Jefferson Vann explains why William Tyndale objected to George Joye’s plagiaristic “corrections” to his New Testament in English.
The true resurrection
While Martin Luther was shaking up the world from Germany, there were a few English advocates of the gospel doing the same thing there. If we were to send a drone back in time to a field somewhere, we might find two of these in a deep argument with each other. Both of these men are in hiding, and both have been marked for arrest, because they dared to write and publish the Bible in English. One of these men belongs to a family known as Hutchins, but history knows him by his other family name. He is William Tyndale. The other gentleman is George Joye.
What are these two men arguing about? The historian tells us…
“Tyndale had claimed, in his controversy with (Sir Thomas) More, that ‘the souls of the dead lie and sleep till Doomesday.’ Joye, in common with most others, believed that the soul passed on to a higher life at death. He had several arguments over this with Tyndale. ‘As we walked together in the field’, Joye wrote…”1
Tyndale was never able to convince George Joye during those heated arguments in the field. While Tyndale was working on his first revision to the New Testament he had translated into English, Joye beat him to the punch by publishing his own “corrected” version of Tyndale’s work first. George Joye’s version was more than a mere proofreading. He made some doctrinal changes in the translation:
“Where Tyndale used ‘resurrection’, Joye substituted the phrase ‘life after this’, except where the passage clearly concerned the resurrection of the body. Thus in Matthew 22, Tyndale wrote: ‘in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage… as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read?’ Joye altered these references: ‘in the life after this they neither marry… as touching the life of them that are dead…’”2
Another historian tells us that Joye “knew hardly any Greek yet took it upon himself to ‘correct’ Tyndale’s translation by comparing it to the Latin Vulgate…”3 When Tyndale “heard how Joye had both plagiarized and bowdlerized his work he was thunderous.”4
Both of these men had views about the intermediate state (the state of human beings after death) and their translations of the Greek word ἀνάστασις reflected their beliefs. For Tyndale, the word always referred to the resurrection. For George Joye, it sometimes could refer to a state of consciousness in the intermediate state.
Conscious Intermediate State v The Resurrection
The belief in a conscious intermediate state had always been a significant part of Roman Catholic dogma. The doctrines of purgatory, and prayer to the saints – for example – depended on people remaining alive in some way after their deaths. Tyndale found much in the New Testament about life after resurrection, but nothing about this life after death before the resurrection. He had debated this point in print with his arch foe – Sir Thomas More.
Tyndale objected to More’s use of Matthew 22:32 as proof of this concept of life in heaven after death.
“And when he proveth that the saints be in heaven in glory with Christ already, saying, ‘If God be their God, they be in heaven, for he is not the God of the dead; there he stealeth away Christ’s argument, wherewith he proveth the resurrection: that Abraham and all saints should rise again, and not that their souls were in heaven; which doctrine was not yet in the world. And with that doctrine he taketh away the resurrection quite, and maketh Christ’s argument of none effect. For when Christ allegeth the scripture, that God is Abraham’s God, and addeth to, that God is not God of the dead but of the living, and so proveth that Abraham must rise again; I deny Christ’s argument (if I) say with M. More, that Abraham is yet alive, not because of the resurrection, but because his soul is in heaven.”5
For Tyndale, Jesus was arguing for the necessity of a resurrection, but he accused More of using that verse out of context to argue the opposite – that believers go to heaven immediately at death with no need for a resurrection.
Tyndale argued that Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15 proves that a physical resurrection is necessary before believers can experience their hope of life together with Christ:
“And in like manner, Paul’s argument unto the Corinthians is nought worth: for when he saith, ‘If there be no resurrection, we be of all wretches the miserablest; here we have no pleasure, but sorrow, care, and oppression; and therefore, if we rise not again, all our suffering is in vain: Nay, Paul, thou art unlearned; go to Master More, and learn a new way. We be not most miserable, though we rise not again; for our souls go to heaven as soon as we be dead, and are there in as great joy as Christ that is risen again.”6
For Tyndale, Paul taught that without the resurrection, we believe in vain. If More were correct, and all believers immediately go to heaven when they die, then Paul was most certainly wrong to suggest that these believers are “of all wretches the miserablest” without a physical resurrection.
Tyndale also suggested that Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians would have been faulty if people are alive after they die.
“And I marvel that Paul had not comforted the Thessalonians with that doctrine, if he had wist it, that the souls of their dead had been in joy; as he did with the resurrection, that their dead should rise again. If the souls be in heaven, in as great glory as the angels, after your doctrine, shew me what cause should be of the resurrection?”7
The debate continues
We conditionalists continue to argue these same points today, because in spite of Tyndale being right about the meaning of ἀνάστασις, there are still a lot of people who still believe in Joye’s alternate resurrection. How do I know that Tyndale was right about ἀνάστασις? Of all the hundreds of translations of the word into English since the 16th century, none have adopted Joye’s reading. Whenever the word appears in all of our English bibles, it is consistently translated “resurrection.”
When the King James Version was published less than 100 years later, its New Testament was over 80% Tyndale’s translation.8 Those of us who read our bibles in English owe a lot to this man who devoted his life to God’s word, eventually paying for that devotion with his life. Some should take another look at the theology of this man. He was passionate for the true resurrection.
- Brian Moynahan, God’s Bestseller: William Tyndale, Thomas More, and the Writing of the English Bible : a Story of Martyrdom and Betrayal. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003. (p. 311).
- Moynahan, 311.
- HarryFreedman, The Murderous History of Bible Translations: Power, Conflict and the Quest for Meaning. 2016. (p.111).
- Freedman, 111.
- Tyndale, William, and Henry Walter. An Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue ; The Supper of the Lord … ; and, Wm. Tracy’s Testament Expounded. Cambridge, Cambs: C.U.P., 1850. p. 118.
- Tyndale, 118.
- Tyndale, 118.