Four hundred eighty years ago today, William Tyndale was executed by the Inquisition.
William Tyndale was born around 1494, near Gloucestershire, England, to a family of the landed gentry. He was educated at Magdalen College of Oxford University. After completing a Master of Arts in 1515, he began to study theology, a course which included very little study of Scripture, causing Tyndale to complain that:
“They have ordained that no man shall look on the Scripture, until he be noselled [nursed, trained] in heathen learning eight or nine years and armed with false principles, with which he is clean shut out of the understanding of the Scripture.”
A very gifted linguist, Tyndale become fluent in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, German, Italian and Spanish, in addition to English.
Tyndale was to help complete the work started by John Wycliffe, who had translated the Bible into English in the late 14th Century. Wycliffe’s New Testament was translated from a corrupted Latin text, not from the original Greek, and had never been printed, but hand copied, making it much more expensive than common people could afford, even had the authorities been disposed to allow it to be circulated.
As a scholar, Tyndale could read the New Testament in Erasmus’s Textus Receptus, the unadulterated Greek version. But Tyndale realized that the overwhelming majority could not access the gospels, and felt a burden to translate the Bible into English. He also formed the Protestant conviction that Scripture should be the rule of faith and practice, not the Catholic Church’s multiple councils and synods.
Regarding the Roman Church’s claim that it had given Scripture and it alone could interpret Scripture, Tyndale responded: “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. Far from having given us the Scriptures, it is you who have hidden them from us; it is you who burn those who teach them, and if you could, you would burn the Scriptures themselves.”—D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, book 18, chapter 4.
When a Romanist scholar told Tyndale, “We would be better off without God’s laws than without the pope’s,” Tyndale replied, “I defy the pope and all his laws; and if God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that drives the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you do.”—Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, p. 19.
Tyndale taught justification by faith, the visible return of Christ, the non-immortality of the soul, and the bodily resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming of Christ. Consequently, he denounced the practice of praying to saints supposedly in heaven. “Ye, in putting them [the dead] in Heaven, hell, and purgatory, destroy the argument wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection.” “If the souls be in Heaven, tell me why they be not in as good case as the angels be? And then what cause is there of the resurrection?”
Tyndale completed his translation in 1525, and within the next decade, 50,000 copies had been printed. He was forced to travel to the Protestant areas of Germany in order to do his work of translating and printing his Bibles, which then had to be smuggled into England.
He also worked and lived in Belgium, which was then part of the domain of the very Roman Catholic Hapsburg emperor, Charles V. While Tyndale was in Antwerp, he was betrayed to the Inquisition and imprisoned in a castle near Brussels. In 1536, he was convicted of heresy and condemned to burn at the stake. On October 6, he was led to the place of burning. His final words, spoken at the stake “with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice" were reported as "Lord! Open the King of England's eyes." He was then strangled to death and his body burned.
Tyndale’s prayer was answered. Within four years, four English translations of the Bible were published in England, including Henry VIII’s authorized Great Bible. All were based on Tyndale's work, which also formed the core of the later 1611 translation, the King James Version. It has been estimated that 80% percent of the KJV New Testament and 75% of the Old Testament came straight from Tyndale.