Episco-Fact #62
October 1, 2017

Who is William Tyndale and why do we have a lesser Feast Day in his honor?

For the history of the English-speaking Christians, William Tyndale rocked the world. His translation of the New Testament from Greek to English was the first such translation after centuries of the Vulgate Bible (i.e. Latin). First published in 1526, just nine years after Martin Luther posted his thesis in the door at the church in Worms, scripturally hungry English subjects had an outlet from which to read scripture.

Though many English subjects welcomed the Tyndale "Bible," especially the growing merchant and gentry classes, it was not approved for publication by the English (read—Roman Catholic) religious authorities, having been rebuffed by the Bishop of London in 1524, The Right Reverend Cuthbert Tunstall, when Tyndale applied for a license to translate and publish an English version of the Bible. The 1526 translation was published by the house of Peter Quentell. Cologne was Lutheran territory and it would be 1532 before the first in a series of Acts were passed by Parliament to establish the monarch of England as the "head" of the Church in England.

All of this occurs against the backdrop of the Humanist movement, the advent of moveable type, and the Continental Reformation. Henry, even after his break with the Roman Church, was essentially a conservative. Certainly, he initiated reforming of the religious houses in England, but his religious instincts still leaned toward restricting access to the Bible and Worship to those who could read Latin and understand Latin.

William Tyndale was born in 1485ish in the Gloucestershire. He attended and graduated from Magdalene College, Cambridge University. He was gifted at languages and was fluent in French, Greek, Hebrew, German, Latin, Italian, and Spanish in addition to English. He was frustrated in his theological studies by not having access to scriptures.

Tyndale was the first Englishman to translate directly from the original Biblical languages of Hebrew, Old Testament, and Greek, New Testament. There had been a Fifteenth Century translation from the Latin by John Wycliffe, but English authorities would not license that Bible either and that led to laws which restricted Tyndale's translation and publication in his time. Hence, his work on the continent, where he was pursued and eventually arrested in 1535 and executed in 1536, even though Thomas Cromwell, Chancellor of England interceded on his behalf.

Tyndale's work was so influential that it formed to metrical and colloquialisms of the later Standard Version of the Bible supervised under King James I.


 The Rev. David Lucey