It is hard to write a biography on someone that history knows very little about. And we really do not know a lot about Tyndale.
If this book were simply a list of things that are known for sure, it would only be a couple pages long.
But Tyndale is important. He was the first to translate the Bible from the original languages to English. He was forced into exile and later martyred.
A large percentage of the King James Bible is derived from Tyndale’s earlier translation.
The English language was just starting to be written when Tyndale was translating the bible into English and so his writing did much set the language and he coined many common words that we use today.
But as important as Tyndale is, I was disappointed in this biography. First there really is very little that is known about Tyndale. So much of what is here is conjecture. When so little is known that is inevitable. But Teems seems to fall into hagiography when details are short and that is one of my pet peeves. Yes, Tyndale is important, but Teems seems to attribute intention to much of his work instead of Tyndale just being at the right place at the right time.
For instance when talking about the influence his work had on later works Teems seems to suggest that Tyndale was intentionally writing for later influence, instead of the fact that Tyndale was just the first, so it is natural that all later translations of scripture are influenced by his work.
Another frustrating editing decision is that Teems uses others authors that we do know something about to illustrate Tyndale whom we do not know much about. So he compares Tyndale to Walt Whitman when talking about sentence structure and flow of his writing. But we do not know anything about Tyndale’s method or intention and very little about his translation theory.
Later he uses Thomas Wolfe to help us understand Tyndale’s exile and how that may have affected his translation and his affection for the English language. Part of the problem of these comparisons is that Tyndale was in an entirely different culture. The interior understanding and psychology of pre-modern authors is simply different from the very internal understanding of modern or post-modern authors.
What is useful is that Teems really does seem to know his literature and his Protestant Christian history. These were the strong points of this book. If you are primarily interested in Tyndale’s literary influences on English you may really like this book. But that was not what I was expecting, so I was disappointed.
I did not finish this book. So maybe it got better. But this is the third biography in a row that I have read from Thomas Nelson that I have been extremely disappointed in. I like Thomas Nelson as a publisher. But the editors that are behind the biographies are publishing books that are not up to snuff. Christian biographies do not need to be weak and poorly research hagiography. Lyle Dorsett and many other Christian biographers have shown that Christian biography can be very rich, well researched and still communicate faith without undue or overwhelming praise.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley for purposes of review.