I have so enjoyed this series that Matthew French has provided to us that I hate to think it might end. Thanks Matthew!
As we near the end of our look into key figures of the Reformation, we turn our gaze back to England to consider the life of William Tyndale, the man who has been called the “greatest of English Bible translators”.
William Tyndale was born around 1485 in Gloucestershire, England. Little is recorded of his childhood, other than that he studied multiple languages and by the time he was finished with all of his schooling (to include his university schooling), he was fluent in French, Greek, Hebrew, German, Latin, Italian, Spanish, and of course English. He went to Oxford University in 1506, graduating with his Bachelors of Arts in 1512, and then earning his Master three years later. After he finished his schooling, he became a chaplain in the home of Sir John Walsh in Little Sodbury, where his views often clashed with other clergymen. In an exchange with another member of the clergy who asserted that “We would be better without God’s Laws than the Pope’s”, Tyndale responded with the following infamous statement: “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you!” In 1523 Tyndale set out to ensure this declaration was more prophetic than it was speculation, and so began his work of translating the Bible into English.
Tyndale left England and traveled to Wittenberg in the spring of 1524, where he finished his translation of the New Testament from the original Greek manuscripts into English within a years’ time. Tyndale’s translation was published throughout those cities and provinces where Lutheranism was taking hold, but in those regions that ran high with anti-Protestant sentiment (to include most of England and Scotland), his works were burned and he was denounced as a heretic. Tyndale became an enemy of King Henry VIII when he published works denouncing the King of England’s recent annulment to his wife, arguing that such an act was unbiblical. Because of Tyndale’s involvement in politics, he gathered both theological as well as political enemies throughout all of Europe.
Tyndale continued his work of translating Scripture from the original languages into English, making his Bible translation the first to draw from the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts and not from the Latin Vulgate. In an attempt to evade those authorities seeking his demise, Tyndale moved from city to city, never dwelling in any one place for more than a few years. Despite his cautionary efforts, he was apprehended and imprisoned near Brussels in 1535, and condemned for heresy in 1536. Tyndale was sentenced to death by strangulation, to be carried out on October 6, 1536. As he was tied to the stake where he would be strangled and then burnt, he cried out with zeal to God, saying “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes!” Within four years of his death, Tyndale’s request would be granted, as Henry ordered four English translations of the Bible to be published throughout England.
In all, Tyndale the Translator was able to translate the entire New Testament as well as nearly half of the Old Testament before his death. With the help of some compatriots, the translation of the Tyndale Bible was completed and published just before his death. It has been recorded that in 1611 the scholars who produced the King James Bible were heavily inspired by Tyndale’s work, with an estimated 83% of the New Testament being word for word Tyndale’s translation, and another 76% of the Old Testament being Tyndale’s words as well.
Tyndale’s efforts to get the Bible into the common tongue were remarkably successful, with his translation inspiring every English translation of the Bible that followed his own. Additionally, countless phrases and words that are commonplace in the English language owe their origin to Tyndale, phrases such as “my brother’s keeper”, “judge not that ye be not judged”, “the powers that be”, “a law unto themselves”, “filthy lucre”, and “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”, among many others. Tyndale’s legacy lives on, and so long as there are English Bibles, Tyndale’s vision continues.