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a brief remembrance of William Tyndale

   William Tyndale was a scholar,  a gifted linguist, known to speak seven languages and was proficient in ancient Hebrew and Greek. As a scholar and priest, his intellectual gifts, and disciplined life could have taken him a long way in the church, but he chose a different path. He instead pursued his obsessive desire to teach English-speaking men and women God's Word from the Holy Scriptures, and the good news of justification by faith. Tyndale had discovered this doctrine when he read Erasmus' Greek edition of 

   He was a native of Gloucester and began his studies at Oxford in 1510, later moving to Cambridge. By 1523 he sought permission and funds from the bishop of London to translate the New Testament into English. The bishop denied his request, and further queries convinced Tyndale, the project could not be accomplished with permission of the church. To attempt such a project outside of church authority would be dangerous and he knew it full well, so he sought a safe place to pursue his work with a greater degree of freedom. He traveled to Hamburg and then to Wittenberg where he consulted with Martin Luther.

   In order to keep Tyndale's work out of the hands of unauthorized persons, the authorities bought up as many copies of his English language New Testament  as they could and conspired to silence Tyndale. Meanwhile Tyndale had moved to Antwerp, a city in which he was relatively free from agents of England, the Roman Catholic church, or those of the Holy Roman Empire, which incidentally was neither holy nor Roman. For nine years he managed with the help of friends to evade authorities, and published a revised edition of his New Testament in 1534. Meanwhile he had begun translating the Hebrew scriptures.

   His translations, as it turned out, became decisive in the history of the English Bible, and indeed of the English language itself. Nearly a century later, when translators of the Authorized, or King James Version, debated how to translate the original languages, eight times out of ten, they agreed that Tyndale had it best to begin with. The King James version is largely the work of William Tyndale. (see - King James I authorizes a new Bible).

   William Tyndale was ultimately betrayed by a fellow named Henry Phillips, probably for a price. Phillips had befriended Tyndale and soon was one of the few privileged people to look at Tyndale's books and papers. In May 1535, Phillips assisted the local authorities in the arrest of Tyndale, and he was taken to the castle of Vilvoorde near Brussels where he was held for trial. He was accused of heresy and fomenting sedition in England. Trials for heresy in the Netherlands were in the hands of special commissioners of the Holy Roman Empire. He languished in prison for months awaiting a decision.

   Finally, in August, 1536, Tyndale was condemned as a heretic, removed from the priesthood, and delivered to the civil authorities for punishment. After local officials had taken their seats, Tyndale was brought to the stake in the middle of the town square and, as was customary, given a chance to recant. After refusing, he was given a moment to pray. Then he was tied to the beam, garroted to death (strangled), and then burned. 

   In an ironic turn of events, shortly after Tyndale's execution in 1536, Henry VIII authorized the publication of what would become known as the "Great Bible." He had promised this English language Bible to his subjects, in order to promote his newly established Church of England, and to help facilitate his breaking away from the authority of the pope. This was in fact, the first 'authorized' English language version of the Bible, based almost entirely on the translation work of William Tyndale's unfinished Bible. The unfinished sections had been completed by John Rogers and Miles Coverdale who used the Vulgate as the source text (see - English Crown vs Papal Authority).

William Tyndale 1494 - 1536

   Back in the day, a "heretic" was defined as anyone that did not believe what they were told to believe, or do as they were told to do. The church in turn felt that it had a sacred duty to eradicate such freethinking malcontents, and not by simply executing them, but by causing great suffering and humiliation first, making a public spectacle of it, and finally, executing them by the most inhumane means possible. Nobody ever seems to have questioned the poor form of Christians killing Christians over theological disagreements, or the manner in which these execution were carried out. Still, William Tyndale was well aware of the inherent dangers associated with his endeavors, and he pressed ahead in spite of it. All English speaking Christians owe William Tyndale a debt of gratitude, and a prayer that God's mercy be upon him.

"We do not wish to abolish teaching and to make every man his own master, but if the curates will not teach the gospel, the layman must have the Scripture, and read it for himself, taking God for his teacher."

"Do you know who taught the eagles to find their prey? Well, that same God teaches His hungry children to find their Father in His Word."

"God's goodness is the root of all goodness; and our goodness, if we have any, springs out of His goodness."

"I perceived how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth except the Scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue."

"For if God be on our side, what matter maketh it who be against us, be they bishops, cardinals, popes, or whatsoever names they will?"

"We had better be without God's laws than the Pope's.” To which Tyndale passionately responded: “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!"

the New Testament. It was because of this that he determined to create an English language version of the New Testament. He was a contemporary of Martin Luther and was inspired by Luther's German language translation of the Christian Greek scriptures (New Testament) published in 1522.

   Other partial English translations had been produced before, but it was the outrageous reaction of the English church to the 14th century production of Wycliffe's Bible that led to the passage of new laws demanding the death penalty for anyone found in possession of scripture in English without the expressed permission of the church. It didn't matter that translations were available in other major European languages, the English church was making a stand, and was supported in this effort by the papacy.

   Tyndale's translation was the first English Bible to be drawn directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, the first English translation to make use of the printing press, the first of the new English Bibles of the Reformation, and the first English translation to use 'Jehovah' as God's name, as preferred by English Protestant Reformers. It was taken to be a direct challenge to the power and authority of both the Catholic Church and the laws of England, and in so doing, exposed English readers to a name they had never heard before (see - war on God's name). He was also critical of Henry VIII's offhand annulment of his own marriage on the grounds that the king had circumvented scripture. His works were roundly condemned and Tyndale would become a wanted man.

   Luther had rejected the Latin Vulgate as a translational source because of its connection with the Catholic church, and instead had based his New Testament translation of the Greek scriptures from the superior translation done by Erasmus (see Erasmus of Rotterdam). Tyndale did the same, also borrowing from Luther's German translation, His English language translation of the New Testament went to print in Cologne in 1525, but the printing shop was raided by local authorities and Tyndale was forced to flee. He went to the Lutheran city of Worms where he was able to get the work published. It was quickly smuggled into England, where it was promptly condemned by the authorities. King Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, and Sir Thomas More, among others, were outraged. Thomas More, ever the staunch Roman Catholic defender of the faith, said of it, "not worthy to be called Christ's testament, but either Tyndale's own testament or the testament of his master Antichrist."

Amen. Hallelujah. 

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