Theological polemics-that is, public debates in print about religious topics-were big in Europe in the 1520s and ’30s. And without question, Tyndale was among the leading polemicists.

Derived from the Greek polemos, which means “war,” the term aptly describes the conflicts that went on between the reformers and the anti-reformers, especially between William Tyndale and Sir Thomas More. But whereas More’s polemics had the sanction of King Henry and the official church and could be fired with great frequency and publicity, like heavy artillery, the polemics of the exiled Tyndale had to be launched surreptitiously, like catch-as-catch-can guerilla attacks against a much larger and more-impressively arrayed army. Yet it was these “guerilla attacks” which effectively won the day, firmly paving the way for the English Reformation.

Hiding in exile from heresy-hunters, constantly employing different printers using false addresses, Tyndale turned out a succession of pamphlets arguing the claims of reformed theology. The plain little volumes were then smuggled into England in the holds of merchant ships. Probably few at the time recognized them as the first shots of a revolution, much less as landmarks of English prose.

In four works published between 1528 and 1531, Tyndale basically took the offensive, propagandizing for reformed doctrines and attacking the established ecclesiastical system. In The Parable of the Wicked Mammon, published in May of 1528, he translated and expanded upon a sermon first preached by Martin Luther.

The biblical text he expounds is Luke 16:1–9, usually known as “The Parable of the Unjust Steward.” Throughout this and his other polemical writings, ...

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