Word Sleuth: Lovingkindness by Wil Triggs

The word “lovingkindness” came into my head yesterday morning. A song based on Psalm 63:3 surfaced, dreamlike from my past, its chant-like 70s melody kind of annoying me. I could hear the girls' answering echo as we sang. It was sweet, but maybe a little too sweet. Nevertheless, there it popped into my head like the Wendy’s “where’s the beef?” TV commercial, or the Bears winning the Super Bowl. Did those things really happen?

But more than anything else, it got me thinking about this word.

God’s lovingkindness is better than life.

Whatever happened to lovingkindness? There aren’t too many people I could ask about this without sounding a little wonky. But one I knew would care about words like this and not laugh at me: Lee Ryken.

So I sent him a quick email. “Do you have any thoughts?" I asked. Where did the word come from and what’s happened to it?

Lee must have been on his email because he answered me right back: “William Tyndale introduced the word lovingkindness into the English language in his translation of the Bible,” and he send me a weblink with more.

Well, when someone says “Tyndale” to me, I naturally assume that they’re talking about the publishing house. I knew that’s not what Lee meant, but my brain, having a mind of it own, just went there. It’s like academics who say “Wheaton.” They are usually talking about the college, not the city.

Tyndale House Publishers began with the Living Bible.

I first saw the Living Bible on the dining room table of one of my aunts. This was a long time ago. She listened to Frank Sinatra on her hi-fi stereo. She watched soap operas. She didn’t go to church. But she always seemed beautiful and generous to me. She lived across the street from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and I could hear them practice in the garage. I never heard this aunt talk about the Bible or Jesus or anything like that. She wasn’t part of the “religious” element of the family. (Happily, this situation has changed for the better between then and now.)

I used to go over to my aunt's house and mow her lawn Saturday mornings and play with Honeybee, her miniature white poodle. She and my mom would chat in her kitchen while I mowed and played. And she always had a can of Coke for me, which we almost never bought ourselves. So this was a treat for me in many ways.

One Saturday, suddenly, there it was—its dark green cover with engraved lettering and a design looking fresh and different. I had seen television commercials for it. The Living Bible sat prominently on her mid-century modern coffee table back when it was just a coffee table. Both Mom and I noticed it. My aunt announced that she was reading the Bible—the Living Bible—because it helped her understand and think about the Bible in a new way.

Those are my earliest recollections of Tyndale House Publishers. But before Tyndale House Publishers, there was a man named Tyndale. William Tyndale. That's who Lee was talking about.

What was it about William Tyndale that prompted Ken Taylor to name his company after him?

I asked Mark Taylor. And he replied almost as fast as Lee Ryken.

“Prior to the work of Luther (in Germany) and Tyndale (in England),” he answered, “the Bible had been available for more than 1,000 years only in the Latin Vulgate, and most people couldn’t read Latin. So the Bible was inaccessible to the common man. Ken Taylor had special appreciation for the work of William Tyndale, who made the Bible available to the English-speaking population.

“In the mid-20th century, Ken had the same concern—that the meaning of the Bible was essentially unavailable to the common man, since most people used the King James Version of 1611, which had antiquated language.

“Regarding William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake, Ken Taylor occasionally said, ‘I want to emulate William Tyndale in every way except his death.’”

Imagine a time when English-speaking people had no Bible. So William Tyndale was kind of like the Wycliffe Bible translator to English-speaking people, giving them a Bible they could read. (I’m not going to get into who Wycliffe was here, but feel free to research that if you like). Tyndale wasn’t from outside the culture; he was steeped in his native tongue plus he spoke six other languages. Before the King James Bible, there was the Tyndale translation.

So many words flowed from Tyndale’s work, phrases that are so loved by Christians that it never occurs to most of us that there was a man who first “coined” them. And that man was William Tyndale.

A link Lee sent me said that Tyndale also penned many other Bible phrases/terms. Here are just a few:
• Let there be light
• Ask and it shall be given; seek and ye shall find
• Salt of the earth
• Pearls before swine
• The patience of Job
• The Author and Finisher of our faith.

The list goes on and on. In fact, 80% of the KJV comes from Tyndale’s earlier translation.

We so easily forget history, especially when the 24-hour news cycle pushes us to disregard what happened last week or yesterday or even an hour ago, for whatever news alert is popping up on the phone right now.

Before sending my email question to Lee, I did an internet search and the always reliable search engines told me that lovingkindness is:
• associated with a Hebrew word on the one hand, but also
• some sort of eastern/Buddhist meditation practice (some kind of refinement on self-love) on the other.

Perhaps it is lost because something of God himself is easily lost. Lovingkindness as a word now seems more beautiful and amazing than ever. Just like God.

A few years ago, my Christmas gift to my wife, Lorraine, was The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. This caused a rift between me and one of my co-workers at Russian Ministries who couldn’t forgive me for giving Lorraine a dictionary for Christmas. Jewelry, yes. But a dictionary? I might as well have given her a broom my coworker scolded, looking out for Lorraine on Christmas morning. Fortunately, Lorraine loved this gift.

The definition of lovingkindness in that dictionary is “kindness arising from a deep personal love, as (in Christian use) the active love of God for his creatures.”

Perhaps, in this world where there seems to be more anger than ever, lovingkindness is a word that belongs to God way more than it belongs to his people. Yet it doesn’t have to be forgotten altogether. So thank you William Tyndale for giving us this word. I think it’s time to bring lovingkindness back into the Christian world and not surrender it to eastern thought. Can we practice lovingkindness? Can we seek to emulate the lovingkindness of God? This is something in God that, like the old song and the psalm says “is better than life.”

May this word, dare I say, this attribute of God, burn in our hearts afresh, like the words of Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. (Psalm 63:1–3, King James Version)