Tyndale, Chesterton, and Sitting on your Bible

William Tyndale is known, though not enough, as one of the first translators of the Bible into English. In 1521 he left Cambridge to return to Gloustershire where he began tutoring the children of Sir John and Lady Anne Walsh at their home of Little Sudbury Manor. This is a curiosity to biographers, since years before he had already earned an M.A. from Oxford, and then spent some time at Cambridge. Why would he leave for a humble position tutoring two young children? This would make sense if he was preparing to translate the Bible into the vernacular and received little support at the universities to do so. The stories about him at Gloustershire confirm this.

The Walshes showed hospitality to priests  from time to time, and would also invite Tyndale to join them for dinner. At these occasions Tyndale would astonish and offend the priests by his knowledge of  the Bible, so much in fact that they stopped coming to dinner.

It was around this time that a priest told Tyndale that with the laws and decrees of the Pope available, it was not necessary to have the Bible in English. Tyndale famously replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life, I will make the boy that driveth the plough know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” His goal was not to just to get the book into English, but to provide it in such a way that the average person–the plowboy, grocer, bank teller–could and would want to read it. This is why his translation, a major part of the King James and therefore of most modern translations, is so phenomenal. You can get a great copy Tyndale’s New Testament for a little scratch. Or you can just read the one you have.

It’s encouraging that the Bible was first given in English with the intent that everyone read it in a humble and easy way. The ploughboy didn’t have a study full of books, a Bible dictionary, internet access and probably even lacked good preaching. He could pick it up and read Tyndale’s poetic, rhythmic but accessible translation for a few minutes a day, and there by making progress slowly, would gain more knowledge than the distracted, superstitious and religiously employed priest.

This has particular relevance for parents. Moses tells Israel to take his words, their very life, to heart, “that you may command them to your children” (Dt. 32:46). When interest in and reading of the Bible is limited to “quiet” and private times, love for the Word isn’t likely to spill out very much. Kids learn by imitation, and what they don’t see, they don’t imitate. It isn’t the only way, but in this context, it’s an important one, revealing the heart.

It has been said of G.K. Chesterton that he didn’t just read a book. He sat on it, ate with it, slept on it, traveled with it, thoroughly possessed it and allowed it possess him. I imagine his 300 pounds of jolliness destroying a book in love. What author wouldn’t want his work enjoyed this way? There’s a lot to be said for reading the Bible like this. A little here, a little there. Five minutes at lunch and ten on the couch in the evening. In the car, on the bus, in bed, during the commute, early and late. Chapters are short, right? Even epistles. Whole books. Six pages from Paul to Ephesus. Four to Colosse. The greatest red-hot smoking love poem every written in less than ten pages. These are the things that should fill the cracks of Christians’ lives. Sure, we should set aside some time to read regularly. But shouldn’t we let it intrude at other times as well? Shouldn’t you spill something on the minor prophets?


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