Was William Tyndale a Synergist? -- By: James Edward McGoldrick

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 44:1 (Spring 1982)
Article: Was William Tyndale a Synergist?
Author: James Edward McGoldrick

Was William Tyndale a Synergist?

James Edward McGoldrick

Since publication of M. M. Knappen’s article, “William Tindale—First English Puritan,” in 1936,1 a number of interpreters have magnified the differences which emerged gradually between Martin Luther and William Tyndale, as the latter developed his overall understanding of scripture. Leonard Trinterud, William Clebsch, and John K. Yost have taken up this theme, and their studies have raised some questions about Tyndale’s fidelity to Luther on the principle of justification sola fide. Trinterud seemed to imply, although he did not expressly contend, that there might be elements of synergism in Tyndale’s exposition of the Sermon on the Mount.2 Clebsch, while recognizing the importance which Tyndale ascribed to sola fide, nevertheless discusses at some length the “Sources of Tyndale’s Legalism,”3 while Yost cites specific passages in Tyndale’s works as evidence of the reformer’s espousal of synergism.4

In a recently published book, Luther’s English Connection,5 the present writer examined the overall theology of William Tyndale and Robert Barnes and compared their beliefs with Luther’s. He concluded in that work that recent efforts to detach Tyndale from Luther’s influence have been too drastic and that the English reformer maintained his commitment to sola gratia, sola fide throughout his career, making it the cornerstone of his soteriology. It is the purpose of this study to pursue that theme

further and to give attention to the particular question about synergism as raised by recent interpreters.

While Knappen, Trinterud, and Clebsch have raised questions about Tyndale’s understanding of salvation sola gratia, Yost, now of the University of Nebraska, has charged categorically that Tyndale was a synergist. The term synergism comes from the Greek sunergein, “to cooperate” (sunergos, “fellow-worker”) and it signifies cooperation of divine grace and the human will in spiritual regeneration.6 This view, commonly associated with the Semi-Pelagian doctrine of salvation, was abhorrent to the Protestant reformers, and Luther assailed it vigorously in The Bondage of the Will, which he wrote in rebuttal to a defense of synergism by Erasmus.7

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