William Tyndale – Bible Translator and Reformation Martyr

Died 6th October 1536

Tyndale was an outstanding English scholar, translator and martyr of the Reformation.

William Tyndale (c. 1494 – 6th October 1536) was born near Gloucester and studied at Oxford and Cambridge.  He could speak seven languages and was proficient in ancient Hebrew and Greek.  As a Priest, his abilities would have taken him a long way, but by 1523 Tyndale’s only desire was to translate the Bible, so that English men and women could read it for themselves.  It became his life’s passion, for Tyndale had rediscovered a vital doctrine that the Church had been ignoring; that of justification by faith.

He had found it when reading Erasmus’s Greek edition of the New Testament.  In fact, his life’s work was well summed up in some words of his mentor, Erasmus, “Christ desires His mysteries to be published abroad as widely as possible. I would that [the Gospels and the epistles of Paul] were translated into all languages, of all Christian people, and that they might be read and known.”

W. Tyndale

Tyndale’s translation was the first Bible to be published in English, the first to draw directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, and the first English translation to take advantage of the printing press.

It was to cost him his life.  For Tyndale’s work was seen as a direct challenge to the power of both the Roman Catholic Church and the laws of England in maintaining the Church’s position.

When the authorities had tried to stop his translation, Tyndale fled to Hamburg, Wittenberg, Cologne, and finally to the Lutheran city of Worms.  It was there, in 1525, his New Testament emerged.  It was quickly smuggled into England, and King Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, and others, were furious.

Tyndale moved on to Antwerp, where for nine more years he continued his work.  Then in May 1535, he was betrayed, arrested, and jailed in a castle near Brussels.  Tied to the stake for strangulation and burning, his dying prayer was that the King of England’s eyes would be opened. Sure enough, two years later King Henry authorised the Great Bible for the Church of England, which relied largely on Tyndale’s work.

Not only that, but in 1611, the 54 scholars who produced the King James Bible drew very heavily from Tyndale.  Even today we honour him.  In 2002, Tyndale was placed at number 26 in the BBC’s poll of 100 Greatest Britons.


For further insight into the life of William Tyndale, please read Christopher Jobson’s post.

Feature Image: Facsimile of Tyndale Bible, The Gospel of Saint John, The Fifth Chapter, Kevin Rawlings, //creativecommons.org/licenses, via Wikimedia Commons Images
Inset image: Anonymous early (16th century) portrait of William Tyndale, now in Hertford College, Oxford, Wiki Commons Images, PD

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