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George: Tyndale’s life ‘like a spy novel’

Timothy George speaks at the first plenary session of
Timothy George speaks at the first plenary session of "KJV400: Legacy and Impact." (Photo by Morris Abernathy)

JACKSON, Tenn.Sept. 16, 2011 – William Tyndale is still remembered as an influential leader in church history because he gave his life to one goal -- translating the Bible into English from its original languages -- Timothy George said at a Union University conference Sept. 15.

George, dean of Beeson Divinity School and executive editor for Christianity Today, spoke at the “KJV400: Legacy and Impact” conference, a three-day festival celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Version translation of the Bible.

In the first plenary session, George spoke on the significance of the work of Tyndale, the first scholar to translate most of the Bible from its original Hebrew and Greek texts into the English language.

“84.4 percent of what Tyndale had translated when he died was absorbed into the King James Version,” George said.

Many of the recognizable phrases from the Bible that have made their way into American culture originated from the 16th century English Bible translation by Tyndale, he said.

Phrases from Tyndale’s Bible translation that were made popular by their inclusion in the King James Version translation include, “With God all things are possible,” “Be not weary in well-doing,” “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart,” George said.

George commented on Tyndale’s translation work and devotion to the Word of God.

“William Tyndale’s life reads like a spy novel,” George said. “It’s just like James Bond in the 16th century.”

He described instances when Tyndale narrowly escaped persecution because of his work in making the Bible available to laypeople. Tyndale eventually was overcome by the established church leaders who feared they would lose power if the common people had access to the Bible in their own language, George said.

Tyndale’s high view of Scripture and belief in the importance of personal application yielded much fruit, George said.

He quoted Tyndale’s prologue to his translation of Genesis, in which Tyndale said, “It is not enough, therefore, to read and talk of it only, but we must also desire God day and night instantly to open our eyes, and to make us understand and feel wherefore the Scripture was given, that we may apply the medicine of the Scripture, every man to his own sores ...”

“What William Tyndale did was very controversial and very dangerous and he paid for it with his life,” George said.

Because of his work in making the Bible available to the common English people, Tyndale was tried, found guilty and killed by strangling. His body was burned afterwards.

George’s address marked the beginning of the festival. In addition to George, the festival features Wheaton College professor Leland Ryken, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor John Woodbridge and British Christian dramatist Nigel Goodwin.

Woodbridge, in a Sept. 16 chapel address that served as the conference’s second plenary session, presented a paper examining the historical and political setting in which the King James Version was produced.

In the late 1500s and early 1600s, the English people lived at a time when the average lifespan was barely more than 30 years, and plagues caused massive panic and death among the population. Though some translators have argued that the King James Version was too anti-Roman Catholic, Woodbridge said it’s important to understand that many English felt like they were engaged in mortal combat with Roman Catholic states for their very survival.

Woodbridge serves as professor of church history and the history of Christian thought at Trinity and is the author of several books, including “Eerdman’s Handbook of American Christianity,” “Great Leaders of the Christian Church” and “A God-Sized Vision: Stories of Revival that Stretch and Stir.”

The festival offers plenary sessions with George and the other guest speakers and breakout sessions with additional speakers. Festival attendees also had the opportunity after George’s address to hear a performance by Union’s music department of music influenced by the King James Version.

Throughout the festival attendees can also view artwork created by Union art professors in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the translation and peruse an exhibit of historic Bibles, texts and artifacts. In addition to preserved Bibles, the exhibit includes a clay tablet that pre-dates Abraham and what is believed to be the oldest known fragment of the Apostle Paul’s writing.

Ray Van Neste, associate professor of Biblical studies and director of the R. C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union, organized the festival.

Van Neste said the festival on the King James Version of the Bible recognizes the impact the translation has had on the world.

“Our aim is not to idolize one translation, nor is our aim simply mere, dry history, but it is to engage in that special work of looking back that we might look forward,” Van Neste said at the beginning of the festival.

By Samantha Adams (’13)

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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