Bring the Cloak, and the Books, Especially the Parchments…Bring the Hebrew Books

Paul asked his beloved son in the faith, Timothy, to bring warm clothes, books and parchments to his prison cell (2Tim 1:2; 2:9; 4:13). William Tyndale wrote from prison, in expectation of his death, that the local governor of Vilvorde Castle might bring him warm clothes, along with the following request:

“And I ask to be allowed to have a lamp in the evening; it is indeed wearisome sitting alone in the dark. But most of all I beg and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the commissary, that he will kindly permit me to have the Hebrew bible, Hebrew grammar, and Hebrew dictionary, that I may pass the time in that study…But if any other decision has been taken concerning me, to be carried out before winter, I will be patient, abiding the will of God, to the glory of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ: whose Spirit (I pray) may ever direct your heart. Amen” (Daniell, William Tyndale, 379).

With striking resemblance to Paul’s plea from prison to procure his parchments (likely for letter writing) and his books (likely his copies of the Scriptures), Tyndale also sought to pass the time in his cold cell with the study of God’s Word in the original languages (albeit with some warmer clothes). Tyndale’s biographer argues that it was unlikely that Tyndale was continuing his translation work while in prison; rather, that he was simply trying to keep up his languages as he studied the Bible, albeit most probably with future dreams and hopes of once again translating the remaining OT books into English.

We never did see Job or Psalms from the translational craftsmanship of William Tyndale, who was always editing his work as he improved his skills in Greek and Hebrew (p. 318). Daniell argues of Tyndale, “[H]e can be shown to be well ahead of any other scholar in Europe, even the foremost professor of Greek, Philip Melanchthon at Wittenberg, as close study of successive editions of Luther’s German New Testament can show” (p. 319). Regarding Tyndale’s Hebrew, Daniell argues that he didn’t start learning the language until he was at least 34 years old. Daniell adds that to keep up ones biblical languages, the student of the Word must be in Greek weekly and Hebrew daily, especially if they were learned as an adult (pp. 380-81).

By spring of 1535, Tyndale had finished his 1534 revision of the New Testament, the Pentateuch, and Joshua through 2 Chronicles. It is interesting to note the order that Tyndale translated, which was basically canonical, though starting with the NT before the OT. It is an ongoing question in missionary Bible translation which books should be translated first. And as most know who have tried their hand at translating from the Hebrew, the poetical books of Psalms, Job and Proverbs can be especially difficult. But they can also be a great evangelistic tool since songs and proverbs are popular communicative devices in predominantly oral cultures.

It is too bad that more men and women who are gifted in the biblical languages (or even just competent in them) don’t spend 5, 10, or 15 years overseas training nationals in the biblical languages, equipping them to translate, revise, exegete, and exposit the precious Word of God. So many seminary graduates who excel in the languages go on to get their PhD and end up teaching in a college or seminary, turning out more articles and books in English when over 6,500 languages of the world lack a full Bible translation. Wouldn’t it be great if seminary graduates spent 10 years overseas, training nationals to know the biblical languages, theology, and hermeneutics? These tools would give national pastors and Christian authors the ability to develop their theology from the exegetical and theological foundations that are essential to healthy church planting, solid Bible translation, and the establishing of biblical theological education that continues to disciple people to accurately handle the Word, no matter whether they are preaching pastors, biblical counselors, authors of Christian books on doctrine and the Christian life, translating the Bible, revising those translations in 30 years, or what have you. And if these seminarians still wanted to return to the US after 10 years translating and training others, they would be all the wiser, more mature in God’s Word and in ministering and translating that Word; they would then make great seminary professors and churchmen, with great missionary, pastoral, translational, discipleship, teaching and equipping experiences that would better serve their time in training the next generation of pastors, scholars, missionaries, translators, authors, and disciplers.

Whenever I have been overseas and asked Christian brothers and sisters how we can best serve them (in about 30 countries now), the answer is regularly the same: we need pastoral training, theological education in the biblical languages, hermeneutics, and theology. We need to revise our outdated Bible translation, people cannot understand it (or they don’t even have a full Bible translation). We need to write our own commentaries and systematic theologies and books on doctrine and ethics, but we have no training, no resources, and our Bible translations need revision.

Tyndale lived in poverty, in exile, and suffered in prison before being condemned to death as a heretic, for the charge of being a “lutheran,” by which was meant that he agreed with Martin Luther (against the Holy Roman Catholic Church/Empire/Pope) that salvation was on the basis of faith and not through the works of sacraments or any other attempt by man to merit God’s grace.

Tyndale’s life and death is an example of one who gave all so that the Word of God could run forth rapidly and be glorified (2Thess 3:1). Our English Bibles since that 1534 Tyndale New Testament have had William Tyndale phrases, coined words, and modes of expression shot through them. And yet there remain more than 6,500 language-groups without a full Bible in their language.

Pray to the Lord of the harvest to raise up more laborers! Join Together 4 the Bible.