William Tyndale

William Tyndale

" Tyndale redirects here. For the English family, see Tyndall. For other uses, see Tyndale (disambiguation)."Infobox Person
name = William Tyndale

caption = Protestant reformer and Bible translator
birth_date = c. 1494
birth_place = Gloucestershire, England
death_date = 1536
death_place = near Brussels, Belgium

William Tyndale (sometimes spelled Tindall or Tyndall; pronEng|ˈtɪndəl) (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 born around 1494, possibly in one of the villages near Dursley, Gloucestershire. Within his immediate family, the Tyndales were also known at that period as Hychyns (Hitchins), and it was as William Hychyns that Tyndale was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford (now part of Hertford College, Oxford). Tyndale's family had migrated to Gloucestershire within living memory of his birth, quite probably as a result of the Wars of the Roses, and it is known that the family derived from Northumberland but had more recently resided in East Anglia. Tyndale's uncle, Edward, was receiver to the lands of Lord Berkeley and it is this fact that provides evidence of the family's origin. Edward Tyndale is recorded in two genealogies [John Nichol, Literary Anecdotes, Vol IX: Tindal genealogy; Burke's Landed Gentry, 19th c editions, 'Tyndale of Haling'] as having been the brother of Sir William Tyndale, KB, of Deane, Northumberland, and Hockwald, Norfolk, who was knighted at the marriage of Arthur, Prince of Wales to Katherine of Aragon. Tyndale's family was therefore derived from Baron Adam de Tyndale, a tenant-in-chief of Henry I (and whose family history is related in Tyndall).

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 priesthoodFact|date=August 2007. 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 scripturesFact|date=August 2007.

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 CambridgeFact|date=August 2007.

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 heresyFact|date=August 2007.

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!" [ [http://users.ox.ac.uk/~sben0056/Tyndale.London.htm Lecture by Dom Henry Wansbrough OSB MA (Oxon) STL LSS] ] []

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, preface to "Five bokes of Moses" (1530).] 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. [Joannes Cochlaeus, "Commenataria de Actis et Scriptis Martini Lutheri" (St Victor, near Mainz: Franciscus Berthem, 1549), p. 134.] 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 publicFact|date=August 2007.

Following the publication of Tyndale's New Testament, Cardinal Wolsey condemned Tyndale as a heretic and demanded his arrestFact|date=August 2007.

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 EnglandFact|date=August 2007.

Eventually, Tyndale was betrayed to the authorities. He was seized in Antwerp in 1535, betrayed by Henry Phillips, and held in the castle of Vilvoorde near Brussels.John Foxe, "Actes and Monuments" (1570), VIII.1228 ( [http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/johnfoxe/main/8_1570_1228.jsp Foxe's Book of Martyrs Variorum Edition Online] ).]

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. [Michael Farris, "From Tyndale to Madison", 2007] 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. [citeweb|url=http://www.tyndale.org/TSJ/25/arblaster.html|title=An Error of Dates?|author= Arblaster, Paul|year=2002|accessdate=2007-10-07]

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." [John Foxe, Actes and Monuments (1570), VIII.1229 ( [http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/johnfoxe/main/8_1570_1229.jsp Foxe's Book of Martyrs Variorum Edition Online] ).]

Printed works

Most well known for his translation of the Bible, Tyndale was an active writer and translator. Not only did Tyndale's works focus on the way in which religion should be carried out, but were also greatly keyed towards the political arena.

"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 BellFact|date=December 2007, 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." [Foxe, Acts and Monuments]


In translating the Bible, Tyndale introduced new words into the English language, and many were subsequently used in the King James Bible:
*"Jehovah" (from a transliterated Hebrew construction in the Old Testament; composed from the Tetragrammaton YHWH and the vowels of "adonai": YaHoWaH)
*"Passover" (as the name for the Jewish holiday, Pesach or Pesah),
*"Atonement (= at + onement), which goes beyond mere "reconciliation" to mean "to unite" or "to cover", which springs from the Hebrew kippur, the Old Testament version of kippur being the covering of doorposts with blood, or "Day of Atonement".
*"scapegoat" (the goat that bears the sins and iniquities of the people in Leviticus, Chapter 16)

He also coined such familiar phrases as:
*"let there be light"
*"the powers that be"
*"my brother's keeper"
*"the salt of the earth"
*"a law unto themselves"
*"filthy lucre"
*"it came to pass"
*"gave up the ghost"
*"the signs of the times"
*"the spirit is willing"
*"live and move and have our being"
*"fight the good fight"

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, Fact|date=August 2007 and charged Tyndale's translation of "Obedience of a Christian Man" with having about a thousand falsely translated errors. [Dialogue Concerning Heresies] 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. Fact|date=August 2007

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.

Impact on the English Bible

The men who translated the Revised Standard Version in the 1940s noted that Tyndale's translation inspired the great translations to follow, including the Great Bible of 1539, the Geneva Bible of 1560, the Bishops' Bible of 1568, the Douay-Rheims Bible of 1582–1609, and the King James Version of 1611, of which the RSV translators noted: "It [the KJV] kept felicitous phrases and apt expressions, from whatever source, which had stood the test of public usage. It owed most, especially in the New Testament, to Tyndale."Fact|date=August 2007In fact many of the scholars today believe that such is the case with Joan Bridgman who makes the comment in the Contemporary Review "He [Tyndale] is the mainly unrecognised translator of the most influential book in the world. Although the Authorised King James Version is ostensibly the production of a learned committee of churchmen, it is mostly cribbed from Tyndale with some reworking of his translation."

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. [ [http://users.ox.ac.uk/~sben0056/Tyndale.London.htm The Bible in the Renaissance - William Tyndale ] ] [http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Martyrs/Chapter_XII]

George Steiner in his book on translation "After Babel" refers to "the influence of the genius of Tyndale, the greatest of English Bible translators..." ["After Babel" p.366]


There is a memorial to Tyndale in Vilvoorde, where he was executed. It was erected in 1913 by Friends of the Trinitarian Bible Society of London and the Belgian Bible Society. ["Le Chrétien Belge", October 18, 1913; November 15, 1913.] There is also a small William Tyndale Museum in the town, attached to the Protestant church. [ [http://www.museum.com/ja/museum/id=1859 museum.com] ]

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 [ [http://www.tyndale-europe.edu Tyndale Theological Seminary] ] in Badhoevedorp, near Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

An American Christian publishing house, also called Tyndale House, was named after Tyndale.

Liturgical commemoration

By tradition Tyndale's death is commemorated on October 6. [David Daniell, “Tyndale, William (c.1494–1536),” in "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/27947 online edition] , ed. Lawrence Goldman, October 2007. Accessed December 18, 2007.] There are commemorations on this date in the church calendars of members of the Anglican Communion, initially as one of the "days of optional devotion" in the American Book of Common Prayer (1979) [Marion J. Hatchett, "Commentary on the American Prayer Book" (New York: Seabury press, 1981), pp. 43, 76-77] , and a "black-letter day" in the Church of England's Alternative Service Book [Martin Draper, ed., "The Cloud of Witnesses: A Companion to the Lesser Festivals and Holydays of the Alternative Service Book, 1980" (London: The Alcuin Club, 1982).] . The Common Worship that came into use in the Church of England in 2000 provides a collect proper to 6 October, beginning with the words:

"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".

Tyndale is also honored in the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as a translator and martyr the same day.

See also

*Tyndale Bible
*The Tyndale Society
*Tyndale House


Further references

*Adapted from J.I. Mombert, " [http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc12/htm/ii.xv.x.htm Tyndale, William] ," in Philip Schaff, Johann Jakob Herzog, et al, eds., "The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge," New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1904, reprinted online by the [http://www.ccel.org/ Christian Classics Ethereal Library] . Additional references are available there.
*David Daniell, "William Tyndale", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
*William Tyndale, "The New Testament", (Worms, 1526; Reprinted in original spelling and pagination by The British Library, 2000 ISBN 07123-4664-3)
*William Tyndale, "The New Testament", (Antwerp, 1534; Reprinted in modern English spelling, complete with Prologues to the books and marginal notes, with the original Greek paragraphs, by Yale University Press, 1989 ISBN 0-300-04419-4)
*Paul Arblaster, Gergely Juhász, Guido Latré (eds) "Tyndale's Testament" hardback ISBN 2-503-51411-1 Brepols 2002
*Day, John T. "Sixteenth-Century British Nondramatic Writers" "Dictionary of Literary Biography" 1.132 1993 :296-311
*Foxe, Acts and Monuments
*Cahill, Elizabeth Kirkl "A bible for the plowboy", "Commonweal" 124.7: 1997
*"The Norton Anthology: English Literature". Ed. Julia Reidhead. New York: New York, Eighth Edition, 2006. 621.
*Brian Moynahan, "God's Bestseller: William Tyndale, Thomas More, and the Writing of the English Bible---A Story of Martyrdom and Betrayal" St. Martin's Press, 2003
* John Piper, Desiring God Ministries, "Why William Tyndale Lived and Died" [http://christianity.com/Christian%20Foundations/The%20Essentials/11576364/page1/]

External links

*gutenberg author| id=Tyndale+William | name=William Tyndale
* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=5888281 Find A Grave Entry]
* [http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/case_bible/index.html Documentary about Tyndale] , from "Secrets of the Dead"
* [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091126/ God's Outlaw: The Story of William Tyndale] on IMDB

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