William Tyndale (1494–1536) was born into a world where the people of England only had access to a Bible in Latin—a language reserved only for well-educated church leaders and scholars. After college and ordination into the priesthood, Tyndale became the personal tutor to a wealthy family in Gloucestershire. There, he dined and engaged in conversation with many of the Church’s clergy and he found that there was an appalling ignorance of God’s Word among them. In part, because many of the clergy didn’t know Latin, some couldn’t even read.
Let that sink in for a minute: many of those teaching God’s people each week couldn’t read the Bible. They could only speak from what they had learned in school.
Tyndale made it his mission to provide the English people with a Bible in their own language. But, for many reasons, he needed official authorization to do this. But the Church denied his request and made it illegal in England for a Bible to be produced in English. Undeterred, at age 34, Tyndale moved to Germany where it was not illegal to produce a Bible in English and began his work.
In the end, Tyndale finished the New Testament and part of the Old Testament. The completed New Testament was smuggled back into England in bolts of cloth. There it was assembled page-by-page and put into the hands of believers across the land. For the first time, English believers had the Bible in their own language. Soon plow boys in the field began knowing more of God’s word than priests in pulpits.
But the Church discovered what was happening. They found smuggled Bibles and an arrest warrant was issued for Tyndale. Many attempts were made to find him and all failed. Then, one day, as Tyndale was walking to dinner with a friend and supporter of his work, two soldiers arrested him. How had they found them? He had been betrayed. His supposed friend–Henry Phillips–was no friend at all, but a spy hired to find him. Phillips had spent months cultivating a relationship with Tyndale, earning his trust, all that he might receive a large sum of money to pay off his debts by betraying him into the hands of the Church.
Tyndale was deemed a heretic and executed for producing the Word of God in language of the people on this day, October 6, 1536. Before he was burned at the stake, he was strangled. And he used his last words to utter a prayer: “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes!” Two year later, the Lord answered his prayer and approval was given for a Bible in English.
So, today, we give thanks to God for Tyndale. But more importantly, we give thanks for gospel that Tyndale help spread across England, and eventually, to the world through English Bibles. The good news that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. It’s not our good works, but his righteousness that allow us to be forgiven and made right with God. In Tyndale’s word, this is the kind of good news “that maketh a man’s heart glad and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy.”
John Piper. “Always Singing One Note–A Vernacular Bible (Why William Tyndale Lived and Died).” The best lecture on Tyndale and his impact. It will help you appreciate him and love your Bible.
David Daniell. William Tyndale: A Biography. The best full-length biography on William Tyndale.
God’s Outlaw: The Story of William Tyndale. An excellent film, depicting Tyndale’s work as a reformer and Bible translator. Currently free on Amazon Prime video.
Note: a version of this post also appeared on the Providence Bible Fellowship blog.