The first to translate the Bible directly from Hebrew and Greek into English was William Tyndale (1494-1536). He published the New Testament in 1525 and the Pentateuch shortly thereafter. Wide distribution of his translation thwarted the Roman Catholic Church’s determination to control access by keeping the Bible in Latin and out of English.
Tyndale was a superb Greek scholar. He was so fluent in 7 languages that strangers could not tell which one was his native tongue.
One day arguing about ecclesiastical authority, a clergyman told Tyndale, “We had better be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.” Tyndale replied,
“I defy the Pope and all his laws. And if God spare me, I will one day make the boy that drives the plow to know more of the Scripture than the Pope does.”
Tyndale was not easily cowed. He even publicly opposed England’s King Henry VIII with a 1530 book condemning as unbiblical Henry’s intended divorce from Catherine of Aragon (to marry Anne Boleyn).
Tyndale smuggled thousands of his New Testaments from Europe into England inside bags of flour.
In Foxe’s Book of the Martyrs, John Foxe reports an interesting story.
In 1534 Bishop Tunstall was frantically trying to intercept and destroy Tyndale’s Bibles as they were smuggled into England. Traveling through Antwerp, Belgium on state business for King Henry VIII, he learned of Tyndale New Testaments for sale. Figuring that destruction in Antwerp would prevent appearance in England, he arranged with a knowledgeable English merchant Augustine Pockington to purchase the Bibles.
Pockington was a clandestine Tyndale supporter and a clever businessman. He arranged to sell Tunstall the New Testaments for four times their normal rate, and Tunstall burned them in Antwerp.
Tunstall did not know that Pockington had outfoxed him. Tyndale was revising his New Testament translation and delivered the first edition to Pockington to sell to Tunstall. Tyndale financed the printing of his second edition with the Bishop’s money.
The Roman Catholic Church disapproved of Tyndale’s work. He was tried for heresy, strangled, and burned at the stake before he finished translating the Old Testament. His last words cried out at the stake were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”
Eighty years later, the King James Bible, sponsored by another king of England, was based on Tyndale’s work. A 1998 scholarly analysis showed that Tyndale’s translation accounted for 84% of the New Testament and 76% of the Old Testament books he translated.
Tyndale broke the stranglehold the Catholic Church had on the Bible, and his work was the foundation for subsequent English Bibles. He’s the “Father of the English Bible.”
Soli Deo Gloria.
This is the sixth installment in the Story of the King James Bible series celebrating its 400th Anniversary.
Read the prequels:
1. King James Bible – The King with videos
2. King James Bible – Impact
3. King James Bible – Influence
4. King James Bible – John Wycliffe
5. King James Bible – Royal Ceremony
©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3)
Wednesday December 7, 2011 A.D.
Read my November 2011 newspaper column:
Marco Polo’s Dragons.
The sum of Thy word is truth, and every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting. (Psalms 119:160)