Tuesday, 23 February 2010

William Tyndale - forerunner of the Daily Mail

This is a guest post by Rev. Julian Mann

This week there has been some discussion in advance of the launch of the 2011 Trust, a body headed by Frank Field MP which will spearhead the 400th anniversary celebrations of the Authorised Version of the Bible. A picture of King James juxtaposed with Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre is unlikely to appear in the publicity material. The emphasis is more likely to be, to quote the latest General Synod resolution, on the 'obvious opportunity' 2011 provides "to celebrate the exceptional contribution which that translation has made to shaping the life, language and culture of this and other nations".

The trust's website includes "developing educational school projects" among its aims. I doubt a 2011 presentation in a school assembly that made too much of the historical link between the English Bible and the emergence of the Sun or the Daily Mail would go down too well with the head-teacher. The curate would be unlikely to be invited again. Yet the historical reality is that trenchant criticism of the social, political and religious establishment in a popular free press would be simply inconceivable without the English Bible.

What is little known is that the Evangelical genius whose work formed the basis of most of the King James Bible, William Tyndale (c1494-1536), was also a trenchant journalist. Professor David Daniel in his masterly biography of Tyndale (Yale, 1994) provides an insightful commentary on Tyndale’s marginal notes to his translation of the Pentateuch:


‘The most notorious note is that to Numbers 23. Balam is quoting Balac the king of Moab, saying ‘How shall I curse whom God curseth not and how shall I defy whom the Lord defieth not?’, questions which Tyndale answers with ‘The Pope can tell how’. Such observations are angry. Anyone who believes that the margins of the Bible are not the place for anger about social and religious practices is not reading that Bible very well’ (p312).


Absolutely. Take for example Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23: ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness’ (v27, AV).

No civilised person can approve of everything, whether news or commentary, that appears in the British tabloid press or approve of the means by which the material is often obtained. But the capacity of a popular press to expose hypocrisy, mendacity and other forms of evil in high places is surely vital to our democracy.

Without William Tyndale and the Jesus whose sayings he made comprehensible to English-speaking people, what we are permitted to read would surely be very different.