English reformer and biblical translator, b. Gloucestsershire, c. 1491, d. Vilvoorde, near Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 6, 1536.
Early Life. On the eve of the Protestant Reformation, William Tyndale was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in London, Holy Saturday, 1515. Assuming he was then the canonical age of 24, we can place his birth c. 1491. Celebrations of his birth were held in 1994, however, because the relevant records were not discovered and published until 1996.
Raised in a yeoman family in Gloucestershire, Tyndale entered Magdalen Hall, later Hertford College, Oxford, where he earned his B.A in 1512 and his M.A. in 1515. According to John Foxe the Martyrologist, Tyndale pursued further studies at Cambridge, where Erasmus had recently taught Greek from 1511 to 1514. Erasmus was the first to publish a printed version of the Greek NT (Basel, 1516), and Martin Luther would use Erasmus' second edition (Basel, 1519) for his German NT.
In 1409 the Constitutions of Oxford had reacted to the Wycliffite translations of the Vulgate by requiring episcopal approval for English translations of the Bible. This permission was not given, even when vernacular Bibles began to be printed on the Continent (e.g. Strassburg, 1466; Venice, 1471; Lyons, c. 1477). Tyndale would be the first to translate the Scriptures from their original languages into English. In order to work freely, Tyndale left England in 1524, perhaps visiting Luther before moving to the Rhineland.
Biblical Translations. Tyndale translated the Greek NT from Erasmus's third edition (Basel, 1522) while consulting Luther's first German NT (Wittenberg, 1522). A quarto version of Tyndale's prologue and the Gospel of Matthew up to 22.12 was in press (Cologne, 1525) when the work was interrupted by Catholic authorities. Tyndale escaped to publish the complete NT in octavo but without prologue and sidenotes (Worms, 1526). Later, Tyndale published octavo editions of his revised NT (Antwerp, 1534 and 1535). Tyndale would better show the influence of Semitic grammar on NT Greek after he had translated the Pentateuch. Tyndale's NT of 1534 were edited by N. Hardy Wallis in the original spelling (Cambridge, 1938) and by David Daniell in modern spelling (New Haven and London, 1989).
For the OT, Tyndale could have used printed editions of the Hebrew Bible (Venice, 1488, 1517) or the Polyglot Bible (Alcala, 1522). In Antwerp he published octavo editions of the Pentateuch in 1530, Jonah in 1531, and in 1534 a revised Genesis bound with reissues of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Although Tyndale's NT and Pentateuch had been banned by royal authority in June 1530, they were included in Coverdale's Bible (Zurich, 1535) commissioned by Thomas Cromwell, and in Matthew's Bible (Antwerp, 1537) licensed by Henry VIII. Tyndale's translations of Judges through 2 Chronicles were published posthumously in Matthew's Bible. All of Tyndale's biblical translations, except Jonah, were substantially incorporated into the Great Bible (1539), the Bishops' Bible (1568), and the King James Bible (1611). Tyndale's Pentateuch was edited by J.I. Mombert in the original spelling (Carbondale, Il, 1967). All of his OT translations (Pentateuch, Joshua to 2 Chronicles, and Jonah) were edited in modern spelling by David Daniell (New Haven and London, 1992).
Exegetical and Polemical Works. Tyndale devoted his best energies to his biblical translations, but these occasioned secondary works of exgesis and polemic. Four of his scriptural commentaries are expanded translations of works by Luther: Introduction to Romans (1526) from Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans in his 1522 NT; Parable of the Wicked Mammon (May 1528) from Luther's sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity, 1522; Exposition of Matthew 5, 6, 7 (1533) from Luther's Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, 1532; Pathway into the Holy Scripture (1536?) from Luther's preface to his 1522 NT and revised from Tyndale's prologue to the aborted 1525 NT. Tyndale's brief Exposition of 1 John (September 1531) has no known source.
Although Luther and Tyndale both agree on the Reformation principles of sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, they differ in their interpretation of the Law and of the Eucharist. Luther asserts that the Law condemns me and teaches me the impossibility of truly serving God. Tyndale affirms that God writes the Law on my heart to enable me to love it and therefore keep it (cf. Jer. 31.33). For Tyndale, faith in God's mercy brings forth true works of love (cf. Gal. 5.6), but these do not justify or merit a
reward (cf. Answer to More 195/21–197/4). Luther holds that Christ is corporally present in the Eucharist along with the bread and wine. Somewhat like Zwingli, Tyndale emphasizes the meaning of the signs of Christ's body and blood: to believe with a repenting heart in Christ's saving death for my sins (cf. Answer to More 178/11–180/7).
Tyndale's exegetical works glow with faith, but his polemical works flash with wit. Tyndale wrote his threefold treatise, Obedience of a Christian Man (October 1528), partly to argue that Gospel freedom was not a valid reason for the Peasants' Rebellion of 1525. The first section defines the duties of subjects and superiors in the household and state against the encroachments of the papacy. The second section argues that Baptism and the Eucharist are the only sacraments found in the Christian Scriptures. Tyndale devotes only one paragraph to the Eucharist but discusses Penance at length because he finds auricular confession a burden to scrupulous consciences. Sir Thomas More defends all seven sacraments in Bk. 1 of his Confutation of Tyndale (1532). In the Brief Declaration of the Sacraments (1548?), Tyndale will explain his position on sacraments as only signs, not causes of grace. The third section of Obedience affirms that the literal sense of the Scripture is spiritual, i.e., it gives life through faith in Christ.
Practice of Prelates (1530) is partially based on an anonymous Reformation tract about papal dealings with the Carolingian dynasty, Vom alten und neuen Gott, Glauben und Lehre (Basel, 1521). Then Tyndale attacks the excesses of Cardinal Wolsey and, alone among the English reformers, upholds Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
In response to Sir Thomas More's Dialogue Concerning Heresies (June 1529, May 1531), Tyndale asserts six major theses in Answer to More (c. July 1531). The first two points (the validity of Tyndale's translation of ecclesiastical terms and the subordination of tradition to Scripture) are Tyndale's defence of his 1526 NT, criticized in Bk. 3 of More's Dialogue. The next three topics (predestination to heaven, the corruption of the papacy, and the inferiority of historical faith to feeling faith) express Tyndale's support of Luther, attacked in Bk. 4 of More's Dialogue. Tyndale's last issue (religious ceremonies) is More's first, expounded in Bk. 1–2 of More's Dialogue. More's Confutation of Tyndale (Bk. 1–3, 1532 and Bk. 4–8, 1533) argues against Tyndale's first five theses, but does not defend religious ceremonies because More had discussed them thoroughly in Dialogue. In length and importance Answer to More is second only to the Obedience of a Christian Man among Tyndale's independent works.
Henry Walter edited Tyndale's exegetical and polemical works in modern spelling with brief annotations for the Parker Society, vol. 42-44 (Cambridge, 1848–50). Anne M. O'Donnell, S.N.D. is directing a critical edition of these same works in five volumes for the Catholic University of America Press (Washington, D.C., 2000ff). Tyndale's independent works are noteworthy for their relation to Erasmus, More, and Luther, for their lively English, and for their heartfelt theology.
Imprisonment and Death. Arrested in May 1535, Tyndale was imprisoned near Brussels and interrogated by theologians from Louvain. He was condemned for upholding justification by faith alone, not for translating the Scriptures into English, which his judges probably could not read. Tyndale was garroted, and his corpse burnt in October 1536. He was executed before he could make English translations of the prophets and wisdom books, especially the Psalms. Because the King James Version largely follows Tyndale's translations of the NT from Greek and the historical books of the OT from Hebrew, his vivid diction and compelling syntax live on.
Bibliography: a. j. brown, William Tyndale … New Light on His Early Career (London 1996). d. daniell, William Tyndale: A Biography (New Haven and London 1994). j. f. mozley, William Tyndale (Westport, Conn. 1971).
[a. m. o'donnell]
TYNDALE, WILLIAM (1494?–1536), Bible translator and Reformation scholar. William Tyndale came from a well-established family in Gloucestershire in the west of England. After an excellent education at a local Grammar School, he was for ten years at the University of Oxford. In 1516 Tyndale's life took a decisive turn when the New Testament was for the first time printed in Greek, its original language, in an edition made by Desiderius Erasmus in Basle, Switzerland. Along with scholars throughout Europe, and particularly Martin Luther in Germany, Tyndale recognized the importance of a readily available Greek New Testament, and the need for a printed translation which could reach English readers and hearers at any level.
After spending perhaps a year in Cambridge (where Erasmus had been teaching Greek), Tyndale returned to Gloucestershire to begin work on an English New Testament. Such an enterprise was forbidden by the Church, for whom any vernacular deviation from the Latin translation (made in the fourth century) was heresy. This censorship was at its most severe in England, where it was rigidly applied: in the 1380s, alarmed by the spread of handwritten Bible translations made from the Latin into English under the influence of John Wyclif, the English Church had punished many "Lollards," as Wyclif's followers were nicknamed, often by burning them alive. Tyndale needed the permission of a Bishop, and sought it from Erasmus's friend Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of London. He was snubbed.
With money from courageous London merchants, Tyndale went to Germany, and in Cologne began printing his English translation. He had reached Matthew's Gospel chapter 22 when the print shop was raided. Tyndale and his helper fled up the Rhine to the safe Lutheran city of Worms. There in 1526 he produced 6,000 copies of his first English New Testament, pocket-size like all his works. Smuggled down the Rhine and eagerly received in England and Scotland, copies were ruthlessly hunted and destroyed: Tunstall supervised their burning at St Paul's. Only three copies now survive, one on permanent display in the British Library.
In Germany, Tyndale learned Hebrew (unknown in England) and in 1530 printed in Antwerp his translation of the "First Five Books of Moses"—the first time that Hebrew had been translated into English. Finding that knowledge of Hebrew deepened his understanding of the Greek biblical text, Tyndale produced a revision of his New Testament, printed in Antwerp in 1534. He worked in Antwerp also on the second quarter of the Old Testament, the Historical books Joshua to 2 Chronicles.
Tyndale's 1534 New Testament, and half of the Old Testament, were reproduced largely unchanged in successive English Bibles throughout the rest of the century, culminating in the influential version made in the name of King James in 1611: five-sixths of that New Testament, and only slightly less of the Old Testament, were there taken over directly from Tyndale, without acknowledgement.
Tyndale's greatness lay in his accurate translation of the original Greek and Hebrew; his clarity of expression; and in his choice of a linguistic register just a little above ordinary speech. He gave English speakers very many phrases still in use, such as "Let there be light." His Plain Style, a Saxon vocabulary in a neutral word order, through his wide Bible readership established English as a good written language that anybody could use. Much of the remarkable development of literature in the hundred years after him came out of his work: it is not fanciful to remark "Without Tyndale, no Shakespeare."
His New Testament affected the nation. A neat definition of the Reformation is "people reading Paul." The Epistle to the Romans in particular, the bedrock of New Testament theology, and read or heard—as Tyndale famously intended—even by "the ploughboy," showed the believer's direct access to God through faith. Moreover, in the newly available Bible a large number of the Church's practices and dogmas were not found: confession to the ear, the celibacy of the priesthood, Purgatory, and so on.
Tyndale wrote other important books. The Parable of the Wicked Mammon (1528) demonstrates the New Testament emphasis on faith rather than works. His The Obedience of a Christian Man (1528) countered the lie put about by his enemies that the reformers preached sedition.
Tyndale had a price on his head as a heretic. Commissioned to do so, Thomas More attacked him at length. In Antwerp, Tyndale was tricked into arrest; he was imprisoned near Brussels for sixteen months, and in October 1536 taken out, strangled, and burned. His heresy was the making of the English Bible: his influence, long ignored, was very large.
Tyndale's New Testament. Introduction by David Daniell. New Haven, Conn., and London, 1989. A modern-spelling edition.
Tyndale's Old Testament. Introduction by David Daniell. New Haven, Conn., and London, 1992. A modern-spelling edition.
David Daniell (2005)
William Tyndale (ca. 1495-1536) was the greatest of all English biblical scholars. His translation of the Bible into English formed the major part of the Authorized Version, or King James Bible.
William Tyndale was born in Gloucestershire and mostly educated at Oxford, where he earned a master of arts degree in 1515. He became a priest and, doubtless influenced among other things by the work of John Colet and Erasmus at Cambridge some years earlier, decided to produce an English translation of the Bible. He found support from a rich London cloth merchant. Within months, however, he became convinced he must leave London if he was to succeed; and, accordingly, with the financial support of the merchant, he left England in 1524, never again to return.
After short sojourns in Hamburg, and, possibly, Wittenberg, Tyndale settled down at Cologne in 1525. He quickly began the printing of his New Testament, but only a few sheets had been finished when the city fathers got wind of it and stopped it. The work was resumed at Worms, and by April 1526 an octavo edition was being sold in London. In November all available copies were burned at St. Paul's Cross. In 1528 Tyndale published the Parable of the Wicked Mammon, dealing with Luther's teaching concerning justification by faith, and the Obedience of a Christian Man, which replaced papal authority by royal authority and was heartily approved by King Henry VIII. However, in the Practice of Prelates in 1530, Tyndale not only attacked Cardinal Wolsey but opposed the annulment of Henry VIII's marriage with Catherine of Aragon. Meanwhile Bishop Tunstall of London had invited Sir Thomas More to reply to Tyndale's books, and a lively controversy took place.
Tyndale's Lutheran-inspired Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount was much admired; and possibly The Supper of the Lord, which appeared in 1533, was also his. Meanwhile throughout these years his work on the Old Testament had been proceeding. In 1530 he published his translation of the Pentateuch. As his New Testament had been pirated for various unsatisfactory editions, he published a revision in 1534, with a third, revised edition in 1535. In 1535, however, he was seized by the local government authorities in Antwerp, where he was living, for being a propagator of heresy. After months of imprisonment and many theological disputations he was condemned in August 1536 for persistence in heresy, and in October he was strangled to death and his body publicly cremated.
During his years at Antwerp, where he was so well maintained by the generosity of the English merchants there, Tyndale acquired a great reputation for austerity of character and frugality of life, combined with a steady attention to the needs of the poor, which offset the impression caused by the violent language found in his polemical works. In the year following his death there appeared in England a new Bible with the king's approval which was said to be the work of one Thomas Matthew. It was, however, a composite work edited by John Rogers and containing translations by him, by Miles Coverdale, and, for the greater part, by Tyndale. This Matthew Bible was reedited by Coverdale and published in 1539. It became known as the Great Bible. In this way Tyndale's translation was the basis of the first Bibles in English to get royal approval. His translation has underlain most subsequent English versions and has profoundly affected the development of the English language.
A short study of Tyndale's thought, a brief sketch of his life, selections from his writings organized under various heads, and an essay on him and on the English language by G. D. Bone are contained in the useful book by the Reverend Stanley L. Greenslade, The Work of William Tindale (1938). A similar book is Gervase E. Duffield, ed., The Work of William Tyndale (1965).
Edwards, Brian (Brian H.), God's outlaw, Welwyn; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Evangelical Press, 1976.
Edwards, Brian (Brian H.), William Tyndale, the father of the English Bible, Farmington Hills, Mich.: William Tyndale College, 1982 printing, 1976. □
J. A. Cannon