William Tyndale

Article from the Encyclopedia Britannica
11th edition (1911)

TYNDALE (or TINDALE), WILLIAM (c. 1492-1536), translator of the New Testament and Pentateuch (see BIBLE, ENGLISH), was born on the Welsh border, probably in Gloucestershire, some time between 1490 and 1495. In Easter term 1510 he went to Oxford, where Foxe says he was entered of Magdalen Hall. He took his M.A. degree in 1515 and removed to Cambridge, where Erasmus had helped to establish a reputation for Greek and theology. Ordained to the priesthood, probably towards the close of 1521, he entered the household of Sir John Walsh, Old Sodbury, Gloucestershire, as chaplain and domestic tutor. Here he lived for two years, using his leisure in preaching in the villages and at Bristol, conduct which brought him into collision with the backward clergy of the district, and led to his being summoned before the chancellor of Worcester (William of Malvern) as a suspected heretic; but he was allowed to depart without receiving censure or giving any undertaking. But the persecution of the clergy led him to seek an antidote for what he regarded as the corruption of the Church, and he resolved to translate the New Testament into the vernacular. In this he hoped to get help from Cuthbert Tunstall, bishop of London, and so "with the good will of his master" he left Gloucester in the summer of 1523. Tunstall disappointed him, so he got employment as a preacher at St Dunstan's-in-the-West, and worked at his translation, living as chaplain in the house of Humphrey Monmouth, an alderman, and forming a firm friendship with John Frith; but finding publication impossible in England, he sailed for Hamburg in May 1524. After visiting Luther at Wittenberg, he settled with his amanuensis William Roy in Cologne, where he had made some progress in printing a 4to edition of his New Testament, when the work was discovered by John Cochlaeus, dean at Frankfurt, who not only got the senate of Cologne to interdict further printing, but warned Henry VIII and Wolsey to watch the English ports. Tyndale and Roy escaped with their sheets to Worms, where the 8vo edition was completed in 1526. Copies were smuggled into England but were suppressed by the bishops, and William Warham, archbishop of Canterbury, even bought up copies on the Continent to destroy them. Attempts were made to seize Tyndale at Worms, but he found refuge at Marburg with Philip, landgrave of Hesse. There he probably met Patrick Hamilton, and was joined by John Frith. About this time he changed his views on the Eucharist and swung clean over from transubstantiation to the advanced Zwinglian position. His Parable of the Wicked Mammon (1528), Obedience of a Christen Man (1528), in which the two great principles of the English Reformation are set out, viz. the authority of Scripture in the Church and the supremacy of the king in the state, and Practyse of Prelates (1530), a strong indictment of the Roman Church and also of Henry VIII's divorce proceedings, were all printed at Marburg. In 1529 on his way to Hamburg he was wrecked on the Dutch coast, and lost his newly completed translation of Deuteronomy. Later in the year he went to Antwerp where he conducted his share of the classic controversy with Sir Thomas More. After Henry VIII's change of attitude towards Rome, Stephen Vaughan, the English envoy to the Netherlands, suggested Tyndale's return, but the reformer feared ecclesiastical hostility and declined. Henry then demanded his surrender from the emperor as one who was spreading sedition in England, and Tyndale left Antwerp for two years, returning in 1533 and busying himself with revising his translations. In May 1535 he was betrayed by Henry Phillips, to whom he had shown much kindness, as a professing student of the new faith. The imperial officers imprisoned him at Vilvorde Castle, the state prison, 6 miles from Brussels, where in spite of the great efforts of the English merchants and the appeal of Thomas Cromwell to Archbishop Carandolet, president of the council, and to the governor of the castle, he was tried for heresy and condemned. On the 6th of October 1536 he was strangled at the stake and his body afterwards burnt. Though long an exile from his native land, Tyndale was one of the greatest forces of the English Reformation. His writings show sound scholarship and high literary power, while they helped to shape the thought of the Puritan party in England. His translation of the Bible was so sure and happy that it formed the basis of subsequent renderings, especially that of the authorized version of 1611. Besides the New Testament, the Pentateuch and Jonah, it is believed that he finished in prison the section of the Old Testament extending from Joshua to Chronicles.

Beside the works already named Tyndale wrote A Prologue on the Epistle to the Romans (1526), An Exposition of the 1st Epistle of John (1531), An Exposition of Matthew v-vii (1532), a treatise on the sacraments (1533), and possibly another (no longer extant) on matrimony (1529).

The works of Tyndale were first published along with those of John Frith (q.v.) and Robert Barnes, "three worthy martyrs and principal teachers of the Church of England," by John Day, in 1573 (folio). A new edition of the works of Tyndale and Frith, by T. Russell, was published at London (1828-1831). His Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scripture were published by the Parker Society in 1848. For biography, see Foxe's Acts and Monuments; R. Demaus, William Tyndale (London, 1871); also the Introduction to Mombert's critical reprint of Tyndale's Pentateuch (New York, 1884), where a bibliography is given.

The paragraphs that follow are taken from the article "Bible, English"

It is singular that while France, Spain, Italy, Bohemia and Holland possessed the Bible in the vernacular before the accession of Henry VIII., and in Germany the Scriptures were printed in 1466 and seventeen times reprinted before Luther began his great work, yet no English printer attempted to put the familiar English Bible into type. No part of the English Bible was printed before 1525, no complete Bible before 1535, and none in England before 1538.

Versions of the Scriptures so far noticed were all secondary renderings of the Vulgate, translations of a translation. It was only with the advent of the "new learning" in England that a direct rendering from the originals became possible. Erasmus in 1516 published the New Testament in Greek, with a new Latin version of his own; the Hebrew text of the Old Testament had been published as early as 1488.

The first to take advantage of these altered conditions was William Tyndale (q.v.), "to whom," as Dr Westcott says, (1) "it has been allowed more than to any other man to give its characteristic shape to the English Bible." Of Tyndale's early life but little is known. Be it enough for our purpose to say that he thoroughly saturated his mind with the "new learning," first at Oxford, where in 1515 he was admitted to the degree of M.A., and then in Cambridge, where the fame of Erasmus still lingered. Before the beginning of 1522 we find Tyndale as chaplain and tutor in the family of Sir John Walsh of Old Sodbury in Gloucestershire. He was there constantly involved in theological controversies with the surrounding clergy, and it was owing to their hostility that he had to leave Gloucestershire. He then resolved to open their eyes to the serious corruptions and decline of the church by translating the New Testament into the vernacular. In order to carry out this purpose he repaired in July or August 1523 to London, and to the famous protector of scholars and scholarship, Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall. His reception was, however, cold, the bishop advising him to seek a livelihood in the town. During a year of anxious waiting, it became clear to him "not only that there was no rowme in my lorde of londons palace to translate the new testament, but also that there was no place to do it in all englonde." (2) In May 1524 he consequently betook himself to Hamburg, his resolution to carry out his great work never for a moment flagging, and it was probably during his stay in this free city and in Wittenberg, where he may have been stimulated by Luther, that his translation of the New Testament was actually made. At all events there is no doubt that in 1525 he was in Cologne, engaged in printing at the press of Peter Quentel a quarto edition of the New Testament. This edition was provided with prefaces and marginal glosses. He had advanced as far as the tenth sheet, bearing the signature K, when his work was discovered by Johann Cochlaeus (q.v.), a famous controversialist and implacable enemy of the Reformation, who not only caused the Senate of Cologne to prohibit the continuation of the printing, but also communicated with Henry VIII. and Wolsey, warning them to stop the importation of the work at the English seaports. Tyndale and his assistant, William Roye, managed, however, to escape higher up the Rhine to Worms, and they succeeded in carrying with them some or all of the sheets which had been printed. Instead of completing Quentel's work, Peter Schoeffer, the Worms printer, was employed to print another impression of 3000 in a small octavo size, without prefaces to the books or annotations in the margin, and only having an address "To the Reder" at the end in addition to the New Testament itself. Two impressions, the quarto having possibly been completed by Schoeffer, arrived in England early in the summer of 1526, and were eagerly welcomed and bought. Such strong measures of suppression were, however, at once adopted against these perilous volumes, that of the quarto only a single fragment remains (Matt. i—xxii. 12), now preserved in the British Museum (Grenville, 12179), (3) of the octavo only one perfect copy (the title-page missing) in the Baptist College at Bristol, (4) and one imperfect in the library of St Paul's cathedral.

But Tyndale continued his labours undaunted. In 1529 the manuscript translation of Deuteronomy is mentioned as having perished with his other books and papers in a shipwreck which he suffered on the coast of Holland, on his way to Hamburg. In 1530, however, the whole of the Pentateuch was printed in Marburg by Hans Luft; it is provided with prefaces and marginal annotations of a strongly controversial character. The only perfect copy is preserved in the Grenville library of the British Museum. (5) It was reissued in 1534 with a new preface and certain corrections and emendations in Genesis, and again in London in 1551.

In 1531 the Book of Jonah appeared with an important and highly interesting prologue, the only copy known of which is in the British Museum. (6)

Meanwhile the demand for New Testaments, for reading or for the flames, steadily increased, and the printers found it to their advantage to issue the Worms edition of the New Testament in not less than three surreptitious reprints before 1534. This is testified by George Joye in his Apology, who himself brought out a fourth edition of Tyndale's New Testament in August 1534, freed from many of the errors which, through the carelessness of the Flemish printers, had crept into the text, but with such alterations and new renderings as to arouse the indignation of Tyndale. The only remaining copy, a 16mo, is in the Grenville library. To counteract and supersede all these unauthorized editions, Tyndale himself brought out his own revision of the New Testament with translations added of all the Epistles of the Old Testament after the use of Salisbury. It was published in November 1534 at Antwerp by Martin Emperowr. Prologues were added to all books except the Acts and the Apocalypse, and new marginal glosses were introduced. Three copies of this edition are in the British Museum, and it was reprinted in 1841 in Bagster's Hexapla. In the following year Tyndale once more set forth a revised edition, "fynesshed in the yere of oure Lorde God A.M.D. and XXXV.," and printed at Antwerp by Godfried van der Haghen. (7) In this headings were added to the chapters in the Gospels and the Acts, and the marginal notes of the edition of 1534 were omitted. It is chiefly noted for the peculiarities of its orthography. Of this edition one copy is in the University library, Cambridge, a second in Exeter College, Oxford, and a fragment in the British Museum. It is supposed to have been revised by Tyndale while in prison in the castle of Vilvorde, being the last of his labours in connexion with the English Bible. His execution took place on the 6th of October 1536, and about the same time a small folio reprint of his revised edition of 1534 was brought out in England, the first volume of Scripture printed in this country, probably by T. Berthelet. (8) A perfect copy is found in the Bodleian library. In later years, between 1536 and 1550, numerous editions of Tyndale's New Testament were printed, twenty-one of which have been enumerated and fully described by Francis Fry. (9)

"The history of our English Bible begins with the work of Tyndale and not with that of Wycliffe," says Dr Westcott in his History of the English Bible, p. 316, and it is true that one of the most striking features of the work of Tyndale is its independence. Attempts have been made to show that especially in the Old Testament he based a great deal of his work on the Wycliffite translations, but in face of this we have his own explicit statement, "I had no man to counterfet, nether was holpe with englysshe of eny that had interpreted the same (i.e. the New Testament), or soche lyke thinge in the scripture beforetyme." (10)

He translated straight from the Hebrew and Greek originals, although the Vulgate and more especially Erasmus's Latin version were on occasion consulted. For his prefaces and marginal notes he used Luther's Bible freely, even to paraphrasing or verbally translating long passages from it.

Apart from certain blemishes and awkward and even incorrect renderings, Tyndale's translation may be described as a truly noble work, faithful and scholarly, though couched in simple and popular language. Surely no higher praise can be accorded to it than that it should have been taken as a basis by the translators of the Authorized Version, and thus have lived on through the centuries up to the present day.

The following specimens may prove of interest:—

The thryde Chapter. (Matthew iii. 1-4.) In those dayes Ihon the baptyser cam and preached in the wyldernes of Iury, saynge, Repent, the kyngedom of heven ys at hond. Thys ys he of whom it ys spoken be the prophet Isay, whych sayth: the voice of a cryer in wyldernes, prepaire ye the lordes waye, and make hys pathes strayght. Thys Ihon had hys garment of camelles heere, and a gyrdyll of a skynne about hys loynes. Hys meate was locustes and wyldhe ony.

(Matthew vi. 9-13.) 0 oure father which art in heven, halewed be thy name. Let thy kingdom come. Thy wyll be fulfilled, as well in erth, as hit ys in heven. Geve vs this daye oure dayly breade. And forgeve vs oure treaspases, even as we forgeve them whych treaspas vs. Lede vs nott in to temptacion, but delyvre vs from yvell. Amen. (Grenville 12179.)

1. B. F. Westcott, History of the English Bible (3rd ed), revised by W. Aldis Wright (London, 1905), p. 25.

2. Pref. to Genesis, p. 396 (Parker Soc.).

3. Photo lithographed by Edw. Arber (London, 1871).

4. Reprinted by G. Offor (London, 1836); reproduced in facsimile by Francis Fry (Bristol, 1862).

5. Reprinted with an introduction by J. T. Mombert (New York, 1884).

6. Reproduced in facsimile by Francis Fry (1863).

7. Cf. H. Bradshaw, Bibliographer (1882-1881), i. 3 ff. (reprinted 1886).

8. See F. Jenkinson, Early English Printed Books in the Univ. Libr. Cambridge, iii. (1730).

9. See Biographical Description of the Editions of the New Testament, Tyndale's Version, in English (1878).

10. Epistle to the Reader in the New Testament of 1526, reprinted by G. Offor; cf. Parker Soc. (1848), p. 390.