William Tyndale, was born in 1494 or 1495. Experiences early in his life made him believe that the cause of most of the confusion in the Church was a general ignorance of the Scripture. He realized that this ignorance was prevalent not only among the uneducated public, but also by the clergy. Because of his proficiency in the Greek language, Tyndale felt that he could help correct this problem and sought permission to translate the Bible. Unable to obtain this permission in England, he moved to Germany and began to translate there. He began printing his first edition of the New Testament in Cologne, Germany in 1525. Only ten sheets were printed before the printer was forbidden by the city senate to continue. Tyndale took these pages and moved to Worms, Germany to complete the printing. His first complete New Testament was printed in February of 1526 and began to be smuggled into England the next month.
Although Tyndale’s translation drew heavily from Luther’s, he didn’t want it to come off looking Lutheran. At this time, Lutheranism was considered of the devil in England and drew persecution and prejudice wherever it went. Although Tyndale used Luther’s Bible as a source, he drew more heavily from the Greek and Latin translations. However, because those in authority knew that he was associated with Lutheranism, they would not allow Tyndale’s books to be used in England.
The Bishop of London, Cuthbert Tonstall, devised a plan to rid England of the Tyndale Bible. He ordered owners of the Bible to give them to the Church, and bought as many copies as he could before they ever came to the country. The Bibles that he collected were burned. Although owners of the Bible were threatened with excommunication, it is a testament to how much they valued the Word of God that the threat of being disassociated with the Church did little to stop the circulation of the Bible. Tyndale himself sold many copies of the Bible to the Bishop and used the money to print the next edition. He had a fighter’s spirit and a firm conviction in what he was doing. He once famously said, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”1
Burning was not the only way that Tyndale’s Bible was attacked; leaders of the Church began to attest that Tyndale’s New Testament was not really the New Testament. One man, a scholar named Thomas More, went so far as to say, “It was not worthy to be called Christ’s testament, but either Tyndale’s own testament or the testament of his master Antichrist.” Criticisms such as these were common: Tyndale once complained that if an i was left undotted, that simple mistake was counted as heresy. However, he kept at his work, and in 1530 published the first five books of the Old Testament.
It is said that Tyndale also translated up to 2 Chronicles, but this was not published in his lifetime. Tyndale had to halt his translation of the Old Testament to revise the New, because others were beginning to change his translation and pass it off as Tyndale’s original translation. This infuriated Tyndale and inspired two revisions to be published.
Tyndale lived the last years of his life in Antwerp, a free city in the middle of Roman territory. Tyndale was free in Antwerp, but were he to venture into the surrounding area he would be in danger of being accused of heresy. On May 21, 1535, Tyndale was kidnapped and brought to the Roman territory of Vilvorde. Men such as Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII attempted to release Tyndale, but were unsuccessful. While imprisoned, Tyndale requested a Hebrew Bible and dictionary–he must have been anxious to continue translating the Old Testament. It is unclear whether or not he was granted this privlege. In August of 1536 Tyndale was tried and found guilty of heresy, and on October 6, 1536 was strangled and then burned at the stake. His last words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”1
Tyndale’s influence even at the moment of his death was beginning to spread: a version of the English Bible was circulating with permission from King Henry VIII. Tyndale’s dying prayer was beginning to be answered.1
This facsimile edition of the Tyndale New Testament is a beautiful rendition of what the Tyndale Bible looked like when it was first printed. Although Special Collections is home to many facsimiles such as this one, we are also privileged to house original items, such as the leafs below.
This is an original leaf from the 1537 printing of the Tyndale Bible. This edition is special because it was the first to be printed after Tyndale’s death in 1536.
Bibles and other old books that are damaged are often separated into leafs rather than rebound as a way of allowing more than one person to have access to the original artifact.
This later edition of the Tyndale New Testament was printed in 1552. These leafs, along with others, are available for research at the BYU-Idaho McKay library. Appointments can be made by calling (208) 496-9540 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Information for this blog post was taken from the following source.
- The English Bible, A History of Translations. Frederick F. Bruce. 1961. Oxford University Press, New York.
Other sources for those interested in learning more about William Tyndale’s life and translation of the Bible include these books, available at our library:
- Tyndale: The man who gave God an English voice. David Teems. 2012.
- Fires of faith: the inspiring story behind the King James Bible. Brock Bower. 2012.
- Fire in the Bones: William Tyndale, Martyr, Father of the English Bible. S. Michael Wilcox, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004.