Shapers of the Language 4: William Tyndale (1494-1536), Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556)

The Bible had been translated into English before William Tyndale (1494-1536) published his in 1525, but his was the first to appear in print. Because it made the scriptures available to all English speakers who could read, it seemed to undermine the Church’s authority and Tyndale was eventually executed for his trouble. However, his translation laid the foundations for the King James Bible, published in 1611. By then, the idea of an English Bible had gained enough respectability to be authorised by James I.

Much of Tyndale’s work survived in the later translation, and it provides us with expressions that we use today, not all of them necessarily in a biblical context. They include: flowing with milk and honey; the apple of his eye; signs of the times; broken-hearted; eat, drink and be merry; the salt of the earth; the powers that be; my brother’s keeper; let there be light

Twenty-four years after the publication of Tyndale’s Bible, Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) supervised the production of the Book of Common Prayer, published in 1549 and revised in 1553. Like Tyndale’s Bible, it gave us expressions still in use beyond the liturgy: speak now or forever hold your peace; till death us do part; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest; peace in our time.

More than for the expressions they have given us, Tyndale and Cranmer, deserve to be remembered for, by showing that English could be used for a spiritual purpose, they gave it the ultimate seal of approval.

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