whytheology

For the Intersection of the Everyday and the Sacred

Church History Minute: William Tyndale

So I’ve been doing something of a mini-series on the bible in English and I end it today by examining the last major translator of the bible into English prior to the King James Version: William Tyndale


Who was he? William Tyndale is most well known, of course, for his translation work. While there were bibles in most European languages by the time Tyndale showed up on the scene, the bible in English has been declared illegal and many of the ones that existed previously had been gathered and destroyed. Even those that remained were of a somewhat sub-par quality, and had been translations from the Latin Vulgate. Tyndale’s translation was unique in that it was the first English Bible to be translated from the Greek and Hebrew, as well as the first one to successfully use the printing press. Although Tyndale did invent, or reemphasize some English words, he nevertheless wanted his translation to be highly readable. Thus he often employed language that was more “earthy” than that found in the later King James Version.

The other major thing he is known for is his work The Obedience of Man, which is often credited with giving Henry VIII the courage to break from Rome and establish England as its own church. Tyndale was executed as a heretic while in Brussels.

Where might I have heard of him? He was a reformer in the English Church and is usually associated with his translation work. Many bible translating organizations, academic groups, and publishers have taken on his name in one form or another. Perhaps the most famous being Tyndale House, the name of both a study house (similar to a college) at the University of Cambridge and a (not really affiliated) publishing company.

Fun Facts: Yes that was plural. Even though Tyndale was enthusiastic for the Reformation of England, and may have been influenced in that direction during his time spent in Germany (where he had to go to learn Hebrew, since the Jews had been expelled from England, and where the first Tyndale Bibles were published), he was not willing to compromise as much as others. When Henry VIII first began entertaining the idea of divorcing his wife to marry Anne Boleyn, Tyndale was adamantly opposed (thus incurring the wrath of the king). Also, it seems Tyndale was in favor of even more extreme reforms than what took place in England during his time, advocating believer’s baptism and denying a platonic conception of the soul.

Why was he important? It is arguable that without him the English (and later British) stream of the Reformation would not have been successful, or even happened at all. Also his influence on all subsequent translations of the bible into English, and even the English language, is indisputable.

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