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William Tyndale: Bible Translator and Martyr

By Jason Earls, author of Red Zen & Cocoon of Terror

He is the most widely read English-language author in history, read by about

10,000 times more people than Chaucer himself, yet more than likely you won’t
recognize his name: William Tyndale.

William Tyndale was a theologian and scholar born in North Nibley, England in
1494 and he died at Vilvoorden, Belgium in 1536. (The first date is only an
approximation, no one is actually certain of the year he was born). Tyndale was
strangled to death and burned at the stake for being the first person to publish the
New Testament in Early Modern English. (Other scholars had translated the Bible
into English before him, such as John Wycliffe, but Tyndale was the first to take
advantage of Gutenberg’s new printing press and widely disseminate his
translation.) At the time that Tyndale published his New Testament translation, it
was a crime punishable by death, according to the Roman Catholic Church, and
eventually he was hunted down and killed for fulfilling his goal of putting the
Word of God into the hands of the common people.

Tyndale studied at Oxford and received his Master’s degree in 1515. He was a
priest, scholar, and talented linguist fluent in eight different languages. He was
very much influenced by Erasmus and Martin Luther for their previous work on
the Bible. In 1516, Erasmus had published a new Latin version of the Bible, which
consisted of two columns of text: the first, his original Greek sources, and the
second, his Latin translation. Erasmus formatted the book in this way so other
scholars could easily check his work. Later Martin Luther used Erasmus’s version
to translate the New Testament into German. Then Tyndale used the Greek
sources in Erasmus’s version to translate the Bible into the modern English of his
time. Wycliffe had produced a handwritten translation of the Bible before Tyndale,
but he had not used the original Greek sources, instead relying on St. Jerome’s 4th
century Latin translation, which was the only version permitted in England at the
time. When Tyndale made his translation, even many priests did not fully
understand the Latin version.

Tyndale endorsed the movement to reform the Roman Catholic Church and in his
translation he included notes and comments that supported his Reformation views.
Hence, when he finished his work it was immediately banned by the authorities.
(Between the years of 1400 and 1557 at least 1,000 people were burned at the
stake due to the Bible.) But the New Testament could now be obtained by the
common people, thanks to Tyndale – thus he had fulfilled his primary goal. The
Roman Catholic Church referred to Tyndale’s translation (and his other writings)
as “pestilent glosses” because of his Reformation opinions, and they went on a
search and destroy mission for the book. (Only two copies of Tyndale’s original
translation have survived to the present day.) He went into hiding once his version
was banned, but eventually he was betrayed by a friend known only as ‘Philips,’
and was put into a prison cell in the castle of Vilvoorden. There Tyndale endured
terrible living conditions for more than 500 days, until he was eventually tried for
treason and heresy. In 1536 he was convicted, strangled to death, and burned at the
stake. “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes,” were Tyndale’s last words.

It’s interesting to examine portions of Tyndale’s actual translation to see why he

has been referred to as the “architect of the English language.” Many of the
phrases he coined are still used to this day. “The salt of the earth,” “the powers
that be,” “fight the good fight,” “let there be light,” were all used in his version of
the Bible. Here is a passage from the “Christmas” portion of Tyndall’s translation
in Luke 2:1-20, which is still impressive for its clarity and concision (Source:
Online Parallel Bible at

And lo: the angel of the Lord stood hard by them, and the brightness of the
Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.
But the angel said unto them: Be not afraid. For behold, I bring you tidings of
great joy that shall come to all the people: for unto you is born this day in the city
of David, a saviour which is Christ the Lord.

Here is a passage from the Beatitudes section, Mathew 5:8-10.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is
the kingdom of heaven.

After translating the New Testament Tyndale wanted to begin working on the Old
Testament, but he was not familiar with the Hebrew language. Over the next few
years he studied it intensely, eventually mastered the language, and began his
translation. Tyndaly finished “The First Book of Moses Called Genesis” soon
afterward and became the first man to translate a Hebrew text into English (The
Hebrew language was almost unknown in England at the time.) Eventually he
completed the first 14 books of the Old Testament, and the scholars who worked
on the King James version of the Bible used approximately 83 percent of
Tyndale’s work, without giving him any credit. Some scholars still consider his
translation to be the best and clearest ever. Therefore William Tyndale, the
theologian and scholar, made one of the most valuable contributions to God’s
work, which will live on forever.

Bio: Jason Earls is the author of Cocoon of Terror, Red Zen, How to Become a Guitar
Player from Hell, If(Sid_Vicious == TRUE && Alan_Turing == TRUE)
{ERROR_Cyberpunk(); }, Heartless Bast*rd In Ecstasy, and 0.136101521283655... all
available at and other online book stores. His fiction and mathematical
work have been published in Red Scream, Yankee Pot Roast, M-Brane SF, Scientia
Magna, three of Clifford Pickover’s books, Neometropolis,, AlienSkin,
Recreational and Educational Computing, Escaping Elsewhere, Thirteen, Dogmatika,
Prime Curios, the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences, OG’s Speculative Fiction,
Nocturnal Ooze, Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens, and other publications.
He currently resides in Oklahoma with his wife, Christine.