Translator and Martyr (1494-1536)
Although the Bible was available in the vernacular in much of Europe, the only version of the Scripture tolerated in England was St. Jerome’s Latin translation, which dated back to the 4th century. It was thus a closed book even to most clergymen, but William Tyndale, a dedicated Christian and scholar, was determined to make God’s Word accessible to all men.
However, as early as 1408 a council of clergymen had met at Oxford, England, and decided that the common people should not be allowed to have copies of the Bible in their own tongue for personal use. William Tyndale’s work in England was forbidden.
Undeterred, Tyndale moved to Germany. Between 1525 and 1535, he translated and printed in English the New Testament and half of the Old Testament. He worked from the Greek and Hebrew original texts, an impressive feat since knowledge of those languages was found only in the highest academic circles. His pocket-sized Bible translations were smuggled into England. The Church attempted to stop these books, ruthlessly seeking them out to confiscate and destroy them.
Ultimately, Tyndale was betrayed by a friend. He was arrested in Brussels, Belgium, and condemned as a heretic. In 1536, at the nearby town of Vilvorde, he was brought forth to the place of execution, tied to the stake, strangled by the hangman, and consumed by fire.
As he died, he cried at the stake with fervent zeal and a loud voice, “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.” This miracle God did less than a year later. In August, 1537, King Henry VIII gave his authorization to the Bible generally known as Matthew’s Bible. He decreed that it should be freely sold and read within his realm.
Thus Tyndale’s great desire to get the Bible in the hands of the common people was realized. The Reformation followed soon after!
Dr. Jim McGowan
Tyndale Theological Seminary