Tyndale: On the Lam

Tyndale decided it was time to leave Little Sodbury. With the blessing of the Walsh family Tyndale left for London in 1523. Tyndale went to London hoping to obtain permission from the church to translate the NT into English. Tyndale knew of Bishop in London named Cuthberttyndale_small.jpg Tunstall. Tunstall had received praise from Erasmus, and so Tyndale (some what naively) thought that Tunstall would be of help to him. Tyndale could not have come to Tunstall at a worse time. Tunstall had just recently settled into his office, and with the influence that the German Lutherans were having on the church it would not have been a wise political move for Tunstall to employ a zealous bible translator. Consequently Tyndale was turned downed by Tunstall. Later Tyndale would describe Tunstall as a “ducking hypocrite.” Tyndale did everything he could to translate the NT legally with Church permission, but when we was turned down he did not quit. Tyndale’s burning passion to give the man behind the plough God’s word in simple language never died down.While Tyndale was in London waiting to meet with Tunstall he had the opportunity to preach on a several occasions at the Church of St. Dunstan-in-the-West (In fact there is now a monument to Tyndale on that very church). This church was known to be a place of reformed thinking, and so it attracted many who were friendly to the reformation movement. One such man, Humphrey Monmouth, had recently become a “scripture man” and began attending the church. After a few Sundays of hearing Tyndale preach Monmouth introduced himself to Tyndale. This friendship that developed between the two men would prove to be profitable for Tyndale throughout his ministry. After Tyndale was rejected by Tunstall Monmouth took Tyndale into his own home. Monmouth, who would be imprisoned for his association with Tyndale, said of Tyndale “He studied most part of the day and of the night at his book, and he would eat but sodden (boiled) meat by his good will, no drink but a small single beer.” Monmouth’s support for Tyndale was extremely important because he had the resources of a wealthy and well connected man.One of the great connections that Tyndale had through Monmouth was to the London Steelyard. The Steelyard was the landing spot for many of London’s imports, and was controlled primarily by the Germans. This was significant because many of these Germans from the Steel yard had been influenced by Lutheran teaching. Through these connections at the Steel yard Tyndale was able to get his hands on the works of Martin Luther. As Tyndale read Luther he realized that Luther had come to many of the same conclusion that he himself had come to. Tyndale found a theological reassurance from Luther that spurred him on even more in his desire to translate the NT into English. However, Tyndale knew that because of the persecution from the Roman Church there was nowhere in England that he would be able to safely translate and print the Scriptures. (Remember Tyndale could not just run down to Kinko’s and have a few copies run off.) Tyndale would need to enlist a printing press for this work, and he knew that it would be impossible to do in England. With this in mind Tyndale left England under a false name and went to Germany.

It is thought that upon arrival in Germany Tyndale first went to Wittenberg and met with Luther. After this short tyndale-portrait.jpgperiod of time Tyndale left Wittenberg and went to Hamburg. Tyndale left the safety and fellowship of Wittenberg because Cologne on the Rhine, where Tyndale actually began his printing, was much closer to England. It would be far easier for him to smuggle these Bibles into England from this location. (It is worth noting that William Tyndale had no one to help him in his translation work, nor were there any other English versions of the Bible available for him to reference. In contrast, Luther had all the resources of Wittenberg University, as well as 19 other German translations to work from.)
Tyndale had to move his work again when he was almost captured in Cologne. John Cochlaeus, who has a bitter opponent of the Reformation, had heard rumors that learned Englishmen were lurking in the city, and that they were printing the NT in English. Upon hearing this Cochlaeus received permission from the local government and began searching for Tyndale. Word got out and Tyndale immediately slipped out of town by night literally with armfuls of printed sheets, and went to Worms. In 1526 Tyndale completed his translation work from Worms, and copies began trickling into England and Scotland. There were two significant events that helped Tyndale get his translation to the people. First, there had been a horrible harvest the year before in England. This meant that the English were depending greatly upon imports from other countries. What the English authorities would soon learn is that bibles were being smuggled in with these imports. The Second significant event that helped Tyndale in his work came after the English and Church authorities realized that bibles were coming into the country. They did not know how to stop this, so they kept buying up the bibles. Their goal was to prevent the people from getting them, however what they did instead was fund Tyndale to continue printing.

Tyndale faced this opposition because the Roman Church felt that his translation of the NT contradicted the teaching of the church. They were partly correct in this assertion; Tyndale’s NT did contradict their teaching. But it was not the translation that contradicted the Church it was a literal rendering of the scripture that contradicted the church. Tyndale contended that the Greek New Testament did not support the traditional Roman Catholic readings, and he was correct. Using words like Overseer rather than Bishop and Elder rather than Priest Tyndale transformed the doctrine of the Church.



  1. So what was the real reason William Tyndale was condemned? Was translating the Bible into English actually illegal? The answer is no. The law that was passed in 1408 was in reaction to another infamous translator, John Wycliff. Wycliff had produced a translation of the Bible that was corrupt and full of heresy. It was not an accurate rendering of sacred Scripture.

    Both the Church and the secular authorities condemned it and did their best to prevent it from being used to teach false doctrine and morals. Because of the scandal it caused, the Synod of Oxford passed a law in 1408 that prevented any unauthorized translation of the Bible into English and also forbade the reading of such unauthorized translations.

    It is a fact usually ignored by Protestant historians that many English versions of the Scriptures existed before Wycliff, and these were authorized and perfectly legal (see Where We Got the Bible by Henry Graham, chapter 11, “Vernacular Scriptures Before Wycliff”). Also legal would be any future authorized translations. And certainly reading these translations was not only legal but also encouraged. All this law did was to prevent any private individual from publishing his own translation of Scripture without the approval of the Church.

    Which, as it turns out, is just what William Tyndale did. Tyndale was an English priest of no great fame who desperately desired to make his own English translation of the Bible. The Church denied him for several reasons.

    First, it saw no real need for a new English translation of the Scriptures at this time. In fact, booksellers were having a hard time selling the print editions of the Bible that they already had. Sumptuary laws had to be enacted to force people into buying them.

    Second, we must remember that this was a time of great strife and confusion for the Church in Europe. The Reformation had turned the continent into a very volatile place. So far, England had managed to remain relatively unscathed, and the Church wanted to keep it that way. It was thought that adding a new English translation at this time would only add confusion and distraction where focus was needed.

    Lastly, if the Church had decided to provide a new English translation of Scripture, Tyndale would not have been the man chosen to do it. He was known as only a mediocre scholar and had gained a reputation as a priest of unorthodox opinions and a violent temper. He was infamous for insulting the clergy, from the pope down to the friars and monks, and had a genuine contempt for Church authority. In fact, he was first tried for heresy in 1522, three years before his translation of the New Testament was printed. His own bishop in London would not support him in this cause.

    Finding no support for his translation from his bishop, he left England and came to Worms, where he fell under the influence of Martin Luther. There in 1525 he produced a translation of the New Testament that was swarming with textual corruption. He willfully mistranslated entire passages of Sacred Scripture in order to condemn orthodox Catholic doctrine and support the new Lutheran ideas. The Bishop of London claimed that he could count over 2,000 errors in the volume (and this was just the New Testament).

  2. Steve,
    Your statement is full of exagerations and inaccuracies. You could have saved some time and just said that you’re catholic and you don’t think Tyndale was a good guy or that he did a good thing. At least be honest about it. I’m protestant and I think he was good and did good, by God’s grace. My guess is that you’ve never read Tyndale’s translation and you wouldn’t know Greek anyway, so you don’t even know if your statements are true. Nice true though… If you want to post again here you have to be transparent. If you want to post another long post, get your own blog.

  3. Dear Paul,
    I am glad you have the courage to leave the post up. When you write about Catholicism you usually do it from an ignorant view point. It not your fault, you have not had the opportunity to get into it very deeply. When you preach against Catholicism a least quote authentic sources; like the Catechism or a papal encyclical/letter. I do not need to know Greek to trust the translation that is provided for me by the Church. The early Church did not have a Bible and yet there were Christians. When Christ died on the Cross he did not hand out a King James Bible, second edition. At Pentecost He entrusted His Church to the first Bishops. To trust your assumption in Reformed Christianity, I must suspend reason. To believe what you say, I would have to believe that Jesus tricked mankind for 16 centuries until a disgruntled Catholic priest named Calvin would set the world strait. To further defy logic I would sort through the vast myriad of Calvinist churches and hope the one I chose was the right one. Is yours the right one? How do you know it’s the right one? Why Calvinism and not Lutheranism? You and I have the freedom to discuss these issues. I have a right as a Baptized Christian to defend my Lord. I am defending Him and His Church in this comment. Your post is an attack on the Lord God Almighty. You may not see it in such a light, however truth is the truth even if you do not believe it.
    May the peace of the Lord be with you.

  4. You’re right I am courageous. Thank you. I’m sorry you feel that you don’t need a bible because you have the bishops. Although if you’d read your bible instead of listening to bishops you’d realize that there were no “bishops” at Pentecost. That’s not what the bible calls those men, it’s what your leaders call them. I know that kind of logic sound like it comes from the world of suspended reason in the twilight zone of Protestantism, but I just prefer to describe things in the same manner that the bible does.

  5. Paul
    One must consider that a man may never had read a syllable of the Bible and can still achieve the crown of Salvation. In Jesus’ “Parable of the Vineyard” Jesus talks about the eternal reward of Heaven is available to all, no matter how many hours the individual works in the vineyard. Yet at the time he spoke those words there was no written Bible. The Gospels, The Acts, The epistles and the book of Revelation, were not available to most first/second/third century Christians, worldwide literacy could be argued to be only a hundred years old from today, Protestantism does not need a literate Bible reader for a congregation to exist. Jesus primary language was not Coptic, not Armenian, not Greek, not Hebrew, not Syriac, nor Latin, it was Aramaic. Yet Christian who spoke these various languages all contributed to what we understand today as the Bible. So how can the English Roman Catholic priest Father William Tyndale, you or anyone else know that Tyndale’s Greek source material was a correct translation of Jesus’ spoken Aramaic? You as Reformed Protestant have to trust the Church Fathers, aka Catholic Bishops/priests ( Ireneaus, Jerome, Clement, and Justin are some examples ) for collecting, disseminating, proofing, discerning the writings of various Catholic Bishops/ApostlesEvangelists such as Peter in Rome, Paul throughout the Mediterranean, Thomas in India and Mark in North Africa, these authors and collectors of the Canon of the Bible. You trust the Greek Catholics translations but not the Latin Catholic translations even though Tyndale has been ascribed by his peers to have used Latin source material for his translation? Tyndale had spoken publicly about not using Wycliff’s english translation as source material, however, to say he never read it or was not heavily influenced by it seems a little odd. So the question that begs to be asked? Can you trust Tyndale? Has Tyndale’s works robbed you of any of the revealed truth of Christ by the Apostles?

    Paul in your last comment you stated that, “Although if you’d read your bible instead of listening to bishops”. You infer that I don’t want a Bible, that is not fair statement. But when you read your Bible you have listened to my Bishops and priests that gave you, your Bible.

    The Reformed Church owes more to Oliver Cromwell than to Father Tyndale for its existence. Protestantism was not a manifestation of Christian reform, but the fruit of a political rebellion.

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