Thursday, December 30, 2010

Some Thoughts On Reading Tyndale

Last week I finished reading the 1526 version of the Tyndale New Testament.  I shared some initial thoughts when I first started the Christmas Challenge and thought I'd share a few as it came to a conclusion.  I am struck by the fact that the Graham Friends Church Christmas Challenge was noteworthy enough to generate an article in the local newspaper.  Not real sure what to make of the fact that people reading the New Testament is considered to be so unusual.  I would guess that back in Tyndale's time, people actually reading the New Testament was also a noteworthy accomplishment, albeit for different reasons.  Along the arc of time between then and now, I'm thinking there is probably a period when reading the NT was considered almost as routine as breathing (at least for some cultures).  Yet here we are in some ways back where we started.

My first thought has to do with how many errors and such slipped in.  In fact, at the end of the book, they included about 3 pages worth of errors that were noted.  I didn't go back cross-referencing them.  But I did notice cases of the same word having different spellings.  One interesting thing I noted was that there were occasions when the script didn't fit on a line and they'd drop the last word or two to the right hand margin of the next line and draw a line around it.  Reminded me of my son's handwriting as he is learning how to write neatly, which includes giving some thought to spacing so you don't end up scrunching things up.  All of this really enhanced the impression of how young the English language was at the time.  It also helped draw attention to what an achievement it was to write the whole New Testament by hand.

That got me to thinking about the difference in knowledge between the scholars of the 1500's and my almost-teenage son of today.  I suspect that in some ways my son already has amassed much more information than Tyndale was able to put together in his lifetime.  But clearly the amount of information falls short of revealing what can be done with that information and how it can be turned into knowledge and wisdom.  I liken it to comparisons between things like Apollo 11 and today's smartphones.  My iPhone has far more computing power than the space ships of yesterday.  Yet look at what they were able to accomplish with what they had.

This also made me really appreciate what Tyndale had done.  In today's world we have a wealth of translations and research available to us as represented by the different Bible versions.  When I do Bible study on my computer I'm able to open up several versions all at once and compare and contrast them.  And they are frequently backed by teams of scholars who worked to make them happen.  I contrast this with Tyndale (and some scriveners?) who likely labored for years hand writing his translation.  And this was with the threats of the Church hanging over his head.  Yet he persevered.

Another thing I noticed while reading through the New Testament was both similarities and differences.  The Gospels, except for John, sounded very much alike, which is not surprising given the history.  But it really seemed to jump out when reading how consistent the versions were when telling the same story.  Later though, as I got into Paul's letters and then some of the others, like Hebrews, I felt like I could really tell a difference in the writing style and tone.  So now when I read a commentary or study guide that talks about something like who the author of Hebrews may have been and how they rule out certain people based on comparisons of style, I think I'll understand that much more having detected it myself.

As I neared the end, there was another thought that really kept knocking on my brain.  That had to do with how "close" the documents seemed to be to Jesus and the authors.  Yes, 1500 or so years separated Tyndale's documents from the original source documents.  But given the pace of change for those 1500 years, Tyndale's documents were not that far removed from what the original author's had written (think maybe 2-3 degrees of separation as opposed to six degrees of Bacon).  Compared to the last 500 years when we went from quill pens and parchment through printing presses and on into electronic images on a computer screen.  Reading the handwritten manuscripts almost took on a sense of having Paul himself tapping me on the shoulder and saying,"Let me tell you about Jesus."

All in all, a very enjoyable and stimulating challenge.  I think it will help me continue my Bible reading in a new light.  Thanks for persevering through this rambling post!

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