In Ben Steed’s masterly script to the film God’s Outlaw, there is a scene in which William Tyndale is pondering how to translate the Greek phrase used in Hebrews 12.2, “ἀρχηγὀς καἱ τελειωτὴς” (“archegos kai teleiotes”). Literally, the phrase means “beginner and ender”, but such a phrase does not fit well in English – we say “finisher” rather than “ender”. Tyndale sits mulling it over, saying the words to get a feel for how they sound: “Beginner and finisher. Beginner and finisher.” Shaking his head with dissatisfaction, he exclaims, “But if I translate it beginner and finisher, it sounds as if our faith comes to an end, and our faith never comes to an end.”
He then considers the word “finisher” in the sense of “one who perfects”, and asks what word in place of beginner would allow the word finisher to be understood in that sense. Suddenly the word “author” occurs to him, and he tries it out: “Author and finisher. The author and finisher of our faith.” And he knows he has hit on the mot juste, which will convey the sense of one who both initiates and perfects. It is a moving scene, as well as a perceptive insight into the process of translation of the sacred text.
The word ἀρχηγὀς can be translated in other ways – Tyndale translated it elsewhere as prince and as captain. And I don’t think he intended us to understand his use of the word author as implying that God has scripted the whole of human history. If that were the case, there would be no such thing as free will. I think God has given us genuine choices and allows us to make the future out of the consequences of our choices. (As an aside, I don’t think that God’s foreknowledge means that the future is fixed; God stands outside of time, and every moment of linear time is eternally present to Him, so that even the words “foreknowledge” and “future” are a concession to our limited understanding, trapped as we are transiently in time.) God creates his characters with minds of their own, and they often insist on acting according to their own will and not His, so that the plot drifts in a direction of their making, even though the final dénouement is His.
But when it comes to our faith, there’s no doubt that God is the author. Who else could have conceived a Gospel of a God who, as Michael Card puts it in one of his songs, “would really rather die than live without us”? As Charles Wesley wrote, “’Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies. Who can explore His strange design?” We humans tend to make God in our own image – petty, judgmental, petulant. But Jesus reveals a Father who stops at nothing to find and rescue us when we are lost. Only He could be the author of a story so gloriously improbable yet true. And He it is who is brings our faith to perfection. No wonder that, four hundred and ninety years after Tyndale’s Bible was first printed, we are still reading in Church and in our personal devotions that Jesus is "the author and finisher of our faith".
Ros Bayes has 8 published and 4 self-published books, as well as some 3 dozen magazine articles. She is the mother of 3 daughters, one of whom has multiple complex disabilities, and she currently works for Through the Roof (www.throughtheroof.org) as their Training Resources Developer, and loves getting paid to write about disability all day. You can find her blog at http://rosbunneywriting.wordpress.com and her author page at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ros-Bayes/e/B00JLRTNVA/. Follow her on Twitter: @rosbwriting.