Conference Choppe & Chaunge, Sunday 29 October 2000

Sunday, 29 October 2000, dawned bright and crisp in London, when about 70 members and friends of the Tyndale Society met at the Courtauld Institute of Art, Strand, in spite of rail delays and predicted storms, for a Conference entitled Choppe & Chaunge. The day proved exceptional for its breadth and variety of interest. On arrival we were admonished to ‘Eate, drynk and be mery’, which we did immediately with coffee in the refectory, before ascending to the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre.

There we were welcomed by Sir Roland Whitehead, who informed us that even protestors against the European Agricultural Policy were indebted to Tyndale – a notice on the M4 Motorway read ‘Just say ‘NON’ – Eat, drink and be merry – buy British!’ He also recounted how persistence had overcome the many difficulties encountered with the planners at the Millennium Dome, so that the story of William Tyndale and the English Bible was eventually given prominence in the Faith Zone.

Then Mary Clow set the scene for the day with two explanations: the seemingly inappropriate siren on the day’s programme was taken from the title page of William Tyndale’s New Testament, printed in Worms in 1526 – the printers used existing decorative woodcuts whose style of Corinthian columns and nudity showed the influence of the New Humanism, but also illustrated the command ‘to preache the Gospell to all creaturs’. Secondly, the conference title Choppe and Chaunge was Tyndale’s translation of ‘KAP?’ and this is only found in his New Testament (cf ‘corrupt’ in KJV – 2 Cor. 2, v.17). At the recent Annual Hertford Lecture in Oxford, Professor Morna Hooker had explained that in translation no language can adequately represent the nuances of the original language, and Mary said this was a good example. Plato, Herodotus and Euripides used the word in the context of unscrupulous dealings by tavern and shop keepers, e.g. haggling over vegetables, or as hucksters and hawkers, so who cannot but admire the originality of Tyndale’s ‘choppe and chaunge’?

Professor David Daniell spoke of Tyndale as a Christian Prophet as he analysed The Obedience of a Christian Man, printed in Antwerp in 1528, in the context of Tyndale’s times and the relationship between Church and State in England then: the nation’s historic Christian heritage had suffered the intrusion of an alien Pope wielding absolute power, and there were many corrupt practices in the Church. Spiritual teaching was inaccessible to the common people, who could not read the Latin Bible – they were instructed by allegory and lived under a yoke of superstition and fear. The situation regarding tithes, church taxes, soul masses and pardons was described by Tyndale as ‘the Church selling for money what Christ has given for free’, and Henry VIII’s break with Rome was a protest against abuses in the Church, and its accumulation of riches, as well as because of his personal Divorce situation. The Parable of the Wicked Mammon (Unjust Steward) had been published earlier in 1528, stressing justification by faith and that good works follow faith as ‘fruit comes from the tree’ – so that salvation is not earned by virtuous Christian living, by prayer, fasting, watching and almsgiving, but by personal faith. In the Obedience Tyndale developed the idea that as the Social Order was created by God, so all must be obedient to it, through children to parents, wives to husbands, servants to masters and subjects to kings. But power brings responsibilities, and what if the powers were evil? – generally the Christian must still obey, but not the Pope’s false power! Such liberating theology was deemed heretical by the Church, and Tyndale’s books were banned and burnt.

To William Tyndale, the Bible was the authority by which to refute error, hence he made it his life’s work to make God’s word accessible to all in English; he did this in outstanding prose which influenced the development of the English Plain Style. Slowly the readers of Tyndale’s New Testament in English acquired an intimate knowledge of the text and its doctrine, experiencing the amazing power of God which gave them ability to withstand the subtle arguments of their enemies and Sir Thomas More. There was often a further price to be paid for possessing Tyndale’s works, although Henry VIII had said that the Obedience was a book for himself and all Kings, after seeing Anne Boleyn’s copy. In May 1532, a lawyer James Bainham, was burnt for owning Tyndale’s Mammon, Obedience and English New Testament, confirming Tyndale’s dictum that ‘preaching God’s word is too much for half a man, but requireth a whole man’. True faith is written in the heart, and Tyndale expounded frequently on the ‘feeling faith’ as the Christian joyfully responds to God’s word in the living moment.

Rabbi Sidney Brichto described himself as a liberal Jewish Rabbi from North London and the first rabbi to attempt to translate the New Testament from the original Greek: he sought in his interpretative translation, The People’s Bible, to inform the reader of the context of events in relation to Jewish theology and custom, so it is not a direct translation. His motivation was to discover how a book can be a best-seller, but be so rarely read, and to explore the ‘genius’ of Paul: he felt that understanding the Thrust of Christianity helps Jews to understand the thrust of Judaism. He described his love of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), which he regarded as his heritage, even if the Torah sometimes recounted epic poems and myths rather than facts, but are we not influenced more by Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, than by our 21st century Royal Princes! Rabbi Brichto differentiated between Jesus, a Messianic Jew speaking of his kingdom, and Paul, a Jew of the Diaspora, proud of his Roman citizenship. The disciples of Jesus did not understand the significance of the ‘anointed one’ and could not accept His crucifixion and His failure to overthrow the Roman tyranny and restore the Kingdom to Israel. On the road to Damascus, Paul was not converted to a Messianic Hope of the Kingdom, but to a realisation that the death of all humanity could be reborn in divinely inspired lives. The Divine Spirit, present at the creation of Adam, could be traced forwards to the Baptism of John for repentance of sin and to the Baptism of Jesus, publicly giving Him authenticity: original sin was the loss of the Divine Spirit, which was to be restored to humanity by Christ. Paul enunciated Justification by Faith: the Torah cannot save as no one can keep the Law completely – we can only be saved through a personal mystical experience, which leads to a collective experience with Christ as head of the community. Judaism teaches collective, rather than individual, salvation: the ‘line’ gives immortality, and innocent and guilty suffer together, but Jewish adherents fail to enjoy the euphoria and inspiration associated with the Christian ‘New Birth’. Rabbi Brichto felt Judaism and Christianity to be sister religions, rather than Christianity being a development from Judaism. He made an impassioned plea for the Bible to be read at least as literature – what we already possess is far more valuable than any newly discovered fragment which arouses such interest.

After a coffee-break, Michael Murray and Fay Weldon discussed the Canongate Pocket/Canon Editions of James and Corinthians. The introduction to James had been written by the Dalai Lama. Michael Murray, from an ‘agnostic’ Anglican tradition, had been a Buddhist priest for 20 years, and he described the inaccessibility of the Buddhist Scriptures to both priests and people: they are written in Old Tibetan, stored in shrines and worshipped by the physical contact of knocking one’s head on the shrine – when recited at festivals it is in an haphazard way, and they are never read intelligently! But Tibetans in exile have the same desire that Tyndale had, so the Old Scriptures are now being translated in the West into a modern language style becoming widely available in the hope that the teaching will make an impact on people’s hearts. Buddhism has much in common with Christianity, sharing conviction and the emulation of spiritual ideals, and the Dalai Lama found the language of the Bible (KJV, 1611) beautiful and evocative.

Fay Weldon explained that the Canongate editions of the ‘Authorised’ Version were published as literature rather than as religious works, hence the introductions were written by believers and non-believers: she read extensively from her own introduction to Corinthians. She admitted not ‘liking’ Paul initially, because of his apparent lack of love and stern lifestyle, and even attributed his conversion to ulterior motives, but she had been won over by 1 Corinthians, chapter 13 when God was so evidently speaking through him. Timeless truths remain and we must remember that two millennia are just a twinkling of an eye to God.

A Panel Discussion was chaired by Dr Guido Latré of the Catholic University of Leuven, and questions ranged from the suitability of Sir Thomas More to be the Patron Saint of Politicians to the ‘inconsistency’ of Tyndale, who as an ordained priest had vowed obedience, in condemning the Roman Catholic Church (or was it just the corruption in the church and the Pope which he condemned?) As to the nature of Truth, ‘perceived’, ‘ultimate’, ‘absolute’, Sidney Brichto valued the reality of empirical verification and he acknowledged a creative source outside ourselves, e.g. the inspiration from the Word of God, while Professor David Daniell talked of the glimpses of Truth unexpectedly found in Tyndale’s New Testament – ‘the story behind the story which cannot be told’. Regarding Paul’s persecution of the Early Church as Saul, Rabbi Brichto postulated that it was the failure of Stephen and others to show subservience to the Roman Emperor which antagonised Saul the Roman citizen more than their religious zeal: as a Pharisee, the claim of Christ’s resurrection was not the reason for his opposition. Later, regarding the chronological order of the Epistles and Gospels, Rabbi Brichto explained how it was that schools with differing beliefs because they had no Gospels, such as those of Apollos and Peter, existed before the unification of doctrine by Paul.

Michael Murray expanded on the suppression of Buddhism by Communism, and the resurgence of belief in Mongolia now with the availability of the Buddhist Scriptures in modern language. The place of conflict and anger in the emergence of new ideas was discussed in the light of Ecumenicity. Fay Weldon thought ideas may conflict because of ‘not knowing’, and she stressed how the Bible, read as literature, can lead us to God.

The lunch interval was also enjoyable for renewing friendships and visiting the Bookstall, and then Hilary Day gave an account of the family history and lives of Joseph Rank and his son J Arthur Rank, from the humble beginnings as flour merchants in Hull to film magnates of immense wealth. Integrity in business and a simple belief in the Providence of God brought increasing financial rewards, but their philanthropy also grew: J Arthur Rank taught in Methodist Sunday Schools, and in endeavouring to make learning more attractive to children, he pioneered the production of educational films, based on Bible characters, Palestine and heroes of faith, from 1932 to 1942. The Religious Film Society was formed in 1933, and its films were still being shown up to 1972. The Rank Film Organisation had expanded to 65,000 employees by 1952, before the decline of cinema attendance occurred, and Lord Rank died in 1972, still bearing a simple testimony to the power of the Lord he loved.

We were privileged to see William Tyndale, shot in black and white in 1937 and withdrawn in the 1950s. Very few copies had survived, and Andrew Youdell of the British Film Institute introduced his copy. This is a valuable historical record, as streets in Cologne, Antwerp and Hamburg, later destroyed in World War II, formed the background to the story of Tyndale’s life and death.

Finally, we walked to St Clement Danes Church for a presentation of Tyndale in Words and Music. The English Chamber Choir gave a recital of anthems by Copeland, Tippett, Handel, Orlando Gibbons, Stainer and John Ireland, and each was preceded by an appropriate reading taken from Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament, 1530 Old Testament and Matthew’s Bible of 1537. The service was followed by a short reception in the Church, and we then departed into the promised storm, after a day of learning, pleasure and inspiration, the memory of which will remain long with us.

Thank you, Mary Clow, for a unique programme and your superb organisation.

Eunice Burton

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