William Tyndale Biography (c 1492-1536) Photos of Tyndale Bibles

Portrait of William Tyndale

The Life of William Tyndale (c.1492-1536)

WILLIAM TYNDALE, translator of the New Testament and Pentateuch, was born on the Welsh border, probably in Gloucestershire, some time between 1490 and 1495. In Easter term 1510 he went to Oxford, where Foxe says he was entered of Magdalen Hall. He took his M.A. degree in 1515 and removed to Cambridge, where Erasmus had helped to establish a reputation for Greek and theology.

Ordained to the priesthood, probably towards the close of 1521, he entered the household of Sir John Walsh, Old Sodbury, Gloucestershire, as chaplain and domestic tutor. Here he lived for two years, using his leisure in preaching in the villages and at Bristol, conduct which brought him into collision with the backward clergy of the district, and led to his being summoned before the chancellor of Worcester (William of Malvern) as a suspected heretic; but he was allowed to depart without receiving censure or giving any undertaking. But the persecution of the clergy led him to seek an antidote for what he regarded as the corruption of the Church, and he resolved to translate the New Testament into the vernacular. In this he hoped to get help from Cuthbert Tunstall, bishop of London, and so “with the good will of his master” he left Gloucester in the summer of 1523. Tunstall disappointed him, so he got employment as a preacher at St Dunstan’s-in-the-West, and worked at his translation, living as chaplain in the house of Humphrey Monmouth, an alderman, and forming a firm friendship with John Frith; but finding publication impossible in England, he sailed for Hamburg in May 1524.

After visiting Luther at Wittenberg, he settled with his amanuensis William Roy in Cologne, where he had made some progress in printing a 4to edition of his New Testament, when the work was discovered by John Cochlaeus, dean at Frankfurt, who not only got the senate of Cologne to interdict further printing, but warned Henry VIII and Wolsey to watch the English ports. Tyndale and Roy escaped with their sheets to Worms, where the 8vo edition was completed in 1526. Copies were smuggled into England but were suppressed by the bishops, and William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, even bought up copies on the Continent to destroy them. Attempts were made to seize Tyndale at Worms, but he found refuge at Marburg with Philip, landgrave of Hesse. There he probably met Patrick Hamilton, and was joined by John Frith.

About this time he changed his views on the Eucharist and swung clean over from transubstantiation to the advanced Zwinglian position. His Parable of the Wicked Mammon (1528), Obedience of a Christen Man (1528), in which the two great principles of the English Reformation are set out, viz. the authority of Scripture in the Church and the supremacy of the king in the state, and Practyse of Prelates (1530), a strong indictment of the Roman Church and also of Henry VIII’s divorce proceedings, were all printed at Marburg. In 1529 on his way to Hamburg he was wrecked on the Dutch coast, and lost his newly completed translation of Deuteronomy. Later in the year he went to Antwerp where he conducted his share of the classic controversy with Sir Thomas More.

After Henry VIII’s change of attitude towards Rome, Stephen Vaughan, the English envoy to the Netherlands, suggested Tyndale’s return, but the reformer feared ecclesiastical hostility and declined. Henry then demanded his surrender from the emperor as one who was spreading sedition in England, and Tyndale left Antwerp for two years, returning in 1533 and busying himself with revising his translations. In May 1535 he was betrayed by Henry Phillips, to whom he had shown much kindness as a professing student of the new faith. The imperial officers imprisoned him at Vilvorde Castle, the state prison, 6 mi. from Brussels, where in spite of the great efforts of the English merchants and the appeal of Thomas Cromwell to Archbishop Carandolet, president of the council, and to the governor of the castle, he was tried for heresy and condemned. On the 6th of August 1536 he was strangled at the stake and his body afterwards burnt.


The Burning of William Tyndale, from Foxe‘s Book of Martyrs

Though long an exile from his native land, Tyndale was one of the greatest forces of the English Reformation. His writings show sound scholarship and high literary power, while they helped to shape the thought of the Puritan party in England. His translation of the Bible was so sure and happy that it formed the basis of subsequent renderings, especially that of the authorized version of 1611. Besides the New Testament, the Pentateuch and Jonah, it is believed that he finished in prison the section of the Old Testament extending from Joshua to Chronicles. Beside the works already named Tyndale wrote A Prologue on the Epistle to the Romans (1526), An Exposition of the 1st Epistle of John (1531), An Exposition of Matthew v.-vii. (1532), a Treatise on the Sacraments (1533), and possibly another (no longer extant) on matrimony (1529).



Excerpted from:
Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed., vol. XXVII.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910. 499.


What is the Tyndale Bible?

William Tyndale holds the distinction of being the first man to ever print the New Testament in the English language. Tyndale also went on to first translate much of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew into English, but he was executed in 1536 for the “crime” of printing the scriptures in English before he could personally complete the printing of an entire Bible. His friends Myles Coverdale, and John “Thomas Matthew” Rogers, managed to evade arrest and publish entire Bibles in the English language for the first time, and within one year of Tyndale’s death. These Bibles were primarily the work of William Tyndale.

The History of William Tyndale and his Bibles

William Tyndale was the Captain of the Army of Reformers, and was their spiritual leader. Tyndale holds the distinction of being the first man to ever print the New Testament in the English language. Tyndale was a true scholar and a genius, so fluent in eight languages that it was said one would think any one of them to be his native tongue. He is frequently referred to as the “Architect of the English Language”, (even more so than William Shakespeare) as so many of the phrases Tyndale coined are still in our language today.

King Henry VIIIKing Henry VIII

Tyndale was a theologian and scholar who translated the Bible into an early form of Modern English. He was the first person to take advantage of Gutenberg’s movable-type press for the purpose of printing the scriptures in the English language. Besides translating the Bible, Tyndale also held and published views which were considered heretical, first by the Catholic Church, and later by the Church of England which was established by King Henry VIII. His Bible translation also included notes and commentary promoting these views. Tyndale’s translation was banned by the authorities, and Tyndale himself was burned at the stake in 1536, at the instigation of agents of Henry VIII and the Anglican Church.

Queen Mary 

An Illustrated Tyndale New Testament

A clergyman hopelessly entrenched in Roman Catholic dogma once taunted William Tyndale with the statement, “We are better to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s”. Tyndale was infuriated by such Roman Catholic heresies, and he replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!”

Tyndale was the first person to print an English language New Testament, doing so in 1525-1526. Only one complete copy of this first edition is known to exist, and the British Museum paid $2 million for it in 1948! Tyndale’s illustrated New Testaments of the 1530’s were even more spectacularly beautiful, and they went through several editions and printings. One year after Tyndale’s execution in October of 1536, Tyndale’s friend John Rogers, operating under the assumed name “Thomas Matthew”, produced the 1537 “Matthew-Tyndale Bible”. This was the very first printing of a complete English language Bible to be translated directly from the original language of Greek and Hebrew. It was reprinted once again in a more practical size in 1549. Originals (both whole books and individual leaves) and facsimile reproductions of these works are available today.

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