William Tyndale (1494 – 1536) was a scholar and theologian who made one of the first printed translations of the Bible in English. Executed for heresy, his English translations would later be published and form a significant part of modern Bible translations.
“I had perceived by experience, how that it was impossible to stablish the lay people in any truth, except the scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text.”
- William Tyndale (Preface to The Pentateuch (1530)
William Tyndale was born in 1494 in Gloucestershire, England. In 1506 he began studying at Magdalen Hall (later Hertford College), Oxford University. After gaining a B.A. and M.A., Tyndale was able to study the subject which most interested him – Theology. But, he was highly critical of the idea that one had to study for a long time before actually being allowed to study the Bible. During his time at Oxford, he sought to create Bible study groups with like-minded friends.
William Tyndale was a gifted linguist and scholar, and known as a man of virtue and good character. However, influenced by ideas of the Reformation, he increasingly became known as a man of unorthodox and radical religious views. In particular, Tyndale was keen to translate the New Testament into English. He believed this would help ordinary people understand scripture directly and not through the filter of the church. In this, Tyndale was influenced by the reformation ideas of Martin Luther. Tyndale would claim that the Bible did not support the church’s view that they were the body of Christ on earth.
After studying at Oxford, he also went to Cambridge where he added to his growing range of languages and became a leading professor of Greek.
After leaving Cambridge in 1521, he became a chaplain in Little Sodbury, but he was soon criticised by fellow churchmen for his radical viewpoints. In 1523, he left for London hoping to translate the Bible into English. However, he struggled to receive any support or backing, and so he left for the continent.
During his time on the continent, he visited Martin Luther and wrote extensively on scriptures and continued his translations of the Bible.
“I never altered one syllable of God’s Word against my conscience, nor would do this day, if all that is in earth, whether it be honor, pleasure, or riches, might be given me.”
– William Tyndale
In 1525, a first English translation was published in Worms. By 1526, copies had been smuggled into England where they were soon denounced as heretical and even burnt in public. Cardinal Wolsey denounced Tyndale as a heretic in 1529.
In 1530, he wrote a treatise critical of Henry VIII’s divorce. When the English King found out, he was furious and sought his extradition.
After being in hiding for several years, in 1535, Tyndale was betrayed and handed over to the imperial authorities in Belgium. After being held in a castle in Brussels, he was tried and convicted of heresy. He was strangled and his body burnt at the stake. His last words were reported to be:
“Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes”
Tyndale is best remembered for his hope that the Bible would be translated into English to allow the common people to be able to read the Holy Scriptures.
His translations also proved to be quite popular, becoming the basis of key future Bible translations. It is estimated that around 80% of the King James Bible is Tyndale’s work.
Four years after his death, King Henry VIII asked for English translations of the Bible to be published. These were heavily based on Tyndale’s original translations.
Tyndale introduced new phrases and words into the English translations. When criticised for his translations, Tyndale replied that he sought to translate the essence and spirit of the original Greek versions and avoid the tendency to follow the dogma of the church.
William Tyndale: A Biography
- William Tyndale: A Biography at Amazon
Phrases from Tyndale’s Bible
- lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
- knock and it shall be opened unto you
- fashion not yourselves to the world
- seek and you shall find
- ask and it shall be given you
- judge not that you not be judged
- the word of God which liveth and lasteth forever
- let there be light
- the powers that be
- my brother’s keeper
- the salt of the earth
- a law unto themselves
- filthy lucre
- it came to pass
- gave up the ghost
- the signs of the times
- the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak
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