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William Tyndale on Law and Gospel

In the letter “To the Reder” at the end of his 1526 rendering of the New Testament–the first time the New Testament translated from Greek had ever appeared in English–William Tyndale makes his familiarity with Luther clear (Tyndale, moreover, was in Germany at the time; the book was printed at Worms before being secreted into Scotland and England in bales of cloth)1 He says:

Note the difference of the lawe/and of the gospell. The one axeth and requyreth/the wother perdoneth and forgeveth. The one threateneth/the wother promyseth all good thynges/to them thatt sett their trust in Christ only. The gospell signifieth gladde tydynges/and is nothynge butt the promyses off good thynges. All is not gospell that is written in the gospell boke: For if the lawe were a waye/thou couldest not know what the gospell meante. Even as thou couldest not se person/favour/and grace/excepte the lawe rebuked the/and declared vnto the thy sinne/mysdede/and treaspase.

Repent and beleve the gospell as sayth Christ in the fyrst of Marke. Applyee all waye the lawe to thy dedes/whether thou finde luste in the bottom of thyne herte to the lawe warde: and soo shalt thou no dout repent/and feale in the silfe a certayne sorowe/payne/and grefe to thyne herte: be cause thou canst nott with full luste do the dedes of the lawe. Apllye the gospell/that is to saye the promyses/vnto the deservynge off Christ/and to the mercye of god and his trouth/and soo shalt thou nott despeare: butt shalt feale god as a kynde and a merciful father. And his sprete shall dwell in the/and shall be stronge in the: and the promises shalbe geven the at the last (though not by and by/lest thou shuldest forgett thy sylfe/and be negligent) and all threatenynges shalbe forgeven the for Christis blouddis sake/to whom commit thy silfe all togedder/with out respect/other of thy good dedes or of thy badde.

  1. See David Daniell’s article on Tyndale in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

One reply on “William Tyndale on Law and Gospel”

Tyndale was one of the first “Lutherans”, but the real troubles with law and gospel had less to do with conceptual separation, than further application. Are there any more passages that speak to how Tyndale wired law/gospel together? Was he uncritically repeating Luther, or did he make subtle shifts?

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