Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The James Bond of Scripture Spies / William Tyndale

Big Idea: William Tyndale was inspired by Martin Luther to get the Bible into the hands of the Average Joe, at any cost.

The Dangerous Secret that can Change Hearts

Like James Bond, William Tyndale (c. 1492-1536) was an Englishman. They were both brave and cautious with dangerous secrets, for a higher calling.

Like John Wycliffe, William Tyndale was an Oxford man. He was a smart scholar, ordained as a priest.

Tyndale believed the Bible would change man’s heart.

Tyndale’s single-minded passion

His single-minded passion was to put an English Bible in every household.

A fellow scholar told Tyndale people are better without God’s law, than without the Pope.

“If God spares my life,” Tyndale retorted, “I will cause the boy that drives a plow to know more of Scripture than you do!”

Trouble with King Henry VIII

Reformers such as Luther and Tyndale prepared a Bible of original language accuracy, to be available for everyone to read.

The Catholic hierarchy saw new Biblical translations emerging with concern because they were not given the opportunity to verify these new works. They wondered how the uneducated would interpret what they read.

Infamous, gluttonous Henry VIII, who went through six wives, was King of England then. The King broke with the Pope, and declared himself over England’s church.

At first, King Henry liked Tyndale translating the Bible into understandable English. But when Tyndale criticized the frivolous way King Henry got rid of wives, King Henry was incensed.

Ultimately King Henry VIII was behind Tyndale’s death.

The Pocket New Testament

Few people, except for scholars, could read. A congregation was lucky to have a huge Latin Bible chained to the pulpit.

Tyndale fled England with his translation in progress. Martin Luther’s small German New Testament was recently printed. Tyndale coveted a pocket English New Testament for England.

Smuggled Bibles, close calls

First Tyndale went to Cologne, Germany, and got the New Testament printing started. English agents found and destroyed it and Tyndale escaped with just a few portions.

A year later it printed successfully in Worms, Germany. Portions of New Testaments were hidden in wine barrels and as cloth goods and smuggled into England.

The head bishop in England discovered the contraband Bible and bought up all they could find, burning them.

By the next year Tyndale used the earnings to finance the next printing. 3000 New Testaments showed up around England.

English agents constantly tried to catch and arrest him. Tyndale, constantly on the move, was translating the Old Testament. Moving by sea he was shipwrecked, losing precious books and Old Testament manuscripts, having to start all over again.

A couple years later the first five books of the Old Testament showed up around England.

The wolf in sheep’s clothing

One of King Henry’s agents found Tyndale and befriended him, feigning common interest. Tyndale was trapped when his host was away, arrested and thrown into a Belgium prison for over a year.

After a short trial, he was strangled to death and then burned at the stake.

The Legacy

Upon his death Encyclopedia Britannica says over 18,000 Tyndale New Testaments had been printed. Very few remain after being hunted down and burned.

Still, Tyndale’s Bible was consulted as the Geneva Bible and King James Version were translated a century later.

Tyndale balanced a translation with scholarly accuracy, worded plainly and literarily pleasing. Quite a feat!


Up next: See you next September!
Previous post: How the Bible went viral in the 1500s! / Martin Luther


1. What would you consider the hardest experience Tyndale had to endure?

2. Tyndale’s translation was “balanced the translation with scholarly accuracy, worded for plain understanding and literarily pleasing.” Why are each of these points important in a Bible?


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