King James Bible Borrowed From Earlier Translation

English-speaking Christians were handed the King James Bible 400 years ago. But much of it was copied from a translation made 50 years earlier by William Tyndale. Rev. Paul Cross, who teaches at the Master's Institute in St. Paul, Minn., discusses Tyndale's mission to democratize the Bible.

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GUY RAZ, host:

Four hundred years ago, English-speaking Christians were handed the King James Bible. Today, it's the bestselling book of all time. But it turns out a lot of it was copied from a translation finished 50 years before, in the late 16th century by a man named William Tyndale.

And according to Reverend Paul Cross, who teaches at the Master's Institute in St. Paul, those translations created a stir.

The Reverend PAUL CROSS (Master's Institute, St. Paul): On the one hand, you had people in England who were very hungry to have the Bible in their own native tongue. They were very excited about this. But translating the Bible into English was against the law in England. But there was a certain faction within the English people who really desired this.

The church and the political powers within England at the time saw this as a threat, and they were certainly opposed to this. And as a matter of fact, they had mass burnings of Tyndale's Bible at a place called Paul's Cross or St. Paul's Cross in London.

RAZ: The burning of his translations foreshadows what eventually would happen to him. He was arrested. He was tried for heresy, put in prison and eventually burned at the stake.

The Rev. CROSS: That's right. Ultimately, he was executed by first strangling and then by being burned at the stake.

RAZ: Reverend Paul Cross, when I was reading through some of the background on him, I was amazed to learn about some of the phrases that we use...

The Rev. CROSS: Yes.

RAZ: ...some of the common, popular phrases that we use that he basically invented. What are some of them?

The Rev. CROSS: One that people say the twinkling of an eye. That's a famous phrase. But my brother's keeper, that's certainly gotten into...

RAZ: That's Tyndale.

The Rev. CROSS: ...the common - Tyndale said that, yes. Filthy lucre is another favorite of mine; scapegoat, gave up the ghost, sign of the times...

RAZ: Wow.

The Rev. CROSS: ...fight the good fight.

RAZ: So even Prince owes something to William Tyndale?

The Rev. CROSS: Evidently.

(Soundbite of laughter)

The Rev. CROSS: But, you know, one surprising thing is that even Jewish speakers of English have gained a new name for their most sacred holiday, Passover. That was an invention of William Tyndale. Most people don't realize that.

RAZ: He was not canonized or remembered in a way that other martyrs were. Why not? Why, I mean, why did he sort of fade into obscurity?

The Rev. CROSS: Fading into obscurity, he had the distinct misfortune of being a theological giant in a time when historical titans sort of walked the land.

RAZ: Right.

The Rev. CROSS: But the real problem that Tyndale had was, is that he seemed to alienate just about everyone. He certainly alienated the Catholic Church. So he's not going to find any friends there.

He particularly alienated Henry VIII, who could have been his closest supporter had he not been so self-avowedly in favor of many of Luther's reforms, which were seen by Henry and many other monarchs of the day as direct threats to monarchy.

RAZ: Next year, as part of, I guess, the marking of the 400 years since the King James version came out, two new versions of the English Bible are set to be released. One is the New International Version. The other is the Common English Bible. How much of a departure do we expect these versions to be? Will they be earth-shattering, or will they be fairly conservative revisions?

The Rev. CROSS: The New International Version will likely be a fairly conservative revision of the already-existing New International Version. The CEB is a totally new translation done by a broad team of scholars.

And that, even though materially, they'll be different from Tyndale, they'll be pretty formally the same in the sense that Tyndale did use what was the best that he had at the time, and Tyndale did try to understand that translation was a matter of putting it in a language of people that people could understand.

Again, that was his mission, and that's really what he accomplished.

RAZ: That's Reverend Paul Cross. He's talking about the translation of the Bible into English on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

Paul Cross, thank you.

The Rev. CROSS: Thank you.

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