William Tyndale
The Reformation Bookshelf
Antiquarian Books and Bibles

The Legacy of William Tyndale

William Tyndale (1494-1536) has been called "the true father of the English Bible." His efforts began a chain of events that eventually opened up England to have the scriptures in English. Tyndale published his New Testament translation in 1526, beginning a long tradition of English Bible revision which reached even beyond the King James Version. So extensive is his influence on the English Bible that "it has been estimated that 92 percent of the New Testament as left by Tyndale is carried over into the King James Version.

Apparently because of the 1408 decree of Canterbury, Tyndale first tried to obtain the approval of ecclesiastical authorities for his plans. When it became evident that they would not authorize him to translate, he concluded "that there was no place to do it in all of England." Therefore he sailed to the European continent and began his work in Hamburg. There he did much of his translation work using Erasmus' Greek New Testament as his base, as well as consulting the Latin translation that was printed parallel with it. He also consulted the Latin Vulgate, and Martin Luther's German version. He first tried to print his translation in Cologne but met opposition and fled by boat up the Rhine River to Worms. There he managed to get his English New Testament printed in 1526 and by March of that year copies were being smuggled in bales of cloth back into England. Within four years an estimated fifteen thousand copies found their way into England.

Church officials condemned the translation partly because of its wording and partly because it contained commentary notes printed in the margin which were harshly critical of the clergy. The Bishop of London, Cuthbert Tunstall, was especially troubled by it. He claimed to find three-thousand errors in the translation, and according to another critic finding errors in Tyndale's translation was like "finding water in the sea.” In October 1526, Tunstall ordered all who owned copies of the book to turn them over on threat of excommunication or worse. The copies he collected were then burned publicly at St. Paul's Cross. Still, Tyndale's New Testament remained the focus of public debate. Sir Thomas More, who also made significant contributions to English literature, issued a Dialogue in 1529 in which he condemned both Martin Luther and Tyndale's New Testament. Tyndale replied to the Dialogue two years later in his Answer unto Sir Thomas More's Dialogue. Thomas More then responded with a larger work, The Confutation of Tyndale. Furthermore, King Henry VIII opposed Tyndale's translation but also made a promise that a royally sanctioned translation would be made. However, it was yet many years after Henry's death before that promise was actually carried out.

Ultimately, these efforts to halt Tyndale's translation were unsuccessful.  An "estimated...50,000 copies circulated before Tyndale's death and
many other copies were made available shortly thereafter. Moreover, Tyndale continued his work as he began  translating the Old Testament from Hebrew. By 1530, he published Genesis through Deuteronomy, and the book of Jonah a year later. But in 1535 a friend betrayed Tyndale to authorities, after which he spent several months in prison. He was finally sentenced to death, strangled and burned at the stake in October 1536. Nevertheless, his labors were not in vain. After his New Testament was published, more revisions soon followed in the decade of the 1530s and beyond. Tyndale's work became the basis for every English translation through the King James Version of 1611. (Article by David Griffin M.A.)

Time Line of Tyndale's Life

1494 (approx.)

Tyndale born near Gloucestershire, England


Receives B.A. from Oxford University


Receives M.A. from Oxford University

1519 (approx.)

Attends Cambridge University


Employed at Little Sodbury Manor


Moves to London and requests permission from Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall to translate Bible to English—denied


Visits Hamburg and Wittingburg


Begins printing New Testament at Cologne


Prints entire New Testament in Worms; sends to England


Writes The Parable of the Wicked Mammon and The Obedience of a Christian Man


Prints translation of Pentateuch


Prints translation of Jonah


Sir Thomas Moore begins writing against him


Betrayed by Phillips, arrested in Antwerp, imprisoned in Vilvoorde


Strangled and burned in Brussels


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