The story of W.Tyndale is the greatest untold story (I believe) ever told. It is my great concern that not so many know who this man of God is and what he believed. So I would like to share with you why I choose to write about Tyndale. During my first 3 years as a young new born again Christian I came across one of his books called ‘The Obedience of a Christian Man’ at an old Oxfam book shop in Canterbury England. I was converted to Christianity through reading Romans 5:1-3 where the Apostle Paul said that we have already been justified by faith alone. And if we are Christian’s it is because of the work of Jesus Christ. That the Christian life is not to fulfil your selfish desires to live a healthy and good life away from declaring Christianity to the world. But to follow Christ by counting the cost of self-denial, rejecting the world lust’s and pleasures, to resist the devil and his lies. Tyndale was one of the evidences of that kind of life that has influenced me to follow after Christ.
William Tyndale was born in Gloucestershire England in 1494. In his early years he spend more than ten years at Magdalen Hall in Oxford where he earned a BA and an MA degree, learning Latin and Greek. If he would have gone to Cambridge he would have met Erasmus who taught Greek there. While in his studies he translate into English one of Erasmus works called ‘a handbook for a Christian soldier’.
By 1520’s Tyndale was an ordained priest and served as a teacher for Sir John Walsh and Lady Walsh. His work was light but his work was more focused on the Greek translation into English. Because it became Tyndale’s inspiration to give to the people of England, the Bible into the native language. Something which Luther began to do in 1522 with his September testament and something that John Wycliffe tried to do back in the 1300’s. In order to understand the climate that Tyndale was in; we must first know that Roman Catholicism was politically powerful in those days. The church would control, approve and ordain it’s priest. The Bible of the day was written in Latin. Only few could understand it, which meant that only few could understand what the Bible taught. Even the priest, Tyndale believed, where not able to even translate into English the Lord’s Prayer. Such was the ignorance of the day. The law in England warned that if anyone preached, translated, read or even prayed the Lord’s Prayer into English they would be arrested and sentenced to death. And the reason why is because the Pope did not want the people to found out what Rome was really teaching. So they would not discern the false from the good. They would argue that the Scriptures were so difficult to understand that if a native would try and translate it into his own language they would corrupt the Bible. But what hypocrisy that was! Because Rome translated the Bible into Latin, which was not in the original Greek or Hebrew and they have corrupted so much of what God has said. Rome would say that it is best to trust in the church, the mother church what she says rather than desire to understand the bible for yourself. In other words, the church was above scripture not scripture above church. The church would interpret for the Bible rather than allowing the Bible to speak for itself (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
They denied what the Scriptures clearly teach that faith comes from hearing and hearing comes from the word (Romans 10:17). So how could the people believe in the true and living God if they could not understand it for themselves? The Bible also commands every believer to test all things said by those who claim to be send from God (Acts 17:11). And if the people don’t have access to the Bible they cannot judge right from wrong.
Tyndale who knew fluent Greek could understand the command of Christ to go into the world and preach the Gospel unto every creature. And he obeyed and went into churches, homes and villages and towns preaching and teaching everyone the Gospel. The clergy saw his activity and they identified him as a trouble maker.
So Tyndale saw that it was time to have a Bible into the English language. It became clear to him when one evening at Sir Walsh home, some of the well-respected clergy came to visit them. At the dinner table, Tyndale realized that even the priest were corrupted. One of the clergymen said to him ‘we were better without God’s law than the Pope’s’. To which Tyndale famously replied ‘I defy the Pope and all his laws’. And then he added ‘if God spear my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the scripture than thou dost’.
Tyndale desired to undertake the task of risking his life to translate the Bible into the English language. By law, the punishment for one who would attempt to do such a thing would be to be burned alive at the stake. In order for Tyndale to do this work he needed the permission of the Bishop of London, Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall. But sadly, Tyndale was rejected because of Tunstall’s position of this issue. At the time Luther was preaching justification by faith alone and causing problems to Rome and the people were enlightened by the truth of the Gospel being preached and read in their native language. All the corruption of Rome was being exposed. A reformation was taking place and Bishop Tunstall wanted none of that. So when Tyndale came and proposed a translation of the Bible into English from the original text, he rejected him. Tyndale then said ‘there was no place in all England’ for such work.
He thought of leaving and traveling to Germany since there was great work happening under the effects of the Reformation. Most people would support and sympathise with Tyndale. So he left for Germany in 1524 and in 1525 he was in Cologne and in Worms in 1526 where he was able to find a willing printer to print his New Testament. He thought that in a big city like Worms he would be safe rather than staying in a small place, so he could hide and not be spotted by those who were opposed to the reformation.
At that time his translation of the New Testament was shipped secretly into England through some wealthy merchants’ who followed what Tyndale believed. But the Bishop of London Tunstall collected all of them and burned them all in a ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral’s church. Tunstall in fact preached a sermon calling Tyndale’s writings and acts as evil and heretical. Now providentially, Tyndale’s NT translation had many errors and so by burning the books in London only made it better to further the cause of a correct translation. He has to re-do the NT which he did and it was a greater translation for the people to read. But he needed money for the re-work of that NT translation. Providentially, Tunstall’s idea of destroying the Tyndale Bible’s was paying all of them that came to England. He collected all of them and burned them. But the money given to those who brought the Bible’s, helped Tyndale continue his NT translation into English.
Tyndale also was writing books that were secretly send in England so that the people would read doctrine. These books were books that defended the doctrines of the Christian faith against the Roman Catholic doctrines. In 1528 the London Laywer and great defender of Rome was Sir Thomas Moore, had permission by Bishop Tunstall to read the books Tyndale wrote and to respond to them in writing. In 1529 he wrote to Tyndale ‘Dialogue concerning heresies’. Two years later Tyndale punched him back with his answer. Moore then wrote a book responding to Tyndale’s answer which was half a million words. The people began to wonder why Moore would write so much against Tyndale about the Bible being translated into English unless it is important;. So this encouraged the people to read the Bible.
They could not stop Tyndale from writing truth after truth because what he is writing from the Bible and the Bible is then contrasted with the doctrines of Rome and Rome’s doctrines are exposed as heresies.
Rome and the king tried to find Tyndale where he was hiding in Germany. And for 12 years he was known as God’s Outlaw. They send soldiers to find him and they could not. Tyndale was clever enough to see danger before it came. It is also a fact that Tyndale spoke fluently seven languages and could not be identified.
But then they send a very wealthy young man who owed money to his Father because he wasted it all. And in order for it to be paid back, the church called this man to go and find Tyndale, to be-friend him, act as though he followed and believed what the reformers believed and take him to the authorities. Tyndale is found by this man, he puts his guard down and sadly in May 1535 he was tricked and arrested and taken to Bruseel in the Vilvoorde Castle. The authorities interrogated him for over 16 months until they confirmed him as a heretic.
Then in the morning of 6th October 1536, Tyndale was released from his priesthood, was led to the stake before an audience. Was strangled and burned to death.
What can we learn from William Tyndale?
The lesson that we take from looking at Tyndale’s life is sacrifice. And it is sacrifice for something so precious to Him. But not just to Him but to God. It is God’s word, the Bible. I share with you the points that have made me become influenced by Tyndale’s life.
First, that he was a true follower of Christ. Tyndale’s life taught us, just like every other Christian, that to be a Christian means that we live for God and for God alone even if it kills us. Life as a Christian is not one of health, wealth and worldly success. It is a life of self-denial and suffering. Tyndale has counted the cost of following the Lord Jesus Christ by leaving his precious land of England, knowing that following Christ would cause many enemies to rise, many friends to loose and many deaths to faces. Jesus said to his disciples “if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me”(Matthew 16:24). Like the Apostle Paul he counted all the things of this world as nothing compared to the eternal glory that awaits for those who follow Christ. In his own words he believed that the Christian calling is “not to dispute as the Pope’s disciples do, but to die with Christ that we may live with him, and to suffer with him that we may reign with him. We be called unto a kingdom that must be won with suffering only, as a sick man winneth health.” The Scriptures agree when the Apostle wrote “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”(2 Timothy 3:12).
Second, we learn that a Christian will always preach with the courage of God, the truths of the Bible. Tyndale was a great defender of the Christian faith that he fought with his pen and paper against the enemies of the Gospel. The risk he took knowing and trusting that God would protect him and keep him safe so as to continue his work, tells us of that courage that the Bible produces in a man’s heart. It is the sort of courage that can stand still through many sufferings. He preached against the King’s against the false teachers of his day, against the Pope of Rome; such courage given in an age where you can be put to death for doing so, is indeed a courage that only the Lord would give to Tyndale. No matter how many times he was tempted, he never gave up hope in God’s promises. No compromise and never surrender. Christ would not surrender to Satan when he offered Him the whole riches of the world (Matthew 4:1-11). Even before Pilate, Christ still preached the truth with courage.
Thirdly and finally, be grateful of the Bible that you are holding! The English Bible was brought to us by the blood of the martyrs. So we, the simple people, would be edified and be able to read the Bible in our native language. It was done by men who were weak in the eyes of the world. But as Tyndale wrote “Christ is never strong in us, till we be weak.” You see my friends, Tyndale was not suffering for a human cause of human rights. He was a martyr for freedom. He did not die because he believed so much in his faith that he was willing to die. No. Tyndale suffered because it was a fact that the Bible is the Word of the true and living God!
Which have within them the word of eternal life.
Jesus Christ said “Verily, verily I say unto you, He that hearth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).