Posts Tagged ‘Melvyn Bragg’

William Tyndale was burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English. he loaded our language with more phrases than any other writer before or since.

Melvyn Bragg : The Telegraph : Melvyn Bragg on Tyndale – his genius matched that of Shakespeare


William Tyndale is burned at the stake in Belgium in 1536, from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, published in 1563.

Writing in The Telegraph about his BBC documentary The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England  (BBC Two at 9pm on Thursday 6 June), it seems that Melvyn Bragg has just recently discovered William Tyndale! He says…

Yet until recently Tyndale was little known. His major role in what became the King James Bible was erased from the record. This is the man whose profound love of his country, its people and their right to understand what was then the greatest source of knowledge of the age is indisputable. His Bible was taken over by a procession of plagiarists during the century after his death, none of whom acknowledged his contribution, all of whom were profoundly indebted to him. Not only was 90 per cent of the New Testament the work of Tyndale, but a similar percentage has been tracked down in the several books of the Old Testament that he was able to translate before his death. The state rejected him in his lifetime and it could be said it conspired to continue that neglect until new scholars in the last century dug up his contribution and brought it to the public.

It is hard to understand that a man of Bragg’s intellect could so recently have become aware of the importance of William Tyndale in the history of translating the Bible into English. As recently as March 2011, he did a documentary for the BBC entitled The King James Bible: the book that changed the world.

The blurb told us that Bragg

… argues that while many think our modern world is founded on secular ideals, it is the King James Version which had a greater legacy. The King James Bible not only influenced the English language and its literature more than any other book, it was also the seedbed of western democracy, the activator of radical shifts in society such as the abolition of the slave trade, the debating dynamite for brutal civil wars in Britain and America and a critical spark in the genesis of modern science.

It was an impressive production with an argument at times compelling, at times less so – but Bragg managed to do it all (as I recall) with scarcely a mention of William Tyndale. Of course back then, the media emphasis was on celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible as an English cultural icon.

However back in November 2008 Bragg made a speech which can be found on the King James Bible Trust website where he makes a fairer comment – and acknowledged Tyndale!

Several Bibles had appeared in English following Henry VIII marriage to Anne Boleyn but all of them were subsumed in the King James version which itself was enormously indebted to the unmatchable translation made by William Tyndale; a fierce believer, a linguistic genius and dedicated to the idea that the word of God should be in and on the English tongue. “I will have every plough boy know the Bible as well as thee”, he said to a supercilious cleric.

william_tyndaleAs a Tyndale fan, I enjoyed watching the recent BBC programme and Bragg’s Telegraph article certainly emphasises the credit due to Tyndale in the early translation of the Bible into English.

I’ve just finished making a TV documentary on Tyndale for the BBC. I became fascinated by him when, some years ago, I read conclusive evidence that he had contributed massively to the King James Bible – 90 per cent of the New Testament as we know it was written by William Tyndale.

As one of our contributors to the documentary said, had the King James Bible been published today he would have sued for plagiarism!

The balance is also redressed from 2011 KJV mania when Tyndale is given credit for so many phrases used in English from 1611 through to today. William Tyndale, says Bragg…

…loaded our speech with more everyday phrases than any other writer before or since. We still use them, or varieties of them, every day, 500 years on.

Here are just a few: “under the sun”, “signs of the times”, “let there be light”, “my brother’s keeper”, “lick the dust”, “fall flat on his face”, “the land of the living”, “pour out one’s heart”, “the apple of his eye”, “fleshpots”, “go the extra mile”, “the parting of the ways” – on and on they march through our days, phrases, some of which come out of his childhood in the Cotswold countryside, some of which were taken from Anglo-Saxon and Hebrew, all of which he alchemised into our everyday language.

It is interesting to look back and to celebrate those linguists of yesteryear whose work pioneered the current wealth of Bible translation in the English language – but let’s not forget the linguistics and translation still to be done to bring God’s Word to 1,967 languages still with no translation whatsoever.

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