The New Testament 1526 Edition, Translated by William Tyndale

In the realm of English Bible translation, one name stands supreme. William Tyndale is the man most responsible for the English Bibles we use today. The King James Version owes a great debt to William Tyndale, very often borrowing Tyndale’s expressions, phrasing and insight into how to use short, concise English words to convey the meaning of the original Greek New Testament. Some say upwards of 85 percent of the words in the King James Bible originate from Tyndale’s work. Later English Bibles owe an indirect debt to Tyndale through their continued dependence on the King James Version’s phrasing, often borrowed from Tyndale.

In England perhaps more than any other area in Europe, the Reformation was birthed from the presence of the vernacular Bible. John Wycliffe’s Bible, various translations from the Latin under his name, had a wide impact on England. But a mere ten years after Erasmus offered the first printed Greek New Testament, William Tyndale gave his English New Testament to the English people. While Tyndale himself was strangled and burned in 1536, only 4 years later his prayer for England was answered. Tyndale’s last words are reported to have been: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” In 1538, Thomas Cromwell under the authority of the King called for a publicly available translation and by 1539 the first authorized English Bible, the Great Bible, was made available to Tyndale’s beloved England.

Of Tyndale’s original 1526 New Testament, only three copies survive today. One of those three is in beautiful condition and was purchased by the British Library for more than one million pounds in 1994. Hendrickson Publishers has a beautiful hardback edition with a full color fascimile reproduction of this 1526 Tyndale treasure. The original size of the Tyndale edition was a small octavo size made for the pocket and the Hendrickson reprint is 6.6 x 4.9 x 1.6 inches and matches that smaller feel. The copied pages are very clear, the colorful first letters of chapters and paragraph breaks come through as brilliant as the original with gold lettering and all. Several full color pictures of the various NT authors appear at the beginning of the various books in the New testament, and these miniature portraits are vivid and clear. What’s striking is how high the quality is of this 16th Century printing. The lack of verses is also interesting to a modern eye, as they didn’t exist until 1550.

The book includes a helpful introduction by David Daniell, author of William Tyndale: A Biography (Yale University Press, 2001). Daniell illustrates Tyndale’s masterful command of English and contrasts his work with the Wycliffe Bibles that we still possess today. After the ten page introduction, which helpfully offers a few pointers in making sense of the block, Black Letter print type and out-dated orthography, the fascimile reproduction is given. There are no long treatises explaining Scripture nor any marginal explanations. A small intro of a few lines exists on the only surviving title page of the 1526 edition. And a brief two page “To the Reader” colophon concludes the text.

Tyndale is reported to have once remarked to a “learned man”, “I defy the Pope and all his laws… if God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough, shall know more of scripture than thou dost.” God saw fit to bless Tyndale’s desire and bring it to pass. Today we are incredibly blessed in large part due to his sacrifice. This edition of Tyndale’s work brings this wonderful history closer to home and allows one to examine the very first English New Testament translated from the original Greek language. I will close this review with the concluding paragraph from Tyndale’s “To the Reader,” but I am cheating and using someone else’s interpretation of Tyndale’s English. I took the following from this source.

Them that are learned Christianly, I beseech: forasmuch as I am sure, and my conscience beareth me record, that of a pure intent, singly and faithfully I have interpreted it, as far forth as God gave me the gift of knowledge and understanding that the rudeness of the work now at the first time offend them not, but that they consider how that I had no man to counterfeit, neither was helped {holp} with English of any that had interpreted the same or such like things in the Scripture beforetime. Moreover, even very necessity and cumbrance (God is record) above strength which I will not rehearse, lest we should seem to boast ourselves, caused that many things are lacking which necessarily are required. Count it as a thing not having his full shape, but as it were born before his time, even as a thing begun rather than finished. In time to come (if God have appointed us thereunto) we will give it his full shape, and put out if ought be added superfluously, and add to if ought be overseen thorow negligence, and will enforce to bring to compendiousness that which is now translated at the length, and to give light where it is required, and to seek in certain places more proper English, and with a table to expound the words which are not commonly used and shew how the Scripture useth many words which are wother wise understood of the common people, and to help with a declaration where one tongue taketh not another; and will endeavor ourselves, as it were, to seeth [[meaning, boil or cook]] it better, and to make it more apt for the weak stomachs; desiring them that are learned and able, to remember their duty, and to help thereunto, and to bestow unto the edifying of Christ’s body (which is the congregation of them that believe) those gifts which they have received of God for the same purpose. The grace that cometh of Christ be with them that love him.

Disclaimer: This book was provided by Hendrickson Publishers for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

You can pick up a copy of this book at Amazon.com or through Hendrickson, direct.

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Reformation Era Bibles from Hendrickson Publishers

      

Most students of the King James Bible are familiar with the history of English Bible translation. They have heard of William Tyndale and his sacrifice in bringing us the New Testament in English, the first translation from the Greek ever in our language. Tyndale paid for his love of the Bible with his death and burning at the stake in 1536.

After Tyndale, there was the Coverdale Bible and then Matthew’s Bible, the first Bible actually endorsed by the nation of England. The jewel of the Reformation was of course, the Geneva Bible with its controversial study notes. This Bible reigned supreme for a hundred years or so.

The King James Bible took its place and gradually stole the hearts of all Englishmen. It is undoubtedly the finest translation of the bunch and continues to be used widely to this day.

I remember a little over ten years ago, when I had the privilege of opening an early printing of the King James Version — a 1612 text, I believe. I got to handle a 1535 Tyndale New Testament and see authentic pages from a 1611 King James. I was with a group of college students visiting the Rare Book Reading Room in the library at Colgate University. I still get shivers thinking about that experience. I got to see the “f”-s used as “s”-s, the “y” abbreviation used for “the”, and the strange Gothic block print, which is very hard to read. But that wasn’t what thrilled me. Thinking of the treasure of the Bible and the sacrifice of those who gave it to us, was what made that moment so special.

The next best thing to seeing the original Bibles yourself, is having a reprint edition. I have treasured a 1611 edition reprint from Hendrickson Publishers for several years now. The font is more friendly to the eye, than the original 1611 font, but other than that all the orthography is original. Seeing the marginal notes and reading the KJV translation of the Apocrypha are some of the unique pleasures that reading from the 1611 edition offers. Occasionally, comparing that edition with a more modern KJV will also reveal a place where later KJV’s improved the text (or possibly departed from it) — which appeals to my critical eye.

Hendrickson Publishers now has a commemorative 400th Anniversary edition, of the 1611 Bible. I will be giving away one copy of that Bible here on our site in the next few weeks. Details will be forthcoming. Hendrickson also has special reprint editions of Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament, Matthew’s 1537 Bible, and the 1560 edition of the Geneva Bible. Throughout the next month I’ll be posting a brief review of each of these historic Bibles, leading up to the special giveaway of the 1611 Anniversary Edition, King James Bible.