Translating the Word

Commemoration of William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale – October 6, 2018 – St. Mary’s Convent

Today we celebrate William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale, two Holy Men of God known for their efforts in translating the Bible into English. This is not one of our most popular feast days, but it is one that ought to remember. 

If it weren’t for the work of these two, our Bibles would look—and sound—quite different. We often take for granted our translations of the Bible. We forget that it all started out in Hebrew and Greek. 

Ever since the scriptures were first translated it has become and ever-evolving project. There are now thousands of translations that seek to share, with diverse audiences, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

In fact, there’s even a version of the Bible called “Good News.” And then there is The Message. Now that’s relevant sounding! The NRSV is what we read from today. Our church used to use the RSV. And before that the KJV. Then of course there’s the NIV, which is popular in some protestant circles. 

If you ask a Roman Catholic they are likely to tell you that they use the New American or New Jerusalem Bible. And don’t forget about the CEV, which sounds a lot like the newer CEB, but is actually quite different. 

It’s amazing, all these versions that we’ve come up with. I suppose somewhere amidst this alphabet soup exists the truth that we all long for. Today we thank God for the scholars who made it possible for all of us to read it. They changed our lives before we even lived them. 

Remember, all translation is interpretation. Each time someone translates a word from one language into another language they have to make choices. It is not as if each word in Greek or each word in Hebrew has one exact counterpart in English. The opposite is true. 

For example, what’s the difference between a thief, a bandit, a robber, and a burglar?And which Spanish equivalent best describes each? That’s not an easy question to answer. I know because I had to try on an exam once. 

You think that’s a lot of pressure? What about being responsible for generations of people understanding the word of God? Yikes! 

This is to say, the work of Tyndale and Coverdale, like all human work is probably imperfect. But that’s OK. The goal of our lives together is not about getting every word of the translation perfect, it’s about developing a relationship with the Word, Jesus Christ. 

The work of Tyndale and Coverdale has allowed us not just to read the word with trusted accuracy but to communicate the capital-W Word of God. They made the Bible assessable to us, and now we get to make it accessible to others, not by looking up words in dictionaries or drilling verb forms, but by living like we know Jesus. 

And we do know him, not only because of Tyndale and Coverdale, but because he is among us now, just as he was with his first disciples, in the breaking of the bread and the prayers. 

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