William Tyndale

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 9
WILLIAM TYNDALE! We have all heard his name, and yet if some of the boys and girls I know were asked who he was, or why his name is loved and honored not only in England, but wherever the English Bible is read, I am afraid the answer would be, "I don't know," or "I can't remember." Never mind; though the story of the man and the work he did has been told by more gifted pens than mine, it is worth telling over again.
So little is known about the boyhood of this truly great man that we cannot be quite sure even of the date of his birth, but it is generally thought to have been about the year 1484. His birthplace is believed to have been a village on the border of Wales, half-hidden among the beautiful Cotswold hills. England four or five hundred years ago was so unlike the England of to-day that as we read about it in some very old books it seems almost like some other country, and not our own dear island home at all.
There were no railroads or steamboats; motor cars and boats were unheard of. Rich people kept large, heavy-looking coaches; farmers and their wives often rode on horseback; poor people did not often travel far from their own homes, and if obliged to do so took the journey on foot. No one had ever sent a message by telegraph or telephone, or stranger still, you will say, received a letter by post. The printing-press had begun its work, but as newspapers were not printed till many years later, it often took weeks, or even months, before people who lived in one part of England knew what was going on in another part.
There were very few books, and fewer people who could read. The Bible was almost a forgotten book. There were a few copies, but as they were written in Latin, and locked up in the libraries of the houses where the monks lived, their light was hidden. By far the greater number of those who said they were teachers and guides of the people knew next to nothing of the written word of God, or the way of salvation; so having nothing better to give those they professed to teach, they told them strange and untrue stories, and encouraged them to say prayers in Latin, of which they often did not understand a single word, kneeling before images or pictures of the Virgin Mary, or people who had been dead for hundreds of years.
We know very little about the parents of young Tyndale, or the schools to which he was sent. Parents and teachers in those days were all strict, and no one had ever thought of making learning easy or pleasant. Still, being a bright, clever boy, he made good progress, and entered college when not more than eleven or twelve years of age. There his great talent for languages began to show itself. One who knew him in later years said of him that he spoke seven languages—Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French and English—with such ease and correctness, that any one of the seven might have been his mother tongue.
On leaving college he was engaged as tutor to the children of a country gentleman. Though still a young man he had learned to love the Bible, and longed to share with others the treasure he had found in its pages.
A dinner party to which several Roman Catholic priests were invited is said to have been given by Tyndale's employer; the conversation in which the tutor took part turned upon the scriptures. Tyndale uttered the never-to-be-forgotten words, that if God spared his life, before many years he would cause the boy who drove the plow to know more of the word of God than the Pope himself knew. It was a noble purpose, and well he kept to it, though it cost him a life of poverty and hardship, exile and hiding, and in the end life itself.
His work of translating the New Testament from Greek into English was, as far as we know, begun at Sudbury, but finding that his duties as tutor would not allow him to devote much time to the task he believed it was the will of God he should complete, he gave up his situation and went to London, where he hoped to find friends who would help and encourage him in his work. His first application was made to Cuthbert Tunstall, who was at that time Bishop of London. He was a friend and patron of learned men, and might, Tyndale thought, be willing to allow him to live in some quiet corner of his palace till his translation was ready for printing.
But the great man had no welcome for the poor scholar, no desire that the scriptures should be read by plowmen and maid servants, and roughly bade Tyndale begone. Others were tried, but with much the same result, and for a time the translator was in great poverty. How glad he must have been when God raised up a generous friend for him in a London merchant, Humphrey Monmouth, whose kind help enabled him to finish his work.
But new troubles arose: if an English New Testament was to be of any real use, it must not only be written, but printed; that, Tyndale soon found, he could not get done in England. So taking the precious sheets on which so much loving labor had been spent, he went to Hamburg and was soon at work; but not for long, as he was discovered, and obliged to hasten to Cologne. There he got type set up, and some sheets printed, but was betrayed by one of his workmen, who had been drinking too freely, and he was again obliged to seek safety in flight. At Worms he found a quiet resting-place and several kind friends who helped him to finish his work.
In the year 1525 the first edition of the English New Testament was printed; but how were the books to be got to England? It would never do to send them openly. Several merchants, who were friendly to the gospel, had the precious books hidden in bales of cloth, or stowed away in sacks of corn, and in this way many copies reached our ports, where they found willing buyers.
The Bishop of London was very angry when he heard of the arrival of so many New Testaments; not content with preaching against them, he purchased as many copies as possible and had them publicly burnt. He little knew that he was really helping, not hindering, the work of God, for the money paid for these copies enabled Tyndale to print another and better edition.
Tyndale not only translated the New Testament, but some parts of the Old. About the end of 1535, his ever watchful enemies laid a plot by which he was arrested, and hurried off as their prisoner to a castle about eighteen miles from Antwerp. There he was confined for one hundred and thirty-five days; he was tried and sentenced to death on the charge of heresy on August 10th, 1536. On October 6th he was led from prison to the stake. His last words, uttered in a clear, firm voice are said to have been, "Lord, open the King of England's eyes.”
We think of William Tyndale as being one who not only served his generation by the will of God, but did much toward giving us the priceless treasure of our English Bible. A beautiful statue has been erected to his memory on the Thames Embankment in London.