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Tyndale realized he would never be able to achieve his goal in
England. It was too dangerous. He had fallen under the scrutiny
of Sir Thomas More, who would relentlessly pursue him for years,
believing Tyndale to be a dangerous heretic who deserved to be burned
at the stake. So Tyndale went to Germany in 1524. He lived in exile
for the next 11 years, moving secretly from place to place, always
knowing he was in danger of being betrayed.
By the spring of 1536, copies of his translation of the New Testament
began arriving in England, smuggled in quietly and quite ingeniously.
Anyone caught importing these books would be imprisoned at the very
least. But the demand was high. They brought the books into England
hidden in among cloth-making cargoes, with tools and cannon, glassware
and foodstuff, stacked in barrels labeled wine or oil and hidden
in sacks of flour. They would sell out as soon as they arrived,
even though they had to be sold clandestinely. People were hungry
for the word of God.
The first page of his translation of the New Testament is an elaborate
wood cut, a full page, very intricate illustration. It shows St
Matthew dipping his pen in an inkpot held by a young angel. As the
Quran says: Read, in the name of your Lord,
who created. [96:1] NuN, the pen, and what they (the people) write.
Tyndale then turned his attention to the Old Testament. An earlier
translation of the first verses of Genesis read: In the first made
God of nought heaven and earth. The earth forsooth was vain within
void, and darkness were upon the face
of the sea and the Spirit of God was born upon the waters. And God
said, Be made light, and made is light.
Tyndale chose to write in recognizable English: In the beginning
God created heaven and earth. The earth was void and empty, and
darkness was upon the deep, and the Spirit of God moved upon the
water. Then God said: let there be light and there was light.
What a gift it must have been to not only being able to read the
book in one’s own language, but to have it clear and understandable.
I feel the same way when I compare Rashad Khalifa’s translation
to all previous translations. It’s very freeing to be able
to study and learn from the scripture. Yet there are traditional
Muslims who tell you that the Quran must be read in Arabic, and
Friday (Juma’a) services are conducted in Arabic even before
an English speaking audience. Just as these early Catholics conducted
all services in Latin—Mass, baptism, readings from the Bible—though
the audience didn’t speak or understand a word of Latin.
What does the Quran tell us about translation?
If we revealed this to people who do not know Arabic.
And had him recite it (in Arabic), they could not possibly believe
in it. We thus render it (like a foreign language) in the hearts
of the guilty. [26:198-200]
So the Quran must be translated and the language is irrelevant:
If we made it a non-Arabic Quran they would have
said, "Why did it come down in that language?" Whether
it is Arabic or non-Arabic, say, "For those who believe, it
is a guide and healing. As for those who disbelieve, they will be
and blind to it, as if
they are being addressed from faraway." [41:44]
And verse14:4 tells us that God means for us to be able to understand
His messengers when they come:
We did not send any messenger except (to preach)
in the tongue of his people, in order to clarify things for them.
God then sends astray whomever He wills, and guides whomever He
wills. He is the Almighty, the Most Wise.
William Tyndale was finally betrayed and captured in Antwerp in
1535. He was charged with heresy and kept in a prison for over a
year before being formally condemned as a heretic and sentenced
to die. As a nobleman he was spared the horrible punishment of being
burned alive at the stake. He was strangled and then his dead body
was burned, as a warning to others.
But by then the tide was turning. For his own personal reasons,
King Henry VIII had turned away from the Catholic Church. It was
losing influence and power. The demand continued to have the scripture
available in English, so several translations were undertaken. Most
translations relied heavily on the work Tyndale had begun.
I think it’s most interesting that the thing the Catholic
leaders feared the most—that people would realize the discrepancy
between the way the Bible preached the faith and the way it was
practiced—never materialized. Reforms were made, but not in
the major areas of the divinity and idolization of Jesus, celibacy
of priests, the trinity, and the concept of intercession. In the
end, it’s only God who guides. It’s clearly His command
that the religion should be made easily available to everyone.
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