In 1520 in England, just three years after Luther’s 95 Theses went “viral” in Germany, William Tyndale became convinced and emboldened by the truth of the Scriptures.
He stepped away from his academic life of teaching and took upon himself the task of translating the Scriptures.
Because the mother tongue of England was Latin and was unreadable for many of the English-speaking people, Tyndale sought to spread the truth of the Scriptures and justification (Romans 3:23-28, 5:1) to the common man through reading the Word. So, he studied the Greek manuscripts with great vigor and brilliance to produce an astounding English translation.
In a very strong Roman Catholic era, William Tyndale opposed the false teachings of Rome and the Pope. He said he defied the Pope and his laws and once remarked to a Catholic clergyman over dinner, “If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”
So in April of 1524, at age 30, Tyndale became an outlaw of the state and lived as a fugitive for his work of translating the Scriptures into English. His work was opposed by Roman authorities in England as the truths of Scripture were kept suppressed and the tradition of the church was elevated to the Scriptures.
In 1526, he found a printer named Peter Schoeffer, who agreed to assist Tyndale and to help him to complete the printing of his English New Testament. This was the first portion of the Scriptures to be translated into English from the Greek and to be mechanically printed.
About six thousand copies were printed in the clear, common English. And in the Spring 1526, Tyndale began to smuggle his English New Testaments into England in bales of cotton.
In that same year, Rome and the authorities became aware of Tyndale’s work. By God’s providence, threatening to burn and destroy all found copies, or to imprison ownership, only made the Word spread more not less!
Persecution serves God’s purposes (see Acts 8:1 and following).
In 1534, Tyndale chose to revise his first version of the New Testament. However, one of Tyndale’s associates who housed and aided him, turned on him for a sum of money, ending Tyndale’s 12 years of running.
During his imprisonment, he converted the prison keeper, his daughter, and others in their household. As the Apostle Paul said concerning his own imprisonment, though he is in chains, “the Word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:9, ESV).
The Word of the Lord is invincible because the Lord is unstoppable. God wields all things for His glory, including suffering, death, and evil men seeking to vanquish the spread of the gospel.
On October 6, 1536, Tyndale was executed publicly. He was strangled, burned, and his body was blown apart by gunpowder.
Tyndale died for us to have the Scriptures in English. Tyndale’s courage should encourage us.
His final words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!” And in God’s providence and sovereignty, the gospel would spread in England in the years and decades to come as an answer to Tyndale’s prayer.
Thank God for William Tyndale. Praise God for the written Word. May God raise up many more Tyndales!