The Trial of Tyndale

William Tyndale

A Look at Tyndale’s Translation Influence

William Tyndale was known for his work in one of the first most influential English translations of the Bible New Testament. He was influenced by the work of Erasmus, who made the Greek New Testament available in Europe, and by Martin Luther who wrote the most influential translation into German.

Tyndale’s translation was the first English Bible to draw directly from Hebrew and Greek texts. His version became the first English translation to place God’s name in its rightful place, the first English translation to take advantage of the printing press, and first of the new English Bibles of the Reformation.

In his time, the Latin versions were popular, yet only in the hands of the Priests. Tyndale’s purpose was to make the scripture available and easy enough for the ordinary layman to read, right down to the “boy who plows the field.” So his style and idiom are simple and clear, yet powerful. His version drew from the inspiration of original intent.

His work had been met with resistance from the Pope of Rome and the King of England since it challenged their authority as head of the church and questioned their institution of the assembly of believers. He maintained that the Church was not an institution to take claim, but that the ekklesia was a congregation of believers governed by the Holy Spirit with Jesus Christ as its head, and thus was an organism, not an organization or institution. Therefore he translated the word “church” appropriately to “congregation” in such places as Matthew 16:18 to reflect that truth. The Pope took offense, as well did the King of England who wanted exclusive right over the Church of England as its authority. Therefore both called for his head.

Some officials sought out to discredit Tyndale, claiming his version was poor in its translation. That was not actually proven, only used to bring Tyndale to trial and an attempt to stop the influence of his version. In 1535, Tyndale was arrested and jailed in 1536 convicted of heresy and executed by strangulation, after which his body was burnt at the stake. His dying prayer through the agony was that the King of England’s eyes would be opened. His translation later inspired the Great Bible for the Church of England, which was largely Tyndale’s own work, as well as the Geneva Bible. Hence, the Tyndale Bible, as it was known, continued to play a key role in spreading Reformation ideas across the English-speaking world and, eventually, to the British Empire.

Matthew Bible

The New Testament was all that Tyndale completed in entirety. The writer known as Matthew continued to work off Tyndale’s Old Testament studies to complete the Old Testament. The pseudonym was that of John Rogers used to work undercover to complete the translation without being persecuted. King Henry VIII gave authorization to the Bible generally known as Matthew’s Bible. Incidentally the version was revised to be issued as the Great Bible, still an influence from Tyndale’s work. And eventually the Bishop’s Bible was issued.

The Reason for the KJV

In 1611, the 54 scholars (mostly 47) under the campaign of Richard Bancroft, who produced the King James Bible for King James, drew significantly from Tyndale, as well as from translations that descended from his. One estimate suggests that the New Testament in the King James Version is 70-83% Tyndale’s version. His translation of the Bible was the first to be printed in English, and became a model for subsequent English translations.

Some will argue the necessity of the KJV. The reason for the KJV was not because God demanded and inspired a divinely written translation and handed it to King James, as is erroneously cited often as the first English translation. Tyndale had already accomplished the task, as did his successors in completing a valid follow-up of the Old Testament. The reason for the KJV was because the Geneva Bible, inspired by Tyndale, had footnotes denouncing the Supreme Authority of the King, and the King despised the version. Yet the Puritans despised the Bishop’s Bible that the King authorized and leveraged on heavy bias for the King as Supreme.

Therefore King James ordered the work be done on a comparable version the Puritans, he, and the Bishops could agree upon. He ordered Richard Bancroft to establish a campaign of scholars to initiate the translation having the King’s 15 precepts in mind (that would be discussed in another article). The work completed in 1611 was Authorized by the King (not by God).

Additional note:

Perhaps Erasmus had his own issues, being a servant of the Roman Catholic Church, and his early version of Greek translations was rushed. But Tyndale only referred to it for context and relied upon his own inspiration of God while observing the Koine Greek available using the Textus Receptus and Majority Texts up to that time.

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