William Tyndale

William Tyndale, 1494 - 1536

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 for his (incomplete) translation of the Bible into English, influenced by the work of Erasmus of Rotterdam and of Martin Luther.

A number of partial English translations had been made from the seventh century onward, 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, although 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 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 argued 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 rationale to break the Church in England from the Catholic Church in 1534. Before this, 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 fulfillment 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 became a model for subsequent English translations, including the Great Bible and the Bishop's 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.

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