Tyndale Bible

Tyndale Bible

The Tyndale Bible generally refers to the body of biblical translations by William Tyndale. Tyndale’s Bible is credited with being the first English translation to come directly from Hebrew and Greek texts. Furthermore it was the first English biblical translation that was mass produced as a result of new advances in the art of printing. The term "Tyndale's Bible" is not strictly correct, because Tyndale never published a complete Bible. Prior to his death Tyndale had only finished translating the entire New Testament and roughly half of the Old Testament. [Sir Frederic Kenyon,"The story of the Bible" London:Butler & Tanner Ltd.,1947),47-49.] Of the latter, the Pentateuch, Jonah and a revised version of the book of Genesis were published during his lifetime. His other Old Testament works were first used in the creation of the Matthew Bible and also heavily influenced every major English translation of the Bible that followed. [A.C. Partridge, "English Biblical Translation" (London: Andrè Deutsch Limited, 1973),38-39, 52-52.]


The chain of events that led to the creation of Tyndale’s New Testament started in 1522. It was in this year that Tyndale illegally acquired a copy of Martin Luther’s German New Testament. Tyndale was inspired by Luther’s work and immediately set out to imitate Luther’s work but in English. [Partridge, 38.] He made his purpose known to the Bishop of London at the time Cuthbert Tunstall. However Tunstall rejected Tyndale’s offer of creating an up-to-date modern English Bible. After this rejection Tyndale moved to the continent and ended up in Hamburg were he completed his New Testament in 1524. [Alfred W. Pollard, ed., "Records of the English Bible" (Kent: Wm. Dawson & Sons Ltd., 1974), 87-89.] During this time period Tyndale frequented Wittenberg where he consulted with Martin Luther and his associate Melanchthon. [Partridge, 38.] The first version of Tyndale’s New Testament was put into print in 1525 in Cologne however the process was not finished. From there Tyndale moved the publishing process to Worms where the first recorded complete edition of his New Testament was published in 1526. [Craig R. Thompson, "The Bible in English 1525-1611" (New York: Cornell University Press, 1963),6.] Two revised versions were latter published in 1534 and 1536, both personally revised by Tyndale himself. After his death in 1536 Tyndale’s works have been revised and reprinted numerous times. [Partridge, 38-39.] Furthermore much of his work can be seen in other modern versions of the Bible, especially that of the King James Bible.

Tyndale's Pentateuch was published at Antwerp by Johann Hoochstraten in 1530. [Partridge, 52-53.] His English version of the book of Jonah was published the following year. This was followed by his revised version of the book of Genesis in 1534. Tyndale translated many other Old Testament books including Joshua, Judges, first and second Samuel, first and second Kings and first and second Chronicles. Unfortunately these unpublished works haven’t survived to today in their original forms. [Ibid., 53.] When Tyndale was martyred these works came to be in the possession of one his associates John Rodgers. These translations would be influential in the creation of the Matthew Bible which was published in 1537. [Ibid.]

Tyndale used a number of sources when carrying out his translations of both the New and Old Testaments. When translating the New Testament Tyndale used Erasmus’s Greek and Latin New Testament, as well as Luther’s German version and the Vulgate. Scholars believe that Tyndale stayed away from using Wyclif’s Bible as a source because he didn’t want his English to reflect that which was used prior to the Renaissance. [Ibid., 38.] The sources Tyndale used for his translation of the Pentateuch however are not known for sure. Scholars believe that Tyndale used either the Hebrew Pentateuch or the Polyglot Bible. It is suspected that his other Old Testament works were translated directly from a copy of the Hebrew Bible. [Ibid., 53.]

Reaction of the Catholic Church

Tyndale’s translations were condemned by both church and state in England, where it must be said it took longer for the reform movement to take hold. Tyndale was forced to flee England for the continent where he found safe haven in pro-reform areas. [Pollard,87-91.] The church and state reacted strongly against Tyndale’s work, banning his New Testament of 1526 from England. In addition any copy of his work found in England was to be burned. [Thompson, 7.] Many Catholic scholars attacked Tyndale and his translations, the foremost of whom was Thomas More. [Partridge, 40.] More and the Catholic Church refuted Tyndale’s translations because they argued that Tyndale had purposefully mistranslated the texts in order to promote anti-clericalism and heretical views. [Ibid.,40-41] More specifically attacked Tyndale on the grounds that he had corrupted scripture by changing certain words and thus the meaning of scripture. More focused on four key words that Tyndale had changed in his translation. The terms, as appearing in the Catholic texts, were “church”, “priest”, “do penance” and “charity”. These words became “congregation”, “senior” (changed to elder in the revised edition of 1534), “repent” and “love” in Tyndale translation. [Partridge, 41-42.] More and the Church took great offense to these changes because they challenged many of the systems and doctrines that made up the foundation of the Catholic Church during this period of time.

Challenges to Catholic Doctrine

Tyndale’s changing of the word “church” to “congregation” challenged the Catholic belief that it was the priests and members of clergy that made up the institution known as the church. [Ibid., 42.] The Catholic Church had long proclaimed that the church was an institution. The word church to them had come to represent the organizational structure that was the Catholic Church. [Ibid.] Tyndale’s translation was seen as a challenge to this doctrine because he was seen to have favored the views of reformers like Martin Luther who proclaimed that the church was made up and defined by the believers, or in other words their congregations. Some radical reformers preached that the true church was the “invisible” church, that wherever true Christians meet together to preach the word of God was where the church was. To these reformers the structure of the Catholic Church was unnecessary and it's very existence proved that it was in fact not the “true” Church. [Carter Lindberg, "The European Reformations"(Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 1996), 202-204.] When Tyndale decided that the Greek word “ekklesia” is more accurately translated congregation he was undermining the entire structure of the Catholic Church. Many of the reform movements believed in the authority of scripture alone. To them it dictated how the church should be organized and administered. [Ibid., 70-72.] By translating “church” to mean “congregation” Tyndale was providing ammunition for the beliefs of the reformers. Their belief that the church was not a visible systematized institution but a body defined by the believers themselves was now to be found directly in the Holy Scripture. Furthermore Tyndale’s use of the word congregation attacked the Catholic Church’s doctrine that the lay members and the clergy were to be separate. [Ibid., 99.] If the true church is defined as a congregation, as the common believers then the Catholic Church’s claim that the clergy were of a higher order then the average Christian and that they had different roles to play in the religious process no longer held sway.

Tyndale’s translation of the Greek word “presbuter” to mean elder instead of priest also challenged the doctrines of the Catholic Church. [Partridge, 92.] In particular, it asked what the role of the clergy should be and whether or not they were to be separated from the common believers as they were in the current Catholic system. The role of the priest in the Catholic Church had been to lead religious sermons and ceremonies like mass, to read the scripture to the people, and to administer the sacraments. They were considered separate from the common believers. [Lindberg, 99.] In many reform movements a group of elders would lead the church and take the place of the Catholic priests. These elders were not a separate class from the common believers; in fact, they were usually selected from amongst them. [Ibid., 262-263.] Many reformers believed in the idea of the “priesthood of all believers,” which meant that every Christian was in fact a priest and had the right to read and interpret scripture. [Ibid.,163.] Tyndale’s translation stripped the scriptural basis of Catholic clerical power. Priests no longer administered the church: it was the job of the elders, which implied that the power rested in the hands of the people.

Catholic doctrine was also challenged by Tyndale’s translation of the Greek “metanoeite” as “repent” instead of “do penance”. [Partridge, 42.] This translation attacked the Catholic sacrament of penance. Tyndale’s version of scripture backed up the views of reformers like Luther who had taken issue with the Catholic practice of sacramental penance. Reformers believed that it was through faith alone that one was saved. [Martin Luther, "The Freedom Of A Christian: Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone", in "The Freedom Of A Christian", eds. Hans J. Grimm and W. A. Lambert (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957), 343-353.] This differed from the views of the Catholic Church, which followed the belief that salvation was granted to those who lived accordingly to what the church told them and thus participated in the seven sacraments and the buying of indulgences. ["Tridentine Creed" http://individual.utoronto.ca/mmilner/history2p91/primary/Tridentine_Creed.html] Tyndale’s translation challenged the belief that one had to do penance for one’s sin, which usually consisted of buying indulgences. According to Tyndale’s New Testament and other reformers, all the believer had to do was repent with a sincere heart, and God would forgive them. The believer did not have to earn their salvation; it was given freely to them by God. All they had to do was believe in his promise and live accordingly.

The Tyndale Bible also challenged the Catholic Church in many other ways. The fact that it was translated into a vernacular language made it available to the common people. This allowed everyone access to scripture and gave the common people the ability to read (if they were literate) and interpret scripture instead of relying on the church for their access to scripture. The main threat that Tyndale’s Bible caused to the Catholic Church is best summed up by Tyndale himself when he tells us of his reason for creating his translation in the first place. Tyndale’s purpose was to “ [cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more scripture] than the clergy of the day”, [Donald Coggan, "The English Bible" (Essex: Longmans, Green & Co. Ltd., 1968), 18.] many of which were poorly educated. Thus Tyndale sought to undermine the Catholic Church’s grip on the both access to and interpretation of scripture. They were no longer needed as intercessors between the people and their God.


The legacy of Tyndale’s Bible cannot be overstated. His translations laid the foundations for many of the English Bibles which followed his. His work made up a significant portion of the Matthew Bible which was the first authorized version of the English Bible. [Kenyon, 48-50.] The Tyndale Bible also played a key role in spreading reformation ideas to England which had been reluctant to embrace the movement. His works also allowed the people of England direct access to the words and ideas of Martin Luther whose works had been banned by the state. Tyndale achieved this by including many of Luther’s commentaries in his works. [Lindberg, 314-315.] The Tyndale Bible’s greatest impact on society today is that it heavily influenced and contributed to the creation of the King James Version, which is one of the most popular and widely used Bible’s in the world today. Scholars tell us that around 90% of the King James Version is from Tyndale’s works with as much as one third of the text being word for word Tyndale. [Coggan, 18-19.] Many of the popular phrases and Bible verses that people quote today are mainly in the language of Tyndale. An example of which is Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers.” [Partridge, 52.] The importance of the Tyndale Bible in shaping and influencing the English language is paramount. According to one scholar Tyndale is “the man who more than Shakespeare even or Bunyan has molded and enriched our language.” [Coggan, 19.]



Coggan, Donald. "The English Bible". Essex: Longmans, Greeb & Co. Ltd., 1968.

Kenyon, Sir Frederic. "The Story of the Bible". London: Butler & Tanner Ltd., 1947.

Lindberg, Carter. "The European Reformations". Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 1996.

Luther, Martin. "The Freedom Of A Christian: Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone", in "The Freedom Of A Christian", edited by Hans J. Grimm and W. A. Lambert. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957.

Partridge, A.C. "English Biblical Translations". London: Andrè Deutsch Limited, 1973.

Pollard,Alfred W., ed. "Records of the English Bible". Wm. Dawson & Sons Ltd., 1974.

Thompson, Craig R. "The Bible in English". New York: Cornell University Press, 1963.

"Tridetine Creed." http://individual.utoronto.ca/mmilner/history2p91/primary/Tridentine_Creed.html

External links

* [http://www.studylight.org/desk/?l=en&query=Matthew+1&section=2&translation=tyn&oq=Matthew&new=1 Studylight version of Tyndale New Testament, actually from the 1534 edition] Searchable by phrase or chapter/verse reference.
* [http://www.bible-researcher.com/tyndale4.html Online version of Sir Frederic G. Kenyon’s article] in "Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible", 1909
* [http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/tyndale.html Tyndale New Testament article, with zoomable image, on British Library website]

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