To a 15th century farmer, the Bible was just a big book full of unreadable words and made-up rules. This was because priests in those times insisted on the Bible being in Latin. They said the Bible was a holy book, and shouldnít be allowed to be read by any old sinful peasant. Really, they wanted it to be in a language only they could understand so they could make up a bunch of silly laws to suit themselves, then get away with it by saying "It says so in the Bible." They thought no-one would ever know different, and no-one would ever try and reveal the truth. And no-one did, until Tyndale came along......
William Tyndale was born in October 1494, roughly 500 years ago. He was born in Gloucestershire, near the Severn estuary, where a monument stands commemorating him. Little is known about his early life, except that by 1512 he had graduated at Oxford, after studying at Magdalen College. It was obvious to his tutors he had a great ability for languages, and after graduating he went to study theology in Cambridge. There he was appointed a priest. But, like many fellow scholars, he found teaching theology a big drag, and was getting pretty fed up. This was mainly because of the churchís insistence upon the use of the Latin Bible. He knew what the other priests were up to, he even knew about Innocent VIIIís seven illegitimate children, who he enriched with the churchís treasures. He knew about Alexander VI living with a Spanish woman that he wasnít married to, that they had five sons, and all about how his favorite, Caesar Borgia, had murdered his brother and his brother in law. They taught one thing and did the other, and it disgusted him. He knew he must put a stop to it. He didnít know how he was going to do it, but he knew he must.
In 1521 Tyndale returned to his birth place, Gloucestershire. Here he became the tutor to the children of Sir John Walsh in the manor House of Little Sodbury. Besides this, he was conducting services at the nearby parish church of St. Adeline. Soon, his sermons aroused the anger of the church hierarchy, especially when he was found preaching to a crowd outside the Bristol Cathedral. They charged him with "Spreading heresy," and he was summoned before the chancellor of the diocese of Worcester (who was standing in for the Bishop at the time.) He was warned not to preach in public anymore. Even so, Tyndale continued doing this at every opportunity. One day, a priest visiting Little Sodbury openly attacked Tyndaleís beliefs. He replied " If God spare my life, before very long I shall cause a plough boy to know the scriptures better than you do!" This was not an idle boast. Tyndale knew how he was going to put an end to the priestsí evil ways. He was going to translate the Bible into English, so everyone would be able to read the Bible for themselves. Then the priests, who had probably never read it once in their life, would be for it.
Tyndale was so gripped by the idea of the word of God being so easily accessible to the public that he couldnít wait to get started. But he didnít want to translate his Bible from the Latin version, because it was likely it had mistakes and alterations, so he decided to go to the original source. He wanted to use the original Greek texts which had been found in 1454, after the battle of Constantinople. Because of this, he had to wait two years before he could start his work. It was not easy to get hold of something as important as these texts, but as soon as he did he set off to London, hoping to take advantage of the new printing methods. Once he arrived he searched for help with this task, for he realized he could not do it on his own. He turned first to Cuthbert Tunstall, the Bishop of London, who had given support to a priest whose works had impressed Tyndale. Unfortunately, he found no help there. But he was permitted to preach at St. Dustan-in-the-west by Sir Henry Guildford, a friend of John Walsh. It is very likely that John (being Tyndaleís former boss) had told Sir Henry how clever Tyndale was and requested it as a favour. John thought that if Tyndale preached about what he intended to do, he might get some more people on his side. That is, in fact, exactly what happened. His sermons brought him to the attention of a merchant called Humphrey Monmouth. He was sympathetic towards reformers and offered Tyndale a place in his home where he could devote himself to translating. He also caught the attention of John Firth, a scholar such as Tyndale who offered to help him translate the Bible.
So together they got to work, until news of the work reached the church authorities. They were furious! Tyndaleís friends warned him his life was in danger if he remained in London. They told him the only way he would be safe would be to give up the work. Tyndale didnít want his life threatened, but he also didnít want to give up his work. Therefore, in May 1524 he moved from England and went to hide in Germany, where his work could continue in peace. He was able to blend into the background easily and was able to go unnoticed because of his great ability for languages. He could speak Greek, Latin, Hebrew, German, Dutch, Italian and Spanish as well English. This meant if someone was looking for an Englishman in a crowded market full of people speaking different languages, they wouldnít even glance in his direction. Tyndale was able to get on with his work really well in Germany, and by 1525 he was preparing his first manuscripts for printing by Martin Quentel in Cologne. Sadly, the authorities in Cologne were not so friendly towards reformers, and poor Tyndale had to pack up his work again and run away to Worms.
In Worms, an uneasy Tyndale hurriedly finished his translation and sent it to be published. The finish books were shipped secretly to England by 1526 in barrels and merchant ships. Some were confiscated and burned, along with other reformersí works in London that February. This did not stop Tyndale, for despite the desperate efforts to put it down, Tyndaleís Bible was in great demand. It was making a great impact on people, not only because it was in English but also because it was so close to the original text. He was so concerned to keep his New Testament translation accurate that he said, "I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus Christ to give a reckoning of our doings, that I never altered one syllable of Godís word against my conscience."
Whilst his New Testaments were being shipped to England, Tyndale immediately took up translating the Old Testament. The Cologne authorities were beginning to become a threat to Tyndale, so he moved to the Netherlands, where he lived in Antwerp. This was a convenient place for sending his Bibles to other countries. Here Tyndale translated the complete Bible, Old and New Testament, but he still did not consider it finished. He produced at least two revised editions in 1534 and 1535. By this time the church authorities were getting very angry, and also pretty worried. If Tyndaleís Bible carried on being shipped in to England, everyone would know theyíd been lying to them. They knew they couldnít stop them once they were in England. Burning hadnít worked, there were too many. They had even tried buying them for a while, but that just gave Tyndale more money so he could make more. They had decided there was only one thing left, they were going to KILL Tyndale. No more of these silly threats, they were going for the real thing!
Tyndale knew his life was in danger, but he took little interest in his own safety. He continued his work as normal, knowing what he was doing was right. He just kept on going, trying to get published as many Bibles as possible. He didnít really care what happened to him now, because his work was finished. But he did not know what little time he had. His enemies were already plotting his downfall, and in May 1535 he was betrayed by Henry Phillips (for a fair amount of money, more likely than not) as he left the house of Thomas Pontz. He was the merchant who had given him shelter in Antwerp. He was arrested and taken to Vilvorde castle near Brussels. There he was kept a prisoner for 18 months in the most wretched conditions. He was treated like a wicked murderer, when all he had done was translate the Bible into a readable language. During those 18 months, the authorities tried to make Tyndale say what he believed was wrong, and to say that it was untrue that man can reach salvation by Christ alone. But Tyndale refused to deny the truth, and said he would rather die and join his Lord in Heaven than deny his word and shame him. So in August 1536 they declared Tyndale a heretic and two months later he was killed by Strangulation, then his corpse was burned in the city square. His last words, just before he died were this prayer, "Lord, open the King of Englandís eyes..."
That prayer was answered two years after Tyndaleís death, when King Henry VIII ordered that the Miles Coverdaleís Bible must be used in every parish in the land. This was largely based on Tyndaleís Bible. In 1539 Tyndaleís own edition of the Bible became officially approved for printing. You can still read his work to this day, in the King James Bible. There are even buildings named after Tyndale, like Tyndale House, where they study and translate the Bible. Itís good to know he did not die in vain.
by Alice I. Brewer (age 10)
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