In A Tongue Not Understanded By The People

John Wycliffe, William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer shared a common viewpoint.

There were others as well, Erasmus and Martin Luther come to mind. As I consider the viewpoint, with gratitude, of Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Cranmer, I have a hunch that they all shared the same question.
“Why won’t they let us read the Bible?”
“They” is the Roman Church. Or the primitive Church if you prefer. “Us” is…anyone that cannot read Latin. Interesting…
First off, we have to recognize that this was not a problem for The Three. They were all scholars, and so certainly they could read the Bible in Latin. It is said that Tyndale could speak in virtually every language. Most likely the problem for them personally was that the Bible had been rewritten in parts, for the benefit of the Church. The benefit was to gain power over the people, and it was power that was used in the everyday life of the Christians in Europe. Keep in mind that church attendance was mandatory in those dark ages.
That was what was at the heart of it all. The Bible was “wrong” and so the work was to correct it, and  to correct it by going back to previous versions.

The Bible has always, and please forgive this word for the lack of a better one, “suffered” from the personal mixed in with the divine. When we read “And God spoke to me these words,” we believe that this is the way that the profits understood it. We also accept that some parts of the Bible are inspirational stories that are borne from a tradition of trying to explain how we got here. Others, like Job, help us to deal with life questions of ethics and morality. Some of it is history, which is always told as fact coupled with experience, and others as seemingly direct quotes from the mouth of Jesus, which vary only slightly from one Gospel writer to another.
It has become my position that I cannot know precisely what was said, but that I can clearly get the point.
And that is the point, the writer, inspired as he was, wanted me to get “the point”.

When the reformers, or protesters, understood that “the point” was rewritten toward the power of the Church, they wanted to fix it back. Still, they wanted to make their own point. In a translation by Tyndale where we often hear “Upon this rock I will build my Church,” he says “Upon this rock I will build my congregation”. Consider that this is a quote from Jesus. There is no Hebrew word for church.

Without belaboring my own point of view, it seems to me that God speaks to us in various ways. For some, God inspires them to communicate His words, and does that though the human vessel that he created, and has chosen to use. The vessel is human, it is not pure, and it has experience.
But for others, these inspired words are supplanted by words that fit their own particular agenda.

That is what Wycliffe, Tyndale and Cranmer learned. By examining earlier documents, the words had been changed. And who would know? The Church held the Bible tightly against their chest, in a language that people didn’t understand.
The Mass also was in a language that they didn’t understand. I feel fairly certain that if I went to church in Germany next week, it might find it moving in some way, but I couldn’t understand much.
For The Three, they posed it as an obvious thing to do. So, they went about the work of translating the Bible into English, and using trusted earlier manuscripts.

The Church’s reaction  was immediate anger. The Three were chased, and some arrested. They were named heretics. Since Wycliffe had the bad manners to die from a stroke before the church could finish him off, they dug up his body, burned it, and scattered the ashes. Tyndale was imprisoned for 500 days before he was choked to death while he was tied to the stake. Then they burned his body. Cranmer was also burned alive, after going back on his promise to recant.
These were not the only martyrs. Anyone caught with a copy of the Bible in English was burned as a heretic.

These were dark days for the church indeed.

Today the Bible appears in nearly four hundred languages, each so that these timeless and inspired words can be read, and understood, by all who wish it.

The transition from Latin to English was not entirely smooth. The first attempts to translate word for word read like an early primer. It was clunky. Tyndale, although true enough to the original words, adds simplicity and beautiful poetry. Some of the phrases that he added are quite well known to us. Here are a few:

  • lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
  • knock and it shall be opened unto you
  • twinkling of an eye
  • a moment in time
  • seek and you shall find
  • ask and it shall be given you
  • judge not that you not be judged
  • let there be light
  • the powers that be
  • my brother’s keeper
  • the salt of the earth
  • it came to pass
  • gave up the ghost
  • the signs of the times
  • the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak
  • fight the good fight


Today, there are over fifty versions, or, more accurately, translations of the Bible in English. They don’t vary a great deal. There seems to have been great care taken to use the ancient manuscripts that are trusted, and translated so that we “get the point.”

“The point,” is the one that God chooses to make,to the person that he inspired; not the point of the translator.

Sad indeed is the knowledge that at core of nearly every war, there is some difference in faith, and how we have chosen to believe in God.

Far too many people were murdered in order that the worlds greatest book could come to me, in simple and beautiful verse.. Sad indeed is the fact that the murderers were the people of the Church.

It seems to me that Wycliffe, Tyndale and Cranmer read it, understood” the point”, and were inspired to correct the human indiscretions, and to translate it into my language, for me. Brave stuff.

Thank you.

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