William Tyndale (sometimes spelled Tindall or Tyndall; ) (c. 1494 – 1536) was a 16th-century Protestant reformer and scholar who translated the Bible into the Early Modern English of his day. While a number of partial and complete Old English translations had been made from the seventh century onward, and Middle English translations particularly during the 14th century, Tyndale's was the first English translation to draw directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, and the first to take advantage of the new medium of print, which allowed for its wide distribution. In 1535 Tyndale was arrested, jailed in the castle of Vilvoorde outside Brussels for over a year, tried for heresy and then strangled and burnt at the stake.
Much of Tyndale's work eventually found its way into the King James Version (or "Authorised Version") of the Bible, published in 1611, which, as the work of 54 independent scholars revising the existing English versions, is to a large extent based on Tyndale's translations.
Tyndale was admitted to the Degree of Bachelor of Arts at Oxford University. In 1512, the same year he became a subdeacon. He was made Master of Arts in July 1515, three months after he had been ordained into the priesthood. The MA degree allowed him to start studying theology, but the official course did not include the study of scripture. This horrified Tyndale, and he organised private groups for teaching and discussing the scriptures.
He was a gifted linguist (fluent in French, Greek, Hebrew, German, Italian, Latin, Spanish in addition to his native English) and subsequently went to Cambridge (possibly studying under Erasmus, whose 1503 Enchiridion Militis Christiani — "Handbook of the Christian Knight" — he translated into English). It is also believed that he met Thomas Bilney and John Frith at Cambridge.
Tyndale became chaplain in the house of Sir John Walsh at Little Sodbury in about 1521, and tutor to his children. His opinions involved him in controversy with his fellow clergymen, and around 1522 he was summoned before the Chancellor of the Diocese of Worcester on a charge of heresy.
Soon afterwards, he had already determined to translate the Bible into English: he was convinced that the way to God was through His word and that scripture should be available even to common people. Foxe describes an argument with a "learned" but "blasphemous" clergyman, who had asserted to Tyndale that, "We had better be without God's laws than the Pope's." In a swelling of emotion, Tyndale made his prophetic response: "I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, I will cause the boy that drives the plow in England to know more of the Scriptures than the Pope himself!"
Tyndale left for London in 1523 to seek permission to translate the Bible into English and to request other help from the Church. In particular, he hoped for support from Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, a well-known classicist whom Erasmus had praised after working with him on a Greek New Testament; but the bishop, like many highly-placed churchmen, was uncomfortable with the idea of the Bible in the vernacular and told Tyndale he had no room for him in his household. Tyndale preached and studied "at his book" in London for some time, relying on the help of a cloth merchant, Humphrey Monmouth. He then left England under a pseudonym and landed at Hamburg in 1524 with the work he had done so far on his translation of the New Testament. He completed his translation in 1525, with assistance from Observant friar William Roy.
In 1525, publication of his work by Peter Quentell in Cologne was interrupted by anti-Lutheran influence, and it was not until 1526 that a full edition of the New Testament was produced by the printer Peter Schoeffer in Worms, an imperial free city then in the process of adopting Lutheranism. More copies were soon being printed in Antwerp. The book was smuggled into England and Scotland, and was condemned in October 1526 by Tunstall, who issued warnings to booksellers and had copies burned in public.
Following the publication of Tyndale's New Testament, Cardinal Wolsey condemned Tyndale as a heretic and demanded his arrest.
Tyndale went into hiding, possibly for a time in Hamburg, and carried on working. He revised his New Testament and began translating the Old Testament and writing various treatises. In 1530, he wrote The Practyse of Prelates, opposing Henry VIII's divorce on the grounds that it was unscriptural and was a plot by Cardinal Wolsey to get Henry entangled in the papal courts. This resulted in the king's wrath being directed at him: he asked the emperor Charles V to have Tyndale apprehended and returned to England.
He was tried on a charge of heresy in 1536 and condemned to death, despite Thomas Cromwell's intercession on his behalf. He was tied to the stake, strangled, and his dead body then burnt. Foxe gives 6 October as the date of commemoration (left-hand date column), but gives no date of death (right-hand date column). The traditional date of commemoration is 6 October, but records of Tyndale's imprisonment suggest the date might have been some weeks earlier.
Tyndale's 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.
"They have ordained that no man shall look on the Scripture, until he be noselled 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."In response to a critical John Bell, Tyndale echoed this sentiment
"If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou doest.
|Year Printed||Name of Work||Place of Publication||Publisher|
|1525||The New Testament Translation (incomplete)||Cologne|
|1526*||The New Testament Translation (first full printed edition in English)||Worms|
|1526||A compendious introduccion, prologe or preface vnto the pistle off Paul to the Romayns|
|1528||The parable of the wicked mammon||Antwerp|
|1528||The Obedience of a Christen Man (and how Christen rulers ought to govern...)||Antwerp||Merten de Keyser|
|1530*||The five books of Moses [the Pentateuch] Translation (each book with individual title page)||Antwerp||Merten de Keyser|
|1530||The practyse of prelates||Antwerp||Merten de Keyser|
|1531||The exposition of the fyrste epistle of seynt Jhon with a prologge before it||Antwerp||Merten de Keyser|
|1531?||The prophete Jonas Translation||Antwerp||Merten de Keyser|
|1531||An answere vnto sir Thomas Mores dialoge|
|1533?||An exposicion vppon the. v. vi. vii. chapters of Mathew|
|1533||Enchiridion militis Christiani Translation|
|1534||The New Testament Translation (thoroughly revised, with a second foreword against George Joye's unauthorized changes in an edition of Tyndale's New Testament published earlier in the same year)||Antwerp||Merten de Keyser|
|1535||The testament of master Wylliam Tracie esquier, expounded both by W. Tindall and J. Frith|
|1536?||A path way into the holy scripture|
|1537||The byble, which is all the holy scripture Translation (only in part Tyndale's)|
|1548?||A briefe declaration of the sacraments|
|1573||The whole workes of W. Tyndall, John Frith, and Doct. Barnes, edited by John Foxe|
|1848*||Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures|
|1849*||Expositions and Notes on Sundry Portions of the Holy Scriptures Together with the Practice of Prelates|
|1850*||An Answer to Sir Thomas More's Dialogue, The Supper of the Lord after the True Meaning of John VI. and I Cor. XI., and William Tracy's Testament Expounded|
|1964*||The Work of William Tyndale|
|1989**||Tyndale's New Testament|
|1992**||Tyndale's Old Testament|
|Forthcoming||The Independent Works of William Tyndale|
|*||These works were printed more than once, usually signifying a revision or reprint. However the 1525 edition was printed as an incomplete quarto and was then reprinted in 1526 as a complete octavo.|
|**||These works were reprints of Tyndale's earlier translations revised for modern-spelling.|
He also coined such familiar phrases as:
Some of the new words and phrases introduced by Tyndale did not sit well with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, using words like 'Overseer' rather than 'Bishop' and 'Elder' rather than 'Priest', and (very controversially), 'congregation' rather than 'Church' and 'love' rather than 'charity'. Tyndale contended (citing Erasmus) that the Greek New Testament did not support the traditional Roman Catholic readings.
Contention from Roman Catholics came from real or perceived errors in translation. Thomas More commented that searching for errors in the Tyndale Bible was similar to searching for water in the sea, and charged Tyndale's translation of Obedience of a Christian Man with having about a thousand falsely translated errors. Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall of London declared that there were upwards of 2,000 errors in Tyndale's Bible. Tunstall in 1523 had denied Tyndale the permission required under the Constitutions of Oxford (1409), that were still in force, to translate the Bible into English.
In response to allegations of inaccuracies in his translation in the New Testament, Tyndale wrote that he never intentionally altered or misrepresented any of the Bible in his translation, and would never do so.
While translating, Tyndale controversially followed Erasmus' (1522) Greek edition of the New Testament. In his Preface to his 1534 New Testament ("WT unto the Reader") he not only goes into some detail about the Greek tenses but also points out that there is often a Hebrew idiom underlying the Greek. The Tyndale Society adduces much further evidence to show that his translations were made directly from the original Hebrew and Greek sources he had at his disposal. For example, the Prolegomena in Mombert's William Tyndale's Five Books of Moses show that Tyndale's Pentateuch is a translation of the Hebrew original.
Of the first (1526) edition of Tyndale's New Testament, only three copies survive. The only complete copy is part of the Bible Collection of Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart. The copy of the British Library is almost complete, lacking only the title page and list of contents. Another rarity of Tyndale's is the Pentateuch of which only nine remain.
Many of the great English versions since then have drawn inspiration from Tyndale, such as the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible, and the English Standard Version. Even the paraphrases like the Living Bible and the New Living Translation have been inspired by the same desire to make the Bible understandable to Tyndale's proverbial ploughboy.
A bronze statue by Sir Joseph Boehm commemorating the life and work of Tyndale was erected in Victoria Embankment Gardens on the Thames Embankment, London in 1884. It shows his right hand on an open Bible, which is itself resting on an early printing press. The Tyndale Monument, was erected in 1866 on a hill above his supposed birthplace, North Nibley.
A number of colleges, schools and study centres have been named in his honour, including Tyndale House (Cambridge), Tyndale University College and Seminary (Toronto), the Tyndale-Carey Graduate School affiliated to the Bible College of New Zealand, William Tyndale College (Farmington Hills, Michigan), and Tyndale Theological Seminary (Shreveport, Louisiana, and Fort Worth, Texas), as well as the independent Tyndale Theological Seminary in Badhoevedorp, near Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
An American Christian publishing house, also called Tyndale House, was named after Tyndale.
"Lord, give your people grace to hear and keep your word that, after the example of your servant William Tyndale, we may not only profess your gospel but also be ready to suffer and die for it, to the honour of your name; …"
See the List of Anglican Church Calendars.