A Short Biography of William Tyndale

By Tim Lambert

The Early Life of Tyndale

William Tyndale was a great man of the 16th century. Little is known about his childhood. Tyndale was born about 1494 in Gloucestershire. He came from a family of landowners and wool merchants. We also know that Tyndale had two brothers. The family was well off and William was educated.

In 1515 he was at Oxford University. Tyndale began studying theology. However, he was appalled that studying the subject did not involve reading the Bible! At that time the Church greatly neglected the Bible. Many of the clergymen were woefully ignorant of the Bible. William Tyndale was a God-fearing man and he began studying the Bible himself and teaching some of his fellow students from it.

Tyndale returned to Gloucestershire and he got a job as a tutor to the children of Sir John Walsh. Tyndale also became a popular preacher. He was keen to teach people from the Bible and he soon found himself accused of heresy. William Tyndale was called before the bishop’s chancellor. Tyndale said ‘He threatened me grievously and reviled me, and rated me as though I had been a dog’. Nevertheless, no action was taken against Tyndale at that time.

A Catholic once told William Tyndale ‘We were better without God’s laws than the Pope’s. Tyndale replied ‘I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years I will cause a boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!’.

Translating the Bible

William Tyndale was keen to translate the New Testament from Greek into English. (Tyndale was a brilliant linguist and he was fluent in Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, and German. He later taught himself Hebrew). However, Tyndale needed permission to translate it and in 1523 he went to London. While in London Tyndale continued his preaching.

However, he was unable to obtain permission to translate the New Testament. Eventually, Tyndale realized he would never be allowed to translate it while in England so in 1524 he moved to Germany.

William Tyndale translated the New Testament from the original Greek into English. The new translation was printed in 1526 and copies were smuggled into England. Catholics in England were alarmed. The bishop of London banned the new translation calling it ‘that pestiferous (breeding disease) and most pernicious poison dispersed throughout our diocese of London’. In October 1526 he burned copies of the New Testament. However, despite the bishop burning copies of the book it continued to circulate.

In 1538 William Tyndale published a book called The Parable of the Wicked Mammon. (Mammon is an old word meaning material wealth). It was banned in England in 1530. Also in 1528 Tyndale published a book called The Obedience of a Christian Man in which he attacked the corruption and superstition which was rife in the Church in England at that time. He then began translating the Old Testament from Hebrew into English.

Meanwhile, in England, Thomas More viciously attacked William Tyndale calling him ‘a Hell hound in the kennel of the Devil.’ More described the translation of the New Testament by Tyndale as: ‘not worthy to be called Christ’s testament, but either Tyndale’s own testament or the testament of his master Antichrist’. However, despite More’s hateful words, the English translation of the New Testament by Tyndale continued to be smuggled into England and it circulated widely.

The Bible

Sadly in May 1535, William Tyndale was betrayed by an Englishman called Henry Phillips. He was arrested and tried for heresy.

Finally, in October 1536 Tyndale was martyred. He was strangled and then burned in the market square of Antwerp. The last words of William Tyndale were ‘Lord open the King of England’s eyes’.