Home  »  Volume IV: English PROSE AND POETRY SIR THOMAS NORTH TO MICHAEL DRAYTON  »  § 7. Tindale and the Authorised Version

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

II. The “Authorised Version” and its Influence

§ 7. Tindale and the Authorised Version

It is agreed on all hands that the English of the Authorised Version is, in essentials, that of Tindale. Minor modifications were made by translators and revisers for the next eighty years or so; but, speaking broadly, the Authorised Version is Tindale’s. The spirit of the man passed into his work, and therefore it is of moment to ascertain what that spirit was. He himself may tell us:

(a) His version was to be made for all the people, even the humblest:

  • If God spare me life, ere many years I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you [a theologian] do.
  • To the same effect is his preference of favour to grace, love to charity, health to salvation.

    (b) His surrender of himself to God. Writing to a friend and fellow-labourer, Frith, he says:

  • The wisdom and the spirit of Stephen be with your heart and with your mouth, and teach your lips what they shall say, and how to answer to all things. He is our God if we despair in ourselves, and trust in him; and his is the glory. Amen.
  • (c) His theory regarding the meaning to be conveyed:

  • Believing that every part of Scripture had one sense and one only, the sense in the mind of the writer.
  • (d) On Greek and Hebrew with reference to English:

  • The Greek tongue agreeth more with the English than with the Latin. And the properties of the Hebrew tongue agreeth a thousand times more with the English than with the Latin. The manner of speaking is both one, so that in a thousand places thou needest not but to translate it into the English word for word, when thou must seek a compass in the Latin, and yet shalt have much work to translate it well-favouredly, so that it have the same grace and sweetness, sense and pure understanding with it in the Latin as it hath in the Hebrew. A thousand parts better may it be translated into the English than into the Latin.
  • (e) His scrupulous fidelity:

  • I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus Christ to give reckoning of our doings that I never altered one syllable of God’s word against my conscience, nor would to this day, if all that is in earth—whether it be honour, pleasure, or riches—might be given me.
  • The observation of Augustus Hare, in speaking of the Jacobean revisers, is applicable to Tindale: “They were far more studious of the matter than of the manner; and there is no surer preservative against writing ill, or more potent charm for writing well.” And so Goldsmith: “To feel your subject thoroughly, and to speak without fear, are the only rules of eloquence.” Elsewhere he says: “Eloquence is not in the words, but in the subject; and in great concerns, the more simply anything is expressed, it is generally the more sublime.”

    (f) His humility:

  • And if they perceive in any places that I have not attained the very sense of the tongue, or meaning of the Scripture, or have not given the right English word, that they put to their hand to amend it, remembering that so is their duty to do.
  • Again, he speaks of himself as “evil-favoured in this world, and without grace in the sight of men, speechless and rude, dull and slow-witted.”

    If we add that he was an assiduous and minute student, went directly to the originals, and employed the best helps attainable, all that is needful will have been said.

  • And the third day in the morning there was thunder and lightning, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the horn waxed exceeding loud, and all the people that was in the host was afraid.… And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended down upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended up, as it had been the smoke of a kiln, and all the mount was exceeding fearful. And the voice of the horn blew, and waxed louder and louder.