The Obedience of a Christian Man (1528) by William Tyndale

This is a Guest blog by Mr Roy Elliot. My thanks to him for permission to reproduce it here.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Obedience of a Christian Man (Penguin Classics)

Influential remarkable book written almost 500 years ago

This remarkable book needs to be set in context. It was written almost 500 years ago, during the brutal persecution of those who believed the simple Gospel and in the absolute authority of “Scripture alone”.

William Tyndale, a gifted scholar educated at Oxford and ordained a priest, saw at first hand the widespread corruption within the Roman Catholic Church.

Rome believed that it could not err and it held ultimate power even over the king and government. A core belief was, and still is, that “Church Tradition” holds equal, or even more authority than the Bible. The Church went to extreme lengths to prevent the ordinary folk from having any independent understanding of the Bible, particularly in what it said regarding  purgatory, confessing sins to a priest, the selling of indulgences, praying to Mary, praying to Saints, salvation by works and money payments, etc…

In defiance of the Pope’s law Tyndale laid the foundation for the English Reformation when he completed the very first (from the original Greek) English translation of the New Testament. This translation differed sharply from the Church’s official Latin version, particularly as to how six key words were translated. From the Greek, Tyndale translated “congregation” instead of “church”, “elder” instead of “priest”, “repentance” instead of “do penance”, “love” instead of  “charity”, “favour” instead of “grace”, and “knowledge” instead of “confess”.

Tyndale’s unique gift cut to the bedrock of Papal authority. Matthew 16 v 18 now read, “That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my congregation”. One word, congregation, had at a stroke demolished the Pope’s claim to be the head of Christ’s Church and brought into sharp focus the contradictions of the Papal system, its customs, its practices, its friars, its priests, its bishops and its Pope. Taking his cue from Matthew 7 v 15 & 16,  he is scathing with righteous indignation when comparing the life and Gospel of Jesus Christ,  the very Son of God, with that of the Pope – “Christ’s vicar on earth”. This unleashed the full might of the Papacy, Tyndale was hunted across Europe, his New Testament translation and books were burnt, as were people caught holding similar beliefs.

In this book Tyndale systematically examines English social and political life; he examines the relationship between church and state; he sees one social structure created by God and the  responsibility of the Christian within it. He examines the responsibility and obedience of children through to subjects, “what to do if the king, prince or ruler is evil”, what to do with the Popes  “false power”, and how those in positions of responsibility and power ought to rule.

Tyndale writes with authority, he knows his Bible intimately, he has an unshakable confidence in the promises of God’s Word, and he knows with certainty that Truth will triumph regardless of a bleak situation. Tyndale’s is not a historical faith rooted in an ancient story, nor was it a dead faith; this is a living vibrant feeling faith firmly rooted in the power of the living Word of God.

Tyndale knew many of his readers would be tortured and burnt; he starts the introduction bringing them comfort. Constantly echoing Scripture, the simplicity of the Gospel and New Testament doctrine he shows how adversity follows Gods chosen people and how God uses this adversity to purify His people, to strengthen their faith and to demonstrate that His grace is sufficient to meet their every need.

This book shows a man driven by one desire and one desire only, the desire that ordinary folk should be able, without fear, to read and understand the Word of God; to know that salvation is a personal matter, justification is by faith alone in the finished work of our Lord and Savour Jesus Christ and His Redeeming Blood and that the fruits of this faith are good works. Christian living is a life of service according to the New Testament and not according to the Church.

Even in the 21st century this book brings the challenge of the Gospel – do those who claim to be christian truly know the joy of this vibrant living feeling faith; are the fruits of this faith a life of service and giving?

In May 1535 William Tyndale was caught, interrogated for 16 months, defrocked as a priest and burnt as a heretic (October 1536).

Today most who read this review will be privileged to enjoy freedom of worship, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom from fear; we cannot even contemplate the conditions that Tyndale and his fellow labourers endured. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude for their faith courage and determination.

David Daniell has done an excellent job in, modernising the spelling, adding end notes, and in his introduction.

Thanks to Mr Roy Elliot ([email protected])

See Post: William Tyndale c.1494- 1536

The Tyndale Society