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William Tyndale

 

 

William Tyndale Was Burned at the Stake by Catholic Authorities for His "Crime" of Translating the Bible

This article is from the book Rome and the Bible: Tracing the History of the Roman Catholic Church and Its Persecution of the Bible and of Bible Believers.

 

The first English Bible was produced by John Wycliffe in the late 1300s, but though it was a very important achievement that provided a great light to the English nation of that day, the Wycliffe Bible was merely preliminary to that which would come a little more than a century later. The Wycliffe Bible was translated from Latin rather than from Hebrew and Greek. Thus it was a translation of a translation. And it was published solely in handwritten manuscripts. It took a scribe ten months to produce just one complete copy of the Wycliffe Bible.

In the early 1500s, God raised up William Tyndale to translate the first English Bible that was taken directly from Hebrew and Greek and that was published via the printing press.

William Tyndale was born in 1484, one hundred years after the death of Wycliffe. (Some of the branches of the Tyndale family had adopted the name Hitchens or Hutchens, and William Tyndale was also known by this name at times.) Tyndale was born during an era of great spiritual decline.

"It is saying but little, that at this era evangelical religion was low. Effects never exist apart from causes; and as the ministry was a mass of ignorance and superstition, no one has a right to expect grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles. The people never rise in moral excellence and social virtues higher than their teachers. … The people relied ‘on the merit of their own works toward their justification, such as pilgrimages to images, kneeling, kissing, and cursing of them, as well as many other hypocritical works in their store of religion; there being marts or markets of merits, full of holy relics, images, shrines, and works of superstition, ready to be sold; and all things they had were called holy: holy cowls, holy girdles, holy pardons, holy beads, holy shoes, holy rules. ‘They were greatly seduced by certain famous and notorious images, as by our Lady of Walsingham, our Lady of Ipswich, St. Thomas of Canterbury, St. Anne of Buxton, the Rood of Grace [an image at Boxley in Kent which was cleverly rigged to bow its head, roll its eyes, smile and frown] … To these they made vows and pilgrimages, thinking that God would hear their prayers in that place rather than in another place. They kissed their feet devoutly, and to these they offered candles, and images of wax, rings, beads, gold, and silver abundantly.’ … The moral and intellectual condition of the clergy can scarcely be described. Their power over the masses was complete. The destiny of the people for both worlds was in their hands. With their influence they encircled them from the cradle to the grave. Claiming to be the vicegerents or the representatives of the Holy One, their lives were a perpetual exposition of the hypocrisy which marked them. Decency was thrown aside, and morality unknown. Brothels were kept in London for the especial use of the priesthood. The confessional was abused, and profligacy was all but universal. … The moral state of the people under such teaching was almost beyond conception. Ignorance, vice, and immorality of the worst kind, reigned all but universally" (Evans, Early English Baptists, I, 1862, pp. 28,29,33).

The Translator was also born to a time of great change. When he was eight years old, Columbus discovered America. When Tyndale was fourteen, Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to India, and the great era of world exploration had begun. Just three years before Tyndale was born, the Spanish Inquisition was established, and by the time Tyndale was fifteen years old, 8,800 had been burned to death and 90,000 imprisoned under the pope’s Inquisitor General in Spain, Thomas de Torquemada. In 1492, when Tyndale was a young lad of eight, 500,000 Jews had been driven out of Spain and their wealth confiscated. As Tyndale learned his letters and grew to manhood, terrible persecutions were being poured out upon the Waldensian Christians in Bohemia and Moravia. Just twenty-four years before his birth, the 3,000 inhabitants of the valley of Loyse were destroyed by the Roman Catholic armies. When Tyndale was four, an army of 18,000 Catholics made war against the Waldensian Christians of Piedmont.

The popes of Tyndale’s day were very powerful and very wicked. Sixtus IV (1471-1484) established houses of prostitution in Rome. Innocent VIII (1484-1492) had seven illegitimate children, whom he enriched with church treasures. Alexander VI (1492-1503) lived with a Spanish lady and her daughter, and revelled in the grossest forms of debauchery. "The accounts of some of the indecent orgies that took place in the presence of the pope and [his daughter] Lucrezia are too bestial for repetition" (Kerr, pp. 228,29). He had five children, and his favourite son, Caesar Borgia, murdered his brother and his brother-in-law.

Just a few years before Tyndale’s birth, work had begun on the fabulous St. Peter’s Basilica and parts of the 1,000-room Vatican palace, under the reign of Pope Nicholas V. When Tyndale was 24 years old, Michelangelo (1475-1564) began his four-year project of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The most important change of all, though, in Tyndale’s time had to do with the printing press. Just 22 years before Tyndale’s birth, the city of Mentz was invaded and the knowledge of printing could no longer be kept a secret by its founders. Gutenberg had died only 16 years before Tyndale was born. Only eight years before Tyndale’s birth, a printing press had been set up in England by William Caxton. By Tyndale’s birth, printing presses had been set up in more than 120 cities of Europe. By the time Tyndale was 32 years old, the Greek New Testament had been printed.

Tyndale yearned to see the Scriptures translated into English directly from the original Hebrew and Greek and to see the English Bible printed and made available to the common man. The historian John Foxe tells us that Tyndale was "singularly addicted to the study of the Scriptures." While debating the need for ecclesiastical reform and theological purity, Tyndale exclaimed, "If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth a plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou doest." When he said this, he was addressing a Catholic priest who had stated that "we are better without God’s laws than the pope’s."

It is evident that God had enflamed Tyndale’s heart with a passion to produce a pure English translation of the Scriptures, and to the fulfilment of this noble purpose he dedicated his life, willingly suffering great privations, forgoing the joys of marriage and a settled family life, for the sake of endowing his beloved people with the eternal Word of God.

Tyndale’s Education and Christian Faith

Tyndale obtained a good education, beginning at Oxford and later transferring to Cambridge. He probably studied under Erasmus during the famous Greek editor’s professorship at Cambridge between 1509-14. It was possibly during his Oxford years that Tyndale was converted and submitted his life to the authority of the Holy Scripture. Foxe tells us that while there "he read privately to some of the students and fellows of Magdalen college, in divinity; instructing them in the knowledge and truth of the scriptures; and all that knew him reputed him to be a man of most virtuous disposition, and of unspotted life." At Cambridge, Tyndale enjoyed sweet fellowship with certain student friends who shared his faith in Christ, chiefly Thomas Bilney and John Fryth. These "three young men associated themselves together, and strengthened each other’s hands in the work of reading the New Testament and preaching the Gospel of repentance to their fellow students" (Condit, History of the English Bible, 1881, p. 96). Fryth was led to Christ by Tyndale. Bilney had been saved through reading the Erasmus Greek New Testament.

We don’t know much about Tyndale’s family and childhood. He was born near the border of Wales, though he lived most of his time in Gloucestershire, and Davis, in his History of the Welsh Baptists, 1835, tells us that the name of William Tyndale is mentioned in Welsh manuscripts in connection with other Baptist ministers.

"The following are the names of a few of the most noted Baptist ministers in Britain before the reformation … The names of several others are mentioned in Welsh manuscripts, as being noted; but in what respects we are not informed: except William Tyndal, who translated the Bible into the English language, and translated the five books of Moses into the Welsh language, in the year 1520… Llewellyn Tyndal and Hezekiah Tyndal were members of the Baptist church, at Abergaverney, South Wales" (Evans, Early English Baptists, I, 1862, p. 21).

It is possible, then, that Tyndale’s family, or at least some of his near relatives, were Anabaptists, though this is not certain. We know that Tyndale associated himself, at least through letters from the Continent, with a body of independent Christians in London, and we will see more of this church when we consider the martyrdom of Tyndale’s friend John Fryth. Historian John Christian gives this bit of detail:

"It is certain he shared many views held by the Baptists, but that he was a member of a Baptist church is nowhere proved. He always translated the word ecclesia by the word congregation, and held to a local congregation of a church (Tyndale, Works II. 13. London, 1831). There were only two offices in the church, pastor and deacon (I. 400). The elders or bishops should be married men (I. 265). Upon the subject of baptism he is very full. He is confident that baptism does not wash away sin. ‘It is impossible,’ says he, ‘that the waters of the river should wash our hearts’ (Ibid, 30). Baptism was a plunging into the water (Ibid, 25). Baptism to avail must include repentance, faith and confession (III. 179). The church must, therefore, consist of believers (Ibid, 25). His book in a wonderful manner states accurately the position of the Baptists" (Christian, A History of the Baptists, I, pp. 187-88).

On baptism, Tyndale wrote the following in his Prologue to the Book of Leviticus: "If baptism preach me the washing in Christ’s blood, so doth the Holy Ghost accompany it; and that deed of preaching through faith doth put away my sins. The ark of Noah saved them in the water through faith."

We also know that Tyndale’s brother, John, was a Christian, and he suffered persecution for his faith in Christ, but, again, we do not know many of the details of this brother’s Christianity, except that he was opposed to Roman Catholic dogma and he loved and distributed the Scriptures. In 1530 John Tyndale and his friend Thomas Patmore were arrested for distributing Scriptures, fined the large sum of 100 pounds each, and made to ride through London on horseback, facing backwards, with sheets of the New Testament sewn on their clothing.

Tyndale’s Attempt to Translate the Scriptures in England

Upon leaving Cambridge, Tyndale obtained a job as tutor to the children of Sir John Walsh at Little Sodbury Manor, and he remained with this household for about two years. Walsh was a famous warrior who had been knighted as the king’s champion at the coronation of Henry VIII. During these days, Tyndale, who was about 36 years old when he came to Sodbury Manor, preached in open air meetings as well as in homes in the villages nearby, and he debated with the local Catholic priests. It was during one of these debates that he uttered the memorable words mentioned already, that he would make the plowboy know the Scriptures better than these priests. While at Little Sodbury Manor he also translated one of the works of Erasmus, the Christian Soldier’s Manual (Enchiridion Militis Christiani). ("His writings Tyndale admired, but saw through the defects in his character" —Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, I, p. 38). Lady Walsh seems to have been enamored with the wealth commanded by the Catholic scholars. Foxe tells us that one day she exclaimed: "Why, here is such a doctor as may dispense a hundred pounds; and another, two hundred; and another, three hundred pounds; and were it reason, think you, that we should believe you before them?" Tyndale was not so blind. It appears that the Walshes treated Tyndale kindly and helped him go to London when the time came for him to leave. There is no record, though, of how the Sir John Walsh and his good wife received the Gospel that was explained by the famous translator they entertained unawares.

Tyndale’s views on the sole authority of Scripture and his bold exposure of Rome’s errors soon drew the ire of the Catholic authorities. Tyndale later testified of these experiences in the following words:

"A thousand books had they rather to be put forth against their abominable doings and doctrine, than that the Scripture should come to light. For as long as they may keep that down, they will so darken the right way with the mist of their sophistry, and so tangle them that either rebuke or despise their abominations, with arguments of philosophy, and with worldly similtudes, and apparent reasons of natural wisdom; and with wresting the Scriptures unto their own purpose, clean contrary unto the process, order, and meaning of the text; and so delude them in descanting upon it with allegories . . . that though thou feel in thine heart, and art sure, how that all is false that they say, yet couldst thou not solve their subtile riddles. Which thing only moved me to translate the New Testament. Because I had perceived by experience, how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the Scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text: for else, whatsoever truth is taught them, these enemies of all truth quench it again . . . that is with apparent reasons of sophistry, and traditions of their own making; and partly in juggling with the text, expounding it in such a sense as is impossible to gather of the text itself" (Tyndale, Introduction to Five Books of Moses).

Tyndale thought the need for the Scriptures in the vernacular languages was obvious. Consider his words in the Prologue to the first edition of his New Testament. Arguing that it was superfluous to state the reasons for translating the Scriptures into the English tongue, he added: "… for who is so blind to ask, why light should be showed to them that walk in darkness, where they cannot but stumble, and where to stumble, is the danger of eternal damnation; either so despiteful that he would envy any man (I speak not his brother) so necessary a thing…"

This was exactly opposite to the view held by the Catholic Church. Tyndale describes the various opinions he had encountered on this topic: "Some of the papists say it is impossible to translate the Scriptures into English, some that it is not lawful for the layfolk to have it in the mother-tongue, some that it would make them all heretics" (William Tyndale, Preface, Pentateuch, cited from Schaff, VI, p. 726).

In 1522, Tyndale was brought before the authorities to answer for his "heretical" opinions. "When I came before the Chancellor, he threatened me grievously, and reviled me, and rated me as though I had been a dog; and laid to my charge whereof there could be none accuser brought forth, as their manner is not to bring forth the accuser; and yet, all the Priests of the country were there the same day." ROME WAS REACHING OUT ITS LONG ARM AND DIRECTLY FINGERING THE MAN WHO YEARNED TO TRANSLATE THE ENGLISH SCRIPTURES. The Cardinal who had appointed this Chancellor was none other than Thomas Wolsey, who had been appointed Cardinal by Pope Leo X, and who would continue to persecute God’s people throughout his life. Wolsey himself aspired to the papacy and pursued this object zealously, though unsuccessfully. Later Wolsey lamented to the pope that the printing press had made it possible for "ordinary men to read the Scriptures." The pope at the time of this early persecution against Tyndale was Adrian VI (1522-1523), who had only recently made Wolsey his legate or personal representative in England. The Bishop of Worcester (the area in which Tyndale was first persecuted) was Julio di Medici, who later became Pope Clement VII (1523-1534). The Chancellor who berated the 38-year-old Tyndale in 1522 was Thomas Parker, who later displayed his unreasonable fury against the truth by digging up the bones of William Tracy and burning them to ashes. This was done in 1531, during the persecutions that were being poured out upon Bible believers throughout England. Tracy had been condemned after his decease "because in his last will he had committed his departing Spirit to God, through Jesus Christ alone, and left no part of his property to the priests, to pray for his soul" (Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, I, pp. 296,97).

Rome was directly connected, then, with the persecutions against this noble translator from beginning to end. Nothing frightened the old religious Harlot more than the thought of the Scriptures laid open before the common man. The Devil, surely understanding something of the importance of England and its language, employed his false church in a bitter warfare against this Bible which was to have a worldwide influence without peer among translations.

Even after his confrontation with the authorities, Tyndale attempted to make his translation in England. He journeyed to London and presented his plan before Cuthbert Tunstall (remember that name), Bishop of the city, who turned him away. Tyndale quickly found that it would be impossible to complete his project in England because of the oppression against the Word of God during the reign of Henry VIII. "I understood that not only was there no room in my lord of London’s palace to translate the New Testament, but also there was no place to do it in all England." No English printer would dare print a forbidden vernacular Bible. The pope had given England’s King Henry VIII the title "Defender of the Faith" for his rigorous defence of Roman doctrine. Tyndale remained a few months in London in the home of Humphrie Munmouth, who helped finance his journey from England and supported him from time to time in his translation activities on the Continent. Munmouth was later persecuted for the kindness he showed to Tyndale.

Determining to complete his translation outside of England, Tyndale travelled to Europe in January 1524 to complete his masterpiece for the English-speaking world. He could not have known, though he might have suspected, that he would never return to his beloved native land. He would be exiled for 12 years and then put to death for his great work.

Tyndale Completes the New Testament

Tyndale had his translation of the New Testament ready for the printer in Cologne by 1525. A Catholic spy named John Dobneck, better known as Cochlaeus, a man who was a bitter enemy of Martin Luther and the Protestant movement, learned about Tyndale’s efforts to contract a first printing of his New Testament in Cologne. Christopher Anderson, author of the Annals of the English Bible, called Cochlaeus "perhaps the most virulent enemy to the Word of God being translated into any vernacular tongue, who ever breathed. . . . he not only strove to prevent the diffusion of the Scriptures, and longed to strangle every attempt at their translation in the very birth, but even gloried in his enmity to all such proceedings." He had heard certain whisperings that led him to believe that such a printing in English was ongoing, but he did not know the details. While visiting a printing establishment with the goal of publishing something of his own, Cochlaeus "heard them in unguarded moments boast of the revolution which could be shortly wrought in England." Inviting some of these printers to his house, Cochlaeus loosened their tongues with wine and learned exactly where the 3,000 copies of Tyndale’s first printing were being completed and made ready for clandestine transport to England. Hastening to make use of this information, Cochlaeus reported this to the authorities, who forbade the printers to proceed with the work. Tyndale and the man who was helping him at that time, William Roye, were able to get away with most of the completed sheets; and, being forced to flee, they escaped by boat up the Rhine river to the city of Worms, where the printing was completed.

Being foiled of his plan, Cochlaeus then sent a description of Tyndale’s translation to religious leaders in England that they might guard against its importation. He carefully described the format of the copies he had seen at the printers before Tyndale made his escape, and urged the authorities to be on the lookout for these. Wisely, though, Tyndale set about to print yet another edition, which was issued before the first printing was completed. That second printing, which was probably sent to England before the first, was made in a format significantly smaller than the first, to more easily avoid detection. Almost immediately copies began to be smuggled into England from the Continent, hidden in bales of merchandise.

"But notwithstanding the impending dangers, five Hanseatic merchants took the precious books into their ships, and sailed for London. They expected to find the enemy on guard, but instead, the way was open and the books were landed and safely conveyed to the Merchants’ warehouse in Thames Street. If the enemy slept, the friends of the Bible were awake and expectant. Not only in London, but in Oxford and Cambridge, they anxiously awaited the coming of the newly printed English Testaments. The soil was prepared for the seed. For almost a hundred and fifty years this preparation had been going forward: so intimately allied was the close of the fourteenth with the beginning of the sixteenth century. The name of John Wycliffe was still fresh in the minds and hearts of his friends; neither was it forgotten by his enemies, for they still kept alive the fires of persecution so early kindled against his followers. Then these Lollards, or Broders in Christ, still preserved and read the old brown manuscripts of Wycliffe’s New Testament. They were familiar also with religious tracts of his writing. Besides all this there was a more recent preparation which began with the revival of learning, and the publishing of Erasmus’ Greek and Latin Testament. A movement which influenced the educated, not excepting those of the Universities. Finally, by way of preparation, the influence of Luther must not be forgotten, which was beginning to sweep like a great wave over England. Thus the way was fully prepared, and from the first the people received these newly printed Testaments joyfully, but, from necessity, secretly" (Condit, The History of the English Bible, pp. 103,104).

The first copies of the Tyndale New Testament arrived in England in the dead of winter, in January 1526.

Persecutions Begin in England

A letter to King Henry VIII dated December 2, 1525, from the man who later became Archbishop of York, shows the attitude typical of Roman Catholic authorities of that day toward vernacular Bibles: "All our forefathers, governors of the Church of England, hath with all diligence forbade and eschewed publication of English Bibles, as appeareth in Constitutions Provincial of the Church of England" (Hoare, Our English Bible, 1901, p. 144).

It must be recalled that the Church of England was a part of the Catholic church until the break in 1534, and Henry himself was never Protestant in doctrine. "Henry continued to defend the principal teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, required all people in England and Wales to adhere to the Roman creed, and was quite willing to put to death men and women who opposed his will by embracing Protestant doctrine" (Houghton, Sketches from Church History, p. 113).

Tyndale’s translation was forbidden by Catholic authorities in England; those who attempted to distribute copies were hounded and persecuted; and stacks of the printed copies were burned. Cardinal Wolsey was actively employed in hunting down and burning the "heretical" books that were pouring into England. In February 1526, he ordered that a search be made in many places where copies were suspected to be hidden, requiring that London, Cambridge, and Oxford be searched all at one time. At Oxford, the authorities arrested a number of young men who were suspected of holding heretical opinions. Their quarters were searched, and a large pile was made from the manuscripts and New Testaments which were found. The young men were then marched in procession, each made to carry a torch with which the books were lighted, and each being required to toss books into the large fire. They were then cast into a foul dungeon that had been used to store fish. Four of them died during their imprisonment, which lasted from the beginning of March through the middle of August. Among the young men arrested were John Fryth, who became Tyndale’s closest friend and was later martyred; Richard Taverner (who was not required to go into the dungeon), who himself later published an edition of the English Bible; and Thomas Garret, who was burned to death in 1540. Thomas Bilney, who was martyred in 1531, was converted at this time (1526) by the reading of the newly smuggled Tyndale New Testament. Under Bilney’s preaching many others, including Hugh Latimer and Robert Barnes, who were later martyred, were converted during his brief years of ministry.

At Cambridge, too, and in London, secret search was made for books and Scriptures, and those found were instantly apprehended, together with their owners. Spies were appointed to locate Bible lovers. On February 11, 1526, the first pile of Scriptures and theological books was burned in London, under the approving eye of that aspiring pope, Cardinal Wolsey. A description of this scene reminds us of the seventeenth chapter of Revelation:

"The Cardinal had a scaffold made on the top of the stairs for himself, with six and thirty Abbots, mitred Priors, and Bishops, and he, in his whole pomp, mitred, which [Robert] Barnes [in a sermon] had denounced, sat there enthroned! His Chaplains and Spiritual Doctors, in gowns of damask and satin, and he himself in purple! And there was a new pulpit erected on the top of the stairs, for Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester, to preach against Luther and Dr. Barnes; and great baskets full of books, standing before them within the rails, which were commanded, after the great fire was made before the Rood of Northern, (or large crucifix at the north gate of St. Paul’s), there to be burned; and these heretics after the sermon, to go three times round the fire, and cast in their faggots" (Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, I, p. 106).

Anderson reminds us that "THE CHIEF AUTHOR OF THIS NEW WAR [AGAINST THE SCRIPTURES IN ENGLISH], HOWEVER, WAS OUR FORMER BISHOP OF WORCESTER, THE ROMAN PONTIFF HIMSELF, who had been actually more busy than any other to produce it" (Anderson, I, p. 114). The pope was Clement XII, who reigned from 1523-1534.

That same year William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Cuthbert Tunstall (again, remember that name), Bishop of London, also denounced Tyndale’s New Testament and condemned copies to the flames. In a proclamation signed October 24, 1526, Tunstall railed against the newly translated Bible, saying "that many children of iniquity, maintainers of Luther’s sect, blinded through extreme wickedness, wandering from the way of truth and the Catholic faith, craftily have translated the New Testament into our English tongue … which truly, without it be speedily foreseen, without doubt will contaminate and infect the flock committed unto us, with most deadly poison and heresy, to the grievous peril and danger of the souls committed to our charge, and the offence of God’s Divine Majesty: Wherefore we, Cuthbert, the Bishop … Do charge you, jointly and severally … that, by our authority, you warn, or cause to be warned, all and singular … under pain of excommunication, and incurring the suspicion of heresy, they do bring in, and really deliver unto our Vicar-General, (Geoffrey Wharton,) all and singular such books, as contain the translation of the New Testament in the English tongue…" In November a similar mandate was announced by Warham, requiring his entire province to be searched. "By the end of this year, therefore, many copies of the New Testament must have been consumed in the flames, for it has been altogether a mistake to confine this to one or two great occasions. On the contrary, in the very first month of next year we shall presently hear the ambassador of Henry, in the Low Countries, bringing it forward as an argument for burning other there, that this had been doing in England daily!" (Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, I, p. 122).

During 1526 and 1527, the authorities arrested and tormented many Bible readers. "Public Registers are filled with these cruel depositions. During this visitation, in the early part of the year 1527, Father Hacker, alias Ebb, a notable Lollard and Bible reader and teacher, who for the past six years had been going from house to house, reading and expounding the Scriptures, was arrested and compelled upon his oath to discover many of his friends and followers. A long list of the names of those thus detected, and the accusation against them, is recorded by Strype" (Condit, History of the English Bible, p. 107). By 1528, the prisons were "already filled to the full with those whose only crime is that of reading the New Testament in English" (Condit, p. 107).

"The fierceness and destructiveness of the opponents of Tyndale’s translation systematically followed up and destroyed the thousands of copies that had been widely sold through England and Scotland" (Price, The Ancestry of Our English Bible, pp. 247,48). This hatred of Tyndale’s Bible was so aggressive and thorough that though thousands of copies were printed (Simms says no less than 18,000 between 1525 and 1528), only ONE complete copy and ONE partial copy and ONE fragment and of the first edition are known to be in existence today. In 1527, Tyndale testified to the animosity that was being heaped upon him and his Bible by Catholic authorities in Britain: "In burning the New Testament, they did none other thing than I looked for; no more shall they do if they burn me also, if it be God’s will it shall so be. Nevertheless in translating the New Testament I did my duty and so do I now…"

"The earliest importation of these precious volumes would furnish a very curious subject of enquiry. The various methods adopted for several years in order to secure their entrance into this country, can never now, indeed, be fully detailed; but the conveyance of Tyndale’s New Testaments into England and Scotland, with other books illustrative of the Sacred Volume, could only the half be told, would form one of the most graphic stories in English history. No siege, by sapping and mining, which Britain has ever since achieved, could furnish the tenth part of the incident, or evince half the courage, by which she was herself assailed" (Anderson, I, p. 88).

Destroying Tyndale’s New Testament on the Continent

Not being satisfied with the destruction of Tyndale’s New Testaments in England itself, Wolsey and others resolved to search for books in Europe. In February 1526, Henry VIII and Wolsey addressed letters to various authorities in Antwerp, asking them to pursue and destroy all copies of Tyndale’s New Testament. Princess Margaret of Antwerp "pointedly commanded her officers to search the country for these books, intending to proceed in all rigour against those whom they found culpable" (Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, I, p. 124). John Hackett, an agent of the English crown, was commanded to seek out these Scriptures in various cities, and we are told that in this capacity he visited Antwerp, Barrow, Zealand, Ghent, Bruges, Brussels, Louvaine, and elsewhere, all in obedience to Cardinal Wolsey’s instructions. Printers were threatened, and at least one, Christopher Endhoven, was imprisoned.

A plan was also devised by some of the Catholic leaders in England to purchase copies of the Tyndale New Testament before they could be imported, and then destroy them in great lots. A very interesting thing then happened to provide the Translator with some working capital at a time when he had considerable debts. A bishop already mentioned, Cuthbert Tunstall, played a key role in this. Knowing the eagerness with which Tunstall yearned to destroy Tyndale’s work, an enterprising merchant named Augustine Packington had the idea to approach the bishop when he was in Antwerp and offer to sell him an entire printing of Tyndale’s New Testaments. Packington told Tyndale of the plan; and, receiving his blessing, everything proceeded as they had hoped. Tunstall eagerly purchased the entire lot and burned them, but Tyndale got the money and was free to pay his debts and print more copies than those that were burned!

In 1526-27 an amazing series of events transpired which marked the hand of God at work on behalf of His Word. For political reasons, Flemish and German ships had ceased to enter English ports. It so happened, due to the location of the publishing enterprises in Europe, that the Scriptures needing to be smuggled into England had to be brought in by these very ships. How then could the Scriptures enter the land under these conditions? It so happened that great untimely rains fell in sowing time in the spring of 1527, and by the fall of the year the price of wheat, and therefore bread, had increased so dramatically that the people were in danger of starvation. Before long neither wheat nor bread could be obtained for any price. This situation forced the hand of the authorities and they had to allow wheat and other merchandise from France and Germany, and intermingled with that life-giving wheat were the Life-giving Scriptures! Anderson comments, "Men are but too apt to overlook the footsteps of a particular providence, but the arrival of books through such a medium, and at such a period, was too remarkable an event to be passed over in silence. … The bread that perisheth must rise in price, and finally fail, that the bread of life may come."

In December 1527, one of the printers and smugglers of the English Scriptures, John Raimond, was arrested and thrown into prison. In Antwerp he had printed a beautiful fourth edition of Tyndale’s New Testament "enriched with references and engravings on wood, and each page bordered with red lines." Raimond himself helped smuggle 500 copies of these Scriptures into England, and his love for the Word of God was rewarded with imprisonment.

In 1528-29 the persecutions in England became more intense. Tunstall sat as "the grand Inquisitor" from February until May, trying numerous cases. "The shrewd and systematic method adopted by Tunstal seems to have been, to find out the most intelligent or influential men, among these people who were to be cross-examined, and by effectually threatening them, so detect many of the rest" (Anderson, I, p. 180). It was during these trials that Humphrie Munmouth, the businessman who had befriended Tyndale during his months in London, was persecuted. The authorities searched his property and imprisoned him in the Tower, "on suspicion of heresy, for some books found in his house." He was accused of "maintaining those who are translating the Scriptures into English; of subscribing to get the New Testament printed in English, with or without glosses; of having imported it into the kingdom; and, lastly, of having said that faith alone is sufficient to save a man" (D’Aubigne, V, p. 386). Munmouth was not put to death, and his faith in Christ was testified in his will when he died of natural causes some years later on November 16, 1537. He left a large gift for three preachers of the Word of God, and commended his soul unto Christ Jesus, "my Maker and Redeemer, in whom, and by the merits of whose blessed passion, is all my whole trust of clean remission and forgiveness of my sins." He refused to leave any of his inheritance for the saying of Roman masses.

Also in 1528 the Catholic authorities in England made alliance with their fellow persecutors on the Continent to arrest the men who were printing and selling the English New Testaments. Christopher Endhoven was arrested in Antwerp for the "heresy" of printing the Scriptures in the vernacular, though he was able to get himself released. Richard Harman and his wife were imprisoned on July 12, 1528. One of the charges was that he had "received books from a German merchant (viz., New Testaments in English without a gloss), and sold them to an English merchant who has had them conveyed to England." They languished in prison for seven months and suffered great harm to their business.

Attempts to Arrest Tyndale

About then, attempts began to be made by English authorities to arrest Tyndale and other men connected with the printing or importation of Scriptures. These attempts were increased in 1531, at which time King Henry VIII was fiercely desirous of capturing Tyndale. Various individuals were commissioned to seize the Translator, or to attempt to entice him back to England. "His anxiety to seize the man, or allure him into the kingdom, will be found to harmonise with the growing ferocity of his character" (Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, I, p. 267). In spite of these diligent efforts to capture Tyndale, God continued to hide him from his persecutors. His work on earth was not finished, and nothing can destroy the child of God unless and until God allows it. A fascinating thing happened in this connection in April 1531. Stephen Vaughan, one of the men who was hunting Tyndale, was in Antwerp. Tyndale, apparently hearing of this, contacted Vaughan by a middle man and requested that Vaughan accompany this man to meet "a certain friend, unknown to the messenger, who is very desirous to speak with you." Vaughan inquired as to the mystery friend’s name, but he was told that the messenger did not have this information. He agreed to accompany the man, anyway, to satisfy his curiosity, and was brought outside the gates of Antwerp into a field, where he found himself face to face with William Tyndale, the very object of his inquisition. What a surprise this must have been to the king’s agent! Following is the dialogue as recorded by Vaughan himself in a letter to the English authorities:

‘Do you not know me?’ said this Tyndale.

‘I do not well remember you,’ said I to him.

‘My name,’ said he, ‘is Tyndale.’

‘But, Tyndale,’ said I, ‘fortunate be our meeting!’

Then Tyndale—‘Sir, I have been exceeding desirous to speak with you.’

‘And I with you; what is your mind?’

‘Sir,’ said he, ‘I am informed that the King’s Grace taketh great displeasure with me, for putting forth of certain books, which I lately made in these parts; but specially for the book named ‘The Practice of Prelates,’ whereof I have no little marvel,—considering that in it, I did but warn his Grace, of the subtle demeanour of the Clergy of his realm, towards his person; and of the shameful abusions by them practised, not a little threatening the displeasure of his Grace, and weal of his realm: in which doing, I showed and declared the heart of a true subject, which sought the safe-guard of his royal person, and weal of his Commons: to the intent, that his Grace thereof warned, might in due time, prepare his remedies against their subtle dreams. If, for my pains therein taken,—if for my poverty,—if for mine exile out of mine natural country, and bitter absence from my friends,—if for my hunger, my thirst, my cold, the great danger wherewith I am every where compassed;—and finally, if for innumerable other hard and sharp fightings which I endure, not yet feeling of their asperity, by reason (that) I hoped with my labours, to do honour to God, true service to my Prince, and pleasure to his Commons;—how is it that his Grace, this considering, may either by himself think, or by the persuasions of others, be brought to think, that in this doing, I should not show a pure mind, a true and incorrupt zeal, and affection to His Grace? … Again, may his Grace, being a Christian prince, be so unkind to God, which hath commanded his Word to be spread throughout the world, to give more faith to wicked persuasions of men, which presuming above God’s wisdom, and contrary to that which Christ expressly commandeth in his Testament, dare say, that it is not lawful for the people to have the same, in a tongue that they understand; because the purity thereof should open men’s eyes to see their wickedness? … As I NOW AM, very death were more pleasant to me than life, considering man’s nature to be such as can bear no truth.’

Vaughan ends his description of this amazing scene by saying, "After these words, he then, being something fearful of me lest I would have pursued him, and drawing also towards night, he took his leave of me, and departed from the town, and I towards the town—saying, ‘I should shortly, peradventure, see him again, or if not, hear from him." Thus the exiled Translator departs into the night to continue his hiding. Vaughan attempted to persuade Tyndale to return to England, promising him safety, but the Lord gave the man wisdom to ignore these entreaties that he might remain free somewhat longer and continue his work. What a poignant description is given by Tyndale of his condition in exile. For the king and the religious authorities who were persecuting him to ignore this plea and to continue tormenting him is proof of their utterly apostate, unregenerate condition.

In December 1529, a committee of bishops was appointed to deal with "heretics" and their books. A proclamation was issued throughout the land as follows:

"First—that no man within the King’s realm, or other dominions subject to his highness, hereafter presume to preach, teach, or inform, any thing openly or privily, compile and write any book, or keep any school, contrary to the determination of Holy Church. That no man willingly favour or maintain any such person. That all persons having such books and writings deliver them up, within fifteen days. … Also, the Chancellor, the Treasurer of England, the Justice of the one Bench and of the other, Justices of Peace, Sheriffs, Mayors, Bailies, and other officers, shall make oath on taking their charge, to give their whole power and diligence, to put away, and make utterly to cease and destroy, all heresies and errors commonly called Lollardies. … That no person is henceforth to bring into this realm, or to sell, receive, take, or detail, any book or work, printed or written, against the faith Catholics—the decrees, laws, and ordinances of Holy Church—or in reproach, rebuke, or slander of the King, his counsel, or the Lords spiritual and temporal. In case they have any such books they shall immediately bring them to the Bishop of the diocese, without concealment or fraud: or if they know any person having any of the said books, they shall detect them to the said Bishop, all favour or affection laid apart, and that they fail not thus to do as they will avoid the King’s high indignation and displeasure."

A list of more than 100 forbidden books and tracts in Latin and English was attached to this proclamation.

Tyndale’s Books and Sermons

Tyndale not only occupied himself with the translation of the Scriptures, he wrote many profitable books and sermons, including "The Revelation of Antichrist," "The Supplication of Beggars," "The Parable of the Unrighteous Mammon," "The Obedience of a Christian Man," "and "How Christian Rulers ought to govern." In 1530, he published "The Practice of Prelates," in which he boldly described the pope as an ivy which climbs up a tree and gradually saps the strength of the tree and kills it. This tract shows Tyndale’s excellent understanding of church history.

"Even so the Bishop of Rome, at the beginning, crope along upon the earth, and every man trod upon him in this world. But as soon as there came a Christian Emperor, he joined himself unto his feet, and kissed them, and crope up a little with begging,—now this privilege, now that,—now this city, now that … St. Peter’s patrimony,—St. Peter’s rents,—St. Peter’s lands,—St. Peter’s right; to cast a vain fear and superstitiousness into the hearts of men … And thus, with flattering and feigning, and vain superstition, under the name of St. Peter, he crept up and fastened his roots in the heart of the Emperor; and with his sword climbed up above all his fellows; and brought them under his feet. And as he subdued them with the Emperor’s sword, even so, by subtility and help of them, after that they were sworn faithful, he climbed above the Emperor and subdued him also; and made him stoop unto his feet, and kiss them another while. Yea, Celestinus crowned the Emperor Henry the Fifth, holding the crown between his feet. And when he had put the crown on, he smote it off with his feet again, saying—that he had might to make emperors and put them down again. … And as the pope played with the Emperor, so did his branches and his members, the bishops, play in every kingdom, dukedom, and lordship … And thus,—the Ivy tree hath under his roots, throughout all christendom, in every village, holes for foxes, and nests for unclean birds, in all his branches,—and promiseth unto his disciples all the promotions of the world" (Tyndale, "The Practice of Prelates").

In 1530 one of the bitterest foes of the English Scriptures died. This was Cardinal Wolsey. He was put to death for treason, a charge probably well deserved from a political viewpoint, but unquestionably deserved from a spiritual viewpoint, as he had certainly committed treason against the Word of God. With his dying lips he continued to spew forth hatred toward those who loved the Bible, requesting the king to be vigilant against the "heretics" which had begun in the days of John Wycliffe and John Oldcastle and were overrunning the country in his day. This mention of Wycliffe and Oldcastle (who was brutally martyred in 1417) is evidence that Wolsey had been endued with that age-old hatred toward God’s people which has been found among unsaved religionists since Cain killed his righteous brother Abel. This hatred can be traced through the centuries, being evident in Christ’s day in the Pharisees and Saducees who had Him crucified, and throughout church history by those who have tormented God’s faithful remnant who have cleaved to the faith "once delivered unto the saints."

Persecutions Become More Severe

Persecutions continued in England in 1530-32. For example, John Tyndale, the younger brother of William the translator, and one of his friends, Thomas Patmore, were arrested in 1530 and charged with receiving Tyndale’s Testaments and other books and with distributing the same in London. They were fined heavily and forced to ride through the city sitting backwards on horses, with sheets from the New Testament and other books pinned to their garments. These they were forced to toss into a fire at the end of their ride. John Tyndale was also separately fined for sending money to William in Europe. In May 1530, Tonstal burned a great pile of New Testaments in London (Condit, History of the English Bible, p. 113). In August of the same year, Thomas Bilney, mentioned earlier, was burned at the stake for his preaching and distribution of Scriptures. A man named Christopher was cast into prison that year for selling New Testaments, and he died there. In November 1531, Richard Bayfield, a priest who was converted to Christ through the reading of a Latin New Testament and who had thereafter helped smuggle many Scriptures into the country, was betrayed and burned at the stake. He had brought assistance to Tyndale and Fryth and had distributed their books widely. He had been tortured unmercifully during his imprisonment in the Lollard’s Tower, while the authorities attempted to learn the names of others who were distributing Scriptures. John Tewksbury perished in the flames on December 20, 1530. His "crime" was distributing copies of the Word of God and believing in salvation by faith in Christ alone. He had been reading the Wycliffe Bible since 1512 and had obtained the Tyndale New Testament upon its publication in 1526. He had first been arrested in April 1529 and was so brutally tortured that he was crippled. During his agonies, his faith faltered and he had renounced his Scriptural doctrines, but, happily, he strengthened himself in the Lord and went on to pay the ultimate price as a demonstration of his confidence in the Gospel.

One year later, in December 1531, James Bainham was arrested for possessing Scriptures in the English language and for holding heretical views. In an attempt to persuade him to accuse others, he was mercilessly tortured on the rack until he was lamed. His wife, refusing to reveal the location of the suspected books, was cast into Fleet Prison, and all their worldly goods were confiscated. Five months later, on May 1, 1532, the faithful old Christian Bainham was burned at the stake. Addressing the crowd just before the lighting of the fire, he exclaimed:

"I come hither, good people! Accused and condemned for an heretic; Sir Thomas More being my accuser and my judge. And THESE BE THE ARTICLES THAT I DIE FOR, which be a very truth, and grounded on God’s Word, and no heresy. They be these: FIRST, I SAY IT IS LAWFUL FOR EVERY MAN AND WOMAN, TO HAVE GOD’S BOOK IN THEIR MOTHER TONGUE. The second article is,—that the Bishop of Rome is Antichrist, and that I know no other keys of heaven-gates but only the preaching of the Law and the Gospel; and that there is no other purgatory, but the purgatory of Christ’s blood; and the purgatory of the cross of Christ, which is all persecutions and afflictions; and no such purgatory as they feign of their own imagination: for our souls immediately go to heaven, and rest with Jesus Christ for ever…"

Bainham died, according to his own statement, even when half consumed in the flames, without any pain (Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, I, p. 334).

Great numbers of other men and women were arrested for possessing Tyndale’s New Testament and other Scriptures and Gospel books. John Foxe lists dozens of individual cases. Laurence Staple, 1531, for having the Testament in English. John Haymond, 1531, for possessing books of Luther and Tyndale. John Row, 1531, for binding, buying, and dispersing prohibited books. Christopher, a Dutchman of Antwerp, 1531, for selling certain New Testaments in English. W. Nelson, a priest, 1531, for having and buying certain books of Luther, Tyndale, etc. Walter Kiry, a servant, 1531, for having and using the New Testament in English. William Smith, a taylor, 1531, for receiving prohibited books into his house and for "much reading in the New Testament." John Mel, 1532, for having and reading the New Testament in English. Christopher Fulman, a servant, 1532, for transporting prohibited books. Thomas Topley, for reading prohibited books. John Medwell spent 24 weeks in prison, "until he was almost lame," for having in his custody the New Testament in English.

Foxe summarizes the persecution of those years:

"So great was the trouble of those times, that it would overcharge any story to recite the names of all them which during those bitter days, before the coming in of Queen Anne, either were driven out of the realm, or were cast out from their goods and houses, or brought to open shame by adjuration. Such decrees and injunctions then were set forth by the bishops, such laws and proclamations were provided, such watch and narrow search was used, such ways were taken by force of the oath, to make one detect another so subtlety, that [barely] any good man could, or did escape their hands, but either his name was known, or else his person was taken. Yet nevertheless so mightily the power of God’s Gospel did work in the hearts of good men, that the number of them did nothing lessen for all this violence or policy of the adversaries, but rather increased in such sort, as our story almost suffereth not to recite the particular names of all and singular such as then groaneth under the same cross of affliction and persecution of those days" (Foxe, unabridged, 1641, II, p. 323).

"The Public Registers are filled with accounts, not only of those martyred, but of those who were imprisoned, put into stocks, and degraded by every indignity" (Condit, p. 117).

Tyndale’s Friend John Fryth Burned

It was in 1533 that Tyndale’s brilliant, like-minded friend John Fryth was martyred in England, and he died a very noble death and gave a very bold witness to the Truth. Fryth had been arrested in 1526 in Oxford when the persecutions first broke out. John Foxe tells us that Fryth had "first received into his heart the seed of the gospel, and sincere godliness" under Tyndale’s ministry at Cambridge. Thus his conversion was attributed directly to Tyndale’s preaching, and Tyndale counted him as a son in the faith. Fryth was probably with Tyndale in 1523 when the translator was searching for an opening in London in which to perform his work, and they "used to converse respecting the necessity for the Scriptures being ‘turned into the vulgar [common] speech, that the poor people might also read and see the simple plain Word of God’" (Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, I, p. 168). Fryth fled to the Continent in the autumn of 1526 and joined Tyndale for some time, before returning to England to minister in the separated churches. There were a number of congregations that were meeting in England in those days entirely independently of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and many of the pastors of these congregations were martyred for their faith. Fryth was one of these. Christopher Anderson, who was a Baptist leader in Scotland in the 19th century, says of these congregations that they were "perhaps the earliest resemblance of a Christian Church, upon English ground, in the sixteenth century" (Anderson, I, p. 334,344). These congregations, which met in secret, were located in London and in many other counties. Though we do not know for certain what these churches believed about baptism, we do know that they rejected any form of sacramentalism in the Lord’s Supper and practiced it as a simple memorial (Anderson, I, p. 356).

Upon Fryth’s return from Europe, he travelled from place to place worshipping with and ministering to these Bible-believing congregations. Some of his gracious letters to these churches are still in existence, and they read very similar to the letters by the Lord’s Apostles to the churches of the first century. Fryth continually exhorted the people to stand solely upon the Word of God and to have confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ and to be faithful unto death. Tyndale wrote similar letters to these same churches. In late 1532 Fryth was captured and thrown into the Tower of London. At first he was chained to a post, "for I may not have such books as are necessary for me; neither yet pen, ink, nor paper, but only secretly, so that I am in continual fear both of the Lieutenant and of my keeper, lest they should espy any such thing by me." A wonderful and very powerful letter addressed to him from Tyndale just prior to his arrest is still in existence. Consider an excerpt, for it exposes the heart of the translator of our Old English Bible, as well, again, of his clear understanding of the Gospel:

"The grace of our Saviour Jesus, his patience, meekness, humbleness, circumspection, and wisdom, be with your heart, amen! Dearly beloved brother, mine heart’s desire in our Saviour Jesus is, that you arm yourself with patience, and be cool, sober, wise, and circumspect; and that you keep you allow by the ground, avoiding high questions that pass the common capacity. But expound the law truly, and open the veil of Moses, to condemn all flesh, and prove all men sinners, and all deeds under the law, before mercy have taken away the condemnation thereof, to be sin and damnable. And then, as a faithful minister, set abroach the mercy of our Lord Jesus, and let the wounded consciences drink of the water of him. Then shall your preaching be with power, and not as the doctrine of the hypocrites, and the Spirit of God shall work with you, and all consciences shall bear record unto you, and feel that it is so. … Finally, if there were in me any gift that could help at hand, and aid you, if need required, I promise you I would not be far off, and commit the end to God: my soul is not faint, though my body be weary. But God hath made me evil-favoured in this world, and without grace in the sight of men, speechless and rude, dull and slow-witted: your part shall be to supply that which lacketh in me—remembering, that as lowliness of heart shall make you high with God, even so meekness of words shall make you sink into the hearts of men. Nature giveth age authority, but meekness is the glory of youth, and giveth them honour. Abundance of love maketh me exceed in babbling" (Tyndale to John Fryth, reprinted in Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, I, pp. 347,348).

John Fryth’s wife and family had stayed behind in Europe upon his dangerous return to England, and when Tyndale wrote to him in May 1533, he encouraged him that his wife "is well content with the will of God, and would not, for her sake, have the glory of God hindered." Praise the Lord for such fathers and mothers in the faith! This entire letter from Tyndale to Fryth in prison is still extant. For a short time Fryth’s terms of imprisonment were relaxed somewhat and the keeper of the Tower allowed him to have liberty at night to meet with his Christian friends. This soon ended, though, and in June he was brought before certain bishops and other authorities who required that he repent of his "heresies." On his way to appear before these examiners, Fryth was offered an opportunity to escape, but he refused, saying, "If I should now start aside, and run away—I should run from my God, and from the testimony of his holy Word—worthy then of a thousand hells." He knew what God wanted from him in that evil hour, and he was determined to fulfill the course. Sentence was swiftly passed against him, and he was committed to a dark dungeon under Newgate prison. He was "laden with irons, as many as he could bear, neither stand upright, nor stoop down!" (Anderson, I, p. 376). Yet even in this condition he was able to write a letter to his friends, which, after his death, was found by his wife and oldest son and published with other of his writings. The next morning, being July 4, 1534, John Fryth, together with a companion in the Faith, Andrew Hewet, went to their fate at Smithfield. When they were bound to the stake, a Catholic minister exhorted the people not to pray for them, "any more than they would for a dog." The fire was lit and the men were consumed together in the flames. "The wind made his death somewhat longer, as it bore away the flame from him to his fellow; but Fryth’s mind was established with such patience, that, as though he had felt no pain, he seemed rather to rejoice for his fellow than to be careful for himself" (Anderson, I, p. 377).

Tyndale’s Jonah Translation and Its Amazing Prologue

In 1531, Tyndale published the newly translated book of Jonah with a long Prologue for the English people. An excerpt from this Prologue illustrates Tyndale’s keen spiritual discernment, and particularly his understanding of biblical repentance. Such discernment is absolutely necessary in an effective translator of the Holy Scriptures, yet it is so sadly lacking in most modern translators. To have great textual knowledge and linguistic skills is utterly insufficient if not accompanied by at least an equal degree of spiritual life and discernment.

As the envious Philistines stopped the wells of Abraham, and filled them up with earth, to put the memorial out of mind, to the intent that they might challenge the ground; even so the fleshly-minded hypocrites stop up the veins of life, which are in the Scripture, with the earth of their traditions, false similitudes, and lying allegories; and that, of like zeal, to make the Scripture their own possession and merchandise, and so shut up the kingdom which is in God’s Word; neither entering in themselves, nor suffering them that would. …

Since the world began, wheresoever repentance was offered, and not received, there God took cruel vengeance immediately. As ye see in the flood of Noah, in the overwhelming of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all the country about; and as ye see of Egypt, of the Amorites, Canaanites, and afterwards of the very Israelites; and then at the last of the Jews too, the Assyrians, and Babylonians, and so throughout all the empires of the world.

Gildas preached repentance to the old Britons that inhabited England: they repented not; and therefore God sent in their enemies upon them on every side, and destroyed them up, and gave their land to other nations; and great vengeance hath been taken in that land for sin, since that time. Wickliffe preached repentance unto our fathers not long since: they repented not, for their hearts were indurate; but what followed? They slew their true and right king, and set up three wrong kings in a row, under which all the noble blood was slain up, and half the commons too; what in France, and what with their own sword, in fighting among themselves, for the crown; so the cities and towns decayed, and the land was brought half into a wilderness, in respect of that it was before. …

And now Christ, to preach repentance, is risen yet once again out of his sepulchre, in which the pope had buried him, and kept him down with his pillars and pole-axes, and all disguisings of hypocrisy—with guile, wiles, and falsehood, and with the sword of all princes, which he had blended with his false merchandise. And as I doubt not of the ensamples that are past, so I am sure that great wrath will follow, except repentance turn it back again and cease it (Tyndale, Prologue to Jonah).

We see from these excerpts to Tyndale’s Prologue to Jonah that the father of our old English Bible was not only a master translator and a linguistic genius, he was a prophet of God to his nation. He understood the times and the seasons and called his people to repentance. He even sent very powerful and pointed exhortations to King Henry VIII, though, as history tells us, these were ignored by the lustful monarch. Consider these words addressed to the king in 1530:

"And I beseech his Grace also, to have mercy on his own soul, and not to suffer Christ and his Holy Testament to be persecuted, under his name any longer, that the sword of the wrath of God may be put up again, which for that cause, no doubt, is most chiefly drawn. And I beseech his Grace to have compassion on his poor subjects, which have ever been unto his Grace, both obedient, loving, and kind; that the realm utterly perish not, with the wicked counsel of our pestilent prelates. … Many a man, both great and small, have they brought to death in England, even in my days, beside in time past, whose blood God will seek once. … And unto all subjects I say, that they repent; for the cause of evil rulers is the sin of the subjects, as testifieth the Scripture; and the cause of false preachers is, that the people have no love unto the truth,—2 Thess. ii.—We be all sinners, an hundred times greater than all that we suffer. Let us, therefore, each forgive the other, remembering, the greater sinners the more welcome, if we repent, according to the similitude of the riotous Son. For Christ died for sinners, and is their Saviour, and his blood their treasure to pay for their sins,—and his merits, that goodly raiment to cover the naked deformities of our sins" (Tyndale, "The Practice of Prelates").

The exiled Translator of the English Bible understood the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and he also understood the politics of that hour.

Henry Breaks with Pope; Persecutions Continue

On March 26, 1534, the English Parliament renounced all dependence upon the "Court of Rome." The long expected break with the pope was finally made, though King Henry VIII never turned from Catholic doctrine. After this, the persecutions continued and even increased, but they changed character somewhat. Before the watchword was heresy. Now it was treason. Before the trouble was mainly poured out upon Bible believing Christians and possessors of the English Scriptures. Now it was poured out upon anyone, whether Protestant or Catholic or whatever, who opposed Henry’s actions.

The persecutions also continued in Scotland in these days. On August 27, 1534, David Stratoun and Norman Gourlay were burned in Fife, Scotland, for their faith in the Word of God. "The stake was planted so far up the hill as that not only the surrounding crowd from the city, whether below or above, might see; but ‘to the intent,’ says Calderwood, ‘that the inhabitants of Fife, seeing the fire, might be stricken with terror and fear, not to fall into the like’" (Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, II, p. 471). On the next day Katharine Hamilton was brought before the authorities and would probably have been burned except for the intervention of the king. Katharine’s story is very interesting:

"The Bishops gathering courage by their progress, neither her rank or sex could shield her. Mr. John Spens of Condy, the lawyer, and future King’s Advocate, or one of the men who had sat in judgment on her brother Patrick in 1528, held a long discourse respecting works, telling her there were divers sorts; ‘works of congruity and works of condignity.’ Katharine, disturbed with the length and nicety of the argument, at last out of all patience, cried out before them all, the King also sitting by—‘Work here, work there, what kind of working is all this? I know perfectly that no works can save me, but the works of Christ my Saviour.’ His Highness, amused with the very brief manner in which she had disposed of the lawyer’s tedious harangue, interposed, and saved her from death" (Anderson, II, p. 471).

In June 1535, THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT DECLARED THAT ALL PERSONS POSSESSING NEW TESTAMENTS OR "HERETICAL" BOOKS" MUST "DELIVER THEM UP TO THEIR ORDINARY WITHIN FORTY DAYS, under the penalty of confiscation and imprisonment" (Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, II, p. 487). This Parliament even prohibited even the discussion of opinions! "An exception was made in favour of clerks in the schools, who might read, in order to refute. The consequence was, that a number of these clerks, by reading and discussion, sincerely embraced the same sentiments, or the reverse of those which were intended by the indulgence" (Ibid.). In May 1536, "THE READING OF THE SACRED VOLUME IN THE ENGLISH TONGUE WAS PUBLICLY PROHIBITED." In March 1539 five men were burned at the stake in Edinburgh. "The fire was prepared on the esplanade of the Castle, visible at once far and near, to two counties, Mid-Lothian and Fife" (Anderson, II, p. 499). One of the men burned in this group, Dean Forret, had been saved through reading the book of Romans. He studied the Scriptures from six in the morning until noon. He committed three chapters of the Bible to memory each day, and in the evening he made his servant hear him repeat the portion he had memorized. The New Testament he memorized was the one by William Tyndale. Just before announcing his sentence against Forret, the Roman Catholic authority proclaimed: "Knows thou not, heretic, that it is contrary to our acts and express commands, to have a New Testament or Bible in English, which is enough to burn thee for?" Anderson adds, "Then the council of the clergy gave sentence on him to be burnt, for the having and using of the same book—the New Testament in English." Soon thereafter, two more men were burned at Glasgow, and yet another, at Cupar in Fife.

It is important to note that great numbers of Bible believers were tormented in ways other than martyrdom. One of these was the confiscation of their goods. This happened frequently in England and Scotland during those years. In Scotland, for example, in 1538, Walter Stewart was convinced of heresy and fined "his whole estates, or possessions moveable and immoveable." In January 1539, five men were seized and charged with "breaking his Highness’ proclamation, in having and using such books as are suspected of heresy, and are prohibited by the Kirk" (Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, II, p. 498). One of these men was burned at the stake, and the others were required to forfeit their entire estates. "Similar forfeitures extended to Perth, as well as to Stirling … and so far as the seizure of property was concerned, the persecution lay very heavy upon Dundee" (Anderson, II, p. 498).

Tyndale Is Betrayed and Arrested

As early as 1527 Tyndale stated that he knew his enemies would be satisfied with nothing less than his life, if God allowed it. As it turned out, it was God’s will for the faithful translator to give his life as a testimony for Christ and for His Word. William Tyndale was betrayed to his enemies in May 1535, in Antwerp, by Henry [also called Harry] Phillips, a man pretending to be his friend, and by Gabriel Donne, a Catholic monk who was posing as Phillips’ servant. [Some biographers have claimed that Donne did not assume this position of servant to Phillips, but John Foxe, contemporary with those events, said Donne took this position, and Christopher Anderson’s research on this, in the mind of this writer, at least, is convincing enough to close the book on such claims.]

J.F. Mozley, in his 1937 biography of William Tyndale, brought new light upon Henry Phillips. He was the son of Richard Phillips, a very wealthy man who was a member of parliament three times and high sheriff twice. Some time around 1534 or 1535, Henry was entrusted to carry a large sum of money to a person in London. Upon reaching the city, instead of going straight to that person and completing his duty, Henry decided to gamble the money, hoping thereby to gain some easy income for himself. Instead, the foolish young man lost the entire sum! This brought him into extreme difficulty. He was afraid to return to his father, and he was destitute of money. Mozley notes, "It was, then, a few months after he had grievously offended his father and brought shame upon himself, that Phillips appears in Brabant, and carries out a carefully conceived plan of apprehending Tyndale. He made Louvain his headquarters, a town devoted to the papal cause, and he is described as a student of the university. … At Louvain he was within easy reach of Antwerp, and could spy out the land at his leisure. … While in London after his theft, well-nigh in despair, not knowing whither to turn, he was approached by somebody, who, seeing in him a valuable tool, an educated man, hostile to the reformation, ready to turn his hand to anything, took advantage of his extremity, and offered him the job of entrapping Tyndale, supplying him also with money for the purpose" (Mozley, William Tyndale, 1937, pp. 298-300).

Thus we see something of the character of the man who betrayed the faithful Bible translator. The question naturally arises, Who hired Phillips? We don’t know the exact answer. Christopher Anderson believed the conspiracy proceeded from the bishops in England. Mozley agreed with this, believing, more specifically, that Stokesley, Bishop of London, was the culprit. "He was bishop of the capital city; he it was that was most active with Thomas More in the examination of Lutherans [a term that in England was not limited strictly to Lutherans, but extended to all who held Protestant or Anabaptist views] in 1531, when special inquiries were made about the lodging and appearance of Tyndale. … All this, together with the cruelty of his character, his zeal for persecution, his boasts on his deathbed of the number of heretics whom he had robbed of life, makes it reasonable enough to see in him the chief backer, if not the prime engineer, of the plot which destroyed Tyndale" (Mozley, pp. 300,301). Mozley admits that we cannot be certain of this, and this side of eternity we will probably never know more of the details of this conspiracy than what we have here. The Lord knows, though, and all of the details are in His books.

We do know that Tyndale was condemned and burned on the authority of the Roman Catholic clergy. Hall’s Chronicle of 1548 contained the following information (we have modernized the spelling): "This year in the month of September William Tyndale otherwise called Hitchens was by the cruelty of the clergy of Louvain condemned and burned in a town beside Brussels in Braband called Vilvorde" (Westcott, History of the English Bible, p. 172).

The story of Tyndale’s betrayal comes upon good authority, having been recorded by historian John Foxe (1517-1587) from the mouth of Thomas Poyntz, one of the key figures in these events. Tyndale had been living for almost one year with a true friend, the aforementioned Thomas Poyntz, when Henry Phillips discovered him and gradually befriended him. Just hours before the betrayal, the wicked Phillips borrowed forty shillings from Tyndale, knowing he would not have to repay it. Phillips lied, claiming that he had lost his purse during a journey. That afternoon Phillips invited Tyndale to be his guest for dinner that evening, but the gracious Tyndale protested that he, instead, would provide the meal at his expense and that Phillips should be his guest. Phillips brought officers with him and they laid in wait outside of the house while Phillips met Tyndale at the door and pretended that he was ready to go to dinner. As they were leaving the house, at the prearranged signal Tyndale was seized by the officers of Emperor Charles V, a bitter opponent of the Reformation, and he was imprisoned at the castle of Vilvorde.

It is interesting to note at this point that God is not mocked. Henry Phillips was later charged with treason against England’s king, and he was pursued from city to city on this account. In the end he was destitute and friendless. "We take our leave of him, disowned by his parents, cast aside by his friends, denounced by his country, shunned by the very party for whose sake he had marred his life, mistrusted by all, valued only as a tool, friendless, homeless, hopeless, destitute, fated to go down to history as the author of one perfidious deed" (Mozley, William Tyndale, p. 323).

The imprisoned Tyndale was convicted of heresy by the Romanist authorities under the laws of the Inquisition and condemned to die. One of the Catholic theologians conspicuous for his zeal to prosecute Tyndale was Ruwart Tapper, Doctor of Theology, Chancellor of the University of Louvain. Tapper "was conspicuous for his untiring and unsparing zeal in opposing and suppressing the encroachments of Protestantism." He is said to have vowed the maxim, "It is no great matter, whether they that die on account of religion be guilty or innocent, provided we terrify the people by such examples; which generally succeed best when persons eminent for learning, riches, nobility, or high station, are thus sacrificed" (Robert Demaus, William Tindale, p. 175).

Tyndale’s friend Thomas Poyntz, a wealthy businessman, made a diligent effort to help him, writing letters and speaking on his behalf as diligently as he could. He must have realized that by interceding this way for Tyndale he was endangering himself, but he persevered anyway. In fact, this man who stood as a friend for Tyndale lost a great deal from a worldly standpoint. He neglected his own business for two months, traveling with letters and even crossing over to England to bring the matter before English authorities. A letter for Poyntz to his influential brother in Essex in Tyndale’s behalf is still extant. Poyntz was finally imprisoned for his efforts and kept in confinement for 13 weeks in Brussels and fined a large amount of money. Realizing that he might himself be put to death as a heretic, he finally made a daring escape at night, and eluding those who pursued after him on horseback, he made his way to England. The man responsible for overseeing Poyntz’s imprisonment was fined a very large amount of money by the Brussels city council for permitting the escape of "a prisoner accused of Lutheranism." It is probable, then, that Poyntz’s suspicions were correct when he felt that he was himself in danger of being put to death. Poyntz was banished from the Netherlands and lost his goods and his occupation. His wife, a native of Antwerp, refused to join him in England, and for many years he also did not see his children. "In a worldly way his life was ruined by his generous championship of Tyndale: but the lustre of his deed is his perpetual possession" (Mozley, William Tyndale, p. 319). The Latin epitaph on Poyntz’s grave describes him as a man who had an "ardent profession of evangelical truth."

For sixteen months the godly Bible translator remained in the cold, lonely prison. This encompassed one long winter. During part of that time he was examined by Catholic theologians from the University of Louvain, who sought to prove his heresies. In a pitiful communication to an authority in the only letter from those days which has been preserved in his own hand, discovered in Belgian archives in the 19th century, Tyndale made the following entreaty:

I entreat your lordship, and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here during the winter, you will request the Procureur to be kind enough to send me from my goods which he has in his possession, a warmer cap, for I suffer extremely from cold in the head, being afflicted with a perpetual catarrh, which is considerably increased in this cell. A warmer coat also, for that which I have is very thin: also a piece of cloth to patch my leggings. My overcoat is worn out, as also are my shirts. He has a woollen shirt of mine, if he will be kind enough to send it. I have also with him leggings of thicker cloth for putting on above; he also has warmer caps for wearing at night. I wish also his permission to have a lamp in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark.

But above all, I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the Procureur that he may kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may spend my time with that study.

And in return, may you obtain your dearest wish, provided always that it be consistent with the salvation of your soul. But if, before the end of the winter, a different decision be reached concerning me, I shall be patient, abiding the will of God to the glory of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose Spirit, I pray, may ever direct your heart. Amen (Andrew Edgar, The Bibles of England, 1889, pp. 66-69).

Though Tyndale was bound, the Word of God was not. Even during his imprisonment, three editions of his New Testament were printed, as well as editions of some of his books.

Tyndale Is Martyred

On the morning of October 6, 1536, he was led forth to the place of execution. He was tied to a stake, strangled, then burned. At his death Tyndale prayed, "Lord, open the king of England’s eyes."

Tyndale’s spiritual character was evidenced by his life in prison. "Such had been the power of his doctrine, and the sincerity of his life, that during the time of his imprisonment, which endured about one whole year and a half, (or rather a year and three-quarters,) it is said he converted his keeper, the keeper’s daughter, and others of his household. The rest that were in the Castle, and conversant with Tyndale, reported of him, that if he were not a good Christian man, they could not tell whom to trust: and the Procurator-General, the Emperor’s attorney, being there, left this testimony of him, that he was ‘Homo doctus, pius, et bonus’—a learned, pious, and good man" (Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, I, pp. 517,18).

John Foxe, who was contemporary with Tyndale and who diligently interviewed people then living about the events we have described, drew this picture of the man: "First, he was a man very frugal, and spare of body, a great student, and earnest labourer in the setting forth of the Scriptures of God. He reserved or hallowed to himself two days in the week, which he named his pastime, Monday and Saturday. On Monday he visited all such poor men and women as were fled out of England, by reason of persecution, into Antwerp, and these, once well understanding their good exercises and qualities, he did very liberally comfort and relieve; and in like manner provided for the sick and diseased persons. On the Saturday, he walked round about the town, seeking every corner and hole, where he suspected any poor person to dwell; and where he found any to be well occupied, and yet over-burdened with children, or else were aged and weak, those also he plentifully relieved. And thus he spent his two days of pastime, as he called them. And truly his alms were very large, and so they might well be; for his exhibition that he had yearly, of the English merchants at Antwerp, when living there, was considerable, and that for the most part he bestowed upon the poor. The rest of the days of the week, he gave wholly to his book, wherein he most diligently travailed. When the Sunday came, then went he to some one merchant’s chamber, or other, whither came many other merchants, and unto them would he read some one parcel of Scripture; the which proceeded so fruitfully, sweetly and gently from him, much like to the writing of John the Evangelist, that it was a heavenly comfort and joy to the audience, to hear him read the Scriptures: likewise, after dinner, he spent an hour in the same manner" (Anderson, I, pp. 520,21).

The noble translator fought a good fight and finished his course, and we now leave him to rest in Glory and to await the fulfilment of these times.

The death of Tyndale did not stop the persecutions in England or the efforts of the authorities to destroy the Bible believers and their books. Two years later, Tyndale’s former associate, John Lambert, was executed at Smithfield in England for maintaining the same doctrinal positions as Tyndale (Demaus, William Tyndale, p. 181). In November 1538 "the King put forth a proclamation, in which he condemns all the books of the Anabaptists and Sacramentarians, and appoints those to be punished who vented them; and in December following he sent a letter to all the Justices in England, in which, after many other things, they are earnestly pressed to take care, that all the injunctions, laws and proclamations, against Sacramentarians and Anabaptists, be duly executed" (Crosby, History of the English Baptists, I, 1740, pp. 38,39).

Tyndale’s translation was again condemned by Roman authorities in 1546 (Elliott, Delineation of Roman Catholicism, p. 25).

The year 1546 was also that in which Anne Askew became "the first female martyr of rank or family, tormented and burnt to ashes, for no alleged crime, save steadfast adherence to the truth of Scripture" (Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, II, p. 190). Her wealthy husband, being devoted to Roman Catholicism, had driven her from their house because of her love for the Word of God. He and her son later testified against her and called for her punishment. She was imprisoned in March 1546. When questioned on matters of church tradition, she replied, "I believe all those Scriptures to be true, which He hath confirmed with his most precious blood. Yea, and as St. Paul saith, those Scriptures are sufficient for our learning and salvation, that Christ hath left here with us; so that I believe we need no unwritten verities to rule his Church with" (Anderson, II, p. 198). Her sole authority was the Bible, and for this she must die. In June she was condemned to be burned, with two other Bible believers. In July she was carried to the Tower prison and tortured on the rack repeatedly in an effort to force her to identify other believers. She said, "Then they did put me on the rack, because I confessed no ladies or gentlemen to be of my opinion, and thereon they kept me a long time; and because I lay still and did not cry, my Lord Chancellor and Master Rich took pains to rack me with their own hands till I was nigh dead" (Anderson, II, p. 196). Late in the night on July 16, the sentence was finally carried out. Anne could not walk to the execution because the torture she had endured on the rack a few days prior had dislocated her joints; she had to be carried in a chair.

Just eight days before this execution, a proclamation had been made by the English authorities again expressly forbidding the possession of Scriptures or books by Tyndale and many other Bible-believing men. (Wycliffe was also mentioned in the list, which tells us that some of his Scriptures and books were still in circulation).

There were at least a few more books burned after this, but no other men or women were put to death in Henry’s time. Anne and her two friends have the distinction of having been the last. Only a few months later Henry himself would be dead.

Some have claimed that Tyndale’s translation was condemned only because it contained controversial notes which were opposed to Romanism, but Marion Simms, author of The Bible from the Beginning, discerningly comments, "The [Catholic] church, however, was opposed to any Bible for the common people, and doubtless would have sought to destroy it in any event" (Simms, p. 168).

Tyndale made a good start on his translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew, but he did not live to complete the work. Tyndale’s work was picked up by two men. The first was Miles Coverdale; the second, and the more important of the two in this writer’s estimation, was John Rogers.

The Coverdale Bible first appeared in October 1535, and it was probably first printed in Europe. This was the first complete English Bible in print, but while Coverdale used Tyndale ‘s New Testament, the Old Testament was Miles Coverdale’s own translation from German and Latin. Coverdale was not a Greek or Hebrew scholar. The Coverdale Bible eventually was licensed by the king, the first edition with such a license appearing in 1537, only a few months after Tyndale’s death.

John Rogers and the Matthew’s Bible

It was John Rogers (1500-1555) who completed the English translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew where Tyndale left off and who published the first complete Tyndale Bible. Tyndale had published the Pentateuch and the book of Jonah before his martyrdom. It is believed by dependable authorities that Tyndale also had completed the translation of the books from Joshua to 2 Chronicles, and that John Rogers obtained these manuscripts and completed the Old Testament. Rogers issued a Bible known as the Matthew’s Bible in 1537. The name Thomas Matthew, which appeared on the Bible’s title page, was probably a pen name which Rogers had assumed, though some have suggested that this was the name of some other man connected with the work. Rogers’ contemporaries certainly considered Thomas Matthew his pen name.

"The sentence pronounced on him before his martyrdom contains, four times, the expression, ‘Johannes Rogers alias Matthew.’ The Council Register of Mary’s reign says, ‘John Rogers alias Matthew, is ordered to keep his house at Paul’s; and we know that he was for some time a prisoner in his own house" (Simms, Bible from the Beginning, p. 176).

(Some historians of this present brash century despise much of what has been written aforetime, alleging that they are more capable of determining the truth of ancient events than were historians living near those times. This has always seemed pretentious to me. Remember, this is the very same century which has given us theologians who claim they can tell us more about the "genuine Jesus" than the men who walked and talked with the Same and who witnessed Him rise from the dead. What silly presumption! I am not saying that old historians were infallible, nor, that modern historians are totally undependable. Much helpful research has been accomplished in this century and many new facts have been brought to light. A historian is not accurate simply because he wrote before the 20th century. There have been undependable historians in all centuries. I have mentioned this simply to warn of the pride that is encountered frequently in modern histories.)

The Matthew’s Bible was intended for serious study. It contained "a collection of biblical passages constituting ‘An Exhortation to the Study of the Holy Scripture’, a summary of the chief doctrines contained in the Bible, adapted from Jacques Lefevre’s French Bible of 1534 … an alphabetic concordance to the subjects dealt with in the Bible, translated from Pierre Robert Olivetan’s French Bible of 1535…" (Bruce, History of the Bible in English, p. 66).

On February 4, 1555, John Rogers followed his friend Tyndale into the flames and gave his life for his testimony for Christ. Rogers had a large family; at the time of his imprisonment he had eleven children, one a nursing baby. His pitiful request that his wife be allowed to visit him was cruelly denied by the ecclesiastical authorities. He did not see her or the children until he was on the way to his execution.

How quickly Tyndale’s dying prayer was answered. Yea, though Tyndale had no way of knowing, being far from the events already transpiring quietly in his homeland toward the authorization of the Coverdale and the Matthew’s and the Great Bibles, his prayer was answered in part before he even prayed it! The fickle Henry VIII had been persuaded by Cromwell to authorize an English Bible, though he did not know that the Bibles he would eventually authorize, by God’s sovereign purposes, were largely those of the man he despised, William Tyndale! Henry hated Tyndale because he had opposed Henry’s divorce from Catherine (Simms, Bible from the Beginning, p. 170).

"In this Bible [the Matthew’s] we have therefore what purports to be the first authorized English version, and it is a strange paradox that two-thirds of it was really the work of Tyndale, who had suffered martyrdom only the preceding year for having dared to translate Scripture in the face of the opposition of king and ecclesiastical authorities. … strangely enough, it not only carries the initials of Tyndale nearly two and a half inches high, at the end of Malachi, but it contains that arch-heretic’s prologue to the Epistle to the Romans, not to speak of other objectionable features" (Norlie, The Translated Bible, p. 185).

God answers the prayers of His people, and He always has the final word!

Tyndale’s influence on later editions of the English Bible was immense. His was the first printed English Bible and the first translated directly from the Hebrew and Greek. Much of the powerful, direct, energetic style of the old English Bible we still use today, almost five centuries later, is Tyndale’s. Historian Froude observes:

"Of the translation itself (the 1611), though since that time it has been many times revised and altered, we may say that it is substantially the Bible with which we are all familiar. The peculiar genius—if such a word may be permitted—which breathes through it—the mingled tenderness and majesty—the Saxon simplicity—the preternatural grandeur—unequalled, unapproached in the attempted improvements of modern scholars—all are here, and bear the impress of the mind of one man—William Tyndale. Lying, while engaged in that great office, under the shadow of death, the sword above his head and ready at any moment to fall, he worked, under circumstances alone perhaps truly worthy of the task which was laid upon him—his spirit, as it were divorced from the world, moved in a purer element than common air" (Froude, History of England, III, p. 84).

The King James Bible is merely a revision of the Tyndale Bible. Comparisons have been made, showing, for example, that nine-tenths of the Authorized Version in First John and five-sixths of Ephesians is directly from Tyndale. "These proportions are maintained throughout the entire New Testament" (Price, The Ancestry of Our English Bible, p. 251). "In the Gospel of St. Mark and the Epistle to the Hebrews [in Tyndale] there are not more than eighty words … which are not found in our Authorized Version of the Bible; that is to say, there are not more than four strangers in every thousand words, or nine in every hundred verses" (Moulton, The History of the English Bible, p. 70).

Every person who has been blessed through a sound English Bible through the past four centuries owes a large debt to the humble translator who was faithful unto death. The Tyndale Bible literally transformed the nation of England. Multitudes of commoners, for example, were driven to learn to read and thus arise out of illiteracy, by their motivation to study the Bible in their own tongue. The excitement and change which was wrought in British society by the distribution of the first printed English Bible cannot properly be described. The 16th century historian John Foxe, who carefully documented the persecutions of that era, noted, "Everybody that could bought the book or busily read it or got others to read it to them if they could not themselves, and divers more elderly people learned to read on purpose. And even little boys flocked among the rest to hear portions of the holy Scripture read."

The Tyndale Bible changed the destiny of nations. It even created one out of whole cloth—the United States of America. The Bible brought to America by its first settlers in the early 1600s was the Geneva Bible, an edition of the Tyndale, and the Bible upon which America’s political documents were based in the late 1700s was the King James Bible, another edition of Tyndale.

 

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This article is from the book Rome and the Bible: Tracing the History of the Roman Catholic Church and Its Persecution of the Bible and of Bible Believers. To our knowledge, this is the first history ever published that details the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to the Bible through the centuries. It covers the Roman Catholic Inquisition from the 11th to the 19th centuries, particularly the role played by the Inquisition to keep translations of the Bible out of the hands of the common people.

 

 
 
     

 

 

 

 

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