big names of the Reformation such as Luther, Erasmus, Calvin, and Cranmer, Tyndale has been the object of what might be called affectionate obscurity.”5 Just who was this man that John Foxe referred to as “a man of most virtuous disposition, and of life unspotted”?6 It would be premature to launch into a discussion of his virtuous qualities without first firmly establishing th...
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