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Christian History Home > 131 Christians > Scholars and Scientists > William Tyndale


William Tyndale
Translator of the first English New Testament
posted 8/08/2008 12:56PM

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William Tyndale
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"Let it not make thee despair, neither yet discourage thee, O reader, that it is forbidden thee in pain of life and goods, or that it is made breaking of the king's peace, or treason unto his highness, to read the Word of thy soul's health—for if God be on our side, what matter maketh it who be against us, be they bishops, cardinals, popes."

William Tyndale could speak seven languages and was proficient in ancient Hebrew and Greek. He was a priest whose intellectual gifts and disciplined life could have taken him a long way in the church—had he not had one compulsion: to teach English men and women the good news of justification by faith.

Tyndale had discovered this doctrine when he read Erasmus's Greek edition of the New Testament. What better way to share this message with his countrymen than to put an English version of the New Testament into their hands? This, in fact, became Tyndale's life passion, aptly summed up in the words of his mentor, Erasmus: "Christ desires his mysteries to be published abroad as widely as possible. I would that [the Gospels and the epistles of Paul] were translated into all languages, of all Christian people, and that they might be read and known."

Timeline

1456

Gutenberg produces first printed bible

1479

Establishment of Spanish Inquisition

1488

First complete Hebrew Old Testament

1494

William Tyndale born

1536

William Tyndale dies

1555

Latimer and Ridley burned at stake

It would be a passion, though, for which Tyndale would pay dearly.

Genius translator

He was a native of Gloucester and began his studies at Oxford in 1510, later moving on to Cambridge. By 1523 his passion had been ignited; in that year he sought permission and funds from the bishop of London to translate the New Testament. The bishop denied his request, and further queries convinced Tyndale the project would not be welcomed anywhere in England.

To find a hospitable environment, he traveled to the free cities of Europe—Hamburg, Wittenberg, Cologne, and finally to the Lutheran city of Worms. There, in 1525, his New Testament emerged: the first translation from Greek into the English language. It was quickly smuggled into England, where it received a less-than-enthusiastic response from the authorities. King Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, and Sir Thomas More, among others, were furious. It was, said More, "not worthy to be called Christ's testament, but either Tyndale's own testament or the testament of his master Antichrist."

Authorities bought up copies of the translation (which, ironically, only financed Tyndale's further work) and hatched plans to silence Tyndale.

Meanwhile Tyndale had moved to Antwerp, a city in which he was relatively free from both English agents and those of the Holy Roman (and Catholic) Empire. For nine years he managed with the help of friends to evade authorities, revise his New Testament, and begin translating the Old.

His translations, it would turn out, became decisive in the history of the English Bible, and of the English language. Nearly a century later, when translators of the Authorized, or King James Version, debated how to translate the original languages, eight of ten times, they agreed that Tyndale had it best to begin with.

Betrayal

During these years, Tyndale also gave himself methodically to good works because, as he said, "My part be not in Christ if mine heart be not to follow and live according as I teach." On Mondays he visited other religious refugees from England. On Saturdays he walked Antwerp's streets, seeking to minister to the poor. On Sundays he dined in merchants' homes, reading Scripture before and after dinner. The rest of the week he devoted to writing tracts and books and translating the Bible.




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