William Tyndale, and the Translation of the Bible into English

  • 16 Jan 2012
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William Tyndale, one of the martyrs of the Reformation, was born in old diocese of Worcester, somewhere near the Severn Estuary, His translation of the Bible into English was one of the great events of the English Church. Tyndale was born in 1492, went to Oxford and Cambridge, then in the throws of the new learning, and came under the influence of John Collett and Erasmus. By 1522, he held a tutorial position in the family of Sir John Walsh who lived at the Manor House, Little Sodbury, then in the gift of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester. His leisure time was spent preaching in the Gloucestershire villages and at Bristol, and here he began his translation of the New Testament, to which he was indebted to Erasmus, who in 1516, had published his translation of the New Testament from the Greek. But Tyndale copied no man, for in his own words, 'he had no man to counterfeit'. His preaching and work was hotly opposed by the local clergy and hierarchy he met at Sir John's table, and to one particular thick-headed priest he retorted: If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the scripture than thou dost'. Though Tyndale had 'the heat and industry of a scholar', he was entirely lacking in tact and the social graces, and to quote his own disarming admission, 'God had made me evil favoured in this world, speechless and rude, dull and slow-witted'. He left Little Sodbury for London, but soon realised that his chances of producing an English translation of the Bible in his own country were hopeless. He left England never to return, and for the rest of his life he was in exile, obscurity, and in constant danger, until his enemies caught him and finally destroyed him. He went to Hamburg, visited Luther in Wittenburg, all the time working on his translation. After little more than a year, assisted by Miles Coverdale, Tyndale completed a translation of the Bible, which was given to the printers in Cologne. His treatises were full of violent personal abuse, and his very tendacious prologues and marginal notes to his Bible aroused a mountain of prejudice against his work, as did his deliberate avoidance of accepted church words, such as congregation for church, minister for priest, and so forth. But he was entirely honest and accurate as a translator, and ther is a deathless beauty in much of his phrasing, for example, 'For in him we live and move and have our being'. When the Bible was suggled into England it was denounced by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, and King Henry gave orders that it should be burnt. Any person caught in possession of a copy suffered excommunication. Meanwhile, Tyndale was in Antwerp, safe in the 'English House' which was used by English merchants, and had been given extra-territorial privileges by the authorities, and while inside, Tyndale was safe. But in 1535, a false disciple lured Tyndale from the house and betrayed him. He was arrested by the troops of the Emperor, Charles V, and imprisoned in a fortress near Brussels for 16 months, then executed in the manner of the time, strangled and his body burnt. His last words, according to Fox, the historian, were 'Lord, open the King of England's eyes'. Within two years of his death, his wish was realised, for the Bible was made open to the people, being first chained in the churches. To Miles Coverdale goes the glory of having produced the first complete Bible in English, but he reprinted Tyndale's text almost without alteration, but from Chronicles to Malachi his own translation forms the primary version of the English text. This translation was eventually superseded by the Authorised Version of 1604, but this is said to contain about 90% of Tyndale's and Coverdale's work. King James. however, commanded that no marginal comments such as Tyndale indulged in should be included