William Tyndale: The Man Who Died for Translating the Bible

Nearly 500 years ago, William Tyndale who is today called the ‘Father of the English Bible’ was strangled and burned at the stake after being tried and convicted of heresy and treason for translating the Bible into English. He was burnt alive at the ridiculous young age of 42 years old, for his efforts in translating the Greek Bible into English.

A graduate of Oxford and Cambridge, Tyndale had a powerful desire to make the Bible available to the common people in England. This desire was also birthed in order to correct the ‘Biblical ignorance of the priests.’ According to the records at one point in his life, Tyndale told a priest, “If God spares my life, and many years pass, I will cause that a boy that driveth the plow shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.”

Today, 90% of the King James Version of the Holy Bible and 75% of the Revised Standard Version are from the translations made by Tyndale, a man to whom Christianity owes so much thanks to. The fact that today, there is a Bible in almost every language of communication on earth and through which believers can read is largely due to his labour. Surprisingly, the bulk of the very phrases still retain the flavour of his understanding of Greek and Hebrew.



Tyndale was able to accomplish his task at a time when translating the Bible into English was practically ILLEGAL. He went to London to ask Bishop Tunstall if he could be authorised to make an English translation of the Bible, but the Bishop did not grant his approval. However, Tyndale did not let the disapproval of men stop him from carrying out what seemed so obviously to be God’s will. With the encouragement and support of some British merchants, he decided to go to Europe to complete his translation, have it printed and smuggle it back into England.

In 1524 Tyndale sailed for Germany. In Hamburg, he worked on the New Testament, and in Cologne, he found a printer who would print the work. Soon, news of Tyndale’s activity came to an opponent of the Reformation who had the press raided. Tyndale himself managed to escape with the pages already printed and made his way to the German city Worms where the New Testament was soon published. At the time, Six thousand copies were printed and smuggled into England.


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The Bishops did everything they could to eradicate the Bibles. Bishop Tunstall had copies ceremoniously burnt at St. Paul’s. The Archbishop of Canterbury bought up copies to destroy them. Tyndale used the money to print improved editions. He continued hiding among the merchants in Antwerp and began translating the Old Testament while the King’s agents searched all over England and Europe for him.

A copy of Tyndale’s “The Obedience of a Christian Man” fell into the hands of King Henry VIII, providing the king with the rationale to break the Church in England from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. In 1535, Tyndale was arrested and jailed in the castle of Vilvoorde (Filford) outside Brussels for over a year. Tyndale’s work was denounced by authorities of the Roman Catholic Church and Tyndale himself was accused of heresy. He was finally found by an English man who pretended to be his friend but then turned him over to the authorities.


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After spending a year and half in prison, he was brought to trial for heresy — FOR BELIEVING, among other things, IN THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS and that THE MERCY OFFERED IN THE GOSPEL WAS ENOUGH FOR SALVATION. In August 1536, he was condemned and was executed [burned alive at the stake] publicly on October 6, 1536, in a small town in Belgium.


As he burnt to death, Tyndale reportedly said “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.”

The prayer was answered first in part when three years later, in 1539, King Henry VIII required every parish church in England to make a copy of the English Bible available to its parishioners. Today, Tyndale’s prayer is fully answered, and not only were the King’s eyes opened, but the Bible is a universal instrument. For the records,

  •  In 1611, the 54 scholars who produced the King James Bible drew significantly from Tyndale, as well as from translations that descended from his.
  •  In 2002, Tyndale was placed at number 26 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.

Today it’s hard to imagine the world without the English Bible, and how there could now be as many as 900 of such translations in existence. Before Tyndale, it had never happened. He’s thus known as the Father of the English Bible, since the later, epochal work of the King James Version of the Bible largely consisted of Tyndale’s scholarly and accessible translations. As a very important and interesting piece of history worth knowing and appreciating by all believers, it should also challenge believers to spend quality time in the study of this same glorious book that this great servant literally gave his life for.


The English language, as with scholarly understanding, continues to evolve and so the work of Bible translation continues today. But without the courage and intelligence of a man like Tyndale, who challenged the status quo before them and died for doing so, it might never have been possible.

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