William Tyndale

Translator of the Scriptures, Martyr


see caption
William Tyndale
Translator of the Scriptures, Martyr

Public Domain

Little is known of Tyndale’s early life. But he was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, and then Cambridge. At university he discovered the New Testament in the original Greek in the recent edition by Erasmus, which proved to him the Latin version normally used just wasn’t good enough.

‘He perceived by experience, how that it was not possible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the Scriptures were so plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text.’

He was ordained in 1521 and served as a chaplain and tutor, first in Gloucestershire and then in London.

The translation of the Bible into his day’s English became Tyndale’s life’s work. He was already strongly sympathetic to the ideas of reform circulating on the continent. The church leaders therefore viewed his work with suspicion. Bishop Tunstall of London refused to support the project. Determined to carry out his plans, Tyndale eventually left England in 1524 and settled in Hamburg. The Reformation in Germany was already under way. The first edition of Tyndale’s English New Testament was printed to begin with in Cologne and completed in Worms in 1525. It was denounced in England as heretical and publicly burned.

Tyndale continued to work on his translation, and thousands of copies were secretly circulated. At the time, he was living in the English House in Antwerp. He then learned Hebrew in order to translate the Old Testament. By the time of his death, he had published the Pentateuch and Jonah, leaving in manuscript form his version of the historical books from Joshua to Chronicles. His versions are really the basis of the King James Version leading to the Revised Version, the Revised Standard Version, and the New Revised Standard Version we have today


Tyndale also wrote commentaries and expositions of various books, including Romans, 1 John and the Sermon on the Mount. His theological works dealt with such topics as justification by faith alone, the after-life, and the authority of Scripture. Like many of his contemporaries he could be strongly critical, and some of his writings served that purpose.

He suffered constant opposition to his work, not for the translations he did, but support of reformation ideas. Secret agents were a continual threat, and he was eventually betrayed by a colleague, George Joye, who pirated his New Testament. At last the church authorities had him arrested and imprisoned in Brussels, and a year later he was condemned to death for heresy. He was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536, his last words being, “Lord! Open the king of England’s eyes.”

BORN: 1494, Gloucestershire, England

DIED: 6 October 1536, Duchy of Brabant