Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Meaning of Sola Scriptura

Study to shew thyself laudable unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, dividing the word of truth justly (2 Tim 2:15, Tyndale).

Most of us are content to get the "gist" of it. William Tyndale was not. In an all-consuming drive for Biblical fidelity, this oft-overlooked Reformer gave his very life to deliver the glorious Gospel of Christ to the English people through the words of Scripture itself.

In 1526 in Worms, Germany, the city which had been home to Luther's famous stand nearly a decade earlier, William Tyndale printed his translation of the Greek New Testament into English. The first time this had ever been done in the history of the English-speaking peoples. Without modern lexical aids or centuries of precedent to rely upon, Tyndale so diligently rendered the Word of God into the English tongue that his translation formed the basis of all the English Bibles that would follow. In fact, his renderings still dominate our modern English versions today.

Yet, perhaps even more significant and instructive for us, was Tyndale's absolute commitment to preserve and to give the meaning of Scripture accurately, regardless of how violently it contrasted with the prevailing assumptions of his day. This is the meaning of Sola Scriptura.

Tyndale's bold faithfulness is probably most observable in his accurate, and non-Catholic, translation of presbuteros, ekklesia, metanoeo, and agape. These important Greek words had been chained to presupposed Roman Catholic theology for centuries, being understood as "priest," "church," "do penance," and "charity," respectively. Tyndale's conscience, however, was captive to another authority.

With the disregard of a revolutionary and the faithfulness of a workman, Tyndale accurately translated presbuteros as "elder" (it literally means "old man") and ekklesia as "congregation" (it literally means "assembly" or "gathering"). And, in so doing, Tyndale unleashed the New Testament doctrine that all are one in Christ and that there is no spiritual hierarchy of pope, bishop, and priest in Christ's Church. Metanoeo means "repent" and agape means "love," which is exactly how Tyndale translated these terms and ended their supposed support of the Roman Catholic sacramental system.

David Daniell, whose thorough biography of Tyndale is well worth your time, captures the gravity of Tyndale's insubordinate, and devastatingly accurate, translation:
So Tyndale translated the Greek New Testament word ekklesia as 'congregation'... To the English bishops, the heresy was twofold: the implied equality and the pernicious word "congregation" instead of "church'. The bishops saw that this idea, which they took as basically Lutheran rather than scriptural, could make the whole Church structure fall apart. That indeed, is what it did, and quickly (122).

He [Tyndale] cannot possibly have been unaware that those words in particular undercut the entire sacramental structure of the thousand-year Church throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa. It was the Greek New Testament that was doing the undercutting (149).
Brave fidelity to the Word of God, and hard work in it, blew away centuries of superstition and carried the Gospel of salvation to untold numbers of souls. Far more than a philosophical discussion of epistemology, this is the meaning of Sola Scriptura.

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