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What Did William Tyndale Believe About Head Covering?

Head Covering: Church History Profiles

[Series introduction: This post is part of a series that will examine what certain leaders in church history believed about head covering. Their arguments, choice of language and conclusions should not be misconstrued as an endorsement from us. The purpose of this series is to faithfully show what they believe about covering rather than only selectively quoting the parts we agree with.]

William Tyndale (1494–1536) was an English biblical scholar and foundational figure leading up to the Reformation. Tyndale was educated at Oxford and Cambridge and developed a reputation as a gifted linguist, fluent in French, Greek, Hebrew, German, Italian, Latin, and Spanish. Influenced by Erasmus and Luther, he translated the New Testament and the Pentateuch from Greek and Hebrew into English—against the wishes of the Roman Catholic Church. Betrayed to the authorities, Tyndale was condemned as a heretic and burned alive in 1536.
William Tyndale

In 1528 William Tyndale wrote The Obedience of a Christian Man, a book which has a special emphasis on how Christian rulers should govern. He addressed various authority positions under the header ‘The Duty of Kings, and of the Judges and Officers’. In this writing he spent a significant amount of time dealing with the abuse and doctrinal errors of the pope and the Bishop of Rochester. It is in the midst of this rebuke that we learn about his view of head covering.

In this section Tyndale takes issue with the Pope for over-extending his authority and setting up “wicked traditions and false ceremonies”. 1) Tyndale, W. (1848). Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. (H. Walter, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. – Page 218 Tyndale shows how the Apostles had traditions that “were not commanded” 2) Tyndale, W. (1848). Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. (H. Walter, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. – Page 219 such as watching all night in prayer, kissing one another and Paul’s counsel to remain unmarried. The pope did not give such Christian liberty, says Tyndale, but tangled man’s conscience and commanded non-biblical rules under threat if they were not followed. Tyndale was not against rules though, he just believed that true doctrine and practice came from the Scriptures, not the pope. He said “God’s word should rule only; and not bishops’ decrees, or the pope’s pleasure.” 3) Tyndale, W. (1848). Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. (H. Walter, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. – Page 207 So what was true doctrine according to Tyndale? He tells us plainly:

I answer, that Paul taught by mouth such things as he wrote in his epistles. And his traditions were the gospel of Christ, and honest manners and living, and such a good order as becometh the doctrine of Christ: as that a woman obey her husband, have her head covered, keep silence, and go womanly and christianly apparelled; that children and servants be in subjection: and that the young obey their elders; that no man eat but he that laboureth and worketh; and that men make an earnest thing of God’s word and of his holy sacraments; and to watch, fast, and pray, and such like as the scripture commandeth: which things he that would break were no christian man. 4) Tyndale, W. (1848). Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. (H. Walter, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. – Page 219

In the above statement we learn about Tyndale’s view of head covering. First we learn that he saw women having their heads covered as an apostolic tradition. We know this because he said this is what the “scripture commandeth” in contrast to the “certain customs” that he lists right after 5) These customs were listed earlier in this article: watching all night in prayer, kissing one another and Paul’s counsel to remain unmarried “which were not commanded” 6) Tyndale, W. (1848). Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. (H. Walter, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. – Page 219 . So for Tyndale, head covering was not a matter of Christian liberty. He then takes it a step further by saying that if someone “would break” these traditions, that person would not be a Christian.

In Tyndale’s New Testament, we gain another piece of information on his view of head covering. In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 he adds only one footnote for clarification and that’s under verse 10. First, here’s how he translates the text:

For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head, for the angels’ sakes. 7) Tyndale’s New Testament (Yale University Press, 1996) by David Daniell (Editor) William Tyndale (Translator) – page 253

Next to the word “power” he adds this explanatory note:

Power is as much to say as a sign that the woman is in subjection, and hath an head over her. 8) Tyndale’s New Testament (Yale University Press, 1996) by David Daniell (Editor) William Tyndale (Translator) – page 253

So for Tyndale the head covering represents the fact that the woman is under authority and is not the head. Then in his prologue to 1st Corinthians he shares what women Paul has in mind:

And he feareth them with the ensamples of the old Testament; and rebuketh diverse disorders that were among them concerning the sacrament, and the going bareheaded of married women. 9) Tyndale, W. (1848). Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. (H. Walter, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. – Page 511

So finally we learn that Tyndale believed that 1 Corinthians 11 is speaking about married women.

Summary of William Tyndale’s views:

Did he see the need for covering today?Yes
Who did he believe should wear a covering?Married women
What did he see the covering as?An apostolic tradition; a sign of the woman's subjection

References

1.
 Tyndale, W. (1848). Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. (H. Walter, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. – Page 218
2.
 Tyndale, W. (1848). Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. (H. Walter, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. – Page 219
3.
 Tyndale, W. (1848). Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. (H. Walter, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. – Page 207
4.
 Tyndale, W. (1848). Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. (H. Walter, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. – Page 219
5.
 These customs were listed earlier in this article: watching all night in prayer, kissing one another and Paul’s counsel to remain unmarried
6.
 Tyndale, W. (1848). Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. (H. Walter, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. – Page 219
7.
 Tyndale’s New Testament (Yale University Press, 1996) by David Daniell (Editor) William Tyndale (Translator) – page 253
8.
 Tyndale’s New Testament (Yale University Press, 1996) by David Daniell (Editor) William Tyndale (Translator) – page 253
9.
 Tyndale, W. (1848). Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. (H. Walter, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. – Page 511

Jeremy Gardiner

Jeremy is the founder of the Head Covering Movement and the author of Head Covering: A Forgotten Christian Practice for Modern Times. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and is a member of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is a husband to Amanda and father to four young children. Jeremy is also the founder and operator of Gospel eBooks, a popular website that provides alerts for free and discounted Christian e-books.

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  • Guest

    I am trying to look up your sources, & I find it somewhat difficult to confirm. Everything leads back to your website.

    • At the bottom of each page before the comments we list all the references. They are linked inline from the article itself.

      Here’s the first one so you know what you’re looking for:

      References

      1. ↑ Tyndale, W. (1848). Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. (H. Walter, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. – Page 218

  • Harry

    Here it is

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