Richard Nisley

Food for the Soul
History - World Released - Apr 18, 2019
Erasmus called it "the food of the soul." He was referring to the Bible. The problem was very few people could read it. If he could read at all, the average Englishman couldn't read Greek or Hebrew, the language of the Bible, or even the Latin translation. And those who were trained to read Greek, Hebrew and Latin–churchmen and scholastics–weren't reading the Bible either. The Catholic Church had forbidden it, by decreeing that the very safety of the Christian religion "lay in ignorance of the text." Little wonder that the Catholic intelligentsia spent their hours debating the exact number of angels on the head of a pin. They had nothing better to do.

Erasmus pointed out that the evangelists themselves had translated into Greek what Christ Himself had spoken in Aramaic. In fact, Christ had spoken in the broadest possible terms, in similitudes and parables, to be widely understood. Why not translate such language into the native tongues of everyone?

Enter William Tyndale (1495-1536). He took Erasmus' words to heart. A Cambridge scholar of very great gifts, he set out to translate the Bible into English so that everyone could read and understand it. "...I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than (the Pope.)"

Tyndale succeeded beyond even his greatest expectations and paid the ultimate price. He was tried for heresy and burned at the stake. For awhile thereafter, even owning a copy of Tyndale's translation could get you killed.

Today Tyndale is known as the father of the English Bible. His story and those of others are told in "Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired" by Benson Bobrick.

Trying to stop Tyndale's translation from circulating among the masses was like trying to stop a Tsunami. People everywhere across England learned to read in order to read the Bible; public education was the result. The English people gradually came to realize that religious power resided not with the established church but rather resided in their very own hands. After a few generations of this mindset, it wasn't too much of a stretch for them to realize that political power did not reside in the hands of the Monarch, but in their own desire to be self-governed. This led to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and eventually to the American Revolution of 1776. Such was the result of people reading the Bible.

Only Shakespeare's prose/poetry had a greater impact on the English language. Tyndale's translation of the original Greek and Hebrew imparted to English a certain rhythmic sonority it had not formerly possessed. Among the turns of phrase coined by Tyndale: "apple of the eye," "the salt of the earth," "eat, drink, and be merry," "writing on the wall," "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak," "a multitude of sins," "twinkling of an eye," "gave up the ghost," "judge not that you be not judged," "the powers that be," "a man after his own heart," "the living God," "the gate of heaven," "a land flowing with milk and honey," "to fall by the sword," "a stranger in a strange land," and "as the lord liveth."

Seventy years after Tyndale's death, a committee of 60 Cambridge and Oxford scholars translated the Bible into English, based on a number of previous translations. This translation became known as the King James Version, or KJV. In 1998, a complete analysis of the KJV revealed that Tyndale's words account for 75.6% of the Old Testament and 84% of the New Testament. Writing in the Contemporary Review, Joan Bridgman states: "Although the (KJV) is ostensibly the production of a learned committee of churchmen, it is mostly cribbed from Tyndale with some reworking of the translation."

"Wide as the Waters" is well-researched and fairly well-written. My one complaint, and it's a minor one, is that Bobrick might have given the text another run through his typewriter to further sharpen the text. Therefore, I give the book four stars instead of five.

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