J.C. Davies: Profitable Inspiration

Tyndale's 'resolve to make sense at all costs' (Daniell, Introduction to Tyndale's OT), even when the Hebrew as it stands doesn't seem to do so, marks his Old Testament, like his New, as the product of a single aim - to get the Word of God across. The high price Tyndale paid for his resolution leads one to expect an urgency in his text. But how does it work in C20th public worship? As a lay reader in Lincoln, I've tried it in three different contexts . On the evening of October 6th, a small group of lay people (readers and lay minsters) received Holy Communion (ASB Rite A) in a vicarage sitting room. The readings were from Tyndale. The contrast with the somewhat bland prose of the ASB with the vigour and directness of Tyndale was noticeable. On the Sunday following, at a traditional BCP Evensong, the lessons were once more from Tyndale, with a short introduction by the first reader. As I sat in my stall, following in the King James version. I experienced vividly Tyndale's seeming modernity and directness. Other worshippers noticed this too, and it was important to convince a congregation strongly prejudiced against modern translations that Tyndale was earlier than the AV. (But then, as H.D. Thoreau once pointed out, 'earlier' means 'younger'. not 'older').

My third experiment was in a large, family style ASB Morning Prayer that involved a little playacting. I allowed the Old Testament lesson to be read from the ASB. The reader then ostentatiously removed the book, declaring that it was too dangerous to leave about. He did this so well that one of his friends thought he might be suffering some kind of breakdown. After a hymn, the congregation was obviously alert, possibly worried. The second reader approached the lectern and, with well-feigned annoyance, asked how he could read the lesson without a book. I asked him whether he was prepared to run the risk of being caught reading the Scripture 'in a language understonded of the people', pointed out Tyndale's fate, and the nature and power of the opposition. (Unfortunately, one member of the congregation interpreted some of this as an attack on our Bishop - I of course meant Bishop Tunstall). With increasing solemnity, not feigned, the reader said he would read anyway, whatever the consequences. The whole thing became quite serious as we thought about censorship of the Bible in the 16th and 20th centuries. Then the reader read grandly and unaffectedly from Tyndale's New Testament.

It seemed to me that Tyndale 'worked' in all three contexts. Congregations were interested, and asked questions about him and his work. His prose came across as supple, vigorous and alive. The Gospel and the OT were 'news that stayed news'. Ordinary Anglicans put up with most things, and I don't suppose that my fellow worshippers in the churches where I serve will give up either the Good News Bible, or the REB, or the Jerusalem, or the AV for that matter. Nevertheless awareness of Tyndale has increased among us and we have learnt that he is not a quaint survival, nor an antique too precious to use. For me in fact he has become the 'living bible' that the translation of that name could never he. He is good to read silently, and to cite at Bible studies, but he truly comes into his own when read aloud. If 'all scripture given by inspiration of God is profitable' (2 Tim. 2) then it had better be given in an inspiring and inspired translation. Tyndale seems to me the best available.

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