William Tyndale

A Labor of Love: The Hero of the English Reformation

William Tyndale (1494-1534) was an amazing man of God. He is known, variously, as "The Father of the English Bible" and the true hero of the English Reformation. He is one of the most important and influential men in Britain's history.

Spiritual Cinema Circle
  • A contemporary of Martin Luther, he was the first man to translate the New Testament into modern English, which he accomplished in 1526.
  • He was a brilliant scholar who loved truth and opposed the enforced ignorance and lies perpetrated by the powers of the day
  • He helped lead the charge for the knowledge of the truth and the demise of ignorance for all English-speaking people, resulting in their rise in knowledge and power.

Contention With the Religious Leaders

William Tyndale charged the church officials of his time with practices and teachings that were of the world and against the teachings of Christ and the apostles. For instance, they held political power in a kingdom of this world, something Christ refused. It is contrary to his teaching that his kingdom is not of this world and to the example of the apostles and their churches.

Involved in these ecclesiastical offices of temporal power was the exalting of one over the other, using the power of threats of prison, torture and death to persons that even included their friends, family and acquaintances. He submits, in The Practice of the Prelates and other writings, that the clear teaching and example of Christ is to humbly seek through love and service to change men's hearts, submitting to all temporal authorities, while refusing to be part of the rulership of the kingdoms of the physical world. Forcing men to obey through fear of force and destruction—"with violence above the cruelness of heathen tyrants,"—he saw as the opposite of Christ's way, and the way of his churches.

The leaders of Christ's kingdom are to seek to serve; not to be served, to beg for money or to live in luxury at the expense of others, as was a common practice among the "prelates," or church officials at that time, including beggar monks, indulgence sellers, as well as officials collecting tithes and taxes imposed by the church.

While taking on the title of "servant of servants," William Tyndale observes, the pope, is rather, in fact, "tyrant of tyrants," ruling by the physical sword, rather than ruling humbly by the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God. Prelates should be humbly living out and preaching this Word, rather than putting to death those who do. They were choosing, instead, to supplant the Word by their traditions and laws of the pope.

(In England, as well as elsewhere in Europe, the Roman Catholic Church held sway. They promoted the superstition that any commoner reading the scripture in their common language was accursed of God and doomed.)

William Tyndale further stated, based on histories available to him—like Platina's Lives of the Popes—that popes had arisen gradually, from deacons who, handling the churches' monies along with their worldly masters' monies (where they learned their administrative abilities), used money and intrigue to buy their way into offices of priests and bishops, where they used their prestige to gain more power and money. These kind of men, over a few centuries, consolidated their power by ecclesiastic and political scheming and posturing to gain the upper tiers of power and wealth. Eventually they used deceit and skill with weak emperors to replace God's power in the minds of men and kings with their own, until they became more powerful than kings.

He said that, rather than saving souls, well over 4 million men had been sacrificed in the bloody wars instigated since the popes had gained independent power in the early 7th century.

For these reasons, and the fact that he found nowhere to publish God's truth in his native language, he left and eventually went to Wittemberg, where Luther was. There the Reformation and printing presses allowed him to begin printing an English language Bible.

Why Would Tyndale Take Such Exception to the Pope and His Followers?

Why would Tyndale mark the pope and his followers "antichrist"?

Here's some possibilities:

  • The pope at the time of Tyndale's birth, Alexander VI, was of a powerful aristocratic family, the Borgia. He was appointed cardinal in his twenties by his uncle, Pope Calixtus III. He loaded down one of the two rivals for his papal election with a rich reward of "benefices and offices" in return for his support against their other rival.
  • Alexander VI openly committed adultery and elevated his publicly acknowledged illegitimate children high into the aristocracy, using them for political intrigue. There were even rumors of orgies in the papal palaces.
  • The Borgia family was known for murder (arsenic poisoning was a favorite), along with the whole spectrum of crime, from rape, incest, and adultery, to theft, simony (buying ecclesiastical offices), and nepotism (appointing of relatives).
  • The reign of popes during this time read like a succession of mafiosos, using their offices for political and monetary gain and their doctrine for power and land.

    The next pope, Pius III, was nephew of Pius II, who appointed him bishop, archbishop, and cardinal.

  • His successor, Pope Julius II, was appointed bishop (8 times), archbishop, and cardinal by his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV. Julius was known as The Terrible Pope for his use of military force to secure his power.
  • Julius' successor, Pope Leo X, a member of the powerful Medici family, carried on his military and political inclinations and is the pope known for selling indulgences to raise money to rebuild an ostentatious building (St. Peter's Basilica). It was the sale of indulgences that stirred Martin Luther and led to the Protestant Reformation.
  • The next pope, Adrian VI—after beheading leaders of a democratic revolution in Castile when reigning as archbishop and cardinal in the absence of Emperor Charles V—did try to implement some reforms that were successfully resisted by the bulk of the other church powers. He died 18 months into his papacy.
  • Finally, the pope who died the same year as Tyndale, another of the warring Medici family, Clement VII, continued vying for power, even opposing the Emperor Charles V in battle and lying to Cardinal Colonna in order to regain Rome from him and his troops.

The Path to Giving Himself Away

A scholar, teacher, author and Bible translator, William Tyndale was born around 1494 in the area "about the borders of Wales," according to his contemporary, John Foxe.

He was a member of a noble family that included an uncle who was an English knight and baron and who answered directly to the king. They numbered among them two men who turned down the kingship of Bohemia (several kings of Bohemia ruled other lands and were also Holy Roman Emperors).

Studying at Oxford, he became a Bachelor of Arts and, later, Master of Arts, when most people were still illiterate. William was not only fluent in the Biblical languages of Greek, Hebrew and Latin, but also French, Italian, Spanish and German, in addition to English. Later, he went to Cambridge to pursue his doctorate, but quit to follow his heart and become one of history's most influential people.

Well-connected, well-educated, highborn, and seemingly fearless, he could have chosen a life of power and relative luxury. Instead, he chose to follow where truth, his conscience, and his God led him: to a life of conflict with the rich and powerful religionists and leaders of his day (including Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, and eventually Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More, the pope, and King Henry VIII). This inevitably led to his imprisonment and execution at the hands of the King Henry VIII.

What drives a man like this to such a life?

William Tyndale cared.

William Tyndale cared about truth

"I call on God to record against the day we all appear before our Lord Jesus to give a reckoning of our doings: that I never altered one syllable of God's Word against my conscience. Nor would I do so today, if everything on earth was given to me: no matter what kind of pleasure, honor, or riches it might be." (Tyndale, in a letter to John Frith; language updated).

Starting as a Roman Catholic cleric, William Tyndale studied the biblical texts in depth in their original languages as well as writings of other men who sought the truth of God. In the process of discussing his findings with his fellow clerics, he discovered that most of them, along with their leaders, cared more for power, wealth, prestige and an easy life of relative luxury (at the expense of the poor commoners) than what God thought.

So he offended them.

Rather than compromise the truth and offend God, he offended them and their leaders, both in person, as recorded by Foxe and others, and in just about everything he wrote. In Practice of the Prelates he made a parallel between the Jewish rulers who slew Jesus and the religious leaders of his day, calling them "blind leaders of the blind," who were wicked, hardened, and "obstinate hypocrites."

He said that the duty of religious leaders was to set an example and teach God's truth, love, joy and mercy. Conversely, he accused them of robbing widows, stealing from the poor, and keeping people in ignorance; using false doctrines to enslave the people to themselves and their purposes.

His accusations made them angry, and like their predecessors did his Master, they murdered him.

William Tyndale Cared About People

Everyone that lived with William Tyndale attested to his good character.

A Prophetic Word From Yesterday, for Today

"The cause of all of the captivity of God's people is this: while the world always hates them for their faith and the trust which they have in God, it is to no effect until they fall from loving and trusting the things God has told them to do (through his people and their writings). At this point they put their trust in things that they think are holy, that people invented without God's help or consent, and live completely for their own lust and pleasure, without caring about God or their neighbor. Then God ceases to help us and sends us into captivity for dishonoring his name and despising our neighbor. But the world persecutes us just because of our faith in Christ, (as the pope does now) and not for our wicked way of living. In the pope's kingdom, you see, you can quietly do any horrible, abominable thing you desire (not only with his open approval and encouragement, but under his protection); but God persecutes us because we abuse his special communication to us, and because, even when we know the truth, we don't follow it. (Introduction to Exodus; language updated by me.)

It is stated by some historians that the reason more is not known about his immediate family and home town is that he purposely was careful to say little about them; he did not want them to be persecuted for his actions.

Foxe records him as leaving "Master Welch," in whose home he was living as a tutor to his children because, having defied the pope in public, staying might cause Welch and his family to suffer for Tyndale's stand.

This, despite the fact that he apparently had nowhere planned to live, shows love and character.

Foxe also writes about William Tyndale that ...

This good man was stirred up of God to translate the Scripture into his mother tongue, for the profit of the simple people of his country.

He did this out of the desire to help them defend themselves against the teachings of the religious leaders of the day, which were used to rob them and take advantage of them.

But ...

William Tyndale Took No Thought for Himself

Late 1535:

"Oh Lord, open the King of England's eyes!" he cried out, just before the hangman strangled him. This was his final request, his heart's cry being that the king would no longer be in league with the religious leaders in keeping the truth of God's Word, as recorded in the scriptures, from the English people, so that they might be free to follow God's law of love, rather than be manipulated and blinded by the "evil churchmen."

Yes, he is a martyr: I have chosen, however, to spend most of the article on his inspiring life, his great heart, and all that he accomplished in his 40 short years on this earth. Martyrdom, for William Tyndale, was the expected and natural outcome of his dedication. It was, he likely thought, probably just a matter of time, as he hinted at in his famous statement:

I defy the pope and all his laws. If God spare my life, I will make a boy that drives the plough know more of the Scripture than you do.

Backed by God

William Tyndale's efforts tore open the door to "vulgar" translations; renderings of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures in the languages that the common people could read.

Within 4 years of Tyndale's death, King Henry VIII, who had carried out the religious leaders' push to murder him, authorized and published his own English Bible, allowing several others to circulate freely, all of which were largely based on William Tyndale's translations. Even the enemy of translations in the vernacular, the Roman Catholic Church, published an English version of the New Testament by 1582, and released the Old Testament by 1610.

God's Sense of Humor

Thinking to get rid of all of all of Tyndale's translations in circulation, the Bishop of London, Cuthbert Tonstal—apparently conspiring with Sir Thomas More—approached a merchant in Antwerp about buying as many of them as he could.

The merchant, Augustine Packington, was a friend of Tyndale and went and told him of the offer. They arranged to sell all of the books that had been printed to date to the Bishop—at a nice profit—so he could burn them.

This expensive heating fuel allowed William Tyndale to print a much better book, in much greater quantity, and gave his work just the boost he needed.

Later, when questioned by the chancellor of England, the same Sir Thomas More, about who had been financing their endeavors, one of the conspirators answered that "the Bishop of London" was the only source of financial aid.

William Tyndale's Legacy

William Tyndale, a spiritual man full of faith and love, left what is perhaps the greatest legacy of any Englishman. The Scripture talks about God lifting us "out of darkness into his marvelous light." Not only by his writings, but by his life, Tyndale opened the door to that light for all to see. His work and sacrifice helped lead to greater liberty and freedom of knowledge among the English people, whether highborn or common, until today.

The truth set the people free from tyranny and oppression. Historically, the world would not have been the same if this self-denying hero had not set in motion the chain of events that led to England's world legacy. Spiritually, he brought us the truth, giving us a chance to choose, whatever choices we might make, and calling us to a life of loving sacrifice.

How many people have come to learn of our God and his Christ, because he cared enough to give his life?

Next time you look at your copy of the Bible, maybe you'll think of this great man with thankfulness to God for him and his work. Maybe he'll even inspire you to go forward and do great things in God. I'm inspired!

Read More About This Exceptional Brother!

If you like this article, I encourage you to read more written by and about this great man. He is not only interesting and inspiring, but full of insight into Scripture and into a life that blesses others and is pleasing and acceptable to God.

Here are a few suggestions:

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