I am further amazed by reading about William Tyndale. This man was a person who used his noodle more in 42 years than most people do in a lifetime. He knew 8 languages. He had a particular affinity for English himself (his own language) and German.
I’ll relate a couple of the things I’ve noted about his translation, and exactly what made him a master of the English language. It’s no wonder many Englishmen regard him as the Father of the English Language – not just the Father of the English Bible! His works were the first to be mass-printed on Gutenberg’s press. Think about it… if you’re in Europe, and wanting to learn to read and write in English, Tyndale’s Bible is the most prominent piece of Literature you can get your hands on. How will you learn to write? Like Tyndale! And… by learning God’s Word in the process. Hmmm… sounds like modern-day China. But according to David Daniell, as any good translator would, Tyndale got as many resources as he could get his hands on. Not the least of which was his most helpful copy of Martin Luther’s German translation. Luther was a contemporary to Tyndale, but it is uncertain if they ever knew one another except by name. Tyndale studied Hebrew by using Luther’s text and crossing it with his own efforts to translate.
Tyndale had a grasp of how to translate. He did not do a literal word-for-word translation from foreign languages – languages that may not in fact have an English equivalent. Here are some of the differences in the Tyndale translation, and the “Authorized Version” of 1611. (Remember, the King James had 47 scholars working on it, while Tyndale’s word was completely solo scholarly work). And, Tyndale was roughly 60-75 years ahead of the Authorized Version. Here are some of the differences from the Pentateuch:
- Tyndale: (Genesis 25) “Cain was wroth exceedingly, and loured”
KJV: “Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell”
- Tyndale: (Genesis 25) “[Cain] …became a cunning hunter and a tillman.”
KJV: “…was a cunning hunter, a man of the field.”
- Tyndale: (Genesis 31) Laban says, “Thou wast a fool to do it”
KJV: “thou hast now done foolishly in so doing”
That last example is a great one. Tyndale’s phrase feels modern (for 1530) and the Authorized Version’s phraseology seems archaic in nature (while 75 yrs later than Tyndale). Tyndale’s stuff is simply easier to read than the KJV, in many places. And remember, the KJV of that day would have looked much like the page of Tyndale’s Bible above. Lots of “E’s” at the end of words, and lots of double-consonants. In fact, we’d have to read really hard to understand it! A very cool thing about Tyndale would make some people uncomfortable. Some people – those who are extreme theological conservatives – would DEMAND a word-for-word transliteration, because they want to be “accurate.” The problem is, Tyndale understood what these folks don’t. Some words DO NOT transliterate into our language, except if they do, they convey something that is vague and near meaningless for us. One final example to show this concept to exemplify Tyndale’s work: He uses words in the English language to describe things the Hebrew MEANT, but doesn’t transliterate into English. In the same chapter as the last example, (Genesis 31) “mizpah“, the Hebrew word for “watch-tower”, Tyndale uses the English word “toot-hill“. An English regional word that refers to the West Country word for a “hill used as a lookout.” Some of us might know exactly what a Watchtower is… but some of us might think we know what it is; but if we lived in England in the 15-1600’s, we’d understand it better after Tyndale pointed it out. After all, everybody would know what a toot-hill is!