William Tyndale (; sometimes spelled ''Tynsdale'', ''Tindall'', ''Tindill'', ''Tyndall''; – ) was an English scholar who became a leading figure in the Protestant Reformation
in the years leading up to his execution. He is well known as a translator of the Bible
into English, influenced by the works of Erasmus of Rotterdam
and Martin Luther
A number of partial English translations
had been made from the 7th century onwards, but the religious ferment caused by Wycliffe's Bible
in the late 14th century led to the death penalty for anyone found in unlicensed possession of Scripture in English, though translations were available in all other major European languages.
Tyndale worked during a Renaissance
of scholarship, which saw the publication of Reuchlin
's Hebrew grammar in 1506. Greek was available to the European scholarly community for the first time in centuries, as it welcomed Greek-speaking intellectuals and texts following the fall of Constantinople
in 1453. Notably, Erasmus compiled, edited, and published the Greek Scriptures in 1516. Luther's German Bible appeared in 1522.
Tyndale's translation was the first English Bible to draw directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, the first English translation to take advantage of the printing press
, the first of the new English Bibles of the Reformation, and the first English translation to use Jehovah
("Iehouah") as God's name as preferred by English Protestant Reformers. It was taken to be a direct challenge to the hegemony
of both the Catholic Church and the laws of England
maintaining the church's position.
A copy of Tyndale's ''The Obedience of a Christian Man
'' (1528), which some claim or interpret to argue that the king of a country should be the head of that country's church rather than the Pope, fell into the hands of the English King Henry VIII
, providing a rationalisation for breaking the Church in England from the Catholic Church
in 1534. In 1530, Tyndale wrote ''The Practyse of Prelates'', opposing Henry's annulment of his own marriage
on the grounds that it contravened Scripture. Fleeing England, Tyndale sought refuge in the Flemish
territory of the Catholic Emperor Charles V
. In 1535, Tyndale was arrested and jailed in the castle of Vilvoorde
(Filford) outside Brussels
for over a year. In 1536, he was convicted of heresy
and executed by strangulation, after which his body was burnt at the stake. His dying prayer was that the King of England's eyes would be opened; this seemed to find its fulfilment just one year later with Henry's authorisation of the Matthew Bible
, which was largely Tyndale's own work, with missing sections translated by John Rogers
and Miles Coverdale
Tyndale's translation of the Bible was used for subsequent English translations, including the Great Bible
and the Bishops' Bible
, authorised by the Church of England
. In 1611, the 47 scholars who produced the King James Bible
drew significantly from Tyndale's original work and the other translations that descended from his. One estimate suggests that the New Testament in the King James Version is 83% Tyndale's words and the Old Testament 76%. Hence, the work of Tyndale continued to play a key role in spreading Reformation ideas across the English-speaking world and eventually across the British Empire
. In 2002, Tyndale was placed 26th in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons
Tyndale was born in Melksham Court, Stinchcombe
, a village near Dursley
, Gloucestershire. The Tyndale family also went by the name Hychyns (Hitchins), and it was as William Hychyns that Tyndale was enrolled at Magdalen Hall, Oxford
. Tyndale's family had moved to Gloucestershire at some point in the 15th century, probably as a result of the Wars of the Roses
. The family originated from Northumberland
via East Anglia
. Tyndale's brother Edward was receiver to the lands of Lord Berkeley, as attested to in a letter by Bishop Stokesley
is recorded in two genealogies
as having been the brother of Sir William Tyndale of Deane, Northumberland, and Hockwold
, who was knighted at the marriage of Arthur, Prince of Wales
to Catherine of Aragon
. Tyndale's family was thus descended from Baron Adam de Tyndale, a tenant-in-chief
of Henry I
. William Tyndale's niece Margaret Tyndale was married to Protestant martyr Rowland Taylor
, burnt during the Marian Persecutions
Tyndale began a Bachelor of Arts degree at Magdalen Hall (later Hertford College
) of Oxford University in 1506 and received his B.A. in 1512, the same year becoming a subdeacon
. He was made Master of Arts
in July 1515 and was held to be a man of virtuous disposition, leading an unblemished life. The M.A. allowed him to start studying theology
, but the official course did not include the systematic study of Scripture. As Tyndale later complained:
He was a gifted linguist and became fluent over the years in French
, and Spanish
, in addition to English. Between 1517 and 1521, he went to the University of Cambridge. Erasmus had been the leading teacher of Greek there from August 1511 to January 1512, but not during Tyndale's time at the university.
Tyndale became chaplain at the home of Sir John Walsh at Little Sodbury
and tutor to his children around 1521. His opinions proved controversial to fellow clergymen, and the next year he was summoned before John Bell, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Worcester
, although no formal charges were laid at the time. After the meeting with Bell and other church leaders, Tyndale, according to John Foxe
, had an argument with a "learned but blasphemous clergyman", who allegedly asserted: "We had better be without God's laws than the Pope's.", to which Tyndale responded: "I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!"
Tyndale left for London in 1523 to seek permission to translate the Bible into English. He requested help from Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall
, a well-known classicist who had praised Erasmus after working together with him on a Greek New Testament. The bishop, however, declined to extend his patronage, telling Tyndale that he had no room for him in his household. Tyndale preached and studied "at his book" in London for some time, relying on the help of cloth merchant Humphrey Monmouth
. During this time, he lectured widely, including at St Dunstan-in-the-West
at Fleet Street
Tyndale left England for continental Europe, perhaps at Hamburg
, in the spring of 1524, possibly travelling on to Wittenberg
. There is an entry in the matriculation registers of the University of Wittenberg of the name "Guillelmus Daltici ex Anglia", and this has been taken to be a Latinisation of "William Tyndale from England". He began translating the New Testament at this time, possibly in Wittenberg, completing it in 1525 with assistance from Observant Friar
In 1525, publication of the work by Peter Quentell in Cologne
was interrupted by the impact of anti-Lutheranism
. A full edition of the New Testament was produced in 1526 by printer Peter Schöffer
, a free imperial city
then in the process of adopting Lutheranism. More copies were soon printed in Antwerp
. It was smuggled from continental Europe into England and Scotland
. The translation was condemned
in October 1526 by Bishop Tunstall, who issued warnings to booksellers and had copies burned in public. Marius notes that the "spectacle of the scriptures being put to the torch... provoked controversy even amongst the faithful." Cardinal Wolsey
condemned Tyndale as a heretic, first stated in open court in January 1529.
From an entry in George Spalatin
's diary for 11 August 1526, Tyndale apparently remained at Worms for about a year. It is not clear exactly when he moved to Antwerp. The colophon
to Tyndale's translation of Genesis
and the title pages of several pamphlets from this time purported to have been printed by Hans Lufft
, but this is a false address. Lufft, the printer of Luther's books, never had a printing press at Marburg.
Following the hostile reception of his work by Tunstall, Wolsey and Thomas More
in England, Tyndale retreated into hiding in Hamburg and continued working. He revised his New Testament and began translating the Old Testament and writing various treatises.
Opposition to Henry VIII's annulment
In 1530, he wrote ''The Practyse of Prelates'', opposing Henry VIII's planned annulment
of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon
in favour of Anne Boleyn
, on the grounds that it was unscriptural and that it was a plot by Cardinal Wolsey
to get Henry entangled in the papal courts of Pope Clement VII
. The king's wrath was aimed at Tyndale. Henry asked Emperor Charles V to have the writer apprehended and returned to England under the terms of the Treaty of Cambrai
; however, the emperor responded that formal evidence was required before extradition. Tyndale developed his case in ''An Answer unto Sir Thomas More's Dialogue''.
Betrayal and death
Eventually, Tyndale was betrayed by Henry Phillips to authorities representing the Holy Roman Empire
. He was seized in Antwerp
in 1535, and held in the castle of Vilvoorde (Filford) near Brussels
. Some suspect that Phillips was hired by Bishop Stokesley
to gain Tyndale's confidence and then betray him.
He was tried on a charge of heresy in 1536 and was found guilty and condemned to be burned to death, despite Thomas Cromwell
's intercession on his behalf. Tyndale "was strangled to death while tied at the stake, and then his dead body was burned". His 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." The traditional date of commemoration is 6 October, but records of Tyndale's imprisonment suggest that the actual date of his execution might have been some weeks earlier. Foxe gives 6 October as the date of commemoration (left-hand date column), but gives no date of death (right-hand date column). Biographer David Daniell states the date of death only as "one of the first days of October 1536".
Within four years, four English translations of the Bible
were published in England at the king's behest, including Henry's official Great Bible. All were based on Tyndale's work.
Tyndale seems to have come out of the Lollard
tradition, which was strong in Gloucestershire. Tyndale denounced the practice of prayer to saints
. He also rejected the then orthodox church view that the Scriptures could only be interpreted by approved clergy.
Although best known for his translation of the Bible, Tyndale was also an active writer and translator. As well as his focus on the ways in which religion should be lived, he had a focus on political issues.
Impact on the English language
In translating the Bible, Tyndale introduced new words into the English language; many were subsequently used in the King James Bible, such as ''Passover
'' (as the name for the Jewish holiday, Pesach or Pesah) and scapegoat. Coinage of the word ''atonement
'' (a concatenation of the words 'At One' to describe Christ's work of restoring a good relationship—a reconciliation—between God and people) is also sometimes ascribed to Tyndale. However, the word was probably in use by at least 1513, before Tyndale's translation. Similarly, sometimes Tyndale is said to have coined the term ''mercy seat
.'' While it is true that Tyndale introduced the word into English, ''mercy seat'' is more accurately a translation of Luther's German ''Gnadenstuhl''.
As well as individual words, Tyndale also coined such familiar phrases as:
* ''my brother's keeper''
* ''knock and it shall be opened unto you''
* ''a moment in time''
* ''fashion not yourselves to the world''
* ''seek and ye shall find''
* ''ask and it shall be given you''
* ''judge not that ye be not judged''
* ''the word of God which liveth and lasteth forever''
* ''let there be light''
* ''the powers that be
* ''the salt of the earth''
* ''a law unto themselves''
* ''it came to pass''
* ''the signs of the times''
* ''filthy lucre''
* ''the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak'' (which is like Luther's translation of Matthew 26,41: ''der Geist ist willig, aber das Fleisch ist schwach''; Wycliffe
for example translated it with: ''for the spirit is ready, but the flesh is sick''.)
* ''live, move and have our being''
Controversy over new words and phrases
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church did not approve of some of the words and phrases introduced by Tyndale, such as "overseer", where it would have been understood as "bishop", "elder" for "priest", and "love" rather than "charity". Tyndale, citing Erasmus, contended that the Greek New Testament did not support the traditional readings. More controversially, Tyndale translated the Greek ''ekklesia'' ( el|εκκλησία), (literally "called out ones") as "congregation" rather than "church". It has been asserted this translation choice "was a direct threat to the Church's ancient – but so Tyndale here made clear, non-scriptural – claim to be the body of Christ on earth. To change these words was to strip the Church hierarchy of its pretensions to be Christ's terrestrial representative, and to award this honour to individual worshipers who made up each congregation."
Tyndale was accused of errors in translation. Thomas More commented that searching for errors in the Tyndale Bible was similar to searching for water in the sea and charged Tyndale's translation of ''The Obedience of a Christian Man'' with having about a thousand false translations. Bishop Tunstall of London declared that there were upwards of 2,000 errors in Tyndale's Bible, having already in 1523 denied Tyndale the permission required under the Constitutions of Oxford (1409), which were still in force, to translate the Bible into English. In response to allegations of inaccuracies in his translation in the New Testament, Tyndale in the ''Prologue'' to his 1525 translation wrote that he never intentionally altered or misrepresented any of the Bible but that he had sought to "interpret the sense of the scripture and the meaning of the spirit."
While translating, Tyndale followed Erasmus's 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. His translation also drew on the Latin Vulgate
and Luther's 1521 September Testament.
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 is Tyndale's Pentateuch, of which only nine remain.
Impact on English Bibles
The translators of the Revised Standard Version
in the 1940s noted that Tyndale's translation, including the 1537 Matthew Bible, inspired the translations that followed: 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 he 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".
Moynahan writes: "A complete analysis of the Authorised Version, known down the generations as 'the AV' or 'the King James', was made in 1998. It shows that Tyndale's words account for 84% of the New Testament and for 75.8% of the Old Testament books that he translated." Joan Bridgman makes the comment in the ''Contemporary Review'' that, "He yndale
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 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
have been inspired by the same desire to make the Bible understandable to Tyndale's proverbial ploughboy.
in his book on translation ''After Babel
'' refers to "the influence of the genius of Tyndale, the greatest of English Bible translators." He has also appeared as a character in two plays dealing with the King James Bible, Howard Brenton's ''Anne Boleyn
'' (2010) and David Edgar's ''Written on the Heart
A memorial to Tyndale stands in Vilvoorde, Flanders, where he was executed. It was erected in 1913 by Friends of the Trinitarian Bible Society of London and the Belgian Bible Society. There is also a small William Tyndale Museum in the town, attached to the Protestant church. 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. A life-sized bronze statue of a seated William Tyndale at work on his translation by Lawrence Holofcener
(2000) was placed in the Millennium Square, Bristol
, United Kingdom.
The Tyndale Monument
was built in 1866 on a hill above his supposed birthplace, North Nibley
, Gloucestershire. A stained-glass window commemorating Tyndale was made in 1911 for the British and Foreign Bible Society
by James Powell and Sons
. In 1994, after the Society had moved their offices from London to Swindon, the window was reinstalled in the chapel of Hertford College
in Oxford. Tyndale was at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, which became Hertford College in 1874. The window depicts a full-length portrait of Tyndale, a cameo of a printing shop in action, some words of Tyndale, the opening words of Genesis in Hebrew, the opening words of John's Gospel in Greek, and the names of other pioneering Bible translators. The portrait is based on the oil painting that hangs in the college's dining hall. A stained glass window by Arnold Robinson
in Tyndale Baptist Church
, also commemorates the life of Tyndale.
Several colleges, schools and study centres have been named in his honour, including Tyndale House (Cambridge)
, Tyndale University
(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), the independent Tyndale Theological Seminary
in Badhoevedorp, near Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Tyndale Christian School
in South Australia and Tyndale Park Christian School in New Zealand. An American Christian publishing house, also called Tyndale House
, was named after Tyndale.
There is an Anglican communion setting in memoriam William Tyndale, The Tyndale Service
'' by David Mitchell.
By tradition Tyndale's death is commemorated on 6 October
. 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), and a "black-letter day" in the Church of England
's Alternative Service Book. 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:
Tyndale is honoured in the Calendar of saints
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
as a translator and martyr the same day.
Films about Tyndale
* The first biographical film about Tyndale, titled ''William Tindale'', was released in 1937.
* The second, titled ''God's Outlaw: The Story of William Tyndale'', was released in 1986.
* A cartoon film about his life, titled ''Torchlighters: The William Tyndale Story'', was released ca. 2005.
* The film ''Stephen's Test of Faith'' (1998) includes a long scene with Tyndale, how he translated the Bible and how he was put to death.
* The documentary film, ''William Tyndale: Man with a Mission'', was released ca. 2005. The movie included an interview with David Daniell
* Another known documentary is the film ''William Tyndale: His Life, His Legacy''.
* The 2-hour Channel 4 documentary, ''The Bible Revolution'', presented by Rod Liddle
, details the roles of historically significant English Reformers John Wycliffe
, William Tyndale, and Thomas Cranmer
*The "Battle for the Bible" (2007) episode of the PBS
''Secrets of the Dead
'' series, narrated by Liev Schreiber
, features Tyndale's story and legacy and includes historical context. This film is an abbreviated and revised version of the PBS/Channel 4 version, and replaces some British footage with that more relevant to American audiences.
* In 2011, BYUtv
produced a miniseries on the creation of the King James Bible that focused heavily on Tyndale's life called Fires of Faith.
* 2013, ''The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England'', BBC Two, 60-minute documentary written and presented by Melvyn Bragg
Tyndale was writing at the beginning of the Early Modern English
period. His pronunciation must have differed in its phonology
from that of Shakespeare
at the end of the period. In 2013 linguist David Crystal
made a transcription
and a sound recording
of Tyndale's translation of the whole of Saint Matthew's Gospel
in what he believes to be the pronunciation of the day, using the term "original pronunciation". The recording has been published by The British Library
on two compact discs with an introductory essay by Crystal.
*Works of Arnold Wathen Robinson
, reference to stained glass featuring William Tyndale
* . The online version corrects the name of Tyndale's Antwerp landlord as "Thomas Pointz" vice the "Henry Pointz" indicated in the print ed.
The Tyndale Society
William Tyndale's Bible
Category:Year of birth unknown
Category:15th-century Christian biblical scholars
Category:16th-century Christian biblical scholars
Category:16th-century English clergy
Category:16th-century English Roman Catholic priests
Category:16th-century English translators
Category:Alumni of Magdalen Hall, Oxford
Category:Deaths by strangulation
Category:English people martyred elsewhere
Category:Executed people from Gloucestershire
Category:People celebrated in the Lutheran liturgical calendar
Category:People educated at Katharine Lady Berkeley's School
Category:People educated at Magdalen College School, Oxford
Category:People executed for heresy
Category:People from Stroud District
Category:People from Vilvoorde
Category:Translators of the Bible into English