William Tyndale: Historical Faith vs. A Feeling Faith

The following excerpts are from William Tyndale’s An Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue, The Supper of the Lord after the True Meaning of John VI. and 1 Cor. XI and WM. Tracy’s Testament Expounded edited by Henry Walter and printed by Cambridge University Press in 1850.

Here Tyndale makes a distinction between a faith anchored in history and a faith anchored in genuine experience. In our current day, it seems that history and historical evidence are the prime means of knowing and understanding what is or is not the New Testament. Faith is somewhere on the value side of the fact/value divide. Tyndale would have us consider a different anchor point than historical evidence and that anchor point for our faith is the Spirit of God speaking through the Scriptures in the heart of the believer. In the last excerpt Tyndale says of this experiential or feeling anchored faith that it is so robust that “if all the preachers of the world would go about to persuade the contrary, it would not prevail; no more than though they would make me believe the fire were cold, after that I had put my finger therein.”

Consider Tyndale’s word below.

“I answer, ‘That there are two manners of faiths, an historical faith, and a feeling faith.’  The historical faith hangeth of the truth and honesty of the teller, or of the common fame and consent of many: as if one told me that the Turk had won a city, and I believed it, moved with the honesty of the man; now if there come another that seemeth more honest, or that hath better persuasions that it is not so, I think immediately that he lied, and lose my faith again.  And feeling faith is as if a man were there present when it was won, and there was wounded, and had there lost all that he had, and was taken prisoner there also: that man should believe, that all the world could not turn him from his faith.” p. 51

“So now with an historical faith I may believe that the scripture is God’s, by the teaching of them; and so I should have done, though they had told me that Robin Hood had been the scripture of God: which faith is but an opinion, and therefore abideth ever fruitless; and falleth away, if a more glorious reason be made unto me, or if the preacher live contrary.” p. 51

But a feeling faith it is written (John vi.) ‘They shall be all taught of God.’ That is, God shall write it in their hearts with his Holy Spirit.” p. 51

“And this faith is none opinion; but a sure feeling, and therefore ever fruitful.  Neither hangeth it of the honesty of the preacher, but of the power of God, and of the Spirit: and, therefore, if all the preachers of the world would go about to persuade the contrary, it would not prevail; no more than though they would make me believe the fire were cold, after that I had put my finger therein.” p. 51

And so in this same vein we have argued for properly basic belief in one’s Bible without appeal to the historical evidence. Why? Because a Christian can know their Bible is indeed the word of God and not men to the exclusion of all others without appeal to the evidence. How is this so? Because God Himself writes it in the heart of the Christian by His Holy Spirit.

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