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Openingby Marlin Detweiler

Feature Article The Reformation and the Bible in English by Rev. Gregg Strawbridge

Educational Helps by Laurie Detweiler

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November 2007




Sunday, October 28, our pastor preached on the English Reformation. It seemed so relevant that we thought we would share it with you. As you read the quotes from the Tyndale Bible that open and close the Feature Article, you will be struck by the fact that standardized spelling had not yet been adopted. October 31 is the typical date we celebrate the beginning of the Reformation. However, we owe a great debt to many additional faithful folks at various places and times for the precious faith we have inherited.  Gregg’s article makes that quite clear in several ways.


Feature Article


The Reformation and the Bible in English


2 Timothy 3:14-17 (Tyndale’s translation): “But continue thou in the thynges which thou hast learned which also were committed vnto the seynge thou knowest of whom thou hast learned them and for as moche also as thou hast knowe holy scripture of a chylde which is able to make the wyse vnto saluacion thorowe the fayth which ys in Christ Iesu. For all scripture geve by inspiracion of God is proffitable to teache to improve to amende and to instruct in rightewesnes yt ye man of god maye be perfect and prepared vnto all good workes.”


The date of October 31, 1517 rings with the blows of the hammer nailing Martin Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses” onto the Wittenberg Church door. History unfolds with many twists and turns, such as  Luther’s unlikely impact on the transformation of Christendom. He was not an important person, and he was not in an important place, yet his conviction focused the sunlight of more than a century’s faltering Reform efforts. Through the lens of Luther all Europe blazed with fiery Words of a newly translated Scripture in the language of the people and the message that Christ’s work alone is the basis of our acceptance before God, received by faith and faith alone. The strength of Luther’s message was grounded on his rendering of Scripture into German for the people (begun in 1521).


Proverbs 20:24 says, “A man’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way?” We make our plans and purposes, and God accomplishes His will. On the stage of history this is ever so. The precarious events of the Reformation illustrate this. The Reformation of England was just as precarious. Much of this happened through the machinations of the court of Henry VIII (1491-1547).


From the first portrait on, Henry’s reign was an intentional media-blitz “spin” to the effect that he was an Imperial King, like Constantine before. He spun an empire of which he was supreme head in the realm of England. He financed this Imperial “spin” and much warfare by seizing the property of most of the monasteries of England, among other thieveries. Since he was the emperor in his realm, he could act as the God-ordained king over the Church, the same way that Constantine acted in calling the Nicene Council. Hence, he was able to provide a “legal” and historical case in breaking with Rome (1531). Thus, the Church of England was headed by Henry, not by the pope. Though the pope would not grant Henry an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who did not provide him with a male heir, the Church of England (Archbishop Cranmer) would grant him such an annulment (read: divorce) in 1533. One can see that so many of Henry’s actions violated the law of God for his own glory and avarice. Yet, “Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand for God is with us” (Isa. 8:10). Through all of this, however, the foundations of the Rule of Law were established, since through Parliament’s many actions England became a “constitutional monarchy.” More importantly, through all this pomp and circumstance, the Law of God would be published in the language of the people.


The Reformation of England and bringing the Scriptures to the English speaking world was a complicated affair. It was through the work of the proto-Reformer, Wycliffe (1320’s-1384); the teaching and classical school work of John Colet (1467-1519), Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral and founder of St. Paul's School; the leadership of a conflicted political leader, Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540), who finally ordered the Englishe Byble (the “Great Byble”) to be placed in every church in the realm; not to mention the actions of Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), who edited the Book of Common Prayer under Edward VI; and finally the fine translation work of William Tyndale (1494-1546).


Truly the pen of William Tyndale was mightier than the sword of Henry VIII. If there should be Protestant prayers to saints (and there should not), we should pray to Tyndale who gave us the Word in our words. Tyndale had a vision to get the Scriptures into English perhaps as early as 1521. This is very early, and Tyndale sees clearly that this is the issue to reform England. Wycliffe had translated the Bible from the Latin into English and subsequently was dug up and burned posthumously (not that such an action hurt Wycliffe all that much). These copies were illegal, and possession could get one burned at the stake, like Wycliffe’s Czech disciple, Jan Hus. Since the early 1400’s it had been illegal in England to translate or possess a translation of Scriptures into English. In 1523 Tyndale sought to get permission to do a translation of the Bible from the original (Greek and Hebrew) into English. He had argued with ignorant clerics of the Church, “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, I will cause the boy that drives the plow in England to know more of the Scriptures than the Pope himself!” For these views and his “Lutheranism” (“faith alone,” etc.) he was put to flight for more than ten years and hunted for heresy as he was completing his translation work and writing books supporting the Protestant view of the faith.


All this time the political wheels were turning in the court of Henry VIII. Henry wanted Tyndale at one point to return to aid his malignant causes, but Tyndale did not compromise his view of what the Scripture taught, even though it might have been expedient for him. In his 1530 work, the Practyse of Prelates (Bishops), he opposed the divorce/annulment of Henry VIII and the attached corruptions in the Bishopry. So Henry VIII sought the Roman Catholic authorities to have him returned to England for trial (probably treason). These efforts failed.


Tyndale eluded the authorities long enough to complete the New Testament translation and much of the Old Testament from the original languages of Scripture to English. Biographer David Daniell (William Tyndale: A Biography) writes, “William Tyndale gave us our English Bible. . . . Nine-tenths of the Authorized Version's New Testament is Tyndale's. The same is true of the first half of the Old Testament, which is as far as he was able to get. . . .” Among the linguistic treasures bequeathed to us from the fruitful mind of Tyndale are:  “Let there be light.” “Am I my brother’s keeper?” “The Lord bless thee and keep thee and be merciful to thee.” “In the beginning was the word.” “There were shepherds abiding in the field.” “In him we live and move and have our being.” “Fight the good fight.” “Newspaper headlines today still quote Tyndale unknowingly, and he has reached more people than even Shakespeare,” Daniell notes, and I might add, ungratefully. May we who share in the treasure of God’s Word in our language not be without gratitude to God for the sweet aroma of the sacrifice of Tyndale’s life.


In 1535 Tyndale was betrayed by an impostor of the faith (Henry Phillips) and arrested outside Brussels. After a year’s harsh imprisonment, he was tried for heresy and treason, strangled and burnt at the stake. It is fitting that he was strangled to suppress the voice of the Word. In his martyrdom he prayed as a loyal subject of the King, “Open the eyes of the King of England.” God’s answer to this prayer voiced in the midst of a tragedy, shows that the true shape of history is a comedy. He can draw a straight line with a crooked stick.


The same year of Tyndale’s death, Myles Coverdale completed the first English Bible (1535), largely using Tyndale’s translations as well as Luther's German text and the Latin as sources. Then John Rogers, under Tyndale’s pseudonym, Thomas Matthew, completed the whole Bible from the original languages (using Tyndale) in 1537. Then finally in 1539 the crooked life of Henry VIII drew a straight line. He authorized the “Great Bible,” to be read in English in the churches. It was prepared by Myles Coverdale, under Sir Thomas Cromwell, Secretary to Henry VIII and Vicar General, as well as the oversight of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (first writer/compiler of the Book of Common Prayer). Once the Bible was open for the people, the Reformation took hold deeply. The Word of God is not bound and was ever available to the English world as the most translated, published and quoted Book of all history—all thanks to Henry VIII, at least that is the picture on the first page of the first authorized English Bible. In the Great Byble, on the almost comical woodcut at the beginning, you can see Imperial Henry VIII giving the Word of God to the Church. God can draw straight lines with crooked lives.


Romans 11:33-36 (Tyndale’s translation): “O the depnes of the aboundaunt wysdome and knowledge of God: how vnserchable are his iudgementes and his wayes past findyng out. For who hath knowen the mynde of the lorde? or who was his counseller? other who hath geven vnto him fyrst that he myght be recompensed agayne? For of him and thorow him and for him are all thinges To him be glorye for ever Amen.”


Gregg Strawbridge


Gregg Strawbridge is the pastor of All Saints’ Presbyterian Church in Lancaster County, Pa.


Educational Helps


I hope that you found the information from Gregg Strawbridge as helpful as I did. It really helped me to put certain pieces together. You (or your children) may want to consider reading books about Tyndale and Wycliffe. Click the links to see children’s books about Tyndale and Wycliffe. Both of these books would be great read-alouds for younger children and good reads for older children. We are also making available free some coloring sheets and activities that you can use as you read and study about these great saints who went before us. Click here to access our download page. Then click on the Reformation Projects link under Free Helps.


Laurie Detweiler


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About this time last year we negotiated a great arrangement with Joel Belz and his folks at World Magazine so that we could give you a free subscription to this great publication. We’re doing it again this year. All you need to do is sign up by clicking here and following the directions and you will receive a free eight-issue subscription. Please note: this offer is for those who don’t yet receive and enjoy this magazine.


Free Sermon on the English Reformation

In the opening it was mentioned that Pastor Strawbridge preached on The English Reformation on October 28. Click here to download and listen to this sermon.




Q. I am concerned that my children are memorizing reams of information, but don’t seem to understand much of it. What can you suggest?

A. Some of that is to be expected. I don’t know how old your children are, but in the early years K through 3rd they are learning (actually memorizing) things that they will not understand. But, it is (or will become) our job to help them connect the dots. Over the years I have realized that one of the best ways to do this is through living. When you are in the grocery store and you pick up a package of ground meat and it says it weighs 1.25 pounds ask them what they think that means. Take what they have learned about fractions and have them do some practical work. Tell them that since there are six people in your family, you need a quarter of a pound of meat for each person. Would this be enough meat for supper tonight? Just today as I opened the paper the headlines read, “Violent Deaths In Iraq Down in October.” Not a day goes by where you don’t hear about Iraq. Have you ever asked your children what Iraq was called in Biblical times? It was Mesopotamia. Look at Genesis 11, where we first read about Abraham. He was in Ur, which was in southern Mesopotamia. Look at a Bible atlas and compare that to modern-day Iraq. You get the point. Life is about learning, and just memorizing things is not enough.


Q. In Saxon Math we are really struggling to get all the math problems done every day. Any suggestions?

A. We do not believe that you need to do every math problem unless the child is struggling with the concepts. And then make sure you include problems focused on those concepts. If they are not struggling, try cutting back some problems by not doing all of the review problems every day. You should always do the new problems and a reasonable amount of review problems to make sure students are staying fresh on past concepts. This philosophy would generally be true in other math curricula, too. Authors gear the number of problems to include the struggling student.


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