William Tyndale

c.1494-1536. English Reformer and Bible translator. Born in the west of England, he was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and afterward at Cambridge. He became tutor to Sir John Walsh's family, but seeing the ignorance of clergy and laity alike, he grew convinced that “it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the Scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue.” From Cuthbert Tunstall,* bishop of London, he received no encouragement, so he left England, never to return. The printing of his first NT in English was begun in 1525 at Cologne, but a police raid stopped the work, and it had to be finished later that year at Worms. Tunstall, Thomas More,* and William Warham,* archbishop of Canterbury, attacked him relentlessly, and secret agents were sent to trap him as he moved around from his Antwerp base where sympathetic English merchants protected and helped him. Tyndale continued to revise his NT, though plagued by pirated versions and betrayed by his erstwhile helper George Joye who ran off another pirated version. Tyndale also embarked on the Pentateuch and left other OT translations uncompleted.

At the same time, he was writing OT commentaries, replying to More's longwinded attacks, writing NT expositions (1 John and Matt. 5-7), propounding justification by faith alone in The Parable of the Wicked Mammon (1528), penning a major constitutional and theological treatise in The Obedience of a Christian Man (1528), and dealing with Joye's speculations on the afterlife as well as the Anabaptist doctrine of soul-sleep (the subject of Calvin's first theological work). Tyndale's output was impressive, as the conditions under which he worked-a shipwreck and loss of manuscripts, secret agents after him, police raids on his printer, betrayal by friends-were daunting. His quality nevertheless remained high. He pioneered English Bible translations from the original languages. His style was lucid, crisp and concise, and above all appealed to ordinary people for its down-to-earth character. His literary work is now universally recognized. His theological works were often translations or rough paraphrases of Luther or Lutheran works, but there are traces from 1529 onward of the growing influence of Swiss Protestant theology. Arrested at Vilvorde near Brussels in 1535, he was finally strangled and burnt in the following year.

See Works (ed. H. Walter, 1848, and G.E. Duffield, 1964); and biographies by J.F. Mozley (1937) and C.S. Williams (1969).