10/31/2018 1 Comment
Dane K. Jöhannsson
Lead Pastor, Agros Church
The Reformation was the liberation of the Bible from the Papacy, locked away in Latin translation from an illiterate and uneducated laity, to the common man in the common languages from the original Greek and Hebrew. Our Bible comes flowing down to us on a sea of blood. William Tyndale was the man whom God raised up and used, who purchased by his blood, the Bible’s liberation from Greek and Hebrew into English.
More than a century earlier, John Wycliffe had attempted to relieve this darkness by translating the Bible into English and distributing copies by the Lollards, the preachers he sent out. But the church had brutally suppressed Wycliffe’s efforts. Only a few hand-copied Wycliffe Bibles were available, and it could be fatal to possess one. In 1401, Parliament passed thede Haeretico Comburendo—“the burning of heretics”—which made it a crime to own or produce an English translation of the Bible and stipulated that those who did would be burned at the stake.
In 1408, Thomas Arundel, the archbishop of Canterbury, wrote the Constitutions of Oxford, forbidding any translation of the Bible into English unless authorized by the bishops. Arundel wrote:
“It is a dangerous thing … to translate the text of the Holy Scripture out of one tongue into another, for in the translation the same sense is not always easily kept.… We therefore decree and ordain, that no man hereafter, by his own authority translate any text of the Scripture into English or any other tongue.… No man can read any such book … in part or in whole.”
In preparing this paper, I owe much to the following works which I made ready use of: I drew heavily from the introductory essay by Rev. Henry Walter on the life of Tyndale in volume one of the collected works of William Tyndale (a two-volume set), as well as R. Demaus and Richard Lovett’s biography, Steven J. Lawson’s essay on Tyndale (“The Prince of Translators”), and audio lectures by Dr. Tom Nettles, Dr. Michael Haykin, and Dr. John Piper.
Little is known about Tyndale’s early life, including the exact year of his birth. We do know that he was one of five sons of Thomas and Alicia Tyndale. William was the second of these five sons; but we are unsure at to the exact place or year of his birth. The probability is that he was born at Gloucestershire, in rural western England, close to the Welsh border,in the year 1493 or 1494.
The majority of what we know of Tyndale’s entire life, from his infancy to his death at 46 years old (1536), comes from the great reformation historian John Foxe (author of the famous ‘Foxe’s Book of Martyrs’). The Tyndales were successful and important members of society and had the means of sending William to study, in 1506, at Magdalen School, Oxford, when he was 12 years old. Tyndale would spend the next 10 years of his life studying at Oxford.
After two years at Magdalen preparatory school, he went on to study at Magdalen College in Oxford where he excelled in his studies of grammar, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music, rhetoric, logic, and philosophy. More importantly he made great progress in his study of languages (especially Latin and Greek) under England’s finest classical scholars. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1512 and a master’s degree in 1515. Before leaving Oxford, Tyndale was ordained into the priesthood, though he never entered into monastic orders.
A brief note must be inserted at this point regarding God’s providence in raising up Tyndale. At this point Tyndale was not only well verse in philosophy, but was also an accomplished linguist. He knew his own mother tongue, English, to a degree which few will ever surpass; being able to coin new words, and understand the rhythm, rhyme and cadence of English to such a degree that he was to raise it from being known as a “vulgar, barbaric and vile tongue” into a language known for its poetic beauty.
Beyond English, he understood exactly how language works in general; he was fluent in not only Latin and ancient Greek, but also the modern languages of Spanish, Italian, French, German and Dutch to such a degree that it was said of him that “whichever he might be speaking [or writing], you would think it to be his native tongue”. If God were to raise up a man to translate the Greek of the New Testament into English, this is what he would look like.
It was only in the late stage of his time at Oxford that Tyndale was allowed to study theology. However, it was useless, speculative theology. He later expressed his disappointment in being shielded from the Bible:
“In the universities, they have ordained that no man shall look on the Scripture until he be noselled [nursed] 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.… [T]he Scripture is locked up with … false expositions, and with false principles of natural philosophy.”
Nonetheless, at some point during his later years at Oxford Tyndale began to come to some realization of the truths of the gospel. John Foxe writes that while Tyndale was at Oxford: “[he] read privily (privately) to certain students and fellows of Magdalen College some parcel of divinity, instructing them in the knowledge and truth of the Scriptures.”
After earning his masters of arts he went to Cambridge most likely to profit from the Dutch humanist and Roman Catholic Priest Desiderius Erasmus’ lectures in Greek. Erasmus is a name that we all must be familiar with. It was Erasmus who gave to the world the first ever printed and published Greek New Testament in 1516. Without this Greek New Testament (though this was certainly not Erasmus’ intention), it may be safe to say that there would have been no reformation.
The importance of Tyndale’s removal to study at Cambridge cannot be over-emphasized. The German Reformer Martin Luther had begun writing some of his earliest reformation writings by 1517-1519 and by 1520 they had begun circulating amongst the universities throughout Europe and England. It is as these works of Luther are being read and discussed in Cambridge that Tyndale came to embrace the core truths of the reformation. In 1521, Tyndale decided he needed to step away from the academic atmosphere to give more careful thought to the ideas of the Protestant movement. He also wanted to use the time to further study and master the Greek New Testament.
THE BIRTH OF A REFORMER:
To fulfill this desire, Tyndale took a job in Gloucestershire as a tutor for the children of the wealthy Sir John Walsh and was likely also their chaplain. Tyndale also spent time doing regular itinerate preaching in the area and especially preaching regularly in the little church of St. Adeline. During this time, he realized that England would never be evangelized using Latin Bibles. He came to see that“it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the Scripture were laid before their eyes in their mother tongue.”As he traveled about the region, it became known that his beliefs were becoming distinctly Luther-like. Around 1522, he was called before John Bell, the chancellor of the diocese of Worcester, and warned about his controversial views. No formal charges were made, but this incident was a foretaste of what was to come.
Sir John Walsh, being an influential and wealthy man, often had important aristocrats, business men, deans of universities and church leaders over for supper. Often times, while dining at the same table as Tyndale, the conversations centered around the learned men of the day, Erasmus, Luther and other controversies and questions upon the Scriptures. Tyndale, being trained, not only in their schools, but must importantly in the school of God’s Word, when asked always showed them his understanding of the topics from God’s word as simply and plainly as he could.
Biographer John Foxe tells us, that when these men would come to disagree with Tyndale (as often was the case) he would “shew unto them in the book, and lay plainly before them the open and manifest places of the Scriptures, to confute their errors and confirm his sayings… at length [these men] waxed weary [of Tyndale] and bare a secret grudge in their hearts against him.”Not long after these men began to grow tired of Tyndale, certain high-ranking men in the Church invited Master Walsh and Wife to a banquet where they were able to speak with Sir Walsh and his wife freely about their views without the refutation of Tyndale. When Sir Walsh and his wife returned, they called for Tyndale and began to speak with him about what the priests had told them at the banquet and to reason with Tyndale whether these things were so.
Tyndale answered them by the Scriptures and not by church tradition and conjecture, and thus was able to maintain the truth and reprove their false teachings. Mrs. Walsh, being only somewhat convinced of Tyndale’s arguments, asked him, in as many words, “If you are so smart, then why are you not paid what these good men and priests are paid? Why then should we believe you before them?” Tyndale gave her no answer and ceased to talk any more of these subjects, seeing that it was to no avail. It happened that at this time that Tyndale was finishing his translation of Erasmus’ book, ‘Enchiridion militis Christiani’(A Handbook of a Christian Soldier) from Latin into English, and upon finishing it, he presented it to Sir Walsh and his wife. The master and his wife carefully read the book and afterwards the priests and the professors where no longer invited to dinner.
Soon after this Tyndale made acquaintance with one of the leading university professors and higher-ups in the Church, who was sympathetic to Tyndale’s views. This man had come to be convinced of many of Luther’s teachings and had concluded that the Pope was the Antichrist. He warned Tyndale, “Beware what you say; for if you shall be perceived to be of the opinion [that the Pope is the Antichrist], it will cost you your life.”
Sometime later, Tyndale found himself to be in the company of some learned men and doctors of the church. A bitter debate broke out concerning the teachings of the Scriptures. One of the most respected men of the group began to shout, “We were better to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s!” Tyndale had tried to remain soft-spoken up to this point, but could no longer tolerate the level of blasphemy which was being spoken. He stood from his seat at the table and proclaimed what came to be some of his most famous words.
I will let John Foxe’s words tell the story.
“Master Tyndale hearing this, full of godly zeal, and not bearing that blasphemous saying, replied and said, ‘I defy the pope and all his laws! If God spare my life ere many years I shall cause the boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture than he dost!’”
Tyndale realized shortly after this confrontation that it would no longer be safe for he or the Walsh-family for him to remain in Gloucestershire. In 1523 he left for London where he hoped to find some educated and sympathetic men who would be patrons for him in his work of translating the Greek New Testament into the English language, that the common man, woman and child could read the gospel for themselves. He hoped to find this in the man of Bishop Tonstal. He was sadly mistaken in this, as he found that Tonstal, who had worked alongside Erasmus in producing his Greek New Testament, was committed to stopping the spread of Luther’s teachings (which they had see explode in popularity after Luther’s German translation of the Bible).
Tunstall’s refusal to meet with Tyndale only deepened his convictions. He knew England desperately needed a Bible that the common man could read. However, he was not certain how to do it—or where. While in London, he preached numerous times, mostly at St. Dunstan’s Church in west London. A wealthy cloth merchant, Humphrey Monmouth, heard him preach and became his patron. This financial backing allowed Tyndale to remain in London for a year, long enough to develop a plan. If he was to accomplish this translation project, he realized that “there was no place to do it in all England.” Opposed by the English church, Tyndale acknowledged that he must leave his home-country to complete this labor of love. In April 1524 Tyndale sailed to the Continent to launch his translation and publishing work. He was doing so without the king’s consent— which was a crime against the law of England. Tyndale lived in exile from England for the final twelve years of his life, a fugitive and outlaw.
Tyndale set sail and arrived in Hamburg, Germany. Though there is debate amongst Tyndale scholars, it seems probable and most likely that Tyndale traveled to Wittenberg to study under Luther and the rest of the leading German divines. Neither Tyndale nor Luther ever mention this; from Tyndale’s side, his writings are fragmentary and he remained busy unable to write much by way of autobiographical, and for Luther, Tyndale was just one of thousands of students who were flocking to study with him in Wittenberg, and thus he would have taken no notice. It would make perfect sense for Tyndale to seek refuge in Wittenberg, where he had master theologians such as Luther and Philip Melanchthon to learn from and ask questions about any peculiarities of the Greek New Testament he found, all in safety from the Roman Catholic Church. It is here that Tyndale began the work of translating the New Testament from Greek into English.
Wittenberg had just recently, under the leadership of Luther, cast off the remaining authority of the Pope, thus allowing much greater freedom than before. This is very important because the Jews had been expelled from England since 1279, but in this region they were numerous enough that there were some well-versed in their ancient tongue of Hebrew. Not only did Tyndale now have access to learn the language of the Old Testament, Hebrew, from Luther and the university professors in Wittenberg, but also had access to many rabbis and educated Jews who could instruct him in Hebrew. Biographer Henry Walter tells us that within three years of leaving England, Tyndale had made such progress in this ancient tongue as “to be able to give considerable insight into some of the peculiarities of Hebrew.”
In August 1525, Tyndale traveled to Cologne, where he completed his first translation of the New Testament. At that time, Cologne was the most populous town in Germany. In this bustling city, Tyndale found a printer, Peter Quentell, to publish his translation. He wanted the secrecy of the printing to be guarded at all costs, but the news about the project leaked when one of the print workers drank too much wine and spoke openly of the endeavor. A bitter opponent of the Reformation, John Cochlaeus, overheard and immediately arranged for a raid on the press. However, Tyndale was forewarned; he gathered the printed leaves after only ten pages had been run and escaped into the night. Leaving Catholic-entrenched Cologne, he fled up the Rhine to the more Protestant-friendly city of Worms.
PUBLICATION AND DISTRIBUTION OF THE ENGLISH NEW TESTAMENT:
Worms was the city in which Luther had been tried for heresy in 1521, where he uttered his famous words, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” By 1526, when Tyndale was living in Worms, the reformation had taken hold of Worms. In Worms Tyndale found a printer, Peter Schoeffer, who agreed to complete the printing of his English New Testament. This was the first portion of the Scriptures to be translated into English from the Greek and to be mechanically printed. Roughly six thousand copies of this first edition were printed. Over the next eight years, two revised editions followed.
Steven Lawson tells us, that “[by] spring 1526, Tyndale began to smuggle his English New Testaments into England in bales of cotton. In Antwerp, English merchants shipped them to England, where German Lutheran cloth merchants received them. Once past the royal agents, these forbidden New Testaments were picked up by the Christian Brethren, a secret Protestant society, and taken around England to various cities, universities, and monasteries. They were sold to eager merchants, students, tailors, weavers, bricklayers, and peasants alike, all hungry to read God’s Word. Each one cost three shillings two pence—a week’s wages for a skilled laborer. But demand quickly outstripped supply.”
By the summer of that year, the existence of Tyndale’s New Testament was known to the Church officials in England, who reiterated the fact that it was forbidden and illegal to buy, sell, own, read, handle or even hear this book!
TYNDALE’S NEW TESTAMENT BURNED:
In 1527, William Warham, the archbishop of Canterbury, designed an ingenious plan to stop the spread of Tyndale’s translation. He thought it would be best to purchase the remaining copies of Tyndale’s New Testament and then destroy them. However, the money from the sales enabled Tyndale to produce a revised second edition. Warham unintentionally financed a better, more accurate edition with a larger print run.
MOSES LEARNS ENGLISH:
In 1529, Tyndale moved from Marburg to Antwerp. This thriving city offered him good printing, sympathetic fellow Englishmen, and a direct supply route to England. Here he completed his translation of the five books of Moses, but he felt the danger was too great to stay in this large city. He realized that the Pentateuch must be printed elsewhere. Tyndale boarded a ship to sail to the mouth of the Elbe River in Germany and from there to Hamburg. Sadly, a severe storm struck the ship and it was wrecked off the coast of Holland. His books, writings, and the Pentateuch translation were all lost at sea. He had to start the work from scratch. Tyndale eventually arrived in Hamburg. He was received into the home of the von Emersons, a family with strong sympathies for the Reformation. In this safe environment, Tyndale undertook effort of retranslating the Pentateuch from the Hebrew language. This task took from March to December 1529.
OFFERS MADE TO TYNDALE:
In November 1530, Thomas Cromwell, a counselor to Henry, tried another strategy to stop Tyndale. He commissioned Stephen Vaughan, an English merchant who was sympathetic to the Reformation, to find Tyndale. On behalf of the king, Vaughan was instructed to offer Tyndale a salary and safe passage back to England. When he arrived on the Continent, Vaughan sent three letters to Tyndale, each addressed to a different city—Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Marburg. Tyndale replied, and a series of secret meetings took place in Antwerp in April 1531. Tyndale told Vaughan that the only way that he would return to England was if the king have a “bare text”of the Bible translated into the English for the English people by whomever he wished . Tyndale said, that If the king would do this, he would return to England, never translate again, and offer his life unto death to the king if need be.
On June 19, Vaughan wrote back to Cromwell from Antwerp these simple words: “I find him [Tyndale] always singing one note.”In other words, Tyndale would not change his tune. He would not stop writing books or return to England until the king had commissioned a Bible in the English language. Until the king would provide the English people a Bible in their language, Tyndale would be their provider. So Vaughan returned to England without Tyndale.
BETRAYAL AND IMPRISONMENT:
In early 1534, Tyndale came to live in the home of a wealthy English merchant in Antwerp, Thomas Poyntz, who, according to biographer David Daniell, was “a good, shrewd, friend and loyal sympathizer.” Poyntz took Tyndale into his protection and even provided him with a stipend.
In relative safety, Tyndale set about the work of completing the revision of his New Testament translation, which Daniell calls “the glory of his life’s work.”This second edition contained some four thousand changes and corrections from the 1526 edition. Further, Tyndale placed a short prologue before each book except Acts and Revelation, and he added cross references and marginal notes. Tyndale’s Hebrew being now as good as his Greek, allowed him to work masterfully on the next part of his Old Testament translation, Joshua through 2 Chronicles.
Back in England, a certain young man, Harry Phillips, had been given a large sum of money by his father to pay a man in London. But Phillips foolishly gambled the money away. An unknown high official in the church was made aware of Phillips’ predicament and offered to repay his father’s money if he would travel to the Continent and find Tyndale. In his desperation, Phillips accepted the offer. He arrived in Antwerp in early summer 1535 and began to make the necessary contacts among the English merchants.
When he found Tyndale, he established a false friendship with Tyndale and won his trust. One day, Phillips lured Tyndale into a narrow passage in Antwerp from which he could not escape, where soldiers were waiting to arrest him. After twelve years illegally translating the Bible into English as a banished English citizen, Tyndale was captured.
Tyndale was taken to the castle of Vilvoorde six miles north of Brussels. There he was imprisoned behind its imposing moat, seven towers, three drawbridges, and massive walls. Shivering in the dungeon of this castle-prison, Tyndale languished for nearly a year and a half as preparations were made for his trial. This time spent imprisoned was by no means fruitless for Tyndale. During this time, in addition to winning his guard and his entire family to Christ, he wrote another treatise on the doctrine of Justification to defend doctrinal belief.
In the harsh winter of 1535, Tyndale wrote a final letter to the marquis of Bergen, requesting “a warmer cap; for I suffer greatly from cold … a warmer coat … a piece of cloth too to patch my leggings. My overcoat is worn out; my shirts are also worn out.” Further, Tyndale asked something that is truly indicative of his love for God’s word and his brash boldness for God’s truth. He asked for “a lamp in the evening; it is indeed wearisome sitting alone in the dark … permit me to have the Hebrew Bible, Hebrew grammar, and Hebrew dictionary, that I may pass the time in that study.”While in prison, awaiting death, for translating the Bible out of Greek and Hebrew into English, he asks for the necessary materials to continue translating the Old Testament into English!
In August 1536, Tyndale at last stood trial. Dr. Lawson tells us what this trial consisted of, “A long list of charges was drawn up against him and he was condemned as a heretic. His offenses included believing that justification is by faith alone, that human traditions cannot bind the conscience, that the human will is bound by sin, that there is no purgatory, and that neither Mary nor the saints pray for Christians and Christians should not pray to them.” The same day Tyndale was excommunicated from the Priesthood and was handed over to the secular powers for punishment. The death sentence was pronounced upon him. Back in his dungeon, a steady stream of priests and monks came to his cell to harass him and call on him to repent of his “heretical” views.
OPEN KING OF ENDLAND’S EYES:
Tyndale was executed on October 6, 1536. Dr. Lawson captures the pathos of the scene well, so I quote him in full,
“A large crowd gathered at the southern gate of the town, held back by a barricade. In the circular space, two beams were raised in the form of a cross. At the top was a strong iron chain. Brush, straw, and logs were piled at the base. At a set time, the procurer-general, who was the emperor’s attorney, sat down with the other officials. The crowd parted as the guards brought Tyndale out. Tyndale was allowed a moment to pray and then was urged one last time to recant. When he refused, the guards tied his feet to the bottom of the cross and fastened the chain around his neck. The brush, straw, and logs were packed around him, and bags of gunpowder were tied around his neck. It probably was at this moment that Tyndale cried his famous last words: ‘Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.’ When the procurer-general gave the signal, the executioner quickly tightened the noose, strangling Tyndale. The procurer-general then handed a lighted wax torch to the executioner, who lit the brush and straw. The gunpowder then exploded, blowing up Tyndale’s corpse. What remained of the limply hanging burnt body then fell into the glowing fire.”
ERR LONG & THE BOY THE DRIVETH THE PLOW DOTH KNOW THE WORD:
Tyndale’s one consuming passion was that if God so spared his life he would so translate and distribute God’s word that the simple farm boy working in the fields would know the Scriptures.
Tyndale was able to complete two editions of his translation of the entire Greek New Testament into (the second being a true work of literary art), but was only able to complete the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into English as far as 2Chronicles, as well as the prophet Jonah, before his life was snuffed out.
But God had heard the prayers of Tyndale’s heart. While in Antwerp Tyndale began a friendship with a fellow Englishman by the name of John Rogers who had studied at Cambridge with him. He led Rogers to the Lord and taught him Greek and Hebrew. Tyndale did not know this, but while he was waiting to be martyred in a Vilvoord prison, Rogers had picked up where Tyndale had left off in his translation of the Hebrew Bible. His finished translation was printed in between Tyndale’s Pentateuch, Jonah and New Testament. This came to be known as the “Matthew’s Bible”.
Shortly after Tyndale’s death, his prayer for the King of England was answered. Seeing that is was becoming useless to fight against the circulation of Tyndale’s Bibles, he permitted that the Bible should be fully translated and published.
Before the end of the year, the first ever volume of Holy Scripture to come off an English printing press was brought forth, and that from the King’s only royal printer! This volume was the Tyndale New Testament, with his prologues, notes, cross-references and headings and the name of William Tyndale ornately set forth on its title-page.
The eminent English printers, Grafton and Whitchurch, paid out of their own pocket the cost to complete the Bible which Tyndale and Rogers had begun. The 4thof August that year this Bible was printed and presented to the King and subsequently sent to Henry’s counselor Cromwell to obtain from Henry his “royal license that the same be sold, and read of every person, without danger of any act, proclamation, or ordinance heretofore granted to the country.”
Within this Bible we find the words, “The King’s heart is in the hands of the Lord; as the rivers of water he turneth it withersoever he will.”The heart of the wayward King of England was now turned by the Lord to sanction what he had previously denounced.
I close with a quote from Henry Walter’s biography:
“Tyndale had said to Vaughan, ‘IF the king would grant only a bare text of the scripture to be put forth among his people, be it the translation of what person soever he shall please, I will promise never to write more, nor abide two days in these parts.’ He was [indeed] to write no more; and he no longer abode on this earth; but more than he had asked had been given him by the King of kings. The scripture was licensed to be put forth; and his own translation was accepted; and his instructive prefaces were not removed, but to be more than tacitly acknowledged to contain a godly and wholesome doctrine, necessary for those times.”
In John Foxe’s words:
“Thus much of William Tyndale, who, for his notable pains and travail, may be worthily called an apostle of England.”
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