William Tyndale's Works

Tyndale's Polemical Writings

The Parable of the Wicked Mammon

Published in May, 1528, with a forged colophon ("Hans Luft of Marburg;" actually Johannes Hoochstraten in Antwerp), this is the first work by Tyndale to bear his name. His reason for breaking his former anonymity, according to the introduction, is to distance himself from scurrilous propagandists and to embrace the risk of martyrdom. The tract itself begins with an expanded translation of a sermon by Luther on Luke 16. 1-13, better known as "the parable of the unjust steward," then spirals outward to consider other New Testament passages that might seem to contradict the central reformation doctrine of justification by faith. Tyndale's organizing theme is the watchword of the Beatitudes ("Wherefore by their fruits shall ye know them," Matt. 7.20), and his exposition presents good works as the natural and grateful response of the redeemed soul. Perhaps more than Luther would, Tyndale emphasizes that justifying faith must be a "feeling" faith and the works must derive from love. Those who argue for justification by works, in contrast, are "wordly wise" (a deliberate pun on "wordy" and "worldly"), and have corrupted the true doctrine for the sake of material gain. Tyndale's folk images – the simple, trusting redeemed Christian contrasted with the sophisticated, guileful minion of Antichrist – and the spare rhythms of his prose are intrinsically linked to his argument.

Contributed by John Dick, Professor, University of Texas at El Paso

The Obedience of a Christian Man

Teeming with varied subject matter and graced by vibrant writing,The Obedience of a Christian Man depicts the Roman church as a gigantic imposture affecting every department of English life. To disobey this institution to the point of martyrdom--and in particular to challenge the spurious laws it has made in supression of the Bible in English--is to obey God. As a moral alternative Tyndale prescribes obedience to "the powers that be," a secular hierarchy descending from kings "the room of God" to fathers supreme in their own households. This conception of the social order well served Henry VIII's assumption of absolute power in the English reformation, which is currently viewed by many historians as having been imposed from the top down.

Tyndale's political thinking is based on texts marshalled from the Old and New Testaments, which he regarded as touchstones for all experience. It is in promoting the Bible as ultimate truth that Tyndale moves outside the "obedience" scheme and produces, inter alia, a witty attack on John Fisher's theology, a discussion of faith versus works, a critical review of the seven sacraments and a highly sophisticated essay on figurative language.

Contributed by Anne Richardson, Institute for Historical Study

The Practice of Prelates

The last of the "Hans Luft of Marburg" imprints (1530), this is perhaps Tyndale's most strident and bitter polemic. Proclaiming on the title-page his intention to examine the question of Henry VIII's proposed "divorce" from Catherine of Aragon, Tyndale delays his discussion of the divorce for 120 quarto pages (a total of 164). Instead, he conducts a historical survey of the political machinations of those he sees as the servants of Antichrist, beginning with the scribes and pharisees who persuaded Pilate to crucify Jesus, through the rise of the papacy before the reign of Charlemagne, down to the contemporary intrigues of Cardinal Wolsey. This vast historical conspiracy has served to divide nations, securing the dominant position of the prelacy and preventing the development of the harmonious community envisioned in the Gospels. When Tyndale finally considers the divorce itself, he explains that the curse of childlessness if a man marries his brother's wife (Leviticus 20.21) applies only when the brother is still alive — an interpretation that also explains the injunction (Deuteronomy 25.5) that a man must marry his brother's widow. Wolsey has planted the seed for Henry's scruples through the confessional, in order to precipitate war and invasion and to keep England under the power of France. Because material concerning the divorce was carefully omitted from later Tudor reprints (lest the legitimacy of Edward or Elizabeth be questioned), the vision of history as an international conspiracy became particularly prominent in the English national imagination.

Contributed by John Dick, Professor, University of Texas at El Paso

Answer to Sir Thomas More's Dialogue

In response to Thomas More's Dialogue Concerning Heresies, London, 1529, Tyndale published Answer to More, Antwerp, 1531. Tyndale's Answer opens with a short epistle to the reader in the spirit of St. Paul. Unwilling to follow More's theological lead, Tyndale announces six themes in his foundational essay: Church, Scripture, faith, the papacy, the Fathers and sacred signs. More was correct in recognizing that Tyndale's diction assumes a decentralized, desacralized church: "congregation" for "church," "elder" for "priest," "love" for "charity," "favour" for "grace," "knowledge" for "confession." "repentance" for "penance." Tyndale defends his choices on linguistic grounds by appealing to the Greek and Latin New Testament of More's friend Erasmus. After "Church" and "Scripture," Tyndale next discusses "faith," the God-given response to the preached or written Word. While the reader's attention is keenest, Tyndale explains his major concerns in the first third of Answer to More.

In the rest of the treatise, Tyndale rebuts arguments from the four books of the Dialogue. In affirming justification by faith, Tyndale, more than Luther, extols love of the law over freedom from sin. Like Zwingli, Tyndale holds that the Eucharist is only a sign of Christ's Passion. More countered the Answer with his wordy Confutation of Tyndale's Answer in 1532-33, but Tyndale returned to his work of translating and explaining the Bible. More's best arguments are lost in his meandering Dialogue or his circuitous Confutation in spite of passages of warm humour. Tyndale's forthright claims and brisk wit capture the reader in this work.

Contributed by Sister Anne O'Donnell S.N.D., Catholic University of America

Expositions of 1 John and Matthew V-VII

Tyndale's two most sustained works of scriptural exegesis were printed originally in Antwerp, the Exposition of 1 John in 1531, the Exposition of Matthew V-VII ca. 1533. They were then reprinted several times in England during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI prior to their inclusion in John Foxe's 1573 edition of the "whole works" of Tyndale, Barnes and Frith: the former was published together with Lancelot Ridley's commentary on 2 and 3 John in two editions from the press of John Nicholson, ca. 1537/1538; the exposition of Matthew V-VII was printed in three editions by Robert Redman ca. 1536/1537, again by John Day and William Seres in 1548, and a fifth time by William Hill probably in 1549.

The Expositions are in one respect provocatively polemical works. On the model of John in his epistle and Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, who stripped away the false glosses of the scribes and Pharisees to reveal the true meaning of God's law, Tyndale condemns the hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church and reveals the errors of its doctrine with the aim of restoring scripture to its right understanding. At the same time, these are foremost homilies of practical instruction for living life every day according to the "profession of thy baptism" — meaning, most elementally for Tyndale, to love God, to love the law of God, and to love thy neighbor as thyself for His sake.

Contributed by J. Christopher Warner, Professor - Department of English, Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York. (2014)