William Tyndale – Independent Thinker in the Lollard Tradition
Tyndale was no an uncritical conduit of Luther nor a completely a Lutheran
- Tyndale’s unique understanding of Covenant
- Importance of Believers Baptims
Tyndale has been repeatedly called a Lutheran. There are good reasons for this. Both Luther and Tyndale believed in Justification by Faith and Tyndale did use much of Luther’s exegesis on Romans in his own “Prologue to the Romans”. Tyndale also spent some time in Wittenberg and possibly met Luther. Furthermore, Tyndale referred to some of Luther’s work in his translation of the New Testament.1 Lutherans also assisted Tyndale while he was in the continent. And considering the many parallels to Lutheran thought in Tyndale’s theology it is hard not to consider the English reformer the “English Lutheran connection”.2 But this position gives too much to the influence of Luther on Tyndale. Undoubtedly Luther affected Tyndale, but as Smeeton points out Tyndale was not an “uncritical conduit of Luther’s thought to England”3 nor was Tyndale completely a Lutheran.
Tyndale’s unique understanding of Covenant
Tyndale developed independently of Luther in some key areas. The main issue which he charted a somewhat new doctrinal direction was the concept of the Covenant. Although it had its roots in Lollard thought, Tyndale fully developed this concept into a particular relationship between God and the believer. In Tyndale’s understanding of the Covenant, salvation was conditional upon obedience to God’s law. If the believer failed to live up to his or her part of the Covenant, then the believer had broken the Covenant with God. Restitution to God was then necessary. But God would never break his part of the Covenant because he never could. Only the believer could break it. Consequently, salvation was conditional based on an upholding of the covenantal relationship. In Luther’s thinking, salvation was unconditional once the believer entered into a relationship with God through faith. Sin could not hinder God’s redemption of the believer. Tyndale’s theology, on the other hand, emphasized righteous deeds as evidence of faith and obedience to the will of God. Similarly, there was no “Anfechtung” or experience4 prior to conversion as Luther had but a believer’s understanding of the will of God, a repentance, and then obedience to God’s will. This obedience was achieved by the outworking of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. For Tyndale, faith and obedience to the Covenant was necessary for salvation. By contrast, faith alone (sola fida) was necessary for salvation in Luther’s Theology.
Importance of Believers Baptims
Another independent path through which Tyndale was following was the importance he gave to Baptism. He placed it at the centre of a believer’s life. It was the essential first step on the road to salvation. (Hints of Anabaptism would also make Tyndale independent of Luther.) Baptism to Tyndale was a figurative death, burial and resurrection with Christ5; it was a “dying with Christ”. This concept tied into his understanding of resurrection. Tyndale accepted a resurrection of the body and soul and, like Luther, believed in soul-sleep. To Tyndale, death was likened to the experience Christ underwent as he lay in the tomb. As Christ was raised out of the grave, so the believer rises again at the Resurrection.6
There is also a hint of anti-Trinitarianism in Tyndale’s translation of John 1:1-2:
“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God: and the word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by it, and without it was made nothing, that was made. In it was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shineth in darkness, but the darkness comprehendeth it not.”7
Tyndale did not fully develop his Christology but anti-Trinitarianism was beginning to be heard in parts of Europe, even amongst some of the major reformers.8 This point, however, is not conclusive. Nevertheless, the later translators of John replaced “it” with “he”, an inaccurate translation which persists to this day.
With his understanding of Covenant, Baptism, resurrection, and possibly anti-Trinitarianism, Tyndale parted from the German reformer and established an independent theology more in line with the earlier Lollardy than with continental Protestantism, especially Lutheranism.
Giller, William. The Influence of the Lutheran Reformation on William Tyndale. (Waterloo: Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, date?). pg. 32. ↩
Mcgoldrick, J. E. Luther’s English Connection. (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1979) ↩
Smeeton, D. D. pg. 250. ↩
Smeeton, D. D. pg. 157. ↩
Smeeton, D. D. pg. 212. ↩
Tyndale, William. “William Tyndale, Yet once more to the Christian Reader.” in The New Testament. David Daniell, ed. pp. 13-16. ↩
Tyndale, William. The New Testament. David Daniell, ed. pp. 133. ↩
Lea, G. J. The Adjective Rearrangers of the Reformation: The Antitrinitarians from Michael Servetus to the Polish Brethren. Paper for History 400B. Reformation Studies, Prof. Werner O. Packull. Winter, 1993. ↩