William Tyndale

William Tyndale books and biography

William Tyndale

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The Bible in English +/-
Old English (pre-1066)
Middle English (1066-1500)
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William Tyndale (sometimes spelled Tindale or Tindall) (circa 1494 - October 6, 1536) was a 16th century religious reformer and scholar who translated the Bible into the Early Modern English of his day. Although numerous partial and complete English translations had been made from the 7th century onward, Tyndale's was the first to take advantage of the new medium of print, which allowed for its wide distribution. In 1535 Tyndale was tried for heresy and treason and then strangled and burnt at the stake.

Much of Tyndale's work eventually found its way to the King James Version (or Authorised Version) of the Bible, published in 1611, which, though the work of 54 independent scholars, is based primarily on Tyndale's translations.



Sculpted Head Of William Tyndale from St Dunstan-in-the-West Church London
Sculpted Head Of William Tyndale from St Dunstan-in-the-West Church London

William Tyndale was born around 1494, probably in North Nibley near Dursley, Gloucestershire. The Tyndales were also known under the name Hychyns (Hitchins), and it was as William Hychyns that he was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford (now part of Hertford College), where he was admitted to the Degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1512, the same year he became a sub-deacon. He was made Master of Arts in July 1515, three months after he had been ordained into the priesthood. The MA degree allowed him to start studying theology, but the official course did not include the study of scripture. This horrified Tyndale and he organised private groups for teaching and discussing the scriptures. He was a gifted linguist (fluent in French, Greek, Hebrew, German, Italian, Latin, Spanish and of course his native English) and subsequently went to Cambridge (possibly studying under Erasmus, whose 1503 Enchiridion Militis Christiani - "Handbook of the Christian Knight" - he translated into English), where he is believed to have met Thomas Bilney and John Frith. No contemporary records survive which show Tyndale at Cambridge.

He became chaplain in the house of Sir John Walsh at Little Sodbury in about 1521, and tutor to his children. His opinions involved him in controversy with his fellow clergymen and around 1522 he was summoned before the Chancellor of the Diocese of Worcester on a charge of heresy. By now he had already determined to translate the Bible into English: he was convinced that the way to God was through His word and that scripture should be available even to 'a boy that driveth the plough'.

From Foxe's Book of Martyr's " 'There dwelt not far off a certain doctor, that he been chancellor to a bishop, who had been of old, familiar acquaintance with Master Tyndale, and favored him well; unto whom Master Tyndale went and opened his mind upon divers questions of the Scripture: for to him he durst be bold to disclose his heart. Unto whom the doctor said, "Do you not know that the pope is very Antichrist, whom the Scripture speaketh of? But beware what you say; for if you shall be perceived to be of that opinion, it will cost you your life."

Not long after, Master Tyndale happened to be in the company of a certain divine, recounted for a learned man, and, in communing and disputing with him, he drove him to that issue, that the said great doctor burst out into these blasphemous words, "We were better to be without God's laws than the pope's." Master Tyndale, hearing this, full of godly zeal, and not bearing that blasphemous saying, replied, "I defy the pope, and all his laws;" and added, "If God spared him life, ere many years he would cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture than he did.'"

With a sense of vocation, he left for London in 1523 to seek permission and other help from the Church. In particular he hoped for support from Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, a well-known classicist whom Erasmus had praised after working with him on a Greek New Testament, but the bishop, like many highly-placed churchmen, was uncomfortable with the idea of the Bible in the vernacular and told Tyndale he had no room for him in the Bishop's Palace. Tyndale preached and studied "at his book" (Foxe) in London for some time, relying on the help of a cloth merchant, Humphrey Monmouth. He then left England under a pseudonym and landed at Hamburg in 1524 with the work he had done so far on his translation of the New Testament. He is said to have visited Luther at Wittenberg, though there is no evidence for this, and in the following year completed his translation, with assistance from Observant friar William Roy.

In 1525 publication of his work by Peter Quentell in Cologne was interrupted by anti-Lutheran influence, and it was not until 1526 that a full edition of the New Testament was produced by the printer Peter Schoeffer in Worms, a safe city for church reformers. More copies were soon being printed in Antwerp. The book was smuggled into England and Scotland, and was condemned in October 1526 by Tunstall, who issued warnings to booksellers and had copies burned in public.

Following the publication of the New Testament, Cardinal Wolsey condemned Tyndale as a heretic and demanded his arrest.

Tyndale went into hiding, possibly for a time in Hamburg, and carried on working. He revised his New Testament and began translating the Old Testament and writing various treatises. In 1530 he wrote The Practyse of Prelates, which seemed to move him briefly to the Catholic side through its opposition to Henry VIII's divorce. This resulted in the king's wrath being directed at him: he asked the emperor Charles V to have Tyndale seized and returned to England.

Eventually, he was betrayed to the authorities. He was arrested in Antwerp in 1535 and held in the castle of Vilvoorde near Brussels.

From Foxe's Book of Martyr's: Master Tyndale, remaining in prison, was proffered an advocate and a procurator; the which he refused, saying that he would make answer for himself. He had so preached to them who had him in charge, and such as was there conversant with him in the Castle that they reported of him, that if he were not a good Christian man, they knew not whom they might take to be one.

He was tried on a charge of heresy in 1536 and condemned to the stake, despite Thomas Cromwell's attempted intercession on his behalf. He was mercifully strangled, and his dead body was burnt, on 6 October 1536. His final words reportedly were: "Oh Lord, open the King of England's eyes".

Tyndale's legacy

In translating the Bible, Tyndale introduced new words into the English language:

He also coined such familiar phrases as:

Some of the new words and phrases introduced by Tyndale did not sit well with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, using words like Overseer rather than Bishop and Elder rather than Priest. Tyndale contended that the Greek New Testament did not support the traditional Roman Catholic readings.

Contention from Roman Catholics came from real or perceived errors in translation. St. Thomas More commented that searching for errors in the Tyndale Bible was similar to searching for water in the sea. This reflected the vast theological difference between the two men. Thomas More remained Roman Catholic in orientation, whilst Tyndale was persuaded of a Lutheran reading of Scripture. Tyndale contended that the Greek New Testament did not support the traditional Roman Catholic readings. Also, Protestant Bishop Tunstall of London declared that there were upwards of 2,000 errors in Tyndale's Bible.

It has been argued that Tyndale's place in history has not yet been sufficiently recognised as a translator of the Scriptures, as an apostle of liberty, and as a chief promoter of the Reformation in England. His influence has been frequently under-valued.

From Foxe's Book of Martyr's: As touching his translation of the New Testament, because his enemies did so much carp at it, pretending it to be full of heresies, he wrote to John Frith, as followeth, "I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, that 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."

Almost all histories assume that Tyndale translated from the Vulgate and Martin Luther. The Tyndale Society adduces considerable evidence to suggest 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 suggest that Tyndale's Pentateuch is a translation of the Hebrew original.

Of the first edition of Tyndale's bible, only three copies survive. The only complete copy is part of the Bible Collection of Wrttembergische Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart.

Tyndale University College and Seminary, a Christian university college and seminary in Toronto, is named after William Tyndale.


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 the reformer's right hand on an open Bible, which in turn is resting on an early printing press.

There is also a memorial tower, the Tyndale Monument, erected in 1866 and prominent for miles around, on a hill above his birthplace of North Nibley.

The site in Vilvoorde, Belgium (15 minutes north of Brussels by train) where Tyndale was burned is also marked by a memorial. It was erected in 1913 by Friends of the Trinitarian Bible Society of London and the Belgium Bible Society.


  • Adapted from J.I. Mombert, "Tyndale, William," in Philip Schaff, Johann Jakob Herzog, et al, eds., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1904, reprinted online by the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Additional references are available there.
  • David Daniell, William Tyndale, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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