Tyndale-The Supper of the Lord

Tyndale-The Supper of the Lord

By Donald McKenzie

November 29, 2019

As I wander through more readings in food and theology, I’ve come across a few books on the Eucharist itself. The Supper of the Lord, by William Tyndale is one book that caught my attention. I’m a history buff, so a book that comes from the early days of the English Reformation is one that I’m going to want to look at.

The Supper of the Lord  by Tyndale. cover photo.
Cover for Supper of the Lord by Tyndale

Tyndale Vs More

Tyndale’s best known work is an English translation of the New Testament. This was done while Tyndale lived in Germany. In England the concept of an English Bible was considered heretical, and Tyndale was a wanted man.

The book is essentially a long distance sparring match between Tyndale and Sir Thomas More. The book was originally published anonymously, but it appears that More himself believed Tyndale the author. Given the polemical nature of the book I think I want to hold Tyndale’s characterization of More’s writing loosely, until I have the chance to read More himself.

The main argument between Tyndale and More revolves around the doctrine of transubstantiation. This argument revolves around whether or not Christ is literally present in the bread and wine at the Eucharist. This is the dominant Roman Catholic position, and you can find it more fully defined at New Advent.

Tyndale’s writing is based on his reading of John 6, and 1 Corinthians 11. The book is sometimes published under the following title: An answer to Sir T. More’s dialogue, the Supper of the Lord after the meaning of John vi. and 1 Cor. xi. and W. Tracy’s Testament expounded by William Tyndale, Martyr 1536.

While Tyndale lays out good arguments against More’s thinking, much of the book is little more than an exercise in insult. If you think the tone of political debate in our day is low, much of it pales when compared to Reformation debate. On a more serious note, the reformation was a time of great violence, and we appear to not be far off such outbreaks of violence ourselves.

A couple of things that stand out. When discussing John 6, he doesn’t dwell much on the use of the Greek verb Trogo, which typically meant, to crunch or gnaw on. This actually sets a precedent for Protestant discussion of that chapter. On the other hand, he does a good job on 1 Corinthians 11, and how the rich are failing to recognize the Body of Christ when they eat greedily and leave others with nothing. 

The Best Part

The best part of the book is from pages 83-85, where Tyndale lays out the liturgical practice for the Eucharist. This section focuses on how the president might conduct the service. It also contains advice to the recipient of the Lord’s Supper on how to prepare to receive that supper. A couple of things stand out. Most notably the desire that everyone participating may hear the mass in their own language, and also be encouraged to pray the Lord’s Prayer in their own language.

The Sad Part

This is not so much a reflection on the content of the book but a reflection on Tyndale and More. Both would be dead within less than three years of the publication of The Supper of the Lord. Victims both of the above mentioned Reformation violence.

The Supper of the Lord is an interesting book, but not one that I will be returning to on any regular basis, as I think and write about the Eucharist.

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