Luther in english part 7 : Law and Gospel in the Theology of William Tyndale – by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA D.D

 Luther in english

part 7 :

Law and Gospel in the Theology of William Tyndale

–  by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA D.D

 

 

 

6

Law and Gospel in the Theology of William Tyndale

THE LIFE AND THOUGHT OF TYNDALE HAS RECEIVED ACUTE ATTENTION over the last fifty years. The most fruitful area of research has engaged the development of his theology of covenant around the year 1530. Most interpreters assume this to be a radical departure from the Law-Gospel dialectical theology of Martin Luther, but more and more scholars are arguing that Tyndale’s thought from the very beginning reveals critical differences with the German reformer on issues of justification and the Christian life. These conclusions deserve careful evaluation, and to do this it is important to begin by unraveling the influences behind Tyndale’s earliest writings as an evangelical reformer, which also provides context and perspective for the later development of his theology of covenant in the 1530s.
Though his precise birthplace remains uncertain, John Foxe states in the Acts and Monuments that Tyndale was “borne upon the borders of Wales,” and historians have confirmed that he was indeed raised in the Severn valley of Gloucestershire, the Vale of Berkeley, probably near the village of Stinchcombe. There is little that is known about Tyndale’s youth, and only possible suggestions can be made regarding the potential influences that might have shaped him at this early stage. The most critical to note in the light of the most recent research is Lollardy. Donald Smeeton and Ralph Werrell have provided the most ambitious attempts to link Tyndale theologically to Wyclif and the Lollards.3 Both work from the Trinterud thesis as it was later developed by P.A. Laughlin and assume that Tyndale from the very beginning had major theological differences with Luther. While not denying that a range of continental influences from Erasmus to Luther had some variable part to play in the development of Tyndale’s thought and expression, these writers challenge distorted emphases placed on foreign currents of thought at the expense of a surviving and vibrant native tradition of Lollard dissent.
Smeeton acknowledges that his own argument for Lollard influence on Tyndale’s theology is inconclusive and that his conclusions are “tentative.” In fact, even the editor of the series reiterates in the preface that Smeeton “is well aware that his own arguments are based on inference and that additional evidence on the main issues of the book would be highly desirable if only it were available.” The argument for Lollard influence is based upon the two basic premises that Lollardy on the eve of the Reformation was a socially and culturally significant movement and that semantic and doctrinal similarities suggest likely influence. Both of these premises, however, are highly questionable on historical grounds.
Regarding the first premise, Smeeton’s conclusions are based on older research that argued in favor of Lollardy’s impact on the English Reformation in the early sixteenth century. However, the consensus of more recent scholarship now leans heavily against this notion and argues that Lollardy’s impact was negligible in comparison to a widespread popular loyalty to Catholicism that persisted well into the Tudor dynasty. With regard to Tyndale, Lollardy is traceable to Gloucestershire, especially the port city of Bristol, but there is no evidence that it was thriving where Tyndale was born and raised.7 In fact, the evidence actually points to the Vale of Berkeley as a stronghold of mainstream Catholicism. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Tyndale had any contact with Lollards before matriculating at Oxford in 1506: “The social history of Gloucestershire, then, and the analysis (in so far as it can be pursued) of Tyndale’s place therein, are hardly such as to establish that Tyndale was exposed to Lollard influences in his upbringing and early development.”
Ralph Werrell, however, has recently isolated a statement made by Tyndale indicating he read the vernacular translation of Hugden’s Polychronicon by John Trevisa as a boy, which happened to be a favorite also of Wyclif and the Lollards. Trevisa was a colleague of Wyclif and Nicholas Hereford at Queen’s College Oxford in the fourteenth century, and the preface to the early seventeenth century King James Bible indeed links him to a Wycliffite translation. Whatever the degree of his involvement in the work of Bible translation, or even of the doubtless influence of Wyclif upon him, Trevisa was by no means a complete disciple of Wyclif.12 Then again, as Anne Hudson has demonstrated, neither were all those generally known as Lollards. However, even if the philology of Tyndale’s vernacular translations could be matched to Wyclif and the Lollards through the medium of Trevisa,14 this does not prove that Tyndale’s theological dissent is of a Wycliffite origin.
The second premise based on doctrinal similarities also rests on shaky ground. Certainly, Tyndale and other English evangelicals had much in common with earlier English dissent, and Tyndale showed his own personal sympathies by publishing Lollard treatises later in the 1530s. However, there were also notable differences between Lollards and evangelicals, chief among them being a clear articulation by the latter of the doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from works.16 Furthermore, the publication of these treatises was years after Tyndale’s evangelical leanings had already been made public, and the evidence is strongest that, along with other reformers of his generation, he received his theological training within the boundaries of orthodox Catholicism. The only historically satisfying way to authenticate any direct influence of the Lollards upon the emerging reforming career of Tyndale is to prove that he was thoroughly familiar with Lollard writings and reforming activity around the time he began his public reforming career. Of course, it is then necessary to determine whether or not specific Lollard texts, doctrinal ideas, and theological expressions were incorporated into his own writings. The fact of the matter is that there is simply no way of knowing what, if anything, by Wyclif or the Lollards Tyndale actually read prior to 1530. Rather, the only scholars that it is infallibly certain that Tyndale possessed an early literary admiration for are Erasmus and Martin Luther. As Richard Rex has aptly pointed out, without solid historical proof this argument rests upon the dubious assumption that doctrinal similarity and chronological precedence indicates influence, which is to fall prey to the logical fallacy of “after, therefore, because of” (post hoc ergo propter hoc). This one-dimensional approach also lies behind the rather brazen assertions of an even more recent work linking Tyndale’s reforming criticisms indirectly to Bogomil-Cathar dualism via Wyclif and the English Lollards.20
For support of Tyndale’s independence from Luther, Werrell cites the comments of Thomas More who considered Tyndale to be ultimately “wors yet in som parte than hys mayster Luther ys hym self.” Not only is this comment probably more specifically targeting Tyndale’s rejection of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but citing the opinion of an incensed critic in the midst of a virulent controversy is hardly a legitimate court of historical appeal. Anne Hudson even states that More cannot even be properly classified as a “theologian.”22 Of course, the point here is not to vainly defend the notion that Tyndale was a disciple of Luther in every regard, yet More himself never identifies differences between Tyndale and Luther with regard to the issues of repentance, faith, justification, and good works. Even if it could be argued that Tyndale is more similar to Lollardy than Luther on some doctrinal points, this itself does not prove beyond historical doubt that he was directly influenced by Lollard writings and activities. A direct theological influence of Lollardy on the writings of Tyndale is simply difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate with any certainty.24
To what degree, then, Tyndale had more in common with Wyclif and Lollardy than with Luther, specifically with regard to his understanding of how the Law and Gospel works in justification and the Christian life, obviously needs to be reassessed in the light of these recent arguments. How important this issue is to the overall historiography of the English Reformation itself is noted by Rex: “Tyndale is such a pivotal figure in the history of the English Reformation that, if it could be shown that his theology was shaped in significant ways by the pre-existing tradition of Lollardy, then this fact alone would establish the case for the importance of Lollardy to the English Reformation.” Indeed, Smeeton, Stackhouse, and Werrell all assume that Tyndale radically differs from Luther on the issue of Law and Gospel, yet not one of these scholars provides any substantial or thoughtful interaction with the writings of the German reformer himself. For example, Rex soundly criticizes Smeeton for his uncritical dependency upon Laughlin apart from a study of Luther’s own writings.26
The earliest significant influence upon Tyndale’s reforming career is undeniably English Humanism. John K. Yost is really the only scholar so far to explore Tyndale’s theology in the context of Renaissance Humanism to any significant degree and who argues for its importance more than any other legacy upon his thought. He identifies Tyndale as essentially a “Protestant advocate of humanist reform” and one among the younger generation of “Erasmians” principally concerned with reviving moral Christian piety based on the Sermon on the Mount. As such, Tyndale stands in continuity with the humanist tradition, and, according to Yost, his theology even anticipates the reform policies carried out in 1535–1540 under the administration of the Vicegerent of Spirituals, Thomas Cromwell, and also the later via media of the Elizabethan period of the 1560s.
The evidence overwhelmingly weighs in favor of Tyndale’s early associations with late medieval Catholic Humanism rather than with Lollardy. It is also common knowledge that Tyndale was ordained to the priesthood sometime before 1520, and Rex has even presented evidence that Tyndale was appointed a chantry priest in Gloucestershire.
It is doubtless that Tyndale encountered Humanism during his studies at Oxford University, and this would be even more true if he visited Cambridge, but Foxe’s comment concerning Tyndale’s sojourn there is unreliable. It seems likely that Tyndale’s own concentration on the value of Scripture was, at least initially, a result of his encounter with ideals within Humanism, particularly in the writings of Erasmus. In fact, his mission to produce a vernacular Bible for the common Christian was more likely inspired earliest by Erasmus rather than Lollardy or even Luther. Tyndale’s prophetic rebuke against a certain Gloucestershire clergyman that he would see “a boy that driueth the plough to know more of the Scripture then he did” bears stark resemblance to a comment appearing in the Paraclesis prefacing Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum (1516).
Although Humanism was only beginning to make significant strides in English university curriculum in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Oxford had undoubtedly been affected by the new methodology in some measure when Tyndale first matriculated at Magdalen school in 1506 as a grammar student between the ages of 12 and 13. It is important to point out, as Rex does, that the simple fact of Tyndale’s attendance at university points to his more orthodox Catholic, as opposed to Lollard, background. It is possible that Tyndale was first introduced to the study of Greek at Oxford, but it does not seem from statements in his own writings that the curriculum had changed all that much by the second decade of the sixteenth century. In his Practice of Prelates (1530), Tyndale bemoans that his university education was still profoundly in the scholastic mold, which he claims restricted him from engaging a more direct study of the Scriptures themselves on their own terms. Oxford is the only university that Tyndale indisputably attended. Even Foxe changed his comment in the 1563 edition of the Acts and Monuments from “had bene a studient of diuinitie at Cambridge” to “made his abode a certaine space” in the 1570 edition. Scholars remain unconvinced even of this revised statement. The important point here is that, according to Tyndale’s personal recollections, the methods of scholasticism still dominated the arts faculty at Oxford during his years as a university student. Nevertheless, Foxe does claim that Tyndale meanwhile increased in the knowledge of languages, the arts, and “especially in the knowledge of the Scriptures,” even hosting lectures on the Bible to other “students and fellows” of Magdalene Hall. Since Tyndale never actually reached the academic level granting him formal authority to lecture on the Bible, this must have been of his own volition and in an unofficial capacity.
The writings of Wyclif had been largely quarantined at Oxford by the early fifteenth century, and this would lend further support to the notion that Tyndale’s valuing of Scripture was originally of humanist, rather than Lollard, derivation. Though Erasmus’s groundbreaking Novum Instrumentum was not published until after Tyndale had taken the M.A. degree in 1515, it is probable that Tyndale was already familiar with Erasmus’s Handbook of the Militant Christian (1503) and his more recent and enormously popular satire on clerical abuses in The Praise of Folly (1514). However, there is no evidence to indicate that Tyndale had made any radical break with the cardinal points of Catholic theology by the time he was awarded the M.A., and it must always be kept in mind that Humanism itself was not inherently opposed to traditional Catholic theology. Humanism was primarily a reform of classical methodology and its chief aim was to inspire and foster morality and virtue. It was not interested in overturning the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church nor in denying its authority, nor did it even necessarily reject other hermeneutical methods entirely, though it did seek to emphasize the historical, literary, and rhetorical interpretation of Scripture in its original languages. While many English reformers who encountered Humanism as it was beginning to emerge significantly in England in the early sixteenth century did indeed end up reconstructing more basic theological assumptions about salvation and biblical authority, it must also be acknowledged that many humanists, including both Colet and Erasmus, did not perceive the methodological and moral concerns of Humanism to be at all inconsistent with their loyalty to the Catholic Church and its authority or the fundamentals of its theology. The reforming career of Tyndale is certainly one example of how certain elements within the methodology of Humanism might be employed to more radical ends, but it is necessary to consider other sources, such as the writings of Luther, in accounting for the origins of his evangelical theology.
After acquiring his M.A., and according to university tradition, Tyndale would have been expected to lecture for at least a year. In the 1570 edition of the Acts and Monuments, Foxe mentions that Tyndale next, “spying hys tyme, remoued from thence to the Universitie of Cambridge, where after hee had likewise made his abode a certaine space” became “now further ripened in the knowledge of Gods word.” As tempting as it might be to accept this statement on the basis of circumstantial factors, such as the importance of Cambridge to both English Humanism and the early circulation and organized discussion of Luther’s writings, most historians today argue that there is simply no evidence other than this one single statement to verify that Tyndale ever visited Cambridge. Tyndale himself never mentions having done so, his name appears nowhere in the university records, and other Cambridge evangelical reformers make no mention of him ever being there around 1520. The first evidence of Tyndale’s acquaintanceship with other Cambridge reformers such as George Joye, William Roye, Robert Barnes, and Miles Coverdale occurs only after his flight to Europe in 1524. The one exception is John Frith, whom Tyndale met in London sometime in 1523 or 1524.
Tyndale’s early sympathy with Erasmus and Humanism is evident when he returned to Gloucestershire in the early 1520s to become a tutor to the sons of Sir John and Lady Anne Walsh at Little Sodbury Manor. Richard Rex provides strong evidence that Tyndale’s gentry patrons were devoted Catholics who regularly dined with local clergy. Foxe mentions that both Erasmus and Luther were the topic of table conversations. On one occasion, Tyndale’s objections to the opinions of the local clergy were challenged by Lady Anne. His response, probably presented sometime in 1522, was an English translation of Erasmus’s Enchiridion militis Christiani (1503). The fact that Tyndale chose this particular work in itself suggests that his reforming sympathies by 1522–23 probably had not extended much beyond that of Erasmian Humanism.
The translation of the Enchiridion is the first known literary work of Tyndale. It has been suggested on stylistic grounds that a certain English edition of the Enchiridion printed in London by Wynkyn de Worde in 1533 might not be the work of Tyndale nor identical to the original manuscript he presented to the Walshes in the early 1520s. The discussion of its authorship remains unsettled. In any case, it is striking how many of the themes of Erasmus’s Enchiridion relating to the Christian life do recur throughout Tyndale’s career. These include a covenantal understanding of baptism, an attack on popular devotional superstition to images and relics in praise of personal discipleship to the life of Christ as presented in the Scriptures, and a disdain for the medieval scholastic method.
After failing to secure patronage for his vernacular New Testament from Bishop Tunstall of London in 1523, Tyndale boarded for about a year in the home of a cloth merchant named Humphrey Monmouth. Monmouth became an important benefactor to Tyndale and, when summoned before Thomas More in 1528 on grounds of abetting heretics, mentions having possession of a copy of the English Enchiridion given to him by Tyndale. Therefore, by as late 1523–1524 Tyndale still appears to esteem Erasmus’s “practical book about being Christian in the world.” Although his opinion of Erasmus would change and become more negative,47 his indebtedness early on to the legacy of the Dutch humanist cannot be ignored. It is at least clear that Tyndale had more demonstrable sympathies with Humanism than Lollardy during these early years of his intellectual development as a reformer.
Tyndale’s skill with the ancient languages is another obvious tribute to the legacy of Humanism, and he shared Erasmus’s vision to see the Scriptures in the vernacular and made use of Erasmus’s Greek New Testament in his own biblical translations. Yet it would be inaccurate to overemphasize the enduring influence of Erasmus and Humanism upon the evangelical theology of Tyndale after 1524–1525. Although John Yost argues that Tyndale’s use of the Church Fathers in his later writings is further evidence of his bonds to the legacy of Humanism, he admits that Tyndale never comes close to matching Erasmus’s patristic resourcement. Furthermore, while humanists themselves disagreed concerning which classical pagan authors were appropriate to use, Tyndale’s writings post-1524 possessed not a fraction of Erasmus’s respect for the ancient pagan poets and rhetoricians. In his later polemics, Tyndale lumps together English humanists such as Thomas More and John Fisher with the scholastic theologians, which shows that a common heritage in the methodologies and reforming concerns of Humanism did not automatically result in theological agreement. A comparison of Tyndale’s exegetical method with that of Erasmus also creates some difficulties in aligning the former too closely with the latter.
Erasmus readily accepted the four senses of biblical interpretation as outlined by the third century exegete Origen of Alexandria, whom Erasmus warmly admired in his Enchiridion, and he believed that the allegorical meaning is preferable but only when a literal interpretation is unreasonable. Tyndale, on the other hand, inspired in some measure by Luther, openly attacks Origen in his later writings and denies that allegory is a separate sense of Scripture. On account of this, Yost places Tyndale closer to the Humanism of Colet on this issue, although Gleason has argued that even Colet acknowledged the medieval quadriga on a theoretical level. Of course, Tyndale recognized the value of allegory as a rhetorical method to illustrate a point stated clearly in another passage of Scripture, but he never classifies allegory as one of four modes of biblical exegesis. In his Obedience of A Christian Man (1528) Tyndale asserts that the literal interpretation of the text and its spiritual meaning are the same and that interpreting the Scriptures according to the “letter” does not mean being bound to the earthly sense of the text but to read the Bible as Law without the Gospel. This echoes Luther in his own preference for Augustine rather than Erasmus who obviously favored Origen.
Although Tyndale inherited the rhetorical and literary methodology pioneered by Humanism, and though Erasmus himself considered the study of the Scriptures to be invaluable to fostering Christian morality, the high view of the authority of Scripture Tyndale expresses in his evangelical writings places him much closer to Luther than Erasmus. Erasmus admitted that a doctrine such as Mary’s perpetual virginity could not at all be grounded on Scripture, even allegorically interpreted, but he was willing to accept such a matter by faith on the basis of the authority of the Catholic Church. Tyndale also moved closer to Luther than Erasmus in expressing a higher regard for the didactic writings of Paul, arguing that the Gospel is most clearly preached in one epistle of Paul than in any one of the synoptic gospels. Tyndale’s Pauline orientation certainly owes more to Luther, and by default Augustine, than to the synoptic orientation in the Humanism of Fisher or Erasmus.51
With regard to the moral Law, Yost follows Trinterud by contrasting Tyndale’s moral thought with Luther’s stark dialectic of Law and Gospel. For Tyndale, the “law of Moses and the law of Christ were not antithetical” and “He lacked the evangelical emphasis upon the antithesis between law and gospel.” According to Yost this antithesis was avoided on account of Tyndale’s bond to the moralistic concerns of Humanism, and that Tyndale was “a Christian humanist of the younger generation who turned enthusiastically and expectantly to Luther for ecclesiastical reform and religious renewal, but reverted later to a progress of humanist reform.” Tyndale’s emphasis upon the Law throughout his writings is argued as evidence of the indelible imprint of Humanism upon his thinking. Even with regard to the doctrine of justification, Yost argues that Tyndale emphasizes the obedience of faith to the Law, whereas Luther’s emphasis is on faith before God: “Tyndale employed Luther’s idea of justification by faith alone in furthering the cause of Christian humanism.” With regard to his theological anthropology, Yost argues that Tyndale’s emphasis on grace enabling the will to perform good works and the moral capacities of the natural intellect places him closer to Erasmus than Luther: “Tyndale agreed with Erasmus concerning the idea of man which was the core of humanist thought. On the other hand, he disagreed with Luther concerning justification by grace alone which was the core of Reformation theology.” Luther is caricatured by Yost as if he was only ever concerned with the relationship of the sinner coram Deo. Yet like so many other scholars of early English Reformation theology, Yost reveals no real engagement with Luther’s own writings. In fact, given the many number of times he asserts there to be a disparity between Tyndale and Luther on the subject of Law and Gospel, it is surprising that the only work by Luther listed in his bibliography is the Lectures on Romans (1515–1516).
The point here is certainly not to deny the impression that Humanism made upon the young Tyndale. After all, it was Erasmus’s praise of Bishop of London Cuthbert Tunstall that inspired Tyndale to seek his patronage in translating the New Testament into English. Tyndale presented Tunstall with his translation of the Greek oration of Isocrates in order to demonstrate his knowledge of Greek and his skills as a translator. This, along with his earlier decision to translate the Enchiridion for Lady Walsh is proof enough of his having some degree of affection for Erasmus early on. However, Yost’s classification of Tyndale as essentially a Christian humanist influenced largely by Erasmus, who only for a brief period flirted with Luther’s evangelical theology, is a grave overstatement on the basis of the life and career of Tyndale after 1525. Given such crucial differences that do emerge between Tyndale and the principal architect of English Humanism, including a general repulsion for classical pagan literature and the medieval quadriga, it seems that labeling him a “Christian humanist” is as much a misleading generalization as scholars say of the badge of “Lutheran.”
Tyndale was obviously influenced and inspired by certain methodological and reforming considerations within Humanism, including its philological, rhetorical, and literary methods of interpretation and its emphasis on the cultivation of inward Christian character. It is also obvious that he was an early admirer of Erasmus in particular, but this is not enough to justify classifying him over the course of his career as an essentially Christian humanist. Though some might argue that Erasmus himself was even a “fideist,” Tyndale’s articulation after 1524 of a doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ apart from all works is a credit to the evangelical influence of Luther not Erasmus. With regard to his theological anthropology, Anne Richardson has shown that Tyndale clearly takes the side of Luther against Erasmus in debates over free-will in the mid-1520s. Erasmus’s Enchiridion explicitly follows Origen in differentiating between spirit, soul, and body, with sin essentially defined as a breakdown in the rational control of the body and its sensual appetites. Following Socrates, Erasmus identifies the cause of fleshly indulgence as the ignorance of the good, and, like Aristotle, characterizes the achievement of virtue as the result of a process of the disciplined cultivation of moral habits, which Erasmus says is possible with God’s help and the example of Christ. Although this work was translated by Tyndale as his first literary work, all of his subsequent writings reveal the influence of Luther’s anthropology and his belief in the total depravity and absolute bondage of the “totus homo” under the complete compulsion and condemnation of the Law, as well as the active righteousness of the Christian as an a priori new state of being established in the heart through faith and the working of the Spirit and not something accumulated through the disciplined increase of moral habits leading to the merit of eternal life.
It is not certain when Tyndale first learned of Luther or became familiar with his writings, but it could not have been any later than 1522 since Luther was a topic of table discussions in the home of Tyndale’s noble patrons in Gloucestershire. He could not have been familiar with the German reformer any earlier than 1518–1519 when Luther’s works began to be exported from Germany and sold in England. Attention to Luther in England multiplied intensely in the years 1520–1521, especially in the environs of London, Oxford, and Cambridge. If Tyndale had contact with Luther’s writings by the end of 1520, they would have most likely been accessed in one of these three places. Tyndale was at Oxford from 1506–1516, but Luther was not an international figure at that time. Tyndale was ordained a deacon and then a priest in the diocese of London in 1515, but the next time he appears in London is almost ten years later after fleeing Gloucestershire and seeking patronage from the Bishop of London for his work in translating the New Testament into English. If Tyndale spent time at Cambridge this would have been between the years 1517 and 1520, but there is no corroborative evidence to verify the statement in Foxe. This is further undermined by the fact that Tyndale returned to Gloucestershire as a tutor to the Walshes, a Catholic family of the gentry class, and was appointed as a chantry priest in a chapel in Breadstone in the Vale of Berkeley around 1520. Therefore, at the moment of his return to Gloucestershire in 1520–1521 there was as of yet “no hint of suspicion about his orthodoxy” nor any such links whatsoever to Luther whose charges of heresy by this time had been made official by the Catholic Church in Rome. Although Luther and Erasmus were the topic of table discussions in the home of the Walshes, there is no way to know what the precise content of those discussions was other than that Tyndale showed his superior knowledge of the Scriptures. With regard to Tyndale’s now famous words of defiance against the Pope in conversation with a local “Divine,” this appears less to have been the influence of Luther than a “certaine Doctour” living in the same region, “an old Channcellour before to a Byshop” and “old familiar acquantance.” Furthermore, the immediate context of this invective statement appears to be Tyndale’s determination to issue a vernacular Bible, which was initially inspired by the work of Erasmus rather than Luther.63
Tyndale’s desire to work under the patronage of Bishop Tunstall, who was praised by Erasmus for his humanist leanings, is evidence of his much closer associations with Erasmus by the date of 1523, as is his passing of the Enchiridion on to Humphrey Monmouth. Perhaps Tyndale’s desire for episcopal sanction was nothing more than a desire for physical protection and financial subsidization, but it also might have been because Tyndale had simply not yet moved in the more radical theological direction of Luther. After all, this is now two years after Luther had been formally excommunicated and condemned by the Empire. Tyndale’s early activities in London seem unlikely for a person sympathetic to a renegade German monk officially condemned for heresy by the Catholic Church. One scholar has argued that the doctrinal differences between Erasmus and Luther were not even clear before the public controversy over free-will in 1524–1525, but Luther as early as 1516 had already expressed disagreement with Erasmus on the issue of justification and the bondage of the will. Besides, Luther, not Erasmus, was demarcated a heretic in 1521.
It is likely that during Tyndale’s brief stay in London in 1523–1524 he became more familiar with and sympathetic to the theological reforms of Luther, whose own German translation of the New Testament had been recently published in September 1522. Knowledge of this event coupled with Tyndale’s growing awareness that “there was no place to [translate the New Testament] in all of England” must have been the inspiration behind his decision to join the company of like-minded opportunists across the channel.
Tyndale left England for the Continent in the spring of 1524. Visits to both Hamburg and Wittenberg rest completely on contemporary testimony alone. For the former, Monmouth’s confession to the Bishop of London recorded by Foxe in his Acts and Monuments is principal evidence. Tyndale’s visit to Wittenberg is far more controversial due to the sensitivity surrounding the discussion of Luther’s influence, but it, too, is based on the contemporary testimony of Catholic apologists Thomas More and John Cochlaeus (1479–1552). Foxe also records that “At his first departing out of the realme, he tooke hys iourney into the further partes of Germany, as into Saxonie, where he had conference with Luther and other learned men in those quarters.” J. F. Mozley took Foxe’s statement one step further in his classic biography by suggesting that a “Guillelmus Daltici ex Anglia,” a name appearing in the 1524 matriculation registers of the University of Wittenberg, is none other than Tyndale himself (Daltici being close to “Daltin,” which is a reversal of “tin-Dal”). Though this appears to be quite the stretch, Mozley argues that it would not have been necessary for Tyndale to officially matriculate in order to benefit from association with the Wittenberg reformers:

Wittenberg had an university, and offered all the helps that a scholar might need. There he would find books and libraries; there he could take counsel with Melancthon professor of Greek, Aurogallus professor of Hebrew, Bugenhagen (Pomeranus) rector of the town church, and other learned men. Above all, there was Luther himself, no mean scholar, and one that had lately performed the very task which Tyndale had in his mind … it would be strange if he did not desire to meet the great captain, who had braved the might of pope and emperor, and had successfully raised the standard of reform.

There is no other evidence apart from contemporary testimony that Tyndale ever visited Wittenberg, much less met Luther personally. It is interesting to note that Luther never mentions Tyndale in his writings or correspondences, and Tyndale even later objects to More’s accusation that he was ever “confederate with Luther.” However, Tyndale biographers keenly observe that this statement hardly constitutes a denial of ever having visited Luther or Wittenberg. In any case, Tyndale’s sojourn in the German Empire would certainly have been enough to bring him into the fuller orb of Luther’s influence than if he had stayed in England. Indeed it is in 1525 and afterwards that an indisputable connection of Tyndale to Luther becomes evident beginning with the printing of the first English translation of the Greek New Testament in the imperial free city of Cologne.
Along with Antwerp and Hamburg, Cologne had a developed printing industry and was a city with strategic economic ties to England. Tyndale would later settle in Antwerp prior to his betrayal and arrest, but it was in Cologne that Tyndale would first see his vision for a printed English New Testament come to fruition in the printing house of Peter Quentell. Accompanying him in the work was William Roye, a converted friar from Greenwich who matriculated at the University of Wittenberg in 1525 where he possibly met Tyndale. The printing of the New Testament, however, was interrupted in the middle of Matthew 22 after authorities were tipped off by John Cochlaeus who overheard intoxicated employees of Quentell describe how two Englishmen were printing Luther’s New Testament in English to make all of England Lutheran.
The surviving Cologne Fragment of 1525 is the first evangelical work by Tyndale as well as the first evangelical work printed in English. The extent of its actual “Lutheranness” is the subject of much debate. Heresy hunters and Catholic apologists such as Thomas More viewed Tyndale as little more than a mimic of Luther and the one principally responsible for spreading Luther’s heresy in England in the late 1520s. Even modern scholars only a few generations ago typified Tyndale as an essentially English Luther.72 At first glance, the Cologne Fragment does seem to be largely a translation of Luther’s September Testament (1522). The prologue, marginal notes, and even the accompanying woodcuts undeniably borrow from Luther’s edition. Even Trinterud, whose essay was written to minimize Luther’s influence on the theology of Tyndale, recognizes the obvious indebtedness of Tyndale’s prologue and marginal notes to Luther. Nevertheless, he goes on to state that Tyndale “used Luther rather than agreed with Luther,” and that “About one eighth of Tyndale’s prologue consists of a good translation of roughly half of Luther’s prologue.”
Upon closer inspection, the two texts are indeed not identical. Tyndale’s prologue is considerably longer than Luther’s own “Preface” (Vorrhede) to the New Testament, and Tyndale does not follow Luther’s translation of Matthew on every turn, often preferring to translate directly from the Greek while utilizing Luther judiciously along with the revised Latin text of Erasmus. With regard to the marginal notes, biographer David Daniell argues that only a third could be ascribed independently to Tyndale. The other two-thirds include verbatim translations, modifications, and expansions, along with a few reductions and complete omissions.75 Nevertheless, although the marginal notes are hardly identical to Luther’s, the parallels are still very significant. In essence, they are a continuance of the evangelical themes discussed in the prologue, that “rightwesness/ ys fulfilled when we forsake all oure awne rightwesnes/ that god only maye be counted he which is rightwes/ and maketh rightwes/ throw faith.”
Although a comprehensive philological analysis and comparison of the biblical translations of Luther and Tyndale would be valuable, the scope of the following discussion focuses primarily on the prologue and the theological themes pertaining to Law and Gospel, repentance, faith, justification, and the Christian life of good works. As Smeeton has pointed out, “The debate about the degree to which Tyndale was influenced by Luther’s thought hinges on the interpretation of the Englishman’s soteriology.”78 The main point to be explored is whether or not the undeniable semantic and structural differences existing between the two texts belie a fundamental indebtedness to Luther’s theology, especially as it pertains to Law and Gospel.
Daniell describes the Cologne prologue as essentially “the first printed Lutheran document in English to reach England.” Yet he also observes that Tyndale doubles the length of Luther’s prologue with new and expanded material, which includes an opening section devoted to defending the vernacular translation of Scripture. Tyndale also omits the stratification of New Testament books that comes at the end of Luther’s prologue, especially with regard to doubts about the apostolic canonicity of James. Though Tyndale acknowledges the reasoning for such doubts, he is much more readily accepting of its canonicity than Luther. Some scholars have wanted to interpret this as a possible connection to Lollardy, since the latter were known to have placed a great stake on the book.81 However, as Rex points out, Tyndale in his career rarely utilizes or quotes from James. In fact, “there are only one or two books of the New Testament—minor Pauline epistles—which Tyndale cites less frequently than James.” It is also important to remember that Luther himself praised James for the works that it taught, although he harshly criticized it for failing to explain how these are truly possible.83 Furthermore, Tyndale’s use of James is not so unlike Luther who, despite the more disparaging tone toward James in his Vorrhede, actually makes exegetical use of James in other writings, including a sermon dating to the very same year.
In the prologue, Tyndale follows Luther rather closely by prefacing the New Testament with an interpretive grid and according to an evangelical understanding of Law and Gospel. The theology of the prologue bears the stark imprint of Luther here, and it does so either by extracting lines verbatim from Luther or by developing a line of thought that is reminiscent of other early works of Luther.
One important example of a near verbatim translation of Luther’s own preface is the passage containing his definition of Law and Gospel. Tyndale’s Cologne Fragment of 1525 reads: “The olde testament is a boke/ where in is wrytten the law and commaundments of god/ And the dedes of them which beleueth them ore beleue them nott. The new testament is a boke where in are Conteyned the promyses of god/ and the Dedes of them which beleue them Or beleue them nott … Euangelion (that we cal the gospel) is a greke worde/That signyfyth good/mery/ glad ioyfull tydings/ that maketh a mannes hert glad/ and maketh hym synge/ daunce and leepe for ioye.” Luther’s own German preface translated by the American Edition (LW) reads: “Just as the Old Testament is a book in which are written God’s laws and commandments, together with the history of those who kept and of those who did not keep them, so the New Testament is a book in which are written the gospel and the promises of God, together with those who do not believe them … For ‘gospel’ [Euangelium] is a Greek word [German New Testament actually has deutsch] and means in Greek a good message, and good tidings, good news, a good report which one sings and tells with gladness.” That Tyndale freely copied from Luther’s definition is undeniable and the differences are minor and heavily outweighed by the almost identical appearance of the two texts.
Tyndale’s prologue continues closely in step with Luther following this definition by describing the Gospel as rightly called a “New Testament,” in so far as it was fulfilled in and confirmed by the death of Jesus Christ, even though at the same time it was prophesied long before to Adam and Abraham.
Tyndale stops trailing Luther at the end of his discussion of Old Testament messianic prophecy. Whereas Luther goes on for a few more paragraphs to contrast the ministries of Christ and Moses before concluding with his stratification of New Testament books, Tyndale goes into an extended discussion relating the themes of Law and Gospel to fallen human nature and divine grace respectively. Yet, in his marginal notes on Matthew 16, Tyndale does lament over the fact that prelates of his own day have made the Gospel “biterer then the olde law” and the burden of Christ “hevier than the yooke of Moses,” so that “oure condicion and estate ys ten tymes more grievous than was ever the jewes.” This hearkens to the contrast Luther strikes between the proper ministries of Christ and Moses in his own prologue, but Tyndale also makes mention in the marginal note that the Pharisaical rituals of the “new goddes” (Catholic clergy) reveal they have “feyned Rede Erasmus annotacions.” Tyndale still shows some regard here for the textual insights of Erasmus accompanying his Greek New Testament and with regard to his criticism of the saturation of contemporary Christian piety with rituals and ceremonies, but his underlying theological position by this time has much more obvious affinities with Luther. His description of the Law in the prologue as fundamentally the revelation of natural human depravity and absolute spiritual bondage, “to brynge vs vnto the knowlege of oureselves,” is certainly more reflective of Luther’s pessimistic outlook on human nature rather than of the anthropology of Erasmus. For Tyndale, like Luther, the Law demands what is impossible, namely the love of a pure heart, and in this way it only brings with it the sentence of judgment and wrath. The Gospel, on the contrary, is the “grace,” or “favour,” of God in Christ toward repentant sinners and it ministers salvation by its promises: “of lyfe/ of mercy/ of perdon frely by the merites of Christ … In the gospell when we beleve the promyses/ we receave the spyrite of lyfe/ and are iustified in the bloud of Christ from all things whereof the lawe condemned vs.”89 Although the themes of spiritual bondage and the receiving of the righteousness of justification and the Spirit through faith and the merits of Christ are also found in Augustine whose influence on Tyndale could be attributed to his education in humanist methodology, his strong correlation of faith, both here and elsewhere in the treatise, with the receiving of the Spirit and the favor of God in Christ that justifies from the condemnation of the Law is evidence of the particular evangelical influence of Luther. Although Tyndale’s prologue has at this point branched off from Luther’s text, the theology of this entire section still very much breathes the influence of his understanding of Law and Gospel.
This section continues with Tyndale’s description of the Old Testament containing many promises alongside the Law to comfort troubled consciences, and the New Testament containing Law alongside the preaching of the Gospel to condemn those who do not yet believe the promises. Tyndale, like Luther, believed that the preaching of the Law and Gospel must always abide together in history, the former to humble the self-righteous and proud and the latter to keep contrite sinners from despair. Even the imperfect works of Christians need to be evaluated in the perfect light of the Law so that God always receives the praise for His mercy and grace. Tyndale’s prologue then identifies two sorts of people who are deceived and who do not properly humble themselves before the Law. The first seek to justify themselves by outward works, though inwardly their hearts are far from pure, which is revealed by attitudes of self-righteous superiority over others. Such a person has failed to understand that the Law demands inward purity and that he or she only obeys the Law because of its outward compulsion. Inwardly they would wish the Law to vanish while they disregard the hope of the promises by trusting in their own merits. The second kind of deceived person lives in open sin “with full consent,” presuming upon God’s promise of forgiveness and pardon while living an immoral life without repentance. For Tyndale, this is not the kind of saving faith that comes from the Spirit of God but is merely “dremynge,” an “ymaginacion,” and “folisshe opynion.” It shows a lack of respect both towards God’s Law and the kindness of His promises. The kind of faith that saves is that which follows only after a deep remorse for sin in repentance. This “right fayth” consents that the commandments and the God who established them are just, and even though the Law cannot be fulfilled perfectly by anyone, a “right christen man consenteth to the lawe” by hating what is forbidden and pleading with God for greater strength to do what He commands. Although true faith is not without love and good works, “yet is oure savinge imputed nether to loue nor vnto good werkes, but vnto fayth only.” Thus, in the meantime of praying for greater strength to do the will of God more perfectly, the Christian confides in the promises of God in the blood of Christ for pardon resulting in continual gratitude and praise unto His mercy. All of these ideas and themes, though perhaps not always the same wording or phraseology, can be readily found in Luther’s evangelical writings of the 1520s.
At this point in Tyndale’s prologue a subheading is introduced: “Here shall ye see compendiously and plainly set out the order and practise of everythynge afore rehearsed.” Based on the opinion that the theology and tone of this later section do not quite sing “in Tyndale’s voice,” Daniell proposes that the last five pages might actually belong to William Roye. Even if this was true, and Daniell does make some thought-provoking observations, it is hard to imagine that Tyndale would allow the second half of the completed prologue to be published if it were containing any questionable material.
Under this subheading, Tyndale also describes natural men as “heyres of the vengeaunce of god by byrth.” Just as poison is inside a serpent before it ever strikes, so the heart of a person is evil before he or she even does one single outward deed. Using a biblical metaphor, Tyndale asserts that the quality of a person’s works, like the fruit of a tree, are determined by the quality of the person inwardly, whether good or bad. Likewise, “so doo nott oure evyll deds make vs evyll: but because that of nature we are evell/therfore we bothe thynke and doo evyll …” Though Smeeton has shown that the analogy of the tree and its fruit was common even among the Lollards, it also appears frequently in the more contemporary works of Luther. Furthermore, Tyndale’s use of the analogy is closer to Luther because it occurs in the context of a more clearly articulated doctrine of justification before God in Christ through faith alone apart from works and not merely in describing faith as the source of love and good works.
Tyndale goes on to describe the preaching of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of the elect to trust in the mercy of God, which in turn results in righteous desires to fulfill the Law. Those reborn of the Spirit are never satisfied with imperfection. A righteous sorrow remains in them and they depend upon the atonement of Christ for the pardon of all their deficiencies. Until more strength is given, God takes pleasure in the heart that longs after His will. Tyndale makes it clear, though, that it is by faith alone that men are saved and “only in belevynge the promyses.” Love and good deeds, even those virtues described in the Beatitudes, are the fruit of being pardoned by “fayth onlye,” and they “certyfyeth us in oure hertes that we are goddes sonnes/ that the holy gost is in us.” In and of themselves, love and good deeds are never the basis of pardon, and there is no deed done in this life that is untainted by sin, including that of Christians. Even great apostles like Peter and Paul perpetually “syghed after” the fullness of moral righteousness. Again, all these themes reflect Luther’s evangelical theology of the Christian as simul justus et peccator. As for good deeds acting as self-assurances of true faith, this is also made explicit in Luther’s early writings.
Carl Trueman argues that Tyndale does not explicitly develop his doctrine of the atonement in terms of the objective removal of moral guilt or the satisfying of the wrath of God, but rather interprets and emphasizes the work of Christ more as impacting the regeneration of the moral will. Trueman acknowledges that Tyndale openly speaks about God’s wrath and vengeance against sin and even about the blood of Christ as making satisfaction, but that he never speaks explicitly of Christ as propitiating God’s wrath nor that satisfaction is made directly to God for sin: “he fails to emphasize the guilt of man before God, he consequently places little emphasis upon the God-ward aspects of Christ’s work. As a result, his theology of atonement is extremely vague … salvation is concerned more with man’s ability than with his guilt before God.”
Although Tyndale may not have developed his theology of the atonement quite to the satisfaction of a systematic theology, it is quite clear from the prologue that he, like Luther, perceived the human will to be in bondage to the Devil and to sin until the conscience becomes free of the knowledge of guilt under the righteous condemnation of the Law and of the fear of the deserved wrath of God through faith in the justifying, atoning, and pardoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Althaus provides a useful critique of Gustaf Aulén’s Christus Victor and its strict association of Luther with the “classical” theory of atonement, arguing convincingly that Luther interpreted the classical emphasis on the victory of God over evil powers precisely in terms of the Godward satisfaction of justice made in Christ. Tyndale’s own statements concerning the necessity of contrition or repentance under the Law to drive the sinner to Christ and the love and good works that flow liberally from faith in Christ cannot even be understood or appreciated apart from his awareness of the profound moral guilt of all before God atoned only in and through the righteousness of Christ.
Tyndale describes in the prologue how the Law acts upon the conscience to bring about repentance and that this always must precede the pardon offered by the Gospel so that the promise of salvation in Christ from a terrifying future is received genuinely as “good tydings.” It is by the preaching of the Law that sinners first become aware of how captive they are to the Devil and how, like him, they are inwardly enemies of God and His will. The preaching of the Gospel of forgiveness softens the contrite heart of the elect and, by the restoration of the rule of the Holy Spirit, they are liberated from bondage to Satan. In this way the Law binds and the Gospel looses. They act together as two “salves” to cure the disease of sin, the Law acting as the diagnosis and the Gospel as the medicine.
According to Tyndale’s prologue, the truly repentant Christian will desire to be completely cured of all unrighteousness and not just of guilt, just as a sick man wants to be made completely whole and well again. The Christian, then, wants to fulfill the Law more and more because it is the good will of God. Though Christ is first and foremost the Redeemer whose redemptive accomplishments belong to them that believe, He is also an example to follow in doing good works out of love for the sake of others. Christ obeyed the Father not to gain a heavenly favor he already possessed, but considered “nothinge but oure welth … Bond servaunts werke for hyre/ Children for love. For there father with all he hath/ is thers alreddy.” Contrary to Werrell’s opinion that Tyndale, unlike Luther, stresses that “man’s salvation is primarily for the glory of God” and not the benefits of man, this is one instance where Tyndale indeed describes salvation in terms of the benefits God gives to humanity. Though Tyndale acknowledges that rewards are promised for holy living in Scripture, rewards can never be the objective of a truly good and Christian work, which is always selfless by nature. Rewards are indeed promised, but not as merits or earnings. Rather, they follow the obedient life that springs of its own accord from faith without any thought of reward.
Although Tyndale’s prologue expands much beyond Luther’s shorter prologue, there is nothing here to warrant the claim of any major theological disagreement. In fact, Tyndale seems to copy heavily from other early sources of Luther besides his Vorrhede, most notably The Freedom of A Christian (1520). Scholars exaggerate Tyndale’s independence from Luther on the basis that he expands or develops a line of reasoning beyond what is visibly found in the text of Luther’s own preface. Yet they have not adequately considered whether or not Tyndale is appropriating other early writings of Luther. For example, though Luther does not go into as long a discussion of human nature and depravity in his own preface, Tyndale’s description of the natural will in bondage to sin certainly resembles Luther’s own position formulated by 1518 well before his differences with Erasmus were made more public on this issue in 1524–1525.
A fair number of scholars have adopted Trinterud’s thesis by distancing Tyndale from Luther at this early stage, placing his approbation of the moral Law in closer proximity to Humanism and the Reformed tradition. Accordingly, Luther’s supposedly rigid polarization of Law and Gospel is not even adopted by Tyndale here in 1525. According to Trinterud, Luther spoke of the love of God and neighbor as the fruit of justifying faith, whereas Tyndale also stressed love for the very commandments of the Law themselves.
On the contrary, Tyndale does polarize Law and Gospel in precisely the same manner as Luther. First, he does this by starkly contrasting the very “nature of the lawe and the nature of the evangelion.” The preaching of the Law always goes before to bind consciences so that the Gospel might follow after and liberate: “When a preacher preacheth the Lawe/he byndeth all consciences/ and when he preacheth the Gospell/ he lowseth them agayne.” Tyndale agrees with Luther that the preaching of Law and Gospel, defined according to their proper senses, have their own distinctive ministries in the human heart.
Paul Laughlin argues that Tyndale obviously employs Luther’s language of “Law and Gospel,” but that he had already at this point developed a “quasi-covenantal configuration” that resembles the emerging “covenantal” theology of the Swiss and Rhineland reformers. Therefore, Tyndale’s later formal emphasis on the “covenant” in the 1530s merely represents a shift in his homiletic “schemata” and not in his fundamental theological understanding. Yet Laughlin can even admit that Luther at times referred to the Law more positively as a guide for Christian behavior, though he argues this is de-emphasized when compared with the centrality it receives in Tyndale’s thought. Smeeton at least acknowledges that greater emphasis does not necessarily betray fundamental theological disagreement.103
Laughlin also argues that “Gospel” in Luther usually refers to “proclamation,” whereas for Tyndale it refers to “the promises.” He also asserts that Luther conceives of the object of faith in terms of the promises in Christ, whereas for Tyndale the object of faith is in both the promises and Christ as if each has an “independent soteriological function.” Trueman also argues that Tyndale’s reference to “faith in the promises” removes God’s mercy from its Christological context. However, on the very next page Trueman himself observes that Tyndale uses “promises” to refer to “the work of Christ, the benefits of which are appropriated by the believer through faith in them.”
First of all, that Luther could speak of “promises” interchangeably with “Gospel” has been effortlessly demonstrated by Rex with regard to Luther’s Freedom of A Christian (1520). Secondly, Luther does not simply reduce “Gospel” to “proclamation.” Indeed, in the Vorrhede he does literally translate the bare Greek word “Euangelion” as “good message,” “good tidings,” “good news,” and “a good report,” but Tyndale does just as much in his own prologue to the Cologne Fragment. Furthermore, Luther immediately proceeds from this definition to elaborate the meaning of “Euangelion” in its biblical context, which tells of: “a true David who strove with sin, death, and the devil, and overcame them, and thereby rescued all those who were captive in sin, afflicted with death, and overpowered by the devil. Without any merit of their own he made them righteous, gave them life, and saved them, so that they were given peace and brought back to God.”
Tyndale wholeheartedly agrees with Luther that “In the olde testament are many promyses/whych are nothinge els but the evangelion or gospell,” and his definition of “Gospel,” as was shown earlier, is taken almost verbatim from Luther’s own preface. It is true that Tyndale does not translate that portion of the text where Luther elaborates on the contrast between the ministries of Moses and Christ, but he does allude to this a few times and openly connects the preaching of the Law with the proper office of Moses and the preaching of grace in the Gospel with Christ. This challenges Smeeton’s assertion that Tyndale shared the Lollards’ definition of the “Gospel” as a moral rule or “promises” that explain “God’s requirements.” On the other hand, even Luther could speak of the “Gospel” in terms of the broader ministry of Christ and that good works are among the benefits promised within the Gospel, although its proper work is the promise of forgiveness to contrite sinners. With regard to the relationship between the promises and Christ in Tyndale’s thought, he describes Jesus in the prologue as: “oure redemer/ delyverer/ reconciler / mediator/ intercesser/ advocat/ atturney/ soliciter/ oure hoope/ comforte/ shelde/ proteccien/ defender/ strength/ helth/ satisfactien/ and salvacion … And god (as greate as he is) is myne with all that he hath/ threw Christ and his purchasynge.”108 This makes it hard to accept Laughlin’s suggestion that Tyndale could conceive of the salvific promises of God independent of their very fulfillment in and through the person and work of Christ.
With regard to the contrast made between Tyndale and Luther on the subject of Law and Gospel even at this early date, the scholarly consensus also seems to have overlooked and underestimated the significance of those passages and writings in which Luther speaks with open praise and adulation about God’s Law, particularly the Ten Commandments, such as in his A Treatise on Good Works (1520), Personal Prayer Book (1522), and in his Preface to the Old Testament (1523) and Lectures on Deuteronomy (1525). It is not so unlike Luther to speak of the Christian as loving, delighting, or even consenting to the Law as scholars assume, although the particular phrase “consent to the Law” does appear more predominant in the writings of Tyndale. Yet in his earlier Romans lectures, Luther explicitly speaks of the Christian life as a life of repentance from sin and that the conscience is made pure and “delights in the Law of God” through faith,110 and in his Lectures on Galatians (1519) Luther describes how the Christian at the final resurrection “consents entirely to the Law.” In the Treatise on Good Works (1520), faith fulfills the Law because love and good works spring forth naturally from faith, and in The Freedom of a Christian (1520) the soul that genuinely trusts in God’s promise of mercy will undoubtedly “consent to His will.”
There are some modern scholars who argue that Luther, in the name of Christian liberty, resists ever identifying the new obedience of faith and the Spirit with any written Law. Though Luther does argue that the Law written on the heart by the Spirit through faith is superior to the written Law, this is because the written Law cannot supply the power to fulfill its demands as the Spirit can do from within by changing the heart.115 Similarly, though Luther believes that some situations justify the breaking of a law out of devotion to God or love for others, this does not mean that he perceived the Decalogue to be an inadequate guide for Christian moral behavior. On the contrary, he extolled the Ten Commandments rightly understood and interpreted. Yet, Luther recognized that loyalty to God in the First Commandment trumps loyalty to family and government in the Fourth Commandment if they are ever in conflict. Furthermore, the Ten Commandments are rightly interpreted and applied in service to the law of love. Thus, Tyndale translates Luther’s gloss on the apostles’ breaking of the ceremonial law of the Sabbath in Matthew 12 as constituting an example of how “the very commaundments of god binde not where love and neade requyre.”
Tyndale’s statements that “fayth only” justifies and that salvation is “imputed” to “fayth only” apart from the love and works that follow faith show the particular influence of Luther’s evangelical theology, and he shares with Luther the idea that God justifies a person on the basis of faith alone because faith justifies God and the truth of His promises in obedience to the First Commandment. Tyndale also compares the righteous desires produced by faith in Christ to a sick man who desires to be made whole and healthy, while through the blood of Christ the weakness that remains with the Christian as a sinner until the resurrection is not imputed for condemnation. The non-imputation of sin in the life of the regenerate is Augustinian but a sanative and proleptic element is also found in Luther’s theology of justification and the Christian as simul justus et peccator.
Tyndale’s description of the offering of Christ first as a gift and then as an example follows Luther’s early writings as does his use of the analogy of the tree and its fruit to illustrate that justification is by faith alone without works but that faith naturally produces good works,120 which are motivated by selfless concern for others and not for rewards or for the favor of God promised freely in the blood of Christ.
Although Luther’s Vorrhede was a significant influence on the Cologne Fragment, Tyndale’s prologue does admittedly display an obvious sense of independence, both structurally and rhetorically. Tyndale’s prologue is anything but a mere replica of Luther’s own preface. Nevertheless, the claim of his independence from Luther has been recently stressed too far when this is bound entirely to a direct comparison of the Cologne Fragment with Luther’s Vorrhede. The influence of Luther’s other early evangelical writings, with which Tyndale was assuredly familiar by 1525, must be considered as well. Daniell at least considers this a possibility with regard to the last portion of the prologue. A look at the wider corpus of Luther’s thought ranging from the years 1515–25 challenges preconceived notions about significant discrepancies existing at this early date between the two reformers. The principal influence of Luther upon Tyndale’s early theology of Law and Gospel cannot be so easily dismissed.
After fleeing authorities in Cologne, Tyndale and Roye found their way to the city of Worms where Tyndale’s dream of a complete New Testament translated from the Greek and printed in English was finally achieved in 1526. As Daniell states: “Here was suddenly the complete New Testament, all twenty-seven books, the four Gospels, the Acts, the twenty-one Epistles and Revelation, in very portable form, clearly printed. Here was the original Greek, in English.” Before the end of the year, Bishop Tunstall intensified his efforts in London to prohibit the buying and selling of Tyndale’s New Testament, along with other proscribed evangelical works streaming in from the continent.124 Such works listed by Foxe include Luther’s Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Lectures on Galatians, The Freedom of the Christian, and a work by Zwingli on Anabaptism. It is interesting to note that, although the list visibly grew by 1529 to include works of Zwingli, Bucer, Oecolampadius, and Melancthon, Luther’s works still dominated the list. With regard to Tyndale’s New Testament, Foxe recounts how Bishop Tunstall struck up a deal with an English merchant in Antwerp named Augustine Packington to buy up all printed copies in order to have them burned, not knowing all the while that Packington was taking the revenue to Tyndale who then used it to subsidize later revised editions.
Also printed in Worms in 1526 was Tyndale’s A compendious introduccion/ prologue or preface un to the pistle off Paul to the Romayns. This is Tyndale’s second major evangelical work, even though, again, a sizeable portion of it is a translation of Luther’s own German prologue of 1522. Yet, following Trinterud’s essay, many scholars have argued that Tyndale used Luther liberally without following him on several important theological points, one of which is his understanding of Law and Gospel.
A cursory glance of Tyndale’s prologue reveals that he indeed used Luther’s prologue and translated a good portion of it. It is also obvious, however, that Tyndale by no means merely duplicated Luther’s German prologue, but interpolated his own comments, phrases, and passages for purposes of elaboration or expansion. Furthermore, a substantial portion of text at the end of Tyndale’s prologue has no direct parallel in Luther’s prologue. Nevertheless, the German prologue is clearly the principal inspiration and structural model behind Tyndale’s own text.
Some scholars have moved beyond mere structural comparison and have attempted to demonstrate that a closer analysis even of the very opening sentences reveals that Tyndale is doctrinally distant from Luther in 1526. For example, Werrell notes that only Tyndale adds “a lyght and a waye unto all the scriptures” to emphasize the central importance of the book of Romans. Werrell, somewhat ironically, uses this very same statement to argue that Tyndale possessed a greater respect for the whole canon of Scripture compared with the hierarchy that Luther gave to the books of the Bible. On the contrary, what is important to recognize here is that Tyndale shows no hesitation in borrowing from Luther’s exalted admiration for the book of Romans as the “principal and most excellent part off the newe testament.” Furthermore, Tyndale is translating directly from Luther in describing the book as a “bryghte lyghte and sufficient to geve lyghte un to all the Scripture,” a statement that is nearly identical to the one isolated above by Werrell.
Many other contrasts made by scholars have been exaggerated and, in some cases, contrived. For example, it is argued that Tyndale is more concerned with the glory of God in salvation than Luther, that he lays a far greater stress on the work of the Holy Spirit,131 and that he speaks of justification more as being made righteous whereas Luther emphasizes it as the declaration or forensic imputation of righteousness.
As far as basic content and structure are concerned, Tyndale closely follows Luther’s prologue by defining law, grace, faith, righteousness, flesh, spirit, and he similarly provides chapter summaries of the book of Romans. Luther and Tyndale both interpret “Law” in Romans as referring to the will of God, which is unlike human laws whose conditions are satisfied by mere outward conformity (“works of the law”). To “fulfill the lawe” of God is to do it cheerfully with loving obedience from the very depths of the heart. This is impossible without the Spirit of God empowering a person through faith in Christ. If people were honest, they would actually wish the burden of the Law away so that they might satisfy their own lusts without consequence. Though not a verbatim translation, Tyndale’s definition of “Law” as requiring the “grounde off the hert and love from the botome there of” echoes Luther who himself says: “God judges according to what is in the depths of the heart. For this reason, his law too makes its demands on the inmost heart; it cannot be satisfied with works, but rather punishes as hypocrisy and lies the works not done from the bottom of the heart.”
Contrary to the claim of many scholars that Luther somehow diminishes the personal role of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of the heart, Luther clearly states that: “such a heart is given only by God’s Spirit, who fashions a man after the law, so that he acquires a desire for the law in his heart, doing nothing henceforth out of fear and compulsion but out of a willing heart.” Elsewhere, he states clearly that: “This pleasure and love for the law is put into the heart by the Holy Spirit … But the Holy Spirit is not given except in, with, and by faith in Jesus Christ …” Trinterud makes too much of a statement made by Tyndale that works “only” cannot fulfill the Law, as if Tyndale was saying that the love of the heart is necessary, which he argues is out of step with Luther’s insistence on faith alone as fulfilling the Law. According to Trinterud, this is characteristic of Tyndale’s more Augustinian emphasis on love as the fulfillment of the Law.135 However, Tyndale in this statement is simply refuting the assumption that God’s righteous Law is satisfied by compulsory behavior and outward conformity, which is Luther’s point as well. Thus, Tyndale is actually in agreement with Luther that fulfilling the Law means doing what it says from the heart without compulsion or for self-seeking purposes, “even as though there were no lawe at all.” This love, however, Tyndale and Luther agree, springs only and spontaneously from faith in Christ.
On the basis of Tyndale’s use of phrases like “inward affection and delectation” for the Law, one scholar argues that Tyndale lays a much stronger emphasis on the “inwardness of the law” than Luther. However, this difference is really nothing more than one of literary style. Luther’s thoughts are often expressed more tersely, whereas Tyndale tends to be a bit more loquacious. Yet, it should not be concluded on this basis that they are in fundamental disagreement regarding the love that only exists where faith and the Holy Spirit are present. Luther’s prologue has: “So it happens that faith alone makes a person righteous and fulfils the law. For out of the merit of Christ it brings forth the Spirit. And the Spirit makes the heart glad and free, as the law requires that it shall be. Thus good works emerge from faith itself.” Tyndale’s own prologue reads: “fayth only iustifyeth/maketh rightewes/and fulfylleth the lawe/for it bringeth the Sprite thorowe Christes deservynges/the Sprite bringeth lust/looseth the hert/maketh hym fre/ setteth hym at lyberte/ and geveth hym strengthe to worke the dedes of the lawe with love/ even as the lawe requireth/ then at the last out off the same fayth so workinge in the herth/ springe all good workes by there awne acorde.”139 Tyndale merely expands upon what Luther himself has simply stated more concisely, but there is nothing to indicate any substantial difference of theological opinion. In fact, it seems that Tyndale has merely refashioned Luther’s thought using his own wordy style. For example, Luther simply has “make the heart glad and free,” whereas Tyndale has “bringeth lust/ looseth the hert/maketh hym free/ setteth hym at lyberte.” This use of such obvious repetition or verbosity might communicate a conscious emphasis placed on the idea but could also merely reflect a difference in rhetorical style. It certainly does not betray any fundamental theological disagreement incongruity.
Tyndale follows Luther’s prologue by defining “sin” as essentially unbelief, even as all truly good works spring from a heart of faith. “Grace” is defined as the merciful favor of God and the offering of Christ and the Spirit with all His gifts. Christians who wrestle with the lusts of the flesh stand under this grace on account of their faith in Christ and the “begynninge off the Sprite” until sin is fully mortified at death. “Faith” is described as a gift of God, and Tyndale is just as adamant as Luther in rejecting the notion that the doctrine of justification by faith alone encourages lawlessness. On the contrary, justifying faith is freely active in doing good works out of gratitude to the love of God. Faith “maketh vs all togedyr newe in the hert/ mynd/ will/ lust/ and in all oure affeccions and powers of the soule …” Faith brings with it the Holy Spirit through whom the believer freely and cheerfully serves others without the need for outward compulsion. Tyndale uses Luther’s analogy of good being inseparable from faith as heat is from fire.
Werrell argues that Tyndale’s emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit, rather than faith, in conversion sets him apart from Luther, but Luther clearly states that the new heart of cheerful obedience “is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith.”143 A disparity between the two is falsely contrived on the basis of the obvious fact that the two parallel quotes are not identical. A reading of the wider context, however, reveals that Tyndale is not departing from Luther here. A few isolated statements of Luther where the “Holy Spirit” is not specifically mentioned should be interpreted in the light of others where, as Rex has aptly demonstrated, the essential work of the Holy Spirit with regard to faith, good works, and divine illumination is explicitly stated. Tyndale himself could equally say, as Luther did, that faith “bringeth the Sprite,”145 and, on the other hand, his expression that “faith is a thing wrought by the Holy Ghost in us,” adapted from Luther’s “Faith … is a divine work in us,” does not warrant the polarization that scholars like Werrell have contrived between the two.
With regard to the doctrine of justification by faith, Luther and Tyndale both agree that faith in Christ brings new life, affections, and desires through the working of the Spirit and is the seed of all active righteousness. Nevertheless, many scholars such as McGrath and Trueman argue that Tyndale defines “justification” and “justified” more in the Augustinian sense of being “made righteous,” or a change of nature and will, rather than being “declared righteous,” or a change of status, as in the theology of Luther. Trueman places Tyndale closer to Augustine on the supposition that Tyndale placed greater emphasis on the moral implications of justification rather than on the objective, Godward satisfaction of guilt. Jeffrey Leininger argues that Tyndale at the very least is under the influence of the “early Luther” in 1515–1519 and the “Luther in transition” during the 1520s whose theology of justification as the forensic imputation of righteousness in Christ only became more explicitly defined and developed in the 1530s. However, even Trueman goes on to acknowledge that Tyndale speaks of justification, union with Christ, and righteousness in language that falls just shy of an explicit theology of imputation while admitting that there is a proleptic element in Luther’s own understanding of justification by faith. Trueman eventually admits that the difference between Tyndale and Luther is one more of emphasis rather than of real substance. If this is the case, then it should not be stressed too far as if to give the misleading impression that Tyndale differed with Luther profoundly on the nature of justification in the 1520s, and McGrath even acknowledges that Tyndale’s works of the early 1530s convey the “basic features” of imputed righteousness. Few scholars have considered that the Augustinian elements in Tyndale’s theology are derived from Luther himself and that these elements should be interpreted synthetically with regard to the influence of Luther’s particular theological presuppositions and emphases.
Following Luther’s prologue, Tyndale does not restrict the meaning of “flesshe” in the book of Romans to physical unchastity, but likewise defines it as the corruption of the entire person in “soule/ body/ wytte/ wyll/ reason.” Like Luther, Tyndale describes actual sin as the product of the root of all sin in unbelief, which corrupts every work that does not spring from grace no matter how “good/ holy/ and spiritual they seme to be.” On the contrary, truly “spiritual” works spring from faith, which even sanctifies “grose” tasks like fishing and cleaning shoes. A person who is reborn and lives by the Spirit is rightly called “spirituall,” as are the good works that issue freely from his or her faith.
Tyndale follows Luther’s lead by providing a summary of each chapter in Romans and agrees with Luther that the order of the book provides a model for ministers to preach the Law followed by the Gospel. This is to foster a sense of humility and contrition among the people for their sin so that they can properly “desyre helpe,” acknowledging that their compulsory obedience, or “workes of the lawe,” will not justify them in the sight of God: “that the lawe was geven to vtter ande to declare synne only.” It is only by faith in Christ that a sinner is “made ryghtewes,”151 and this righteousness is “deserved … for vs” in Christ. Werrell needlessly contrasts “merits for us” (verdienet) in Luther’s text with Tyndale’s “deserved soche rightewesnes for vs.” Tyndale agrees with Luther that a Christian is made righteous in a certain sense through justifying faith in Christ and the redeeming power of the Holy Spirit, but that the righteousness of favor with God and the forgiveness of sins is promised in Christ through faith alone. It is “Christes” righteousness that justifies the sinner and Tyndale adds that “faith ys imputed for ryghtwesnes.” This is on account of the union of faith with Christ’s atoning righteousness in the Gospel and not in the sense that faith is a human work regarded by God as meritorious of His justifying grace.
Tyndale does not translate Luther’s chapter summaries verbatim but exercises a significant degree of rhetorical and literary independence. For instance, he adds a substantial amount of running commentary on the bondage of human nature under the Law and on the promise of grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Yet, even in this, Tyndale echoes Luther by emphasizing the preaching of the Law before the Gospel, and that the Law “causeth wrath” for all who are neither found in Christ nor possess the gift of His Holy Spirit.
Like Luther, Tyndale defines a vital work of faith after justification as the “batayl of the Sprit agenst the flesshe.” The flesh lusts against the desires of the Spirit so long as a person lives in his or her mortal body. Nevertheless, God does not condemn the Christian for remaning sin on account of the presence of faith and the Holy Spirit that “fighte agenste it.” Tyndale, basically translating Luther, states that to do battle against the flesh and its lusts is to “fulfil oure baptim,” or to live out what is signified by the sacrament. This understanding of baptism was not unique to either Luther or Tyndale, and Erasmus in his Enchiridion speaks of the Christian life as a living out of the sacrament. To view salvation in terms of a covenant, and particularly in the context of the sacrament of baptism, was a familiar concept by the time of the Reformation, including that of late medieval Catholicism.
Most scholars have come to acknowledge that by the early 1530s, and reaching its zenith in the revised New Testament (1534), Tyndale develops an understanding of salvation expressed in terms of a conditional covenant wherein God promises eternal life only to them that keep His laws. Some interpret this as the likely influence of the theology of the Swiss and Rhineland reformers, who shared Tyndale’s education in Humanism and an affection for the Law that is supposedly absent from Luther. The “covenant” obviously plays a significant role in the writings of these reformers.157 More recently, Werrell argues that Lollardy is behind Tyndale’s understanding and appropriation of the covenant theme.
It is important at this point to establish that it is not so much Tyndale’s supposed affection for the Law that anticipates and fore-shadows his more maturely developed theology of covenant as it is his understanding of the Christian life as the living out of baptism. In fact, Tyndale’s theology of covenant is grounded in his interpretation and theology of baptism.
In the discussion above, Tyndale does appear to give salvation a certain conditional quality, in that God promises to withhold condemnation if and where faith is present and struggling in the Spirit against sins. While scholars such as Rex argue that Luther’s theology of baptism “is very much a one-way street,” Tyndale here is translating directly from Luther. In his own prologue, Luther encourages Christians with the assurance of God’s favor despite sinful impulses: “we are still God’s children, however hard sin may be raging within us, so long as we follow the spirit and resist sin to slay it.” Tyndale’s own translation reads: “we ar never the lesse the sonnes of god and also beloved/ though that sinne rage never so moche in vs/ so longe as we followe the Sprite/ and fyghte agenste synne to kyll and mortify it.”160 Luther had articulated the same idea years before in his treatise on The Holy Blessed Sacrament of Baptism (1519).
This is certainly not to suggest that Tyndale’s later emphasis on “covenant” as an interpretive scheme was taken over from Luther. However, at this point, Tyndale’s understanding of the conditionality of salvation as it pertains to living out the sacrament of baptism through faith is arguably the legacy of Luther. It is certainly possible that Luther’s own theology of baptism is among the foundational influences upon Tyndale’s more mature theology of covenant.
Tyndale continues to roughly follow Luther’s prologue by explaining the true nature of Christian liberty, which is defined as freedom from the burden of condemnation under the Law. Rather, whereas the Law extorts obedience from the unwilling, the Gospel makes people free and willing to serve God with pleasure and without the need for compulsion. For Tyndale, the Holy Spirit “maketh vs love the lawe,” so that the Law is no longer at enmity with those who live by faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. Luther himself, in the corresponding passage, expresses it this way:“Grace … makes the law dear to us … sin is no longer present, and the law is no longer against us but one with us.” The difference of language used here should not be exaggerated, and it does certainly reveal that Luther spoke with equal candor about the newfound affection for the Law produced in the Christian through the Gospel. Earlier in the prologue, Luther speaks explicitly of “pleasure and love for the Law.”162 Yet, at the same time, the phrase “love the Law” need not be interpreted only as love toward the written Law itself, but that the inward desires of the Christian correspond spontaneously to the written Law. Indeed, both Luther and Tyndale define the obedience that comes from faith as occurring without the compulsion of the Law, “ye though there were no lawe.”
Both Luther and Tyndale acknowledge a new affection for the Law that comes through the Holy Spirit by faith, yet Tyndale, like Luther, argues that the “beste” and proper way to think about the purpose of the Law is its work in revealing sin and the condemnation deserved by it. Only after a person becomes conscious of sin by the Law can he or she properly believe in Christ for salvation and begin to follow the will of God by doing battle with the flesh, which is the “ryghte werke of fayth.”165
Tyndale mostly follows Luther’s prologue to the end and largely translates his comments on the duties of all people to obey the government, although true Christians ruled by the Spirit (in Luther “the good”) have no need of any such government to coerce them to respect the lives and property of others. Luther only in passing defines love as the sum of the Christian ethic, but Tyndale adds that “spirituall love” needs moral pressure just as much as a loving mother needs to be told to care for her one and only son. Finally, Tyndale imitates Luther by urging readers to become diligent students of the book of Romans, which is the “lyghte and the effecte of the olde testamente.”
An additional nine pages in Tyndale’s prologue include a treatise on the Pater Noster, “to fill vpp the leefe with all.” Scholars have identified this as an adaptation from the summary appearing at the end of Luther’s own widely circulated tract on the Lord’s Prayer published in Wittenberg in 1519. This fact was overlooked by Werrell who argues that Luther’s Christocentric theology caused him to devalue the “Fatherhood” of God. Tyndale’s introduction reviews the themes of Law and Gospel and, like Luther, he describes the Lord’s Prayer in terms of a plea for the mercy of forgiveness and a request for the help to do what is impossible to be done by human strength alone.168 The introduction gives the undeniable impression of Luther’s influence in both content and tone, especially with regard to the absolute helplessness and guilt of human nature before the Law: “Marke this well and take it for a sure conclusion/ when God commaundeth us in the law to doo any thinge/ he commaundeth not therefore/ that we are able to do yt, but to bryng us unto the knowledge of ourselves/ that we might se what we are and in what miserable state we are in … The office of the law is only to vtter sinne and to declare in what miserable damnacion and captivity we are in … The law then bringeth a man unto the knowledge of him selfe, and compelleth him to morne/ to complayne/ to sorowe/ to confesse and knowledge hys sinne and miserie/ and to seke helpe.”
Scholars are certainly right to point out that Tyndale’s prologue is more than a mere translation of Luther’s prologue, for he exercises a substantial amount of rhetorical and literary independence. However, in many cases where Tyndale does expand quantitatively beyond Luther’s text, whether in his comments on human nature or with regard to the work of the Devil, this does not reveal any significant theological divergences from Luther but actually suggests the imprint of other works of Luther dating to the early 1520s. Furthermore, even if the Holy Spirit is named more numerously in Tyndale’s prologue, a point that is open to gross misrepresentations, such a comparison seems unfair when the two prologues are so varied in length. It does not appear in the final analysis that, other than the obvious rhetorical and literary variables, Tyndale has “left Wittenberg” behind in his prologue to the book of Romans.
After the publication of his 1526 New Testament and Prologue to Romayns, Tyndale resurfaced in the city of Antwerp in 1528 where he published two of his most infamous theological treatises: That fayth the mother of all good workes … and The Obedience of a Christian Man. It is not known exactly when Tyndale arrived in Antwerp, but the city with strategic ties commercially to England would be his headquarters for the next several years until his arrest in 1535 followed by imprisonment in the Vilvorde castle.
Scholars readily acknowledge that Tyndale’s Parable of the Wicked Mammon is loosely based on a published revision of a sermon originally preached by Luther in Wittenberg in 1522. The two texts of the sermon by Luther are mostly similar, but Daniell exaggerates in stating that they are “identical.” The text for Luther’s sermon is the parable of Jesus in Luke 16:1–13. In the parable, a rich man rebukes his steward for the poor management of his estate. In the impending loss of his employment, the steward becomes an illicit creditor to his master’s debtors. By dishonestly reducing their outstanding debts he wins their friendship and secures his future. Jesus refers to the steward rightly as “dishonest,” but his cunning methods used in this fraudulent transaction become an illustration of the importance of winning future friends and witnesses in heaven through acts of kindness and charity while on earth.
Luther claims that this text has been inappropriately used in the past to support a doctrine of salvation by works. Thus, his intention is to prove that the parable is only rightly interpreted under the assumption that faith alone justifies before good works. Luther’s sermon went through five editions in 1522, one edition in 1523, and it was printed in Wittenberg, Augsburg, Basle, and Erfurt. For Tyndale to use a sermon so widely known and circulated as the basis for his own exposition may indeed show him to be, as Daniell aptly observes, “firmly in the Lutheran mainstream.” Vasilev’s claim that Tyndale’s choice of the parable is likely rooted in Bogomil-Cathar dualist philosophy is simply without any basis whatsoever. However, Daniell does note that Tyndale’s longer treatise is hardly an exact copy of Luther’s much shorter printed sermon, and he argues that Tyndale’s elaborate use of illustrations from human experience linked with scriptural references is more of an evidence of his debt to Erasmus as a rhetorician. This may be true, but literary embellishment cannot be equated with theological divergence. As was the case with Tyndale’s Cologne Fragment (1525) and the Prologue to Romayns (1526), a brief look at the Wicked Mammon confirms Tyndale’s continued indebtedness, not only to the immediate sermon in question, but to Luther’s broader evangelical thinking as a whole.
After a four page introduction “to the reader,” in which he strongly distances himself from former translating associate William Roye, Tyndale builds on the main themes of his previous writings, namely the bondage of the natural will under the condemnation of the Law,176 the necessity of contrition or repentance under the Law (including Christians who sin “throughe fragylytie”), that faith alone “iustyfyeth and setteth us at peace with God,”178 and that good works in accordance with the Law do not merit heaven or eternal life but are the evidence of the life of the Spirit and of faith in Christ. In fact, this last statement is the whole point of Jesus’ parable according to both Tyndale and Luther. The exhortation of Christ to make “frends of the unrighteous mammon” is rightly interpreted as the exercise of faith in kindness and service to others, which gathers up witnesses for the Day of Judgment who will be able to “testyfye and witnesse of thy good workes” and, by implication, of true faith in Christ. Although heaven is not a reward earned for contracted labor, it naturally follows upon the doing of good deeds without any thought of personal gain, just as hell awaits those who give full consent to evil even though they do not do evil acts to earn eternal punishment. True believers only need to be put in “remembraunce” of those things that should be done to mortify the flesh and to serve the welfare of others.181
Both Laughlin and Trinterud argue that the theology of Tyndale’s Wicked Mammon transcends Luther’s sermon by more strongly emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit in the doing of good works, by teaching that such good works are a means of assurance to Christians that their faith is true, and by stressing the positive relationship of the Christian to the Law. Contrary to the opinion of Clebsch, who dates the shifting of Tyndale toward an emphasis on good works nearer to 1530, Laughlin argues that “Tyndale already had traveled a long distance from Wittenberg” by the time he published the Wicked Mammon. Once again, however, the differences between Tyndale and Luther have been exaggerated and, in some cases, even contrived. Trinterud’s essay quotes lengthy passages from Tyndale with only brief interpretive comments interspersed here and there with regard to differences from Luther. He assumes for the most part that the reader will pick up the differences for him or herself since he provides only a rather superficial analysis of the Wicked Mammon and other works of Tyndale, and his abrupt references to Luther do not reveal any substantial familiarity with the wider corpus of Luther’s writings.
Luther obviously assumes that the Holy Spirit is crucial to the conversion and moral life of the Christian, and Luther openly speaks of good works as being the “fruit of the Spirit.” Furthermore, Luther equally acknowledges that good works that come from the heart are a testimony not only to others but also to oneself regarding the genuineness of professed faith: “if you can give from the heart you may be assured that you believe.” Tyndale’s remark in the Wicked Mammon that “mi forgeving certifieth my sprite that God shall forgeve me” sounds similar to something Erasmus said in the Enchiridion but must be interpreted in the context of Tyndale’s other statements including “For as a man fealeth god to hym selfe/ so is he to hys neyghboure.” In other words, Tyndale is operating in consistency with the assumptions of Luther’s evangelical theology that the ability to forgive others is an active reflection of the presence of justifying faith allowing that Christian to have an even bolder confidence in presuming upon the continual mercy of God. Tyndale can speak of forgiveness in terms that very much sound like conditions for salvation, foreshadowing his later theology of covenant, but this conditionality has to do with works being the evidence of justifying faith and a boost to assurance. Luther makes a similar point about the ability to forgive and the assurance of salvation in his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism (1529). Trueman identifies good works as the “primary means of assurance” in Tyndale’s Wicked Mammon. It is questionable how “primary” they really are, but works as providing some means of assurance is also the point Luther is making in his own sermon. Trueman also argues that Tyndale makes no effort to harmonize this works-based assurance with the priority of faith before works, even though Tyndale explicitly defines good works as always proceeding freely in love following repentance and faith.
The phrase “consent to the Law” that appeared in the Cologne Fragment now resurfaces in the Wicked Mammon as “the consent of the hert vnto the law.” Although even the repentance or contrition preceding justifying faith constitutes a certain “consent” to the Law of God for Tyndale, a point that Laughlin overlooks,189 it seems that this phrase most often refers in Tyndale’s writings to the “lust to the Law” following and produced through justifying faith. According to Tyndale’s Wicked Mammon, the lawful works that please God in gratitude to His grace are found in Scripture, and misguided zeal usurps what God in His Word has clearly commanded should be done or left undone. Luther also directed people to the Word of God for moral instruction in good works, whether the natural-moral Law of the Decalogue or its softer counterpart in the kind entreaties of Christ and the apostles. Like Luther, Tyndale sees no real qualitative difference before God between preaching the Word and washing “thy masters dyshes” with the understanding that these are done with thanksgiving and in a spirit of faith and not as a means to merit favor with God.191
Tyndale identifies “consent to the Law” as the evidence of the working of the Spirit within and “the seale and marke” of election, but this is consistent with Luther’s own theology of Law and Gospel and his understanding that repentance and devotion to good works are evidences of justifying faith and election to grace. Luther never explicitly says that the “consent of the hert unto the lawe/ ys unite and peace betwene God and man,” although he does state on numerous occasions that God does not condemn the sins of the Christian who fights through faith in the Spirit against the flesh. This statement of Tyndale also needs to be interpreted in the light of others where “consent to the Law” is not enough to be “at one with God.” In this latter case, “consent to the Law” refers to sorrowful contrition and a despairing repentance that is not enough to justify if it is without faith and hope in the Gospel, and Tyndale clearly states that “fayth therfore setteth the at one wyth God.” Therefore, it is faith that establishes unity and peace with God but such faith is not without repentance and a consent to His Law that gives living evidence to the reality of this spiritual communion.194
It seems a bit overstated to say, as Daniell does, that the Wicked Mammon is mostly “Tyndalian,” unless this refers to its literary structure, which does reflect a great degree of Tyndale’s individuality and personal interaction with Scripture. Tyndale indeed expands well beyond Luther’s own sermon by expositing a far greater number of New Testament passages, although it is important to point out that Luther’s text was a printed sermon and not a formal theological treatise. Yet it is clear that Luther’s sermon is the significant influence behind Tyndale’s treatise. If not, why translate any portion of it at all? Therefore, even by the publication of the Wicked Mammon, Tyndale’s fundamental theological perspective with regard to Law and Gospel still bears the strong imprint of the direct evangelical legacy of Luther.
Tyndale’s Obedience of the Christian Man was published five months after the Wicked Mammon and from the same press in Antwerp. It was written by Tyndale chiefly as a response to Thomas More’s criticism that the evangelical reformers are the scourge of monarchies stirring up civil unrest and rebellion throughout Europe. The response of the Obedience yields little that is truly novel, for Luther had addressed the same challenge years before during the peak of social unrest in the so-called “Peasant’s Revolt” in 1524–1525.
Although the Obedience is not based structurally on any one specific work of Luther, Tyndale re-emphasizes themes that are consonant with the wider corpus of Luther’s evangelical writings, such as the bemoaning of the introduction of Aristotelian ethics into Christian theology, his affirmation of the preaching of the Law as a necessary revelation of the bondage of the will leading to repentance (“the lawe doeth but vtter synne only and helpeth not”), the division of biblical revelation according to “law” and “promyses,” the importance of teaching the Law to urge outward submission to authorities for “long liffe uppon the erth” and “worldly prosperite,” a rejection of rebellion against temporal authority,199 and a recognition of the value of adversity for discipline, the testing of faith, and to inspire the “Christen man” weak in the flesh to mortify sins. Like Luther, Tyndale also distinguishes between types of law-keepers, those who keep the Law outwardly for fear of temporal punishment or for the “pleasure/ profit and promocion that foloweth” and those who keep the Law in their heart by the Spirit without the need for compulsion or other such incentives.201
Still following Luther, Tyndale understands “repentaunce,” otherwise known as contrition, to be a “mornyinge and sorow” for sin under the Law. One kind of repentance comes in the form of eternal despair before faith and prepares the heart to receive the promises of forgiveness in Christ. Yet, another kind lasts throughout the Christian life as a godly mourning for the weakness of sin that remains until death. Like Luther, Tyndale rejects the Catholic sacrament of penance on the grounds that inward repentance and faith are wholly adequate for reconciliation with God for all sins committed after baptism. There is no need for any other satisfaction to be made. Nevertheless, Tyndale does assume that an offending sinner who is truly sorry for his or her sins will not fail to seek public reconciliation with the offended. Furthermore, the power of the “keys” is not the authority of the episcopal office to pardon sins in the sacrament of penance but is simply the preaching of the Gospel.
In the Obedience, Tyndale defends Luther’s theology of justification by faith alone against John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester and Chancellor of Cambridge, who argued against Luther that faith justifies only after becoming “formed by love” (caritate formata). Tyndale responds by arguing that God cannot be loved as Father until there is first assurance of His love as Father. Therefore, justification, defined as the forgiveness of sins and the favor of God, is received through faith alone in Christ though love proceeds by nature from this faith: “Yf thou beleve Gods promises in Christ and love his commaundmentes then arte thou saffe. Yf thou love the commaundmente then arte thou sure that thy fayth is unfayned and that Gods Sprite is in the.”204 This faith is obviously not the kind of historical faith that Satan and his demons have who acknowledge that Jesus was crucified but who cannot believe that the benefits of that death are for themselves. Thus, historical faith alone does not and cannot produce the love of God. It is with this understanding that Tyndale can say that the satisfaction made by Christ for the debt of sin proclaimed in the sacrament of baptism is only for them who repent, believe, and submit to the commandments of God. This does not mean that Tyndale believes in salvation by faith and love and good works, but it is to insist that the kind of faith in Christ that justifies is preceded by repentance under the Law and is followed by the evidence of a willful submission to that Law in love. Truly good works pleasing to God in honor of His commandments must be totally free and cannot have anything to do with seeking to earn the favor of God, which He promises liberally to faith in Christ alone, but they are done with love for the sake of others, the taming of the flesh, and with thanksgiving to God. All of these presuppose justifying faith in Christ. This is also to reject fasts, veneration of images, pilgrimages, and any other works of “ydolatry” and “imagination” perceived as works of merit before God.206
There is nothing in Tyndale’s Obedience to suggest any conflict with the Law-Gospel theology of Luther. In fact, it bears the strong imprint of his evangelical influence. Tyndale clearly follows Luther in logically prioritizing repentance under the Law, faith alone in Christ for forgiveness and favor with God (the apex of Christian conversion), and the resulting love and submission to God’s commandments. Tyndale says at one point that “whosoever doeth knowledge his sinnes receaveth forgevenes,” but this does not mean that contrition itself justifies. Both Luther and Tyndale recognize there to be such a “consent to the Law” that is without faith and hope in the Gospel and thus without the ability to truly love God and His Law from the heart, which only creates a damning bondage to despair. The point here is that the Gospel promise of forgiveness in Christ to be received through faith is meant for those who are repentant under the Law, and faith in Christ is most likely implied here. Furthermore, Tyndale’s comment is a paraphrase of 1 John 1:9, a passage of Scripture that arguably refers to the ongoing intercessory work of Christ on behalf of repentant Christians.
There is one statement in the Obedience that does pose some difficulty, however. Tyndale asserts that: “as sone as the herte lusteth to doo the law/ then are we righteous before God and oure synnes forgeven.” This statement admittedly appears to make love and earnestness to obedience, rather than faith in Christ alone, the formal basis for the remission of sins and righteousness before God. This interpretation is very unlikely, however, when considering other contemporaneous and unambiguous statements made by Tyndale that justification, understood as the forgiveness of sins and favor of God, is by faith in Christ alone, as well as his recent and explicit rebuttal to Bishop John Fisher’s theology of justification by “fides caritate formata.” Even earlier within this very same treatise Tyndale states clearly that such love for God and His commandments cannot exist without prior assurance and faith in the forgiveness and favor of God and is actually the evidence of justification, true faith, and the possession of the Holy Spirit. Neither Luther nor Tyndale ever equate true faith with mere historical knowledge of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but with a personal and filial trust in the promise of God’s love in Christ. The kind of love for the Law Tyndale has in mind here, then, can only be generated by the assurance of faith in the forgiveness promised in Christ alone. Therefore, Tyndale must be emphasizing how intimately related faith and love are in time by saying that love for the Law occurs at the very same moment, though not as the formal basis, of the forgiveness of sins received through faith in Christ alone. In any case, this statement cannot be allowed to stand by itself but must be interpreted with respect to Tyndale’s thought more generally. Nevertheless, it does seem that Tyndale, increasingly by the end of the 1520s, is beginning to favor a certain way of expressing and emphasizing the new life that is expected to flow from an evangelical theology of justification by faith alone. In this sense, then, Laughlin is correct to argue that Tyndale never changes his theology but only his mode of expression when he begins to emphasize the covenant in the 1530s. However, the assumption behind his premise, that Tyndale’s appraisal of the Law is un-Lutheran all along, is inaccurate. Trinterud’s opinion that the Obedience “neither demonstrates nor refutes the ‘Lutheranism’ of Tyndale” might be true in so far as the treatise neither translates nor is derived from any one specific work of Luther. Yet this widely influential English work on the “political effects of Scripture”210 still largely bears the influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel.
Tyndale’s thought does begin to take a noticeable turn in the 1530s from his earlier writings, and this has to do with his development of an emphasis on a theology of covenant, which eventually becomes his key hermeneutical principle. Although Tyndale could not have derived this rhetorical motif of “covenant” from Luther, the concept of covenant is readily found in Luther’s theology of baptism. Thus, scholars have been all too quick to assume that Tyndale’s theology of covenant shows a significant theological divergence from the influence of Luther.
Trinterud and Clebsch really pioneered the study of Tyndale’s turn to “covenant” in the 1960s. Although Clebsch identifies a much starker shift occurring in Tyndale’s theology away from an earlier emphasis on faith alone in the doctrine of justification, both scholars argue that Tyndale develops a covenantal moralism that foreshadows the piety of English Puritanism. A decade or so later, Paul Laughlin agreed with Trinterud’s thesis that Tyndale’s theology remained largely consistent throughout his career and added that Tyndale only significantly shifts from a “Law-Gospel” to a more Reformed “Covenant” scheme as befitting his stress on the need for good works in the life of the Christian.212 Only in the last few decades have scholars begun to explore whether this theme of “covenant” in Tyndale’s later thought is derived from the influence of other sources other than the Swiss and Rhineland reformers. Smeeton, and more recently Werrell, have attempted to locate Tyndale’s theology of covenant within the native English WycliffiteLollard tradition.
It is important to acknowledge outright that, besides the “pactum” theology of the scholastic via moderna, viewing salvation in terms of a covenant was part of the common parlance of late medieval baptismal spirituality. It has already been demonstrated that Erasmus himself speaks of baptism in terms of a covenant binding people to God in moral obligation. Smeeton has shown that the idea was not foreign to the Lollards.215 Luther also readily spoke of the baptismal covenant, and Anabaptist reformers in the 1520s used “covenant” language to describe the oath taken by adults at baptism. However, the covenant concept does seem to have flowered most among the leading Swiss and south German Protestants who, in turn, influenced English Puritanism.
As early as 1522, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, and Bullinger each spoke in some manner of the continuity between the two testamental periods straddling the cross, and around the time of Tyndale’s arrival at Antwerp in the late 1520s the works of Zwingli and Oecolampadius were being published and proscribed throughout the Low Countries. Yet Luther in the early 1520s, while acknowledging the temporality of the Mosaic Covenant made with Israel, also recognized a substantial unity to the canon of Scripture. In terms of the preaching of the Gospel, for example, the former age dimly proclaimed the Christ who was to come whereas the latter more plainly proclaimed the Christ who had come. It was in response to Anabaptists such as Balthasar Hubmaier in 1525 that Zwingli began to develop a much fuller articulation of the covenantal continuity of Scripture, particularly in the context of legitimizing infant baptism as the replacement of the Jewish covenantal sign of circumcision. Although Bullinger apparently preceded Zwingli in explicitly identifying the origins of a covenant of grace in Genesis 3:15, both agreed that the Abrahamic covenant is the definitive form of the eternal covenant of grace in the Old Testament and stressed the conditionality of participation in the promises of God’s mercy by a responsive submission to God’s Law. Luther never spoke of a “covenant of grace” per se, but he equally recognized that the promise made to Adam and Eve and to Abraham was essentially the preaching of the Gospel.
The point of the following discussion is not to determine whether Tyndale’s own theology of covenant was the result of the inheritance of Erasmus, Lollardy, the Swiss Reformed tradition, Luther, or his own reflections on the Old Testament-any one of which is difficult to substantiate definitively. Yet, acknowledging that Tyndale’s adoption of a rhetorical emphasis on covenant as an interpretive scheme did not come from Luther, previous scholars have not considered the extent to which Luther’s own theology of baptism contributed to Tyndale’s more developed formulation of a theology of covenant. If so, then Tyndale’s theology of covenant may not be so opposed to Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel as is commonly thought.
According to a rather incredible story told by Foxe, occurring sometime between 1528 and 1530, Tyndale suffered a shipwreck while traveling to Hamburg and lost all of his translation work on the Old Testament then to date. Upon arrival, as Foxe continues, he was assisted by Miles Coverdale in completing the Pentateuch, published in Antwerp in 1530 from the presses of Martin de Keyser under the pseudonym of “Hans Luft of Marburg.” David Daniell rightly acknowledges the significance of this publication for the history of the English Bible: “the first translation—not just the first printed, but the first translations—from Hebrew into English. Not only was the Hebrew language only known in England in 1529 and 1530 by, at the most, a tiny handful of scholars in Oxford and Cambridge, and quite possibly by none.
Even before the appearance of Tyndale’s Pentateuch, excerpts from his other writings show how comfortable he was in working with the Old Testament. It was probably after arriving on the Continent, and most likely in Germany, that Tyndale achieved proficiency in the Hebrew language. England by the 1520s was still comparatively behind in the knowledge of the Semitic languages.
The linguistic aids that Tyndale may have had at his disposal were Reuchlin’s Hebrew grammar and dictionary, the Complutensian Polyglot Bible printed by the University of Alcala in Spain before Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum (1516), Zwingli’s recently published biblical commentaries, a French translation of the Old Testament, a Hebrew Bible, and an updated Latin text by the Italian Sanctes Pagninus. Though it is not entirely certain that Tyndale used all of these sources, few if any scholars would deny that Tyndale’s “biggest help” was Luther’s own German translation of 1523, which was the first-ever vernacular translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Aside from the prologues, the influence of Luther’s German text of the Old Testament upon Tyndale’s English translation is plain to scholars, although it has also been demonstrated that Tyndale exercised substantial independence from Luther by translating more directly from the Hebrew into English.227
The main concern here, however, is far less with the methods of Tyndale’s translation of the Old Testament than with the theological themes he discusses in the prologues to each of the books of the Pentateuch. In his prologue to the book of Genesis, Tyndale identifies the core message of Scripture according to the juxtaposition of Law and Gospel (or promises): “Seke therfore in the Scripture as thou readest it first the law/ what god commaundeth us to doo/ And secondarylye the promyses/ which god promyseth us ageyne/ namely in Christe Jesu oure lorde.” The narrative portions of Genesis serve as examples both of God’s faithfulness to those who trust in Him even in the midst of adversity and His discipline upon those who reject His laws. McGiffert mistakenly identifies this particular statement and its parallel in the earlier Wicked Mammon as foreshadowing Tyndale’s more developed theology of covenant. Laughlin and Smeeton also make much of Tyndale’s increasing use of the word “promises,” contrasted with Luther’s usual definition of the “Gospel” as “proclamation,” and argue that the former word choice narrows the dialectical gap between Gospel and Law, faith and obedience, promise and ethical obligation.230 However, this assumption is challenged by the fact that Luther could also use “Gospel” and “promises” interchangeably, and he spoke of the Gospel in the context of baptism with regard to the obligation of the baptized to believe with a heart of repentance and to struggle daily against sin.
At one point Tyndale objects to outward deeds as having the power to justify and make holy, but stresses rather “the inward Spirite receaved by fayth and the consent of the harte unto the law of god.” The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 illustrates that there may appear little outward difference between the works of the righteous and the unrighteous, but God sees the heart converted by His Spirit and approves those works that spring freely from it: “the deade is good because of the man / and not the man good because of his deade.” Tyndale’s understanding of the priority of inward faith working through love in outward deeds continues to bear the influence of Luther’s evangelical theology. The fact that he adds “consent of the hart unto the law of god” to “fayth” in the context of the receiving of the Spirit, however, does pose somewhat of an interpretive quandary. Tyndale might be interpreted as saying that the Holy Spirit is received by faith in Christ and love toward the Law of God that comes from faith. One way of reading this text could understandably give this impression. Another way, however, is to read the phrase “and the consent of the hart” as referring back to “made them holy” and not the “Spirite receaved by fayth.” This latter reading certainly fits better with Tyndale’s understanding that it is the receiving of the Spirit through faith in Christ that converts the heart to love the Law of God in the first place. Yet, this still does not explain why Tyndale would say that the Spirit received by faith and consent to the Law of God justifies and makes one holy, unless Tyndale in this context is defining “justify” as “made righteous” and stressing that justifying faith submits to God’s Law from the heart in the Spirit. Yet, if “consent of the harte unto the Law of God” merely refers to the repentance that precedes and accompanies justifying faith then all these difficulties are avoided, though Tyndale’s choice of word order is misleading in this regard. In any case, this one statement must be interpreted in the light of the whole of Tyndale’s thinking during this period.
The word “covenant” does not appear in Tyndale’s prologue to the book of Genesis, in the textual glosses, or even in the main body of the translation itself. In Genesis 9, Luther uses “bunds” or “bund,” and Tyndale uses “bond,” “testamente,” and “appoynment” interchangeably. In Genesis 17 Tyndale also uses “testamente” and “bonde.” However, Tyndale’s definition of “Testament” is “an appoyntement made betwene god and man/ and goddes promyses,” which does resemble his later definition of covenant, and it is important to note that he explicitly connects the “Testament” to the sacrament of baptism: “which is come in the roume thereof [i.e., circumcision] now signifieth on the one syde/ how that all that repent and beleve are washed in Christes bloud: And on the other syde/ how that the same must quench and droune the lustes of the flesh/ to folow the steppes of Christ.”235
It has already been shown that Zwingli and Bullinger were not the only ones, nor even the first ones, to view baptism in terms of the making of a covenant with certain expectations, so it is not self-evident that Tyndale borrowed this particular idea from the Swiss Reformed tradition. Even Tyndale’s brief reference to baptism as taking “the roume” of circumcision does not reveal any necessary departure from Luther, who himself states in 1520 that “a sacrament of the Old Law and one of the New” are the same in the sense that faith alone in the promises that are given with these signs justifies. Luther even on another occasion defends the practice of infant baptism on the basis of the Old Testament circumcision of male children.
In his prologue to the book of Exodus, Tyndale states that the stories of the Old Testament teach the universal principle that God’s favor rests upon people who believe and obey, or whose faith produces obedience, whereas eventual destruction awaits all those who “through unbelief” resist His laws in disobedience. Though capable of differentiation, Tyndale does not conceive of faith and works as being separable. Rather, the Law becomes a “lyvely thing in the herte” through the Holy Spirit, “so that a man bringeth forth good workes of his awne acord without compulsion of the lawe … All good workes and all giftes of grace springe out of him naturallye and by their awne accorde.” Tyndale still shows he is indebted to Luther’s evangelical theology in describing the main purpose of the Law as to “vtter synne onlye and to make it appere” so that through faith in the mercy of God people would keep His commandments from the heart. Tyndale emphasizes the powerlessness of the Law to enliven the heart for the true keeping of the commandments, which comes about only through the remedy of the promise of the New Testament. This “testamente” reaches back to the very beginning of time, so that all sinners throughout history have been justified by faith in the promises of God. The “Old Testament” by contrast was a particular covenant established by God with Moses and the people of Israel. This testament pertained to the promise of the land, physical protection, and material wealth conditioned by outward obedience to laws and ceremonies. It dealt only with temporal prosperity and not with eternal favor. The substance of this “testament” with its temporal blessings and cursings applies equally to the keeping or breaking of the laws that rule any established nation of the world.
It is common knowledge that Luther saw Christ veiled in the pages of the Old Testament books. He also agreed that justification before God has always been by faith alone in the promises of God, such as in the case of Abraham, and he similarly viewed the Mosaic Covenant and its laws as a temporal ordinance established by God with the Jewish nation in particular. Thus, although the continuity of the covenant throughout Scripture becomes the keystone hermeneutic of the Reformed tradition and also later of Tyndale, each of the themes above agree completely with Luther and were arguably inspired by his own reading of the Old Testament. These parallels between Luther and Tyndale have been overlooked by scholars such as Trinterud.
In his prologue to the book of Leviticus, Tyndale echoes Luther by interpreting the ceremonial laws of the Mosaic Covenant as God’s way of keeping Israel from establishing false forms of worship. In a marginal gloss on Leviticus 10, Tyndale uses the story of Nadab and Abihu to illustrate the danger of zeal apart from the Word of God, “so doeth this ensample teach that we maye do no moare than is commaunded.” The ceremonial laws also serve as typological figures of the life and intercessory ministry of Christ. Tyndale’s interpretation of the efficacy of the old and new symbols seems very similar to Luther, in that both understand that it is faith alone in the promise given with the symbols that justifies. In this sense, Tyndale could say that water baptism instituted by Christ saves just as much as animal sacrifices instituted under Moses.241 Tyndale makes another connection between circumcision and baptism in this prologue, stating that both sacraments were instituted by God to set apart His people from the world, to serve as a visible confirmation of His favor, and to signify the practical mortification of sin in the life of the Christian. In his Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), Luther likewise paralleled circumcision with baptism to illustrate that faith alone in the promise behind the sacrament justifies and that the fulfillment of the meaning of the sign is personal consecration to God.
Tyndale’s description of the message of the book of Numbers is also similar to Luther’s, although his prologue is much lengthier. For both, the importance of the book is the numerous examples it provides of human failure to keep the Law apart from God’s grace. The moral failures of the people reveal that the power to fulfill the Law and to avoid succumbing to temptations comes only by grace through faith in the promises of God. For Luther, the book of Numbers is “a notable example of how vacuous it is to make people righteous with laws; rather, as St. Paul says, laws cause only sin and wrath.” In fact, for Tyndale as well as for Luther, the major point of the giving of the Law was, ironically, to show people that they utterly lack the strength to do what was commanded.
In the context of his interpretation of vows in his prologue to Numbers, Tyndale rejects the notion that sacrificial offerings, whether of money, goods, or chastity, justify the heart before God. The only proper vow is the one associated with baptism, which is to respond to the mercy of God by walking in His commandments for the sake of others and to mortify the lusts of the flesh. Commitment to a life of voluntary poverty and chastity matters to God only when it serves these purposes. Yet the office of the Law is absolutely essential to the making of a true Christian and the revealing of the complete powerlessness of the sinner to be justified through his or her works, for unless the heart is moved by the Law to repent it has “no part with Christ. For yf thou repent not of thy synne/ so it is impossible that thou shuldst beleue that Christ had delyuered the from the daunger therof.” Without faith in Christ, the heart cannot then be prompted to truly delight in the Law of God, and to lack such delight reveals the absence of faith and the Spirit. The office of the Law to illicit repentance for the sake of leading the sinner to Christ in faith was of critical importance to both Luther and Tyndale.
Tyndale prizes the book of Deuteronomy above all others in the Pentateuch for it clearly teaches faith and its dynamic relationship to love: “deducinge the loue to God oute of faith, and the loue of a mans neyghboure out of the loue of God.” In comparison, Luther similarly extols Deuteronomy for teaching faith and love, “for all God’s laws come to that,” and for providing the “most ample and excellent explanation of the Decalog” and the best instruction on how to fulfill the Ten Commandments in “spirit and body.” Hammond erroneously interprets Luther’s many negative comments on the Old Testament as referring to the Hebrew canon as a whole rather than more specifically to the “Mosaic Covenant.” His inability to distinguish these two, as well as the Mosaic Law from the natural-moral Law, causes him to overlook the likelihood that Tyndale is extracting from Luther here.
Also echoing Luther, Tyndale interprets the First Commandment as the “fountayne off all commaundmentes,” for to obey this commandment is to believe in God with a thankful heart. Through this love for God, people are strengthened to love one another from the heart, and “loue only is the fulfillinge of the commandmentes.” Tyndale acknowledges that the blessings and cursings spoken to Israel under the Mosaic Covenant are made fundamentally “with all nacions,” but with respect to “the life to come thou must haue the rightuousnesse of faith.” In a similar way, Luther interprets the promise of temporal prosperity in the Fourth Commandment as applying to people of every nation who obey the rule of God’s Law administered by parents and princes.
According to Clebsch, Tyndale’s Pentateuch reveals the beginnings of a shift from a previously dominant emphasis on faith alone in the doctrine of justification toward a new emphasis on the moral Law and good works after justification. Whereas Luther, as portrayed by Clebsch, treated the Law of the Old Testament only in terms of the ministry of Moses to issue death and judgment, Tyndale is able by 1530 to value the moral Law of the Pentateuch as a guide to Christian moral living. Clebsch’s misreading of Luther is easily demonstrated by Luther’s praise of the Ten Commandments in his catechetisms and other writings and his perception that the moral teachings of Christ in the gospels are the natural-moral Law of the Decalogue taught lovingly to His disciples in the context of grace. For Luther, the real difference between the preaching of works by Moses and Christ has less to do with actual content or substance than with form and tone and with respect to distinct dispensations of salvation history.249
Scholars such as Trinterud and Laughlin are right to point out that Tyndale’s earliest writings already emphasize “consent to the Law” and good works as concomitant with justification by faith alone. Thus, they are right to stress the fundamental consistency of Tyndale’s theology on this point. Nevertheless, Clebsch is also partly right in the stress he places on a shift occurring in Tyndale’s writings in the 1530s. Tyndale does indeed later relegate faith in many passages that speak of God’s mercy to a more implicit role with an even greater stress on the conditionality of the salvation promises in the expectation of repentance and the response of faith in good works and obedience to the Law. Yet this does not mean, contrary to Laughlin, that Tyndale no longer has use for the Law-Gospel theology of Luther, which is amply evident in his description of the chief work of the Law as the revelation of human sin and damnation that leads toward the comfort and life-changing power of the Gospel.
In the same year that his Pentateuch appeared, Tyndale published three other works, one of which was a reprinting of a fifteenth century Lollard tract entitled The Examination of Master William Thorpe. More well-known is his The Practice of Prelates and A Pathway unto Holy Scripture, the latter being a slightly revised and expanded edition of his prologue to the 1525 New Testament (Cologne Fragment).
With regard to the Examination, its late date of publication makes it an unlikely source of Tyndale’s theology, although Tyndale obviously valued it as a support to his cause of reform. The tract is an autobiographical account of a local priest named William Thorpe who stood trial before the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, in 1407. Many of Thorpe’s protests foreshadow Tyndale’s own frustrations with English clergy. Charges brought against Thorpe while preaching in the town of Shrewsbury include his opposition to transubstantiation, the worship of images, pilgrimages, priestly tithes, and oath swearing all on the basis of the Word of God. Thorpe also opposes the proud and covetous prelates who persecute those of the “true faith of holy chirche,” or the faithful Christians who loyally adhere to the commandments of God in His Word and the example of Christ. Thorpe also rejects the necessity of the sacrament of penance on the grounds that God forgives the truly contrite heart without the mediation of an earthly priesthood. Though priests are useful for counsel, Thorpe interprets the “keys” of binding and loosing as the preaching of judgment upon the wicked and mercy unto the repentant who sorrow and turn from their sin. Thorpe’s emphasis on diligence to the revealed commandments of God resonated with Tyndale.255 However, Thorpe does not articulate a clearly defined doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone, and his main concern is to encourage the faithful in the midst of persecution and to contrast the godly who suffer with their wicked persecutors. Tyndale’s personal interest in the tract is in its exhortation to the faithful in protesting against unbiblical practices and ritualistic devotion in honor of obedience to the commandments of God and His Word.
Tyndale’s The Practice of Prelates was written in response to King Henry VIII’s impending divorce from Catherine of Aragon, which Tyndale opposed while criticizing the greedy interference and political maneuverings of popes and prelates throughout history, chiefly including Cardinal Wolsey. Tyndale directs the King to the Law of God and urges him as a baptized, professing Christian to bring the question “unto the light of goddes lawe and let us submitte oure causes unto the iugement thereof and be content to have oure appetites [i.e., for answers] slayne therbye/ that we lust no farther then goddes ordinaunce geveth us libertye.” He also encourages the King not to let the fear of human opinion, including that of Emperor Charles V, dictate his course of action. Instead the king should trust that God will “kepe them that kepe his lawes. Yf we care to kepe his lawes/ he wyll care for the kepinge of us/ for the truth of his promises.”257 Taken out of context, this statement would seem to communicate the idea that salvation is a “bipartite agreement” or contract stipulated by human obedience to the Law. Yet it is not even self-evident that Tyndale has the promises of eternal salvation in mind in this context. Rather, he is speaking with regard to the temporal welfare and rule of the King, and Tyndale has already made mention in another writing of the fact that even outward submission to the Law of God brings with it the reward of temporal blessing and prosperity.259
Tyndale refers to Leviticus 18:16 and Deuteronomy 25:5–7 to defend his opinion about the divorce and in doing so provides important insight regarding his hermeneutical approach to the Mosaic Law. Although Luther and Tyndale came to different conclusions about the divorce, their interpretation of how to apply the Mosaic Law is remarkably similar. Like Luther, Tyndale distinguishes between the ceremonial, civil, and moral laws of Moses. The ceremonial laws were signs pertaining to God’s past dealings with the people of Israel, all of which have been surmounted by the sacrifice of Christ. The civil laws of Moses pertained only to the Jews and were a means of protection for the people. In this way, Luther and Tyndale both describe Moses as a “lawegever” (Luther has “gesetz geber”), but only for the Jews. However, the moral Law of the Decalogue summarized in the commandment to love God and neighbor is the very “lawe of nature” demanded of every person regardless of nationality. It is a law that even predated Moses and the Sinai Covenant, and would have remained in place regardless of whether or not it had ever been formally codified in writing. For Luther and Tyndale, to have faith and love toward God, which is the keeping of the First Commandment, results in the cheerful keeping of all the other laws pertaining to the neighbor. Trueman even states that, while Tyndale’s rhetoric of loving the Law is, in his opinion, uncharacteristic of Luther, “his actual concept of Christian ethics is fundamentally identical with that of Luther.” Neither Luther nor Tyndale strictly equate the moral Law with the Decalogue, since both identify the law of the Sabbath as a ceremony abrogated by the New Covenant, which made all such ceremonies free matters. Nevertheless, the spirit of the law in surrender to the authority of the teaching and preaching of the Word of God is expected of every professing Christian. Lastly, both Luther and Tyndale regard the promise of a long life given with the commandment to honor parents (commandment number four for Luther, but five for Tyndale) as basically the temporal promise of a long prosperous life for respectful children and law-abiding citizens.261
Tyndale published A Pathway unto Holy Scripture in 1530–1531, which was a minor revision of his 1525 New Testament prologue. Clebsch states that this treatise is, “without exaggeration,” the “magna carta of English Puritanism.”263 However, the text bears only slight differences when compared with its predecessor. The following excerpts exemplify some of the more noteworthy additions as it relates to the subject of Law and Gospel (revised material is noted in italics):

to gyue unto all that repente and beleue … iustified in the bloud of Christ from all things where of the lawe condemned us. And we receyue loue unto the lawe and power to fulfyl it/ and grow ther in dayly … the lawe requyreth love from the bottome of the hert/and that loue onely is the fulfyllynge of the lawe … obedient to the iustice or rightwesnes that commeth of god / whiche is the forgyuenes of sine in christes blode unto all that repent and beleue … Whatsoever we doo/ thynke/ or ymmagon/ is abominable in the syght of god. For we can referre nothynge unto the honor of god: neither is his law or wyl written in our membres or in our herts/ neither is there any more power in us to folow the wyl of god/ than in a stone to ascende upwarde of his owne selfe … It is not possyble for a naturall man to consent to the law/that hit shuld be good/ rightewes/ or that god shuld be which maketh the lawe in asmoch as it is contrary unto his nature and dampneth him/ and all that he can do/ and neither sheweth him where to fetch helpe/ nor precheth any mercy/ but onely setteth man at varyance with god … do I well/nott for hevens sake/which is yet the reward of well doyinge: but because I am heyre of heven by grace and Christes purchasyinge.

These and other minor additions that Tyndale makes in the Pathway do not reveal any new theological insights and are all consistent with his theology as expressed in the earlier Cologne Fragment and other writings of the 1520s. Furthermore, rather than putting new stress on the positive relationship of the Christian to the Law, at least two of these additions reemphasize the absolute powerlessness of fallen human nature before the demands of the Law. The additions should be seen as points of clarification rather than revisions per se, and, except for the few opening paragraphs of Tyndale’s introduction that express his desire to translate the New Testament, no omissions or alterations of the original text have been made.
The most original portion of the Pathway is the several folios of completely new material that begins immediately where the original prologue ends. This section begins with a conventional reiteration of the evangelical value of good works, which do not justify a heart before God but are evidences of the life of the Holy Spirit within, are useful to “tame the flesshe” so as not to “choke” out the Word of God and “quence the giftes or workig of the Spirite,” and meet the needs of the neighbor resulting in thanks and praise to God.
Next, Tyndale exposits the Decalogue, although much of this material reiterates comments found in his other earlier writings. Although Tyndale numbers the commandments differently than Luther, it is important to note here that Tyndale does not develop the prohibition of worshipping images. Tyndale then expounds on other themes he has elucidated in the past, which have to do with the depraved human condition, the opposition of the natural heart to the Law of God, and the only hope of salvation through repentance and faith in the blood of Christ. Tyndale identifies this as the “inward baptim of our soules.” The outward act of baptism “signifieth that we repent and professe to fyght agaynst synne and lustes/ and to kyll them euery day more and more/ with the helpe of god and oure dilygence in folowynge the doctrine of Christ and the ledyinge of his Spirite …” To believe in the promise accompanying the act of baptism is to believe that sin is forgiven and the condemnation of the Law removed on account of Christ, and that even the weakness that remains “after we haue gyuen our consente unto the law and yelded ourselfe to be scolers therof” is forgiven by God’s grace: “And thus/ repentaunce and faith begynne at our baptyme and first professynge the lawes of god/ and contynue unto our lyues ende/ and growe as we growe in the Spirite.” Such diligence to keep God’s commandments must not be thought of as meritorious, however, in the sense that these works are deserving of God’s favor. Rather, any such moral goodness in Christians is itself the “gyft of grace.” The responsibility of the baptized is to have faith in God and the promise of His mercy in Christ while being earnest and diligent to keep His commandments for the reasons already specified above. For His part, God will be faithful to His promises and will bring to perfection what is impossible for human strength alone. Though Tyndale does not specifically use the word “covenant” in the Pathway, the notion that he articulates of the respective responsibilities of both God and the baptized comes close to his later formal development of a theology of covenant. This explains Clebsch’s identification of the work as proto-Puritan, yet it is important to stress again here how these statements emerge in the context of Tyndale’s covenantal theology of baptism, which is not at all novel to him nor is it distinct from the theology of Luther.
Clebsch exaggerates the significance of the Pathway as a turning-point in the development of Tyndale’s thought. In fact, Trinterud only mentions the work in passing. According to Trueman, although Tyndale does begin to place an even greater emphasis on good works in the Christian life after 1530, this is “fundamentally consistent with his earlier writings.” Yet it is hard not to notice a growing tendency on the part of Tyndale around this time to recast his theology of justification and the Christian life of good works using rhetoric that implies a bipartite covenant. Nevertheless, Tyndale continues to contrast the Law over against the Gospel with regard to their proper functions, and the resiliency of Luther’s influence is evident in his theological assumption that justification through faith in Christ alone follows repentance under the Law and results in the new obedience of the Christian life.
In 1531, Tyndale published an anticlerical Lollard tract entitled The Prayer and Complaynt of the Ploweman unto Christ, a translation of the book of Jonah accompanied by a prologue, a reply to Thomas More’s Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1529), and an exposition of 1 John. Although the anonymous writer of the Ploweman does occasionally refer to the importance of belief and love toward God, as well as repentance, keeping the commandments, and love of the neighbor, its main point is to rebuke the corruption of prelates on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount. Since it does not explore the doctrine of justification by faith and its relationship to the moral obedience of the Christian as any matter of primary concern, it does little to illuminate Tyndale’s own opinions on this subject other than his identification of the Sermon on the Mount as a model for Christian piety.
With regard to the translation of the book of Jonah, Trinterud observes that it bears “no connection with any Luther item on Jonah.”271 This is true, although Trinterud is cautious to credit too much to Luther’s influence even when Tyndale has made obvious use of his works. Although the argument for indebtedness to Luther would be more strongly supported on the basis of a direct use of his translation and preface to the book, the prologue does reveal the continuing influence of Luther upon Tyndale’s theology of Law and Gospel: “Scripture conteyneth. iii. thinges in it. first the law to condemne all flesh: secondaryly the Gospell / that is to saye/ promises of mercie for all that repent and knowledge their sinnes at the preachinge of the law and consent in their hertes that the law is good/ and submitte themselues to be scolers to lern to kepe the lawe and to lerne to beleue the mercie that is promised them: and thirdly the stories and liues of those scolers both what chaunces fortuned them/ and also by what meanes their scolemaster taught them and made them perfect/ and how he tried the true from the false.”
Contrary to Laughlin, Tyndale still obviously uses the word “Gospel.” He also continues to summarize the message of the Scriptures according to a theology of Law and Gospel, although instead of simply stating that the Gospel is the “promises of mercie” in Christ he goes on in detail to explain that those promises apply to those with hearts of repentance and intentions of being obedient to the Law of God. Yet this should not be construed as diminishing the distinctive and proper functions of Law and Gospel, as Tyndale will continue to make clear elsewhere, nor is Tyndale saying that repentance and a heart for obedience to the Law actually merit divine mercy. Although repentance is necessary, it is insufficient by itself. It is only faith in Christ that justifies and enables Christians to truly devote themselves in love to the Law. Tyndale did believe that sincere devotion to the Law of God can, in turn, bolster faith in divine mercy on account of it being a sign of true faith and the working of the Spirit. Luther said essentially the same thing with regard to the exercise of faith in good works and that only the sins of those who struggle with faith in the Spirit against the flesh are under the grace of forgiveness and without condemnation.274 Furthermore, with regard to the necessity of repentance, Luther also believed that the message of the Gospel is intended as a comfort only for the truly contrite, not the unrepentant and self-righteous, and genuine repentance includes not only a desire for forgiveness but also for the strength and power to keep the holy commandments. This is the very reason the Creed follows the Ten Commandments in the order of his catechism.
It is also not evident that Tyndale has shifted toward a more legalistic and moralistic appraisal of the Law as Clebsch argues. Tyndale continues to stress that the Law is “all together spirituall,” and that it condemns unless “it be written in his herte and untill he kepe it naturally without compulsion and all other respecte saue only pure love to God and his neyboure.” Thus, as Tyndale has made abundantly clear before, the Law is never fulfilled by mere outward deeds, which are sin if without perfect love, and the true fulfilling of the Law comes only from a “a fast fayth in christes bloud coupled with our profession and submytttinge ourselues to lerne to doo better.” Tyndale clearly states that the forgiveness of sins, as in the story of Jonah, has always been by “faith only without respecte of all workes,” though such faith is the kind that naturally coinheres with repentance going beforehand and a sincere heart of love in devotion to the Law going after and, indeed, coming out of that very repenting faith. Yet neither repentance nor a heart for the Law, though necessary in their own way, are in themselves the grounds for receiving and believing in the forgiveness of sins, but “that the promises be geuen un to a repentynge soule that thursteth and longeth after them/ of the pure and fatherly mercie of god thorow oure faith onely with oute al deseruinge of oure dedes or merites of oure werkes/ but for Christes sake alone and for the merites and deseruinges of his werkes/ deth and passions …
Baptism is a sign that is given only once at birth, but the promise it signifies is good until death, and Tyndale believes that the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ is available to anyone who repents and believes, for “we can doo no werkes unto God/ but receave only of his mercie with oure repentynge fayth.” Therefore, at the very same time that Tyndale can speak of God’s promises as possessing a certain conditionality with regard to the expectation of repentance and a heart of love in obedience to God’s Law, he is still obviously of the conviction that justification and reconciliation with God is through faith in Christ alone. This more explicit stress on the conditionality of God’s promises is simply his new way in the 1530s of emphasizing how justifying faith in Christ cannot possibly exist in truth without a preceding repentance under the Law and a submission to the Law of God that proceeds naturally in love from that very same repenting faith. Although Tyndale’s words could be misinterpreted in a works-righteousness and legalistic way, interpreting them in the light of his theological assumptions and in the broader context of other statements and writings shows that he is still under the influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel.
In 1531, Tyndale published his reply to Thomas More’s Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1529). More’s treatise implicates Tyndale as the major cause of the infiltration of Luther’s heresies into England.280 More was probably an important contributor to Henry VIII’s Assertio septem sacramentorum (1521), which was a defense of Catholic sacramental theology and a virulent rebuttal to Luther’s own Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520). More’s main motivation in joining the attacks on Luther under the direction of Cardinal Wolsey was Luther’s scathing reply to Henry VIII in 1522. Within one year, More published his own personal tirade against Luther in his Responsio ad Lutherum (1523). By 1529, and at the behest of Bishop Tunstall of London, More changed his approach and began combating heresy using the vernacular. The ensuing product was his Dialogue, in which More now specifically targets Tyndale as guilty of perpetuating the spread of Luther’s heresies.
In the Dialogue, More identifies Tyndale’s major link with Luther to be his publication of the English New Testament: “For Tyndall (whose books be nothing else in effect but the worst heresies picked out of Luther’s works and Luther’s worst words translated by Tyndall and put forth in Tyndall’s own name …” Yet, as scholars have observed, other comments of More portray Tyndale as even a worse heretic than Luther. Unfortunately, these comments have been used to justify the notion that Tyndale disagrees with Luther on critical matters of Law and Gospel. In response to these claims, it must be remembered that More’s highly charged polemical tirade is hardly an objective appeal for interpreting differences between Tyndale and Luther. Even so, More never lists matters pertaining to faith, justification, the Law, or good works as among those differences. Werrell, who makes the most of More’s comment, can only identify purgatory, the mass, confession, and patristic authority as areas of supposed difference marked by More. In fact, if scholars are right that Tyndale stressed the importance of the Law and good works more than Luther from the very beginning, then Luther, rather than Tyndale, would be the greater heretic.
Trinterud observes that Tyndale’s Answer to More is not dependent for its structure or content on any one work of Luther, and he virtually ignores this text in his analysis. Though Tyndale makes a statement in this work denying that he had ever been “confederatt with Luther,” most scholars do not accept this as being an absolute repudiation of any associations with Luther whatsoever. The fact that Tyndale ignored a prime opportunity to show explicitly how he differed with Luther and did no such thing is certainly noteworthy in itself. In fact, Tyndale’s Answer to More is a response to an unabashedly anti-Luther document in which he himself is explicitly linked to the German reformer. This means that Tyndale’s work is, in many significant ways, a defense of Luther against the attacks of More.
It is true that the Answer to More is not based on any single work of Luther, but the recurring themes connecting repentance under the Law (in the manner of the preaching of John the Baptist), justification by “fayth only” (a “felynge faith”), and a sincere obedience to God’s Law under the rule of love reveal the lasting influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel upon Tyndale’s developing thought: “And yf I beleved the gospell/what God hath done for me in Christe/ I should suerly loue hym agayne and of loue prepare my selfe unto hys commanundementes.” Tyndale defends his purposeful translation of “metanoia” and “metanoite” as “repentaunce” rather than “penance” because of its associations with the idea that sinners can make satisfaction to God for their sins by acts of penance. Even though all Christians remain as “synners” in the imperfection of their deeds and the frailty of their flesh, even falling as heinously as King David, they are at the same time “no synners” on account of their repenting reliance upon God’s promises of mercy. Those that do end up yielding in weakness to temptation, doing outwardly what they are enticed to do by the flesh, the Spirit of God in the elect calls them back successfully to be reconciled through a renewal of repentance, faith, and a “new batayle” against sin. According to Tyndale, such persons are the true Church, although Tyndale does later admit that “church” in the Scriptures sometimes refers to the “common rascall of all that beleue,” who are without the Spirit, whose faith is mere profession, and who either ignore the Law altogether or heed it only superficially.288
Tyndale is surprisingly positive toward the use of images in his Answer to More, more so than in the Obedience, and this is important to note in the light of the opinion that Tyndale’s theology was beginning to maneuver in favor of the Swiss Reformed tradition by the 1530s. In actuality, his balanced approach to images as theoretically useful for reflecting on the work of Christ and the piety of the saints seems much more akin to Erasmus, Luther, and even some Lollards, rather than to most theologians within the Swiss Reformed tradition. Although he supports the timely removal of images, this is not because he views them as inherently idolatrous. Rather, an image “is good and not euel untill it be abused.” Tyndale even allows for the act of kneeling before an image, but acknowledges abuses when such kneeling is considered necessary for salvation, as a protection against evil and harmful spirits, or as a means to temporal prosperity. Tyndale even has a somewhat nuanced opinion of pilgrimages, and interprets their value in terms of a journey to hear the Word of God in a place remote from common domestic distractions. The abuse associated with pilgrimages has to do with thinking that God honors devotion to Him only in sacred places, whereas for Tyndale the significance of a pilgrimage is the longing for an environment that stimulates godly meditation, faith toward God, and love toward others: “his pleasure is onlye in the hertes of them that loue his commaundementes.” In all these cases, Tyndale’s more moderate position towards images and pilgrimages (not to mention the Sabbath) is more reminiscent of the tone of Erasmus or Luther.
Tyndale does indeed stress the importance of good works and love toward the Law in his Answer to More, but he is also unapologetic about his position on the doctrine of justification sola fide. Therefore, it is not that Tyndale now considers good works or obedience to the Law as being any more theoretically essential to the Christian life than he did in his previous writings, but he does develop, stress, and explain that point even more fully than before. Although he still does not yet use the explicit concept of “covenant,” his stress on the necessity of repentance and a heart of love and obedience to the Law in connection with justifying faith anticipates this in some manner. Tyndale at one point does specifically describe God’s promises of mercy as being offered only to them who repent of past wrongdoing with the intention to turn from that sin. This agrees with Luther that true justifying faith that partakes of the mercy of God promised in the Gospel cannot coexist with a lust to continue in sin without remorse. This kind of faith is without sorrowful repentance toward the Law of God and is both a false faith and a wicked presumption upon the precious gift of God’s grace as if desiring that God give His divine o.k. to the unbridled satisfaction of sinful lusts.
Among the works of Tyndale listed acrimoniously by More in the Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer (1532) is his exposition on the epistle of First John published in 1531. Trinterud forthrightly states that it proves Tyndale was “not a Lutheran,” highlighting both Tyndale’s covenantal understanding of baptism and his laudatory praise for the Law in the life of the Christian. With regard to the former, Trinterud does admit that “Luther could on occasion use the figure, for it was age-old,” although he asserts that the “figure, or motif, was fast becoming the badge of a non-Lutheran.” Trinterud quotes at length from the “Prologge” to 1 John concerning Tyndale’s description of the profession of baptism, what Tyndale describes as the “key and lyght of the Scripture.” Tyndale’s explanation in effect unfolds Luther’s own covenantal understanding of baptism and his theology of Law and Gospel. The Law, summarized as love toward God and neighbor, can only be fulfilled through love, but love cannot exist except in those who have repented and believed the “promises of mercie.” Tyndale then goes on, as Trinterud quotes, to describe the loving and dutiful submission to the Law that characterizes the profession of baptism “wrytten in thyne herte.” This sort of submission to the Law is neither works-righteousness nor ethical legalism for it is the righteousness of faith that leads to love and this love is the true keeping of the Law. In fact, any law that goes against faith and love is free to be broken, as Luther himself often stated, “For loue is lorde ouer al lawes.”293
That Tyndale stresses the ethical responsibility of the Christian in his exposition of 1 John is hardly surprising since this is a major point stressed in the New Testament book itself, and the fact that Tyndale chose to exposit 1 John is not unique. Luther himself preferred 1 John’s discussion of good works to that of the book of James because the former more explicitly exhorts on the basis of God’s love in the Gospel. In his own series of lectures on 1 John in the late 1520s, Luther clearly identifies one value of good works to be the personal assurance it provides of a faith that justifies. Luther’s lectures were not actually published until centuries later, so it cannot be argued that Tyndale knew of them or was directly influenced by them. Nevertheless, this is not the first time that Luther has identified good works as a means of personal assurance, and Tyndale’s comments are certainly consistent with the theological implications concerning justifying faith and good works that Luther develops in his own lectures.
Tyndale reasserts in the lectures that the nature of the Law is to “utter synne” and that repentance under the Law necessarily precedes, on account of it creating the opportunity for, justifying faith. Even Christians who succumb in weakness to temptation through negligence of spiritual duties (the “life of penaunce”), if they but heed the discipline of God and renew the profession of their baptism through “repentynge faithe,” are forgiven through the blood of Christ. Tyndale does state that God’s mercy promised in baptism is conditional upon the fact that “we will submit oure selues vnto his doctryne and lerne to kepe his lawes.” Yet it is not as if divine forgiveness is merited by repentance or submission to the Law though these “condicyons” are associated with the nature of the faith that alone justifies: “So whether light or darknes be in the hert/ it wyll apere in the walkinge … that it is not possible for hym that knoweth the trueth and consentyth thereto to contynewe in synne.” Though more frequently associated with the sacrament of baptism, Tyndale also speaks of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in a covenantal-like manner, as a confirming of the “testament made betwen God and us of the forgiueness of synnes in Christes bloude/ for oure repentaunce and faith.”
According to his exposition of 1 John, the one “born of God” cannot sin without remorse. The sin of the true Christian is distinguishable from the sin of the false Christian because it is impossible for the former to sin of purpose “without grudge of conscience,” or so as to fall beyond a quick return to God through repentance and faith. For Tyndale, the “elect” are known only by God and, though sinning grievously, will never finally fall beyond a return to repentance, faith, and the consent of their hearts to God’s Law.297 In another work, however, Tyndale does state that through slothfulness it is possible that the Spirit can be lost “agayne” as well as the “rightwesnesse of fayth.” This indicates that Tyndale believed a person could in some sense have the Spirit and even be in righteous standing before God by faith, but, if not among the elect, will ultimately lack perseverance and become lost.
Tyndale also explains in the lectures that Christ and the Christian “make a chaunge.” Christ takes on the sin of the sinner and the Christian receives “mercie” in Christ and “giftes of grace,” becoming “gloriouse with the ornamentes of his riches.” This statement is significant in the light of the fact that Tyndale is often distinguished from Luther on the nature of justification. The concept alludes to 2 Corinthians 5:21 and was also paraphrased in the writings of Augustine, but it is difficult not to recognize in the light of Tyndale’s particular emphasis on faith alone an echoing of Luther’s own depiction of the “great exchange,” or the intimate union with Christ and His righteousness through faith that occurs in justification.
For Tyndale as well as Luther, an important message of 1 John is that the keeping of the commandment to love one another “certifieth us that we be in the state of grace.” Luther says the same in his own lectures to the effect that it “is through works that we learn that our faith is true.” Contrary to Clebsch, Tyndale has not forgotten the central importance of justification before God sola fide, although he does stress the effectual side of justifying faith as “the mother of all love” and the root of the true keeping of the Law from the heart in the life of the Christian. Thus, the one who is capable of showing mercy to others is also the one who at the same time possesses genuine personal trust in the mercy of God in Christ. In turn, he or she will have an even clearer conscience, an even bolder faith, and an even stronger confidence in the benevolence and mercy of God, much like obedient children have greater boldness in the presence of their earthly fathers.304 Luther states in his own lectures: “Faith is established by its practice, its use, and its fruit. For after one has devoted oneself to a life of idleness, it is difficult to raise the heart up to God. Faith alone raises us up. Hence faith must be put into practice, in order that we may be freed from an evil conscience.” Similarly, in a sermon on 2 Peter in the early 1520s, Luther says that: “[faith] is so constituted that through application and practice it becomes stronger and stronger until it is sure of the call and election and cannot be wanting … If your faith is well exercised and applied, you will finally gain assurance.”
There is nothing in Tyndale’s exposition of 1 John to suggest any real differences with Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel, and both reformers expressed in their lectures an accolade for the Law and the obligation expected of every professing Christian to keep it diligently. The Law for Luther as well as Tyndale is summarized in Jesus’ commandment to love one another. Furthermore, although the baptismal covenant never becomes a theological, rhetorical, or hermeneutical motif for Luther, Tyndale is not at all against Luther in describing the sacrament and its promise in terms of a covenant. The unfolding of this covenant motif in justification and the Christian life itself still reflects the foundational influence of Luther’s understanding of Law and Gospel upon Tyndale’s theological assumptions. Thus, it is not self-evident that Tyndale is consciously moving away from Luther theologically, although the extent to which the covenantal rhetoric takes precedence in his thought indeed suggests the possible influence of the emerging Reformed tradition.
In 1533, Tyndale published an exposition on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7. Luther had delivered a series of sermons on this text between the years 1530 and 1532 in the absence of Johann Bugenhagen. Trinterud openly acknowledges that Tyndale’s “literary dependence” upon Luther’s sermons is “undeniable.” George Joye had even accused Tyndale of taking too much personal credit for his exposition. Trinterud recognizes Tyndale’s description of the power of the Law in the conviction of sin and in driving the sinner to Christ as the influence of Luther. However, Trinterud also argues that the looming presence of Tyndale’s “conditional-covenant” theology, along with statements allowing for a more positive role for the Law in the Christian life, reveal he “had learned more from Basel than from Wittenberg.”
Like Luther, Tyndale does not view the Sermon on the Mount as a new Law nor is Christ a new Lawgiver. Rather, the truth of the Ten Commandments is unveiled by Christ in its most spiritual sense as it relates to the demands placed upon the human heart. Thus, “the lawe in hir right understandinge is the keye, or at the least waye the first and principall keye to open the dore of the Scripture. And the lawe is the very waye that bringeth unto the dore Christ … the dore, the waye, and the grounde or foundacyon of all the Scripture.” This resonates with Luther’s own way of approaching the Scriptures through Law and Gospel with Christ at the center. Tyndale understands that the express purpose of the Law is to drive the sinner wounded in conscience toward Christ, who alone can do for people what the Law by itself could not do through Moses in only bringing death and judgment.
Tyndale does go beyond Luther in so far as he lays even greater stress on the conditional nature of God’s promises in terms of the “couenaunt.” Though the statements in the “Prologe vnto the reader” echo what Tyndale has already said in discussing the sacrament of baptism as a covenant, they expand, develop, and emphasize more than anywhere else thus far in his writings his knowledge of the certain conditional quality of God’s promises:

All the good promyses which are made vs thorow out all the scripture for Christes sake, for his loue, his passion or sufferinge, his bloude shedinge or deathe all are made vs on this condicion and couenaunt on oure partye, that we henceforthe loue the lawe of God, to walke therin and to do it and fassion oure lyues therafter. In so moche that who soeuer hath not the lawe of God written in his harte, that he loue it, haue his lust in it, and recorde therin night and daye, vnderstondinge it as God hath gyuen it, and as Christ and the Apostles expounde it: The same hath no parte in the promises, or can haue anye true fayth in the bloude of Christ: Because there is no promise made him, but to them onlye that promise to kepe the lawe … Euen so, none of vs can be receaued to grace but vpon a condicion to kepe the lawe, neyther yet continue anie lenger in grace then that purpose lasteth.

As explicit as this passage is in stressing the need for a heart toward good works and submission to the Law in love as certain conditions for partaking in the promises of mercy in Christ, this does not mean that forgiveness actually follows upon, or on the basis of, such love toward the Law. Tyndale is still operating under the theological assumption that to have the love that truly keeps the Law is to have true justifying faith in the sacrifice of Christ and not a false presumption. Nevertheless, this kind of faith also emerges only from a heart of sincere repentance toward the Law. The grace of forgiveness, then, that is promised in Christ and to be received through faith alone is only for the truly repentant who intend to keep the Law and, in response to the receiving of God’s mercy in true faith, will strive with love in the doing of good works and in battle against sin. This striving gives evidence of justifying faith and reassures Christians that they are indeed partakers of the mercy promised in Christ through faith alone.
Tyndale illustrates this by describing a wise king who refuses to pardon any unrepentant criminal who has no intent whatsoever on moral amendment if pardoned. The pardon is always enacted before the Law is actually kept in deeds, yet it is “on that condycyon that thou endevoure thyselfe to synne no moare, is the promyse of forgyuenes made unto the.” Thus, the pardon is not received after the keeping of the Law in outward deeds, although it is conditioned on the “purpose” of the heart to “endevoure thyselfe” and to “henceforthe” keep the Law after being pardoned. This condition, however, is easily met through what Tyndale has already referred to before as a “repentyng faith” in Christ that justifies. In order to remain underneath the protection of that pardon, a certain moral perseverance is required, but this does not mean for Tyndale that moral exertion and good works themselves are what justify, but that moral discipline guards the heart. According to Tyndale, without persistent and diligent dependence upon God in prayer, serving others through the giving of alms, and mortifying the indulgences of the flesh by fasting, the Christian is vulnerable to being overcome by the lure and power of sin. Yet God by His “couenaunt” has promised to forgive all who fall into temptation “if they will turne agayne” and so long as they do not yield to the rule of sin to the degree that they become indifferent to it lacking a heart of repentance. The distinction Tyndale makes between sins committed “vnder grace” in repentance and sins committed “under the lawe and vnder the damnacion of the lawe” without repentance agrees wholeheartedly with Luther’s theology and his own description of the terms of the eternal covenant made in the promise of baptism.
To battle against sin, for Tyndale as well as Luther, is a certain condition of the promise of grace made in the baptismal covenant in the sense that earnestness to obey the will of God reflects a heart truly justified through repenting faith in Christ. True faith in the mercy of Christ produces thankfulness to God and love for the Law, which is the “profession and religion of a Christen man” and the “inward baptime of the hart.” While faith, hope, and love are inseparable from one another, and though each has its own proper “office,” Tyndale is explicit that faith alone justifies. Thus, Tyndale makes a distinction between affirming salvation by “fayth onlye” and salvation by a “fayth that is alone,” or without works that follow.
According to Tyndale, when Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount promises blessings to the merciful, to the peacemakers, and to the faithful in persecution, this refers to people who are already justified and have been converted to God by a repenting faith. Thus, the Beatitudes are not conditions for receiving forgiveness, justification, and eternal life in the sense that forgiveness follows upon obedience to them so much as they are conditions for marking that one has been forgiven, is a child of God already, and is justified with the promise of eternal life. In the case of the promise of heaven and its rewards for patient suffering and well-doing, this is not as if heaven is a wage deserved or merited by works. Rather, God’s promise to bless those works in this life and the life to come is entirely a gift of His mercy, and He would be righteous to command unquestioned obedience even without the promise of a good future. Yet, as Tyndale asserts, God gave these promises and mercifully bound Himself to them to add a comforting incentive to Christians to be “more wyllynge to do that is oure dutie.” One such duty includes forgiveness and mercy owed to an offender, and anyone who presumes to be forgiven of God for his or her own personal offenses by default enters into “couenaunt” with Him to forgive others in like manner as He commands. Yet such righteous action does not merit the forgiveness of God but naturally proceeds from a heart that is forgiven and righteous through a justifying faith in Christ. The righteousness for reconciliation with God is always alien and “cometh of God altogether,” although thereafter the person is divided from “one man, all flesh,” into “two.” The Christian is made righteous in so far as he or she has the beginnings of love through the Spirit, but unrighteous in so far as that love always remains “unperfecte.” The weaknesses and imperfections that remain are forgiven and covered under the mercy of justification in Christ. The idea that the Christian has the beginnings of the Spirit while his or her remaining sin is forgiven or not imputed is found in Augustine as well as Luther, but Tyndale’s emphasis on Christ as the righteousness of the sinner before God in justification reflects more of the influence of the latter. Furthermore, Luther himself was not entirely opposed to speaking of the consolation of heavenly rewards (even “merits”) in the context of greater glory, not eternal life itself, promised in heaven to faithfulness in suffering.
That Tyndale understands the extrinsic righteousness of Christ to be imputed in justification is clear from his statement that “Christ is the fullfillynge of the lawe for us” and that “his fulfillynge is imputed to us.” This “fullfillynge” probably implies the entire righteousness of Christ’s life, but it certainly refers to the culmination of His death as a worthy atonement for sin. In any case, Tyndale states that this “fullfillynge” is just as necessary for the first reconciliation with God as it is for each time a Christian falls “afterwarde.” It is even essential to sanctify “oure best workes all our liffe lange.” The reliance of the Christian by faith on the atoning righteousness of Christ imputed in justification that covers a person and all his or her works throughout life shows the continual influence of Luther on Tyndale’s developing theology. Although Tyndale does often stress the effective side of faith, his strong emphasis on justification as the objective removal of guilt (in Christ) is also reflected in his repeated use of the courtroom analogy and the king’s pardoning of the repentant criminal.
Tyndale describes the office of the preacher as the preaching of the Ten Commandments (“the law naturall”), warning people that disobedience merits both temporal discipline and “everlastinge payne in hell,” while “everlastinge life” is promised to them who submit themselves to keep the Law in love from the heart “thorow fayth in Christ.” The keeping of the Law spiritually from the heart has the greater advantage of being followed by eternal blessings, though only those who have already been justified by faith in Christ can truly keep the Law and partake of these promised blessings. This echoes Tyndale’s earlier statements made in his Parable of the Wicked Mammon, which borrowed from Luther’s own sermon. For both reformers, heaven is not a reward earned by the deeds themselves, which are never perfect, but the promise of heaven is given to a justifying faith in Christ confirmed through good deeds.
Other areas where the influence of Luther is witnessed in Tyndale’s exposition is in his differentiation between the “kyngedome of heaven which is the regiment of the Gospel” and the “kyngedome of this worlde which is the temporall regiment,” in his interpretation of Jesus’ prohibition of personal retribution and popular insurrection, in his understanding that all baptized persons are a “double person and under both regimentes,” and in his allowance for Christian participation in just war.
Tyndale’s exposition of the Sermon on the Mount does not reveal that he is consciously moving away from the influence of Luther in his basic theological assumptions concerning Law and Gospel. However, the “covenaunt” motif and his continued stress on the conditionality of the promises does receive more explicit and prevalent emphasis in Tyndale’s writings of the 1530s than that found in Luther. Tyndale is certainly putting a certain weight on the need for repentance and good works by his intentional use of the rhetoric of covenant conditionality, yet this does not mean that Tyndale thought these were any more necessary than Luther did. Tyndale does often make faith in Christ more implicit in his later writings, but this is not in abandonment of his underlying assumption that to fulfill the terms of the covenant means that justifying faith in Christ by its very nature is preceded by a heart of genuine repentance under the Law of God and followed by submission to that same Law in love and gratitude to God for His mercy. Tyndale’s understanding of the conditionality of the promises was something he had already asserted earlier in the context of speaking about the sacrament of baptism as a covenant. Though his adoption of a covenantal theology of baptism was itself not necessarily the influence of the Swiss or South German Reformed tradition, his elevation of covenant to such a place of rhetorical and hermeneutical prominence in the 1530s suggests this. Yet, though certainly debatable, Werrell recently argues that even this is not self-evident, and he argues that Tyndale’s more Trinitarian, federal theology of covenant and its familial application in the life of the elect sets him significantly apart from a more contractual and jurisprudent framework in the theology of the continental reformers.
Scholars have not appreciated the extent to which Luther often spoke of baptism in terms of an evangelical theology of covenant and this at the same time that his own theology of Law and Gospel was maturing. Furthermore, Tyndale’s understanding of how the covenant works and unfolds in the life of the Christian shows the Law-Gospel influence of Luther. Entering into the covenant of mercy and remaining under the covenant is conditioned by the intentionality of the heart to keep the Law, which is to say that genuine repentance under the Law is necessary as a prelude to the faith in Christ that really justifies and that this is demonstrated through love and a willing submission to God’s Law in response to the kindness of God’s mercy. As Luther himself explained, this intentionality is guarded in the faithful by dutiful meditation upon the Law of God’s Word accompanied by dependence upon God for mercy and help in prayer, resistance to the flesh through fasting, and the discipline occasioned by suffering and affliction.
Tyndale published a revised translation of the book of Genesis in 1534. Whereas his previous Pentateuch of 1530 translated b’rith as “bond,” in the revised edition of 1534 this explicitly becomes the “couenaunte.” Similarly, “couenaunte” replaces all but one reference to “appoyntmente” in 17:9. Tyndale also adds a new gloss to Genesis 3:14, identifying the promise of the coming of Messiah, the seed of Eve who would save all who believe and hate the “deuels workes,” as a “couenaunt.” These textual revisions show Tyndale’s increasing preference for the use of “covenant” as a way of stressing the conditional nature of God’s promises of mercy according to a repenting faith that flows into love, good works, and obedience to God’s Law.
In the prologue to Genesis, Tyndale explicitly states that Christians are to “Seke therfore in the Scripture as thou readest it, chefely and aboue all, the conuenauntes made betwene god and vs.” Tyndale obviously does not refer to Law and Gospel explicitly here, but he does go on to define the covenant in terms of a theology of Law and Gospel, the “lawe and commaundementes which God commaundeth vs to do” and the “mercie promysed vnto all them that submite themselues vnto the lawe.” The latter obviously emphasizes the conditionality of the promises of mercy in the repentance that accompanies and precedes justifying faith and the expected response of that faith in obedience: Tyndale further states that: “all the promyses thorow out the hole scripture do include a couenaunt. That is: god byndeth himselfe to fulfil that mercie vnto the, onlye if thou wilt endeuoure thyselfe to kepe his lawes: so that no man hath his parte in the mercie of god, saue he onlye that loueth his lawe and consenteth that it is righteous and good, and fayne would do it, and euer mourneth because he now and then breaketh it thorow infirmite, or dothe it not so perfectly as his harte wolde.”
The fact that Tyndale here speaks of partaking of the mercy of God without even explicitly referring to faith in Christ lends some credibility to Clebsch’s point that the emphasis on faith alone in the doctrine of justification is often stressed less explicitly in Tyndale’s writings of the 1530s. Yet other scholars are right to argue that underneath this change in rhetoric and what is an even greater emphasis than before on repentance and good works there is yet a fundamental theological consistency that understands obedience to the Law as necessarily flowing from a repenting faith in Christ that justifies. When interpreted in the light of his theological assumptions and other contemporary passages where Tyndale continues to explicitly affirm that justification before God is by faith alone in Christ apart from all works, passages that stress the covenant conditionality of the promise of mercy in repentance, a heart of obedience to the Law, and a life of good works are implying and assuming the faith in Christ that alone justifies.
As he had promised back in 1526, Tyndale published a revised Newe Testament in 1534, now with a prologue for each book with the exception of Acts and Revelation. Laughlin describes the Newe Testament as containing the pinnacle of Tyndale’s “new and sophisticated moralism and legalism.” Though even he admits that Tyndale’s contractual theology of covenant does not reveal a complete break with elements of Luther’s Law-Gospel scheme, Laughlin follows Trinterud in assuming that Tyndale had always reinterpreted this scheme by laying greater stress than Luther did on the ethical implications of the Gospel. Laughlin argues that Tyndale probably borrowed this covenant scheme from the Swiss or South German theologians as a preferable way to express his more positive view of the Law and the necessity of good works in the life of the Christian. Laughlin does not consider Erasmus or Lollardy as rival sources for Tyndale’s covenantal thought, and he does not appreciate the fact that Luther also spoke of a conditionality connected with God’s promise of grace in baptism. He does leave open the possibility, however, that Tyndale’s theology of covenant was a product of his own study and exegesis of the Old Testament.
Clebsch argues that Tyndale still uses Luther literarily in the 1530s but not theologically. Yet, at the conclusion of his discussion, Clebsch still identifies Luther as the single most significant influence on his theology. Trinterud perceives that the biblical scheme of covenant “had been taking form in Tyndale’s earlier writings,” although it “reached its fullest development in the apparatus of this 1534 New Testament.” Daniell, who acknowledges Tyndale’s early debt to Luther more positively, also argues that Tyndale had clearly drifted away from the German reformer by 1534: “these 1534 prologues can show Tyndale markedly less Lutheran, and moving more to something of his own, something English.”
Tyndale opens the prologue to his Newe Testament by stating that: “Here thou hast (moost deare reader) the new Testament or covenaunt made wyth vs of God in Christes bloude.” Tyndale uses the word “Testament” interchangeably with “covenaunt” and that this is established upon the death of Christ. In his Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), Luther also speaks of the death of Christ as setting in motion the promise of the “New Testament,” which he translates from the Greek word “diatheke” in Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25. The reason for Luther’s choice of “Testament” is largely due to its associations with the death of the testator and thus more appropriate to use in the context of honoring Christ’s sacrifice in the Lord’s Supper. However, Luther acknowledges that the Old Testament frequently made use of the word “compact, covenant, and testament of the Lord” and consistently translates the Hebrew b’rith as “Covenant” (Bund). Luther does emphasize how these ancient promises were really a foreshadowing that “God would one day die” in Christ, but it is inaccurate to simply refer to his use of “testament” in support of the notion that Luther repudiated any idea of conditionality tied to the Gospel promises. Of course, Luther rejected the late medieval scholastic concept of covenant defined as a congruous merit of mercy and the infusion of justifying righteousness in those who are contrite apart from prevenient grace (facere quod in se est), but he spoke openly of the covenant conditionality of God’s promises with regard to repentance and the obedience that comes from faith in struggle against sin in his A Treatise on the Holy Sacrament of Baptism (1519). Furthermore, it is interesting to note that in Tyndale’s revised Newe Testament, he also chooses to translate “diatheke” as “testament.” Like Luther, he makes an important distinction in his revised New Testament between the eternal “new testament” (Tyndale also adds “couenanunt”) seldom spoken of before the first century and the “olde testament” or “temporall couenaunt made betwene God and the carnall children of Abraham/Isaac and Jacob other wise called Israel/ upon the dedes and the obseruynge of a temporall lawe.” Like Luther, Tyndale perceives that the Mosaic Law was essentially a national covenant with the Jews promising certain temporal privileges for outward obedience to the Law.
In the prologue to the Newe Testament, Tyndale does again refer to the “profession of oure baptyme or covenaunts made betwene God and vs” as the “ryght way, ye and the onlye way to understande the scripture vnto oure salvacion.” This basically reiterates what Tyndale stated earlier in his exposition of 1 John. Tyndale’s identification of the covenant as an all-encompassing biblical hermeneutic does not come from Luther, yet Luther also interpreted the promise in the sacrament of baptism in terms of a covenant, and the practical outworking of the premise of covenant as it relates to the justification of the sinner and new obedience of the Christian is essentially Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel.
Tyndale defines the one covenant made between God and all people past, present, and future as His promise to “be mercifull vnto us/ yf we wilbe mercifull one to another: so that the man which sheweth mercie vnto his neyboure/ may be bolde to trust in God for mercie at all nedes … For God hath promysed mercie onlye to the mercifull.” Tyndale further states that:

The generall couenaunt wherin all others are comprehended and included/ is this. If we meke ourselves to god/ to kepe all his lawes/ after the ensample of Christ: then God hath bounde himselfe vnto vs to kepe and make good all the mercies promysed in Christ/ thorow out all the Scripture … Wherfore I have ever noted the covenauntes in the mergentes/ and also the promises [that is, in the 1534 Newe Testament]. Moreover where thou findest a promyse and no covenaunt expressed therewith/ there must thou vnderstonde a covenaunt. For all the promyses of the mercie and grace of Christ hath purchased for vs/ are made vpon the condicion that we kepe the lawe.

It would be tempting to interpret these statements as Tyndale having completely abandoned the doctrine of justification by faith alone for a doctrine of salvation by works, or that he had at least adopted what Laughlin calls works-righteousness “once removed.” Yet Tyndale is operating under the theological assumption, as elsewhere, that those who genuinely come to Christ to be justified by faith alone come in repentance with every intention “to kepe the commaundementes,” and, though still imperfect, the love and obedience to the Law that their faith produces gives them an even greater confidence in praying for His daily mercy.331 Not that good works merit the favor of God, but kindness and mercy reflect a heart of repentance and the faith in Christ that alone justifies. Luther also spoke of assurance of God’s mercy as dependent in a certain conditional sense upon the ability of Christians to show mercy and forgiveness to others in his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism (1529).
Whereas Tyndale defined repentance earlier more explicitly as sorrowful contrition, he defines “repentaunce” in the 1534 New Testament as the “conuersion or turnynge” of the heart to God and His will. These definitions are not necessarily different in substance, and Tyndale continues to maintain that, if “unfayned,” this repentance is characterized by a genuine confession and contrition under the Law followed by faith in Christ for mercy and forgiveness and the amending of all offenses made against others with love from the heart.
According to the prologue of Tyndale’s Newe Testament, a person who lacks the desire to turn from sin and to follow the Law of God has no right to claim the mercy promised in Christ, for a faith that is without repentance is false and a blasphemous presumption upon the kindness of God’s mercy as if His grace condoned the practice of sin. Like Luther, Tyndale states that Christ and the apostles could not improve upon the moral Law of Moses, but they emphasized its internal demands upon the heart. Since love is the fulfillment of the commandments and conversion is ultimately a turning from self to God and to others, the ability to show mercy is for Tyndale the principal self-assurance distinguishing true faith in Christ from a carnal presumption. Thus, reconciliation to God by His mercy through faith always follows genuine repentance and it is a reasonable condition and expectation that such a repentant Christian will henceforth strive to obey God’s Law in love as a response to His mercy: “The gospell is glad tydynges of mercie and grace and that oure corrupt nature shalbe healed agayne for Christes sake and for the merites of his deseruinge onlye: yet on the condicion that we will turne to God/to lerne to kepe his lawes …335
Tyndale does state that “oure awne dedes thorow workynge of the spirite of God/ helpe vs to contynew in the fauoure and grace/ into which Christ hath brought vs/ and that we can no lenger contynew in fauoure and grace than oure herte are to kepe the lawe.” This does not mean, however, that a Christian keeps favor with God by the performance of mere outward deeds or that the intention of those deeds should be to earn the keeping of His favor. Tyndale has mentioned before that devotion to good works is useful in guarding the heart from yielding to the complete consent and control of sin to the loss of repentance, and he makes clear that such devotion is the working of the Spirit and that it is actually the perseverance of the “herte” to keep the Law that reflects a continued position of favor with God established through faith in Christ.
Other prologues and marginal glosses in Tyndale’s Newe Testament of 1534 recapitulate the theme of covenant conditionality:

Though fayth iustifie from synne and though Christ deserued the rewarde promysed yet is the promyse made on the condicion that we embrace Christes doctrine and confesse him with worde and dede … we are iustified to do good workes, and in them to walke to the saluacion promysed … The couenaunt of mercie in Christ is made onlye to them that wyll worke … The promyses of mercye in Christes bloude/ are made vs on that condicion that we kepe the lawe and loue one another as Christ loued vs … As ye be saued from synne thorow faith so worke accordynge to the couenaunt vntyll ye come to the salvacion of glory. For yf ye cease workige/ the spirite quencheth agayne/ and ye cease to be partakers of the promes … All the mercie that is set forth in the two vpper chapters [i.e., Colossians 1–2]/ is promysed to them onlye that will folowe Christ and lyue as herafter foloweth … Here [i.e., 1 Peter 1] Peter (as other true apostles do) fyrst setteth forth the treasure of mercye which god hath bounde himselfe to geue vs for Christes sake and then oure dutie what we are bounde to do agayne yf we will be partakers of the mercie … the promes of Christ is made us upon that condicion/ that we henceforth worke the wyll of God and not of the flessche … therby to be sure that they have the true fayth/ as a man knoweth the goodnes of a tree by his frute … He that hath soche workes maye be sure that he is electe and that he hath the true faith … and kepeth vs in the myddle waye/ that we beleue in Christ to be saued by his workes onlye/ and then to knowe that it is oure dutie for that kindnes/ to prepare ourselues to do the commaundment of god … here ye se that Christ and synne cannot dwell together for Christes spirite fyghteth agaynst synne … By loue we knowe that we are in the truthe and haue quyet consciences to god warde … but how ofte soeuer he synne let him begynne agayne and fyght a freshe/ and no doute he shall at the last ouercome/ and in the meantyme yet be under mercie for Christes sake because his harte worketh and wolde fayne be lowsed from under the bondage of synne … here foloweth oure dutye/ if we will be partakers of the mercye before rehersed … For God promised them onlie forgeuenes of their synnes which turne to god/ to kepe his lawes … And to the mercifull hath God bounde himselfe to show mercie … God hath promysed all mercie to the mercifull onlye … For godes promise partayneth to the mercifull onlye … For God hath promised no mercie: but to him that wyll do his godlye will.

However, in the light of the emphasis that previous scholars place on Tyndale’s explicit stress on the covenant conditionality of God’s promises in repentance and obedience to the Law in the 1530s, it is particularly illuminating to observe that his prologue to the book of Romans in the revised Newe Testament of 1534 remains largely unchanged from its earlier counterpart. This of course challenges the perception that the substance of Tyndale’s theological assumptions has really changed all that much between 1526 and 1534. Except for a few sentence expansions, changes made in grammar and spelling, an additional section on sin as the fruit of unbelief in violation of the First Commandment,339 and some rearranging of the order of the content, the most original contribution in the Newe Testament of 1534 is actually three new folios of additional commentary on the doctrine of justification by faith alone: “The summe and hole cause of the wrytinge of this epistle/ is/ to proue that a man is iustifieth by fayth onlye … And by iustifyinge/ understonde none other thinge then to be reconciled to God and to be restored unto his fauoure/ and to haue thy synnes forgeuen the.” Tyndale defines justification here, as he has before, as the forgiveness of sins and the favor of God through faith only. In fact, Tyndale says quite clearly that without the knowledge of Paul’s teaching on justification by faith alone in Romans, “not only this epistle and all that Paul wryteth/ but also the hole Scripture” would be “locked up.” Thus, for all the emphasis Tyndale places on covenant conditionality in the 1530s, he still views the book of Romans and its teaching on justification by faith in Christ alone, much like Luther, as the theological capstone of the Scriptures.
Although Tyndale does refer twice in this new section to the “couenauntes of mercie,” it is rather intriguing that, instead of taking the opportunity to thoroughly revise his Romans prologue according to his new theological motif of covenant, he actually appends more material defining and defending the evangelical doctrine of justification by faith alone as the key to the whole Scripture. In fact, whereas in the prologue to the Newe Testament Tyndale stresses that divine mercy is conditioned upon repentance and submission toward the Law of God and that no one can lay claim to the promises who lacks a heart of mercy toward others, he here emphasizes that works cannot quiet the conscience but only faith in the work of Christ: “For the promyse of mercie is made the for Christes workes sake/ and not for thyne awne workes sake … I cannot once begynne to loue the lawe/ except I be fyrst sure by fayth that God loueth me and forgeueth me.”
Similarly, a marginal gloss on Romans 2 states that “Dedes are an outeward righteousnes before the worlde and testifie what a man is withinne: But iustifie not the hert before god: ner certifye the conscience that the foresynnes are forgeuen.” What appear to be two conflicting points of view can be harmonized by interpreting Tyndale’s prologue statements as stressing the necessary signs that must accompany any profession of justifying faith in Christ to distinguish this from a false presumption and to gird up personal assurance, whereas his statements in the prologue to Romans stress that the person and work of Christ are the sole object, ground, and assurance of justifying faith itself.
Furthermore, despite the obvious increase in emphasis on the covenant conditionality of the promises in the 1530s, Tyndale is still able to contrast the dialectical ministries of Law and Gospel in his marginal glosses on Romans: “The lawe iustifieth not before god/ but vttereth synne onlye … the law encreaseth synne and maketh oure nature more gredie to do euell … Similarly in his prologue and marginal glosses on the book of Galatians, he states: “the lawe is cause of more synne and bringeth the cursse of god vpon us … The lawe vttereth my synne and dampnacion … the lawe curseth: but fayth blesseth.”
Tyndale encourages the reader to follow the order of Paul’s familiar logic, in which contrition under the Law drives the sinner to faith in Christ and is then followed by a heart of diligence against sin: “that Christ made not this atonement that thou shuldest anger God agayne: nether dyed he for thy sinnes/ that thous shuldest lyue still in them …” Tyndale even states importantly that his own emphasis on the necessity of repentance, submission to God’s Law, and a life devoted to obedience in love and good works as covenant conditions for partaking of God’s promises of mercy in no way undermines his persistent conviction that justification is by faith in Christ alone. For Tyndale, it is simply to be expected that repentance under the Law coupled with a true profession of faith and claim upon God’s mercy will result in love and devotion to the will of God in the Law, and Tyndale explicitly acknowledges that being overcome by slothfulness and ingratitude will eventually result in the loss of “this fauoure and mercie agayne.” Interpreting salvation in terms of a conditional covenant, then, is for Tyndale simply to stress how true faith in Christ is concomitant with repentance and manifests itself in a changed heart and a life devoted to the Law and good works. Justification is indeed by faith in Christ alone, but not just any kind of faith. True justifying faith in Christ is defined in relationship to repentance, which creates the necessary conditions for the emergence of such faith, and also to the love and good works inherent to this faith that flow out of it as a natural response to the receiving of grace.
With the exception of the book of Hebrews, a cursory glance of the remaining prologues in the New Testament of 1534 reveals a basic literary and structural dependence of Tyndale upon Luther. Tyndale continues in many of the prologues and marginal glosses to reiterate the moral obligation of the Christian in terms of the covenant conditionality of the promises:

Though fayth iustifie from synne and though Christ deserued the rewarde promysed yet is the promyse made on the condicion that we embrace Christes doctrine and confesse him with worde and dede … we are iustified to do good workes, and in them to walke to the saluacion promysed … The couenaunt of mercie in Christ is made onlye to them that wyll worke … The promyses of mercye in Christes bloude/ are made vs on that condicion that we kepe the lawe and loue one another as Christ loued vs … As ye be saued from synne thorow faith so worke accordynge to the couenaunt vntyll ye come to the salvacion of glory. For yf ye cease workige/ the spirite quencheth agayne/ and ye cease to be partakers of the promes … All the mercie that is set forth in the two vpper chapters [i.e., Colossians 1–2]/ is promysed to them onlye that will folowe Christ and lyue as herafter foloweth … Here [i.e., 1 Peter 1] Peter (as other true apostles do) fyrst setteth forth the treasure of mercye which god hath bounde himselfe to geue vs for Christes sake and then oure dutie what we are bounde to do agayne yf we will be partakers of the mercie … the promes of Christ is made us upon that condicion/ that we henceforth worke the wyll of God and not of the flessche … therby to be sure that they have the true fayth/ as a man knoweth the goodnes of a tree by his frute … He that hath soche workes maye be sure that he is electe and that he hath the true faith … and kepeth vs in the myddle waye/ that we beleue in Christ to be saued by his workes onlye/ and then to knowe that it is oure dutie for that kindnes/ to prepare ourselues to do the commaundment of god … here ye se that Christ and synne cannot dwell together for Christes spirite fyghteth agaynst synne … By loue we knowe that we are in the truthe and haue quyet consciences to god warde … but how ofte soeuer he synne let him begynne agayne and fyght a freshe/ and no doute he shall at the last ouercome/ and in the meantyme yet be under mercie for Christes sake because his harte worketh and wolde fayne be lowsed from under the bondage of synne … here foloweth oure dutye/ if we will be partakers of the mercye before rehersed … For God promised them onlie forgeuenes of their synnes which turne to god/ to kepe his lawes … And to the mercifull hath God bounde himselfe to show mercie … God hath promysed all mercie to the mercifull onlye … For godes promise partayneth to the mercifull onlye … For God hath promised no mercie: but to him that wyll do his godlye will.

It is this repeated rhetorical emphasis on the covenant conditionality of the divine promises of mercy that really sets Tyndale apart from Luther. Yet Luther could be just as adamant that justifying faith cannot be without repentance and good works, that the Law is the positive form of Christian obedience, that love and truly good works are the result of justification and a living faith, and even that God’s promises of justification in baptism come with a certain covenant conditionality in the sense that justifying faith in Christ is never without repentance, a heart for obedience to the Law of God, devotion to love and good works, and a struggle with sin in the Spirit. Tyndale is still under the evangelical influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel in his assumption that good works in keeping with the spirit of the Law are those done from the love of a heart converted through repenting faith in Christ, and that “fayth which hath no good dedes folowinge/ is a false fayth and non of that fayth iustifieth or receaueth forgeuenes of synnes.”
Shortly after Tyndale was arrested in May of 1535, discovery was made in Antwerp of a copy of the widely circulated last will and testament of the Gloucestershire gentleman William Tracy bound with an exposition written by John Frith and another one by Tyndale in Frith’s handwriting. The will itself was dated October, 1530, and was condemned as heretical in March of 1531. Tracy’s body was ordered to be exhumed by the authorities and this actually took place later in October 1532. Both expositions by Tyndale and Frith were completed in their final form sometime after this date, although they probably were not published until after Tyndale’s death in October 1536.
Apart from a treatise on the sacraments, this is the last theological work by Tyndale to be published before his execution. In the will, William Tracy expresses his desire to entrust his soul to the merits of Christ alone and breaks with the religious custom of his day by refusing to donate his temporal goods to the Church for the sake of easing his suffering through purgatory. The will clearly expresses a doctrine of justification by faith alone: “that a good worke maketh not a good man/ but a good man maketh a good woorke/ for faith makethe the man booth good and rightwyse/ for a rightwyse man lyueth by faith …”352 Tyndale expresses open admiration for Tracy as a man of learning and even comments that he was the greatest Augustine scholar in all of England in the 1520s.
Tyndale uses Tracy’s will as a basis for expounding the doctrine of justification by faith alone, that “thy live faith is sufficient to iustification with oute addynge to of any more helpe.” At the same time, true justifying faith by its very nature cannot coexist with a callous consent to continue in sin and there is a certain covenant conditionality connected with the promises. The faith that justifies is:

in the promes made apon the apoyntment betwene god and us/ that we shulde kepe his lawe to the uttermost of our power/ that is he that beleueth in Christ for the remission of synne/ and is baptized to do the wyll of Christ/ and to kepe his lawe/ of loue/ and to mortifie the fleshe/ that man shalbe saued … for God neuer made promes but apon an appoyntment or couenaunt under which who so euer wyll not come can be no partaker of the promes. True faith in Christ/ geueth power to loue the lawe of god … Hast thou no power to loue the lawe so hast thou no faith in Christes bloude.

Tyndale stresses in this passage the explicit conditionality of God’s promises in obedience to the Law with love from the heart but under the assumption that justification by faith alone follows after a genuine repentance under the Law and leads naturally by way of response into a life that is devoted in love and gratitude to the will of God. Tyndale explicitly and adamantly rejects the implication that the covenant conditionality of God’s promises assigns works a role in justification. In fact, a Christian is forgiven before ever having the chance to do any outward deeds. Even if a Christian should fall into some grievous sin, Tyndale states that reconciliation with God is only and always on the basis of a repenting faith in Christ. It is not works that deserve justification and reconciliation with God, but rather vice versa. Tyndale again uses the analogy of a king and the pardoning of a criminal to illustrate that only those who show genuine sorrow for their crimes and desire to correct their ways will receive the pardoning of the king who knows they will receive it with faith and gratitude and will henceforth endeavor to abstain from the very vice that brought down their guilt and otherwise deserved punishment. To remain in the good favor of the king is then conditioned upon the respecting of his pardon through a constant diligence to uphold his laws. With regard to justification and the Christian life, a heart for obeying the Law of God and a perseverance to strive in the keeping of it is reflective of a repentant faith in the merciful pardon promised in Christ.
According to the records of Latomus of Louvain, one of the Catholic theologians commissioned to Vilvorde for the prosecution, Tyndale continued to defend the doctrine of justification by faith alone during his incarceration. These last writings, however, are lost and were never published except what can be inferred from Latomus’ replies.
At the end of his influential essay, Trinterud concludes by stating that Tyndale “was a ‘Lutheran’ only in the contemporary loose sense of the word,” and that it is more accurate to describe him as an Erasmian humanist-turned-evangelical in the tradition of other Swiss and Rhineland reformers. Even while acknowledging that Tyndale was “influenced by Luther” (literarily), Trinterud argues that he did not follow Luther’s “developing thought.” Werrell similarly states that “Tyndale could never have been a follower of Luther,” and that he even changed the German reformer’s doctrine “into his own.”359
It is certain that Tyndale was always confident enough to exercise a certain degree of literary independence from Luther, including those works he obviously translated. The degree to which Tyndale repeatedly emphasizes the covenant conditionality of the Gospel promises in the 1530s does reveal a more significant rhetorical, though not theological, departure from Luther. His underlying theological assumptions concerning justification and the Christian life never really changed and these assumptions were shaped significantly by the influence of Luther’s evangelical theology of Law and Gospel. Indeed, many of the themes in Tyndale’s theology reflect Augustinian elements, such as spiritual bondage apart from grace, the effectual side of justifying faith in love and good works through the Spirit, and the non-imputation of sin in the life of the justified Christian, but this could be said of Luther’s theology as well. Furthermore, these themes are interpreted by Tyndale through an emphasis on justification and grace as the favor of God and remission of sins through faith alone in Christ and His atoning righteousness.
As Laughlin argues, a theology of covenant increasingly became Tyndale’s preferred way to stress the need for, or rather expectation of, repentance and a heart of obedience to the Law of God and a life of good works concomitant with truly justifying faith in Christ. However, Tyndale never abandoned Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel according to their proper ministries and he always associated the former with the commands, instruction, and conviction driving sinners to seek the mercy, forgiveness, help, and power promised in the latter. In fact, Tyndale continues to appropriate the themes of Law and Gospel in his description of justification and the Christian life as it plays out under the terms of the covenant.
Although Luther obviously never stressed the covenant conditionality of the promises with such frequent prominence as Tyndale does in the 1530s, previous scholars have not appreciated the extent to which Luther does in fact often speak this way, especially in context of the sacrament of baptism viewed as a covenant. It is interesting to note that Luther’s own description of baptism as a covenant occurs at the very same time of the maturing of his theology of Law and Gospel. Luther did not develop or emphasize the notion of covenant conditionality throughout his writings to quite the extent that Tyndale does, though he does continue to speak of baptism as an eternal covenant later in the 1520s and 30s, but he must not have perceived there to be any inherent theological conflict between baptism viewed as an evangelical covenant and his theology of Law and Gospel. The same could also be said of Tyndale.
Yet even if Tyndale stresses the effectual side of justifying faith in love and good works more than Luther, many scholars have often exaggerated Luther’s dialectical theology of Law and Gospel to such a degree that they underrate the extent to which he also speaks positively about the Law in the context of Christian obedience and even of love and devotion to good works as contributing to a fuller assurance of the grace of God. This misperception has understandably caused many to polarize Luther and Tyndale on the subject of Law and Gospel. It also has led to the undervaluing of the reality that Tyndale, even in the 1530s, continues to speak with as many negative overtones as Luther about the Law when describing the moral and spiritual bondage of the sinner under condemnation before God apart from justifying faith in Christ.
A direct literary indebtedness to Luther’s writings may be more evident in Tyndale’s early career, but even into the 1530s the influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel is still readily evident in his understanding that repentance under the preaching of the Law is the necessary antecedent to a genuine faith in Christ alone for the promise of justification, or the remission of sins and imputation of righteousness in Christ, which together result in the power of a new life lived in the Spirit devoted to keeping the Law and the doing of good works in struggle against the flesh with love and gratitude from the heart.

Whiting, M. S. (2010). Luther in English: The Influence of His Theology of Law and Gospel on Early English Evangelicals (1525–35). (K. C. Hanson, C. M. Collier, & D. C. Spinks, Hrsg.) (S. 170–272). Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.

Published: October 9, 2015, 07:20 | Comments Off on Luther in english part 7 : Law and Gospel in the Theology of William Tyndale – by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA D.D
Category: bibleresearch

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