October 6, 2019
William stood silent as they bound him to the stake. Not wanting to burn him alive, they placed a rope around his neck to strangle him. Before the rope tightened, he declared his last words loudly and with devotion.
"Lord! Open the King of England's eyes."
Without protest or complaint, William's body fell limp. His executioners immediately set the wood around him on fire as the flames consumed his body. His opponents thought they destroyed one of their most ardent threats, yet his words have never been stronger, still living on today in millions of homes.
In the 1500's the Christian church experienced a major and world-changing transformation. Known as the Reformation, believers broke from the Catholic Church to worship God from their own understanding of scripture, not what they were told by the Pope. German monk Martin Luther led the movement, refusing to recant his criticisms of the church and the pope. (see and ) While in hiding, Luther translated the Bible into German as well as writing hundreds of tracts and scriptural studies, thus placing God's Word directly into the hands of the people thanks to the recent invention of the printing press. (see ) History grants most of the credit for the Reformation and Bible translation to Luther, yet he was not the only one to complete God's work in such a way.
Born in 1494 near Gloucestershire, England, William Tyndale studied at the University of Oxford where he mastered Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, as well as several other languages. As an instructor at the University of Cambridge, Tyndale became influenced by Desiderius Erasmus, who developed a more accurate Greek translation of the Bible in 1516, Luther, and other reformers, who exposed the church for misinterpreting and adding to the Bible. The Catholic Church fought hard against the reformers as they taught from scripture grace alone through Christ’s blood was sufficient for salvation. Church leaders saw their coffers for indulgences and other fees imposed on their congregants drying up, forcing them to take extreme measures to silence their opponents.
As the idea of ordinary people having the ability to read the Bible for themselves gained support, Tyndale asked permission to translate the Bible into English as doing so was illegal at the time. Not wanting the truth that the church's views were not always consistent with the Bible, church leaders denied Tyndale's request. However, a handful of wealthy supporters backed Tyndale, funding his efforts as he fled to Germany in 1524.
Tyndale visited Martin Luther in Wittenberg, and followed his lead, even using Luther’s German translation of the Bible as a guide. When not working on his translation of the New Testament, Tyndale studied and wrote his own tracts on the scriptures. In July of 1525, Tyndale completed his English New Testament, printing it in Cologne. Undeterred after Catholic authorities interfered with its distribution, Tyndale took his translation to Worms and had it printed there.
As six thousand copies of his New Testament secretly made their way into England in 1526, Tyndale began work on his Old Testament translation. Bishops in England bought up and burned Tyndale’s Bible, yet Tyndale took the money he earned from those copies to print improved updated editions.
In 1529, Cardinal Wolsey declared Tyndale a heretic, thus forcing him deeper into hiding in Antwerp. However, it did not discourage him. The following year, Tyndale produced a paper denouncing King Henry VIII’s divorce, causing the king to call for his extradition. To the king’s dismay, Emperor Charles V refused to comply without formal evidence, leaving Tyndale safe for the moment.
Tyndale continued to write and translate for years while in hiding. Despite his displeasure with Tyndale, Henry VIII used his 1528 The Obedience of a Christian Man to form the reasoning and justification he wanted to break from the Roman Catholic Church. Still upset the Pope denied his request for a divorce, Henry formed the Church of England, or Anglican Church, in 1534, making himself its head and giving himself the unchecked religious power he despised the Pope for.
Like Luther, Tyndale grew increasingly disheartened with the Pope and Catholic Church leaders as it became apparent they were taking the place of God instead of being His instruments. When a priest arrogantly claimed, "We are better to be without God's laws than the Pope’s," Tyndale replied, "If God spare my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow shall know more of the Scripture than thou doest."
In his 1528 book, Tyndale comforted persecuted Christians stating, "Let it not make thee despair, neither yet discourage thee, O reader, that it is forbidden thee in pain of life and goods, or that it is made breaking of the king's peace, or treason unto his highness, to read the Word of thy soul's health. But much rather be bold in the Lord, and comfort thy soul:…Christ is with us until the world’s end. Let his little flock be bold therefore. For if God be on our side, what matter maketh it who be against us, be they bishops, cardinals, popes or whatsoever names they will?” Good advice even today.
Always looking over his shoulder, Tyndale was extremely cautious of people. However, a man named Henry Phillips gained Tyndale’s confidence. Over time, Tyndale became so comfortable around Phillips, he invited him to meals and even allowed Phillips to view his material. It was an act of trust that would cost Tyndale his life.
In May of 1535, Phillips betrayed Tyndale, somehow persuading him to leave the protection of his home and walk right into the hands of soldiers. Taken to a castle in Vilvorde, near modern-day Brussels, Tyndale refused to let his imprisonment impede his work. Requesting his Hebrew Bible, a dictionary, a lamp, and study notes, he spent the next 17 months working on his translations and other documents.
Both Luther and Tyndale were brought in front of church leaders to answer for their supposed transgressions, yet neither recanted. (see ) However, their lives had very different endings. Luther found refuge under Frederick the Wise following his hearing and lived on to work with others to produce material designed to educate ordinary men, women, and children about the Word of God. Tyndale was not yet finished with his Old Testament translation when he finally had his trial. Convicted of heresy and treason, Tyndale was sentenced to death. On October 6, 1536, authorities tied him to a stake, strangling him before setting him on fire.
Fox’s Book of Martyr’s records Tyndale loudly and passionately praying, "Lord! Open the King of England's eyes,” right before his death. Tyndale’s request was answered three years later, but not because the king had a change of heart. Seeing one more way to defy the Roman Catholic Church, Henry VIII ordered every church to provide a copy of his authorized Great Bible in English, taken largely from Tyndale’s translation, for their parishioners to reference. Even though Henry had ulterior motives, God used them for His will, spreading His Word throughout England at the blessing of the king.
Despite Tyndale’s earthly life ending at age 42, God is still using his work. Tyndale humbly proclaimed, “I never altered one syllable of God’s Word against my conscience, nor would do this day, if all that is in earth, whether it be honor, pleasure, or riches, might be given me.” God rewarded his faithfulness.
Of the thousands of New Testament copies printed by Tyndale’s death, only one original and intact copy remains. However, his everyday English language Bible was used as the basis of other English translations. Over 90% of the 1611 King James Version is taken from Tyndale’s work as well as 75% of the Revised Standard Version. These Bibles are still widely popular and in use in millions of churches and homes today throughout the world.
Tyndale’s common English language did not just influence the church, it influenced the entire culture. While many credit Shakespeare for normalizing the English language, that honor actually belongs to Tyndale. Not only is he known as the “Father of the English Bible,” some also dub him the “Architect of the English Language.” Expressions such as “Fight the good fight,” “daily bread,” “give up the ghost,” “scapegoat,” “God forbid,” “my brother’s keeper,” and “The signs of the times” all entered the English language because of Tyndale. If not for Tyndale’s English Bible and Luther’s German Bible, the common dialects of those countries would have never developed and united as they did. It was as if God used these two men to reunite people with a standard language which was destroyed at the Tower of Babel. (see )
Liberty, today there are many people who excoriate the early church for being so close-minded and hateful. Yet these are the exact same people who call on Social Media and the government to shut down religious and conservative voices they don't like. How is deplatforming people because of their views, in some cases completely scrubbing the internet clean of the person's work, any different than destroying Tyndale? We like to believe we have evolved and become better people. The truth is, we haven't and those that cry the loudest in denouncing the past have become the very thing they distain.
As I have told you many, many times, I am writing you these letters because those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. God used just 300 men with Gideon to defeat a massive army. He used a handful of men like Tyndale, Luther, John Calvin, and others to reform the church back to focusing on God’s law, not the Pope’s, and the grace which He provides sinners. Most importantly, He used one man, His perfect, sinless son to save all humanity. Always be ready and willing to do God’s will, Liberty. You never know what amazing work He has planned for you.
That’s my 2 cents.