William Tyndale and Theological Language

24 February 2010 by Wes Bredenhof

Last night in a couple of my catechism classes we discussed the idea of atonement.  The English word “atonement” is interesting because, unlike many words in our language, it doesn’t come from Greek, Latin, or French.  It is an English original, a hybrid of two existing words plus an ending:  at-one-ment.  Where did it come from?  Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament.  Tyndale invented more of our English theological vocabulary.  Leland Ryken elaborates:

Not only did Tyndale refuse to conform his translation stylistically to the language of the workplace; he also refused to accept the limitations of vocabulary that he found.  He thus coined English words when he found it necessary to do so.  Of special importance in this regard are the words that Tyndale introduced into the English language in order to do justice to the theological content of the Bible.  Examples include passover, intercession, scapegoat, and atonement.  These are doubtless “big words,” new to Tyndale’s original readers, but Tyndale insisted on them because the theological complexity of the Bible required them. (Understanding English Bible Translation, 40)