William Tyndale, 1528: Discerning the poison from the honey — a 16th c. critique of modern Evangelical text criticism

The sermons which thou readest in the Acts of the apostles, and all that the apostles preached, were no doubt preached in the mother tongue. Why then might they not be written in the mother tongue? As, if one of us preach a good sermon, why may it not be written? Saint Jerome also translated the bible into his mother tongue: why may not we also? They will say it cannot be translated into our tongue, it is so rude. It is not so rude as they are false liars. For the Greek tongue agreeth more with the English than with the Latin. And the properties of the Hebrew tongue agreeth a thousand times more with the English than with the Latin. The manner of speaking is both one; so that in a thousand places thou needest not but to translate it into the English, word for word; when thou must seek a compass in the Latin, and yet shall have much work to translate it well-favouredly, so that it have the same grace and sweetness, sense and pure understanding with it in the Latin, and as it hath in the Hebrew. A thousand parts better may it be translated into the English, than into the Latin. Yea, and except my memory fail me, and that I have forgotten what I read when I was a child, thou shalt find in the English chronicle, how that king Adelstone caused the holy scripture to be translated into the tongue that then was in England, and how the prelates exhorted him thereto..

Moreover, seeing that one of you ever preacheth contrary to another; and when two of you meet, the one disputeth and brawleth with the other, as it were two scolds; and forasmuch as one holdeth this doctor, and another that; one followeth Duns, another St Thomas, another Bonaventure, Alexander de Hales, Raymond, Lyre, Brygot, Dorbel, Holcot, Gorram, Trumbett, Hugo do Sancto Victore, De Monte Regio, De Nova, Villa, De Media Villa, and such like out of number; so that if thou hadst but of every author one book, thou couldst not pile them up in any warehouse in London, and every author is one contrary unto another. In so great diversity of spirits, how shall I know who lieth, and who sayeth truth ? Whereby shall I try and judge them? Verily by God’s word, which only is true. But how shall I that do, when thou wilt not let me see scripture? Nay, say they, the scripture is so hard, that thou couldst never understand it but by the doctors. That is, I must measure the meteyard by the cloth. Here be twenty cloths of divers lengths and of divers breadths: how shall I be sure of the length of the meteyard by them? I suppose, rather, I must be first sure of the length of the meteyard, and thereby measure and judge of the cloths. If I must first believe the doctor, then is the doctor first true, and the truth of the scripture dependeth of his truth; and so Antichrist the truth of God springeth of the truth of man. Thus antichrist turneth the roots of the trees upward. What is the cause that we damn some of Origen s works, and allow some? How know we that some is heresy and some not? By the scripture, I trow. How know we that St Augustine (which is the best, or one of the best, that ever wrote upon the scripture) wrote many things amiss at the beginning, as many other doctors do? Verily, by the scriptures; as he himself well perceived afterward, when he doctrine, looked more diligently upon them, and revoked many things again. He wrote of many things which he understood not when he was newly converted, ere he had thoroughly seen the scriptures ; and followed the opinions of Plato, and the common persuasions of man’s wisdom that were then famous.

They will say yet more shamefully, that no man can understand the scriptures without philautia, that is to say, philosophy. A man must be first well seen in Aristotle, ere he can understand the scripture, say they. Aristotle’s doctrine is, that the world was without beginning, and shall be without end; and that the first man never was, and the last shall never be; and that God doth all of necessity, neither careth what we do, neither will ask any accounts of that we do. Without this doctrine, how could we understand the scripture, that saith, God created the scripture, world of nought; and God worketh all things of his free will, and for a secret purpose; and that we shall all rise again, and that God will have accounts of all that we have done in this life! Aristotle saith, Give a man a law, and he hath power of himself to do or fulfil the law, and cometh righteous with working righteously. But Paul, and all the scripture saith, That the law doth but utter sin only, and helpeth not: neither hath any man power to do the law, till the Spirit of God be given him through faith in I Christ. Is it not a madness then to say, that we could not understand the scripture without Aristotle? Aristotle s righteousness, and all his virtues, spring of man s free will. And a Turk, and every infidel and idolater, may be righteous and virtuous with that righteousness and those virtues. Moreover, Aristotle’s felicity and blessedness standeth in avoiding of all tribulations; and in riches, health, honor, worship, friends, and authority; which felicity pleaseth our spiritualty well. Now, without these, and a thousand such like points, couldst thou not understand scripture, which saith, That righteousness cometh by Christ, and not of man’s will; and how that virtues are the fruits and the gift of God s Spirit; and that Christ blesseth us in tribulations, persecution, and adversity! How, I say, couldst thou understand the scripture without philosophy, inasmuch as Paul, in the second to the Colossians, warned them to beware lest any man should spoil them (that is to say, rob them of their faith in Christ) through philosophy and deceitful vanities, and through the traditions of men, and ordinances after the world, and not after Christ?

By this means, then, thou wilt that no man teach another; but that every man take the scripture, and learn by when no himself. Nay, verily, so say I not. Nevertheless, seeing man will not teach, if any man thirst for the truth, and read the scripture by himself, desiring God to open the door of knowledge unto him, God for his truth’s sake will and must teach him. Howbeit, my meaning is, that as a master teacheth his apprentice to know all the points of the meteyard; first, how many inches, how many feet, and the half yard, the quarter, and the nail; and then teacheth him to mete other things thereby: even so will I that ye teach the people God’s law, and what obedience God requireth of us to father and mother, master, lord, king, and all superiors, and with what friendly love he commandeth one to love another; and teach them to know that natural venom and birth- poison, which moveth the very hearts of us to rebel against the ordinances and will of God; and prove that no man is righteous in the sight of God, but that we are all damned by the law: and then, when thou hast meeked them and feared them with the law, teach them the testament and promises which God hath made unto us in Christ, and how much he loveth us in Christ; and teach them the principles and the ground of the faith, and what the sacraments signify: and then shall the Spirit work with thy preaching, and make them feel. So would it come to pass, that as we know by natural wit what followeth of a true principle of natural reason; even so, by the principles of the faith, and by the plain scriptures, and by the circumstances of the text, should we judge all men’s exposition, and all men’s doctrine, and should receive the best, and refuse the worst. I would have you to teach them also the properties and manner of speakings of the scripture, and how to expound proverbs and similitudes. And then, if they go abroad and walk by the fields and meadows of all manner doctors and philosophers, they could catch no harm: they should discern the poison from the honey, and bring home nothing but that which is wholesome!

William Tyndale, “The Obedience of a Christian man,” Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures, edited for the Parker Society(Cambridge: The University Press, 1528, 1848), 148-156.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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