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Ploughboy Notes and News

Ploughboy Group Notes

Thank you, Mr Thomas from Buckinghamshire, for assuming the part of William Tyndale in responding to the article “Getting into deep water” in Issue 21. Just a few years ago I would have reacted in the same way as you have, and I believe you have probably represented William’s understanding very well. Jesus did not spare us the ever-changing ideas of Biblical scholars by writing a Gospel himself. Each age creates its own Jesus of Nazareth. As George Bernard Shaw put it, God created us in his own image and we have returned the compliment!

I used to be alarmed by John Robinson, David Jenkins, John Dominic Crossan and, more recently, John Shelby Spong but now I think they have much to offer. Youngsters in schools are taught by many teachers who themselves have rejected the closed package of religious education they received years ago. The Ploughboy of Tyndale’s time did not question. Today both the ploughboy and his teacher question all the time. The result is confusion of ideas and resistance to accepting authority… both the authority of traditional theism and the authority of those who hold power in the hierarchical churches. The confusion can lead to anarchy, but for many it can lead to a deeper life-enhancing faith. If theism dies it does not mean a victory for atheism. There is a new Reformation under way and the Tyndales of the new Reformation want to save Christianity once more. William was a man of extraordinary faith, courage and integrity. There are many potential Tyndales preparing themselves to express the Gospel truth in our own time. We must not send them into exile. We must open our eyes.

What do you think? The issues may seem trivial; but they are not. William did not conquer Greek and Hebrew texts “because they were there” as if he were a scholastic mountaineer. He had definite objectives. The Ploughboy of 1526 needed access to the Truth. The checkout girl of today needs the same.

Those reading this Journal will, over time, have come to treasure the language and perhaps the theology William has given us. The Ploughboy Group needs to know how that treasure might be presented to young people, including those at school. How can Tyndale find a place in the National Curriculum? How might youngsters surfing the net stumble across him? Can you suggest any initiatives?

Finally, a note for all members in Australia and New Zealand: A new member, Alexander Cope in Wellington, does not know the whereabouts of any members and would like to make contact. Could you support him and he support you? His address is 60 Nalanda Crescent, Broadmeadows, Wellington, New Zealand. His email is Please do get in touch with him.

Ploughboys - your letters and articles are most welcome, please do write!

Very best wishes, 
David Ireson 
Ploughboy Group Convenor. 

Deep Water ... a Ploughboy responds

Mary Clow
July 2002

I have read and reread David Ireson’s piece in Journal No 21, and I cannot agree that William Tyndale took everything he translated as Gospel, for two strong reasons:

One - Tyndale himself was educated in what was still a mediaeval system of learning, being drilled how to think, not to question accepted truths. He rejected this, and his dangerous ideal of making the holiest books available to ordinary people to read and understand for themselves suggests he welcomed the possibility that they might not take ‘everything as Gospel’.

Two - he was a countryman, not squeamish about the natural world. His writings are full of animals and mud and worse. He grew up using his eyes and his nose to tell him what was real. He was also not prim about human life, joyfully writing of his own conception:-

‘God... for his goodly pleasure provided an hour that thy father and mother should come together to make thee’.

But I do agree wholeheartedly with David Ireson’s last paragraph where he says: ‘we need to see the reality in the whole and not in the detail’. This to me, again and again, is the message of the Gospels. Gospel Truth. To demonstrate Tyndale’s instinct to call a spade a spade, here are two columns of words, taken from St Mark’s Gospel in AV and Tyndale. Funny which list is nearer to modern English (no prizes for identifying Tyndale):-

stern            the hinder part of the ship 
swineherd        they that fed the swine 
drowned          choked 
tenants          husbandmen 
a wine press     the winefat 

Tracking Tyndale in Germany

David Green
May 2002

This ploughboy representative has travelled far afield over the past month – to Stuttgart and to Worms am Rhein. It was part holiday to visit my younger daughter, Anja, and my son-in-law, Luitger, who live and work in that part of Germany, but I also wanted to seek an interview with Dr Eberhard Zwink, the curator of the celebrated Bible collection of the Wurtembergische Landesbibliothek.

I had previously met Dr. Zwink when he spoke to us in London soon after the amazing discovery of a third copy of the 1526 Tyndale New Testament. Now he was very generously giving us over an hour of his time. His enthusiasm in recounting the story yet again was heartwarming. He led us to a private office where he called up several of the treasures of the Stuttgart library, including a rare Dutch bible. He was not to know that my daughter had made a special study of Dutch at university. However, there came a moment I could only have dreamed about when I was allowed, without gloves, mask or security guard, to hold the priceless little book and to read aloud from it. The two younger people also recognized this wonderful, privileged event. What an experience!

Dr. Zwink told us that he and his wife hoped to attend the Tyndale Conference later in the year and would be accompanied to Antwerp by Frau Dr. Margret Popp, a colleague and expert from the University of Wurzburg. It was almost an anticlimax to be driven the next morning by Luitger and Anja to Worms. Bless Luitger – the distance I discovered was about the same as between Bristol and London! Of course, I knew about the famous Luther connection and the edict of that celebrated Diet in 1521 but was hoping to find some reference to Tyndale’s stay in the city.

Worms is reputed to be the oldest city in Germany. The cathedral was vast and dusty; the Rhine was there in the background though rather hidden from us by the architecture and the bustle. The superb modern museum with rooms dedicated to Martin Luther we judged well worth a visit. Sadly there was not a single pamphlet, card, plaque, inscription or street name to remind anyone of my great Gloucestershire hero. This was not unexpected. What I did discover was the perfect little museum of Judaica attached to a splendidly refurbished synagogue and mikva (ritual bath house) which had survived the psychic storm of hate in the war. Unhappily the entire Jewish community did disappear in the Shoah between 1940 and 1945. Yet the history of important philosophers and rabbis was enough to convince me that William Tyndale must have leaned a great deal of his Hebrew in that ancient city on the Rhine.

Death at Vilvoorde

Poem by David Green, 2002.

Let unloosed like their fair talents
His most righteous ashes fly;
Freedom, blind kings still denied him,
Priests supplied a narrow cell,
Only gaolers let him lie.
Chosen words in faultless order,
Ancient verses understood,
Shine through flames designed to quench him
Who goes praying to the flood.
Now those words he wove to bless us,
Burning fiercer than the faggots
Breathe his life into the sky:
Meekness gains his promised country;
Face to face, he God will know,
Our great wordsmith finds his Horeb,
That `within` where all may go.

Author’s Note

The word `mountain` in scripture usually signifies a high place in human consciousness or a state of high spiritual realization. The `mountain of God`, or Horeb in Sinai is the place where Moses met God in the burning bush and where Elijah heard the `small still voice`. Among the meanings of the Hebrew name `horeb` is the idea of solitude. Horeb is said by some to mean the solitude of the inner mind where we must lead our flock of sheep (thoughts) to their rightful place in conscious union with the Divine.

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