William Tyndale, benefactor of mankind

From William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the New Testament, Chapter Two of the Gospel of Luke:

And there were in the same region shepherds abiding in the field, and watching their flock by night. 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. And the angel said unto them: Be not afraid: 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. And take this for a sign: ye shall find the child swaddled, and laid in a manger. And straight way there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly soldiers, lauding God, and saying: Glory to God on high, and peace on the earth: and unto men rejoicing.

And it fortuned, as soon as the angels were gone away into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is happened, which the Lord hath shewed unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary and Ioseph, and the babe laid in a manger. And when they had seen it, they published abroad the saying, which was told them of that child. And all that heard it wondered, at those things which were told them of the shepherds. But Mary kept all those sayings, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, praising and lauding God for all that they had heard and seen, even as it was told unto them.

You can see how similar Tyndale’s version of this passage is to the very familiar King James version, and how the latter was really a polishing and refinement of Tyndale’s work, done 85 years earlier.

Tyndale was born in northern England around 1490, got his B.A. at Oxford and also went to Cambridge where he studied theology and became fluent in about seven languages. Wikipedia relates:

Soon afterwards, Tyndale determined to translate the Bible into English, convinced that the way to God was through His word and that scripture should be available even to common people. John Foxe describes an argument with a “learned” but “blasphemous” clergyman, who had asserted to Tyndale that, “We had better be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.” Swelling with emotion, Tyndale responded: “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”

In the early 1520s Tyndale sought but failed to get official approval for translating the Bible into English. Then he went to the Continent, where he translated the New Testament into English. It was printed in Germany in 1526. The book was smuggled into England. When it was found by the authorities, it was burned.

Marius notes that the “spectacle of the scriptures being put to the torch” “provoked controversy even amongst the faithful.” Cardinal Wolsey condemned Tyndale as a heretic, being first mentioned in open court as a heretic in January 1529.

Tyndale remained in hiding in Germany, where he began translating the Old Testament. “In 1532 Thomas More published a six volume Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer, in which he alleged Tyndale was a traitor and a heretic.” (Somehow we missed that in A Man for All Seasons, as well as Moore’s biography of Richard III in which he invented out of thin air the image of Richard as a hump-backed monster and sub-human devil.)

Eventually, Tyndale was betrayed by Henry Phillips to the authorities, seized in Antwerp in 1535 and held in the castle of Vilvoorde near Brussels. He was tried on a charge of heresy in 1536 and condemned to death, despite Thomas Cromwell’s intercession on his behalf. Tyndale “was strangled to death while tied at the stake, and then his dead body was burned”. Foxe gives 6 October as the date of commemoration (left-hand date column), but gives no date of death (right-hand date column). Tyndale’s final words, spoken “at the stake with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice”, were reported as “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.” The traditional date of commemoration is 6 October, but records of Tyndale’s imprisonment suggest the actual date of his execution might have been some weeks earlier.

Within four years, at the same king’s behest, four English translations of the Bible were published in England, including Henry’s official Great Bible. All were based on Tyndale’s work.

I’m actually relieved to learn that Tyndale was not drawn and quartered, a most horrible form of execution, but simply strangled.

It is estimated that as much as 90 percent of the King James version of the New Testament is based on Tyndale’s translation. Innumerable, vivid expressions that are part of the English language were invented by Tyndale as he strove to render the Bible into English. It is a most striking thing, that this great benefactor of mankind was killed for his benefactions, and that four years after his death for translating the Bible into English, the authorities which had killed him changed their minds and agreed with him that translating the Bible into English was a good idea. I guess we could say that Tyndale is a classic example of losing the battle, but winning the war.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 30, 2010 08:36 AM | Send

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