I have been reading through some chapters in Rediscovering Expository Preaching and found a very intriguing quote from William Tyndale, the great English scholar who, in many ways, spearheaded the Reformation and prepared the way for Martin Luther’s work. He is most known for being the first to translate large portions of the Bible into English for the common people to read. His translation was the first English translation to draw directly from the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. As an outspoken man of God, he opposed King Henry VIII’s divorce on the grounds of it being unbiblical. This led to his unpopularity with institutional Christianity and he was eventually tried for heresy, strangled, and burned at the stake.
Tyndale opposed both the political facets of England’s national church and Roman Catholicism. Within both, he found many problems in the way the Bible was interpreted. In fact, he wrote,
“They divide scripture into four senses, the literal, typological, allegorical, and analogical. The literal sense is become nothing at all: for the pope hath taken it clean away, and hath made it his possession. He hath partly locked it up with the false and counterfeited keys of his traditions, ceremonies, and feigned lies; and driveth men from it with violence of sword; for no man dare abide by the literal sense of the text, but under a protestation, ‘If it shall please the pope.’ … Thou shalt understand, therefore, that the scriptures hath but one sense, which is the literal sense. And that literal sense is the root and ground of all, and the anchor that never faileth, whereunto if thou cleave, thou canst never err or go out of the way.” – “The Obedience of a Christian Man,” Doctrinal Treatises, pp. 303-4 (emphasis mine).
It’s important to understand that by suggesting the “literal sense,” Tyndale is not saying that the Bible does not contain figures of speech, allegories, or parables. What he is suggesting is that there is one intended meaning. In other words, the interpretation to be preferred is the one the author meant.
One must really read through some of the Medieval Period’s “expositions” of Scripture. They hardly take the original intended meaning seriously. In fact, it would appear that there was no restraint when it came to using the Bible to say what the church leaders at the time desired. Exegesis? No, hardly even a consideration. Eisogesis? Everywhere.
The Protestant Reformation clearly stood on the shoulders of men like Tyndale!