Reading 6 – Friday, December 9, 2016
William Tyndale, Greatest of English Reformers
By Parmenas Shirima, Tanzania
“And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having pro- vided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:36-40.
The way of the Reformers
The way and life of reformers in all ages have been marked by starvation, suffering, affliction, torture, persecution, and loss of life for the sake of their faith in Jesus Christ. As we study about the great Reformers of the Sixteenth Century during this Week of Prayer, let us pray earnestly that God will give us perception and the spirit of these men of God, who “loved not their lives unto the death.” Revelation 12:11. We also pray that our personal lives, actions, and examples as Reformers will bless and save souls for the kingdom of God.
“When Jesus revealed to His disciples the fate of Jerusalem and the scenes of the second advent, He fore- told also the experience of His people from the time when He should be taken from them, to His return in power and glory for their deliverance. From Olivet the Saviour beheld the storms about to fall upon the apostolic church; and penetrating deeper into the future, His eye discerned the fierce, wasting tempests that were to beat upon His followers in the coming ages of dark- ness and persecution. In a few brief utterances of awful significance He fore- told the portion which the rulers of this world would mete out to the church of God. Matthew 24:9, 21, 22. The followers of Christ must tread the same path of humiliation, reproach, and suffering which their Master trod….
“Wherever they sought refuge, the followers of Christ were hunted like beasts of prey. They were forced to seek concealment in desolate and solitary places. ‘Destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.’ Hebrews 11:37, 38….
“Under the fiercest persecution these witnesses for Jesus kept their faith unsullied. Though deprived of every comfort, shut away from the light of the sun, making their home in the dark but friendly bosom of the earth, they uttered no complaint. With words of faith, patience, and hope they encouraged one another to endure privation and distress. The loss of every earthly blessing could not force them to renounce their belief in Christ. Trials and persecution were but steps bringing them nearer their rest and their re- ward….
“In vain were Satan’s efforts to destroy the church of Christ by violence. The great controversy in which the disciples of Jesus yielded up their lives did not cease when these faithful standard-bearers fell at their post. By de- feat they conquered. God’s workmen were slain, but His work went steadily forward. The gospel continued to spread and the number of its adherents to increase.” –The Great Controversy, pp. 39-41.
William Tyndale, champion of reform in England
“William Tyndale (c. 1490-1536), greatest of the English Reformers, eminent linguist, and first translator of the New Testament from Greek into English, was recognized as one of the finest classical scholars of his time. Trained at both Oxford and Cambridge, he was thus linked to both universities. He entered Oxford, from which he received his B.A. and M.A. degrees, with a yearning for spiritual things and a bent toward languages. There he became a master in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and skilled in Spanish, French, and English. At Oxford he was influenced by John Colet’s lectures in New Testament Greek, which broke with tradition and revolutionized Bible study.
“Tyndale then went on to Cam- bridge in 1516. There Tyndale, Frith, and Bilney all studied the Scripture-revealed provisions of regeneration. And there the Book spoke to Tyndale’s heart, and he found God in its pages. It was a time of new beginnings, when his inward convictions began to find outward expression. Groups of students gathered to read the Greek and Latin Gospels of Erasmus. Having taken priest’s orders in 1521, Tyndale became tutor-chaplain to Sir John and Lady Walsh, of Old Sodbury. There he preached to eager listeners who filled the sanctuary, also in surrounding villages and towns, and at Bristol on the college green. His preaching stirred great interest, but the hostility of the priests was aroused and numerous disputes resulted in which Tyndale used the Greek text with telling effect.” –Le Roy Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2, pp. 88, 89.
“A diligent student and an earnest seeker for truth, he [William Tyndale] had received the gospel from the Greek Testament of Erasmus. He fearlessly preached his convictions, urging that all doctrines be tested by the Scriptures. To the papist claim that the church had given the Bible, and the church alone could explain it, Tyndale responded:
‘Do you know who taught the eagles to find their prey? Well, that same God teaches His hungry children to find their Father in His word. Far from having given us the Scriptures, it is you who have hidden them from us; it is you who burn those who teach them, and if you could, you would burn the Scriptures themselves.’ – Merle D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, b. 18, ch. 4.
“Tyndale’s preaching excited great interest; many accepted the truth. But the priests were on the alert, and no sooner had he left the field than they by their threats and misrepresentations endeavored to destroy his work. Too often they succeeded. ‘What is to be done?’ he exclaimed. ‘While I am sowing in one place, the enemy ravages the field I have just left. I cannot be every- where. Oh! if Christians possessed the Holy Scriptures in their own tongue, they could of themselves withstand these sophists. Without the Bible it is impossible to establish the laity in the truth.’ –Ibid., b. 18, ch. 4.” –The Great Controversy, pp. 245, 246.
“A new purpose now took possession of his mind. ‘It was in the language of Israel,’ said he, ‘that the psalms were sung in the temple of Jehovah; and shall not the gospel speak the language of England among us?… Ought the church to have less light at noonday than at the dawn?… Christians must read the New Testament in their mother tongue.’ The doctors and teachers of the church disagreed among themselves. Only by the Bible could men arrive at the truth. ‘One holdeth this doctor, an- other that…. Now each of these authors contradicts the other. How then can we distinguish him who says right from him who says wrong?… How?… Verily by God’s word.’ –Ibid., b. 18, ch. 4.
“It was not long after that a learned Catholic doctor, engaging in controversy with him, exclaimed: ‘We were better to be without God’s laws than the pope’s.’ Tyndale replied: ‘I defy the pope and all his laws; and if God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scripture than you do.’ – Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, p. 19.” –The Great Controversy, p. 246. “While Luther was opening a closedBible to the people of Germany, Tyndale was impelled by the Spirit of God to do the same for England. Wycliffe’s Bible had been translated from the Latin text, which contained many errors. It had never been printed, and the cost of manuscript copies was so great that few but wealthy men or nobles could procure it; and, furthermore, being strictly proscribed by the church, it had had a comparatively narrow circulation. In 1516, a year before the appearance of Luther ’s theses, Erasmus had published his Greek and Latin version of the New Testament. Now for the first time the word of God was printed in the original tongue. In this work many errors of former versions were corrected, and the sense was more clearly rendered. It led many among the educated classes to a better knowledge of the truth, and gave a new impetus to the work of reform. But the common people were still, to a great extent, de- barred from God’s word. Tyndale was to complete the work of Wycliffe in giving the Bible to his countrymen.” –The Great Controversy, p. 245.
Crisis for teaching and circulating the holy word
“The purpose which he had begun to cherish, of giving to the people the New Testament Scriptures in their own language, was now confirmed, and he immediately applied himself to the work. Driven from his home by persecution, he went to London, and there he pursued his labors undisturbed. But again the violence of the papists forced him to flee.” –The Great Controversy, pp. 246, 247.
“He was soon denounced by the priests and dignitaries. Quickly the storm broke into the open, and a real struggle was on. The chancellor convoked a conference of the clergy, and Tyndale was severely reprimanded for his growing ‘heresies.’ The crisis had come. His course was clear, as arrest and condemnation faced him. He must seek asylum on the Continent.
“Rome was then at the pinnacle of its power in Britain, and a pall of midnight darkness, corruption, and superstition covered the land. This Tyndale felt had been brought about by taking away the Key of Knowledge–the Holy Word. There was only one hope for Britain and the world, and that was to
restore the Key. Distressed by the ignorance of the priests and monks, he determined to provide the remedy by translating the New Testament into English vernacular, thus lighting a torch in the midst of the spiritual darkness.
From thenceforth he made this noble resolve his life mission. He rebelled against the common concept that the pope’s lawswere above God’s,…” –The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2, p. 89.
“All England seemed closed against him, and he resolved to seek shelter in Germany. Here he began the printing of the English New Testament. Twice the work was stopped; but when forbidden to print in one city, he went to another. At last he made his way to Worms, where, a few years before,
Luther had defended the gospel before the Diet. In that ancient city were many friends of the Reformation, and Tyndale there prosecuted his work without further hindrance. Three thousand copies of the New Testament were soon finished, and another edition followed in the same year.
“With great earnestness and perseverance he continued his labors. Notwithstanding the English authorities had guarded their ports with the strictest vigilance, the word of God was in various ways secretly conveyed to Lon- don and thence circulated throughout the country. The papists attempted to suppress the truth, but in vain. The bishop of Durham at one time bought of a bookseller who was a friend of Tyndale his whole stock of Bibles, for the purpose of destroying them, supposing that this would greatly hinder the work. But, on the contrary, the money thus furnished, purchased material for a new and better edition, which, but for this, could not have been published. When Tyndale was afterward made a prisoner, his liberty was offered him on condition that he would reveal the names of those who had helped him meet the expense of printing his Bibles. He replied that the bishop of Durham had done more than any other person; for by paying a large price for the books left on hand, he had enabled him to go on with good courage.” –The Great Con- troversy, p. 247.
His works and struggles in exile
“Arriving in Hamburg, he unpacked his previous Greek text and resumed his task. Later he went to Cologne, where he began to print the Gospels of Matthew and Mark first. Interruptions forced him to complete the task at Worms, where Luther made his brilliant defense before the Diet, and then at Antwerp. For twelve years he was hounded and hunted. Forbidden in one city, he fled to another–Wittenberg, Cologne, Hamburg, Worms, Strasbourg, Marburg, and Antwerp–to evade his oppressors. In 1524 he reached Witten- berg in Saxony, where the Reformation had made great progress. There he met Luther and was inspired by his strong faith and dynamic action. Under such environment he joyfully entered upon the completion of his great task. His translation was ready within a year.
“Again a London merchant furnished the funds to secure a printer, and six thousand copies were struck off. But an interdict was issued to prevent copies from entering Britain under pain of excommunication. Although the English ports were guarded, thousands of copies were smuggled into England, concealed in bales and boxes of merchandise, and were quickly circulated everywhere. Church officials seized and burned many, and the bishop of London and Sir Thomas More fought and exposed the translation. But Tyndale brought out a revised edition, and there were seven more printings in the next ten years, all speedily sold. Cardinal Wolsey, who had sought to prevent copies from entering England, ordered Luther ’s and Tyndale’s books burned. And a great bonfire, kindled outside St. Paul’s, consumed all the Tyndale Testaments that could be gathered up. But other editions replaced those that were burned, and many were sold on the Continent, as well.” –The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2, p. 90.
Tyndale made a lot of corrections to older Bible versions, and this displeased the Catholic authorities. “Common errors were corrected. But bishops were incensed, for Tyndale used ‘repentance’ for ‘penance,’ ‘acknowledge,’ for ‘confess,’ ‘image,’ for ‘idol,’ ‘congregation,’ for ‘church,’ and ‘love,’ for ‘charity’–basing his translation on Erasmus’ Greek text and borrowing from Luther ’s arrangement. Wyclif’s Bible was largely obsolete and inaccessible, and had been taken from the faulty Latin Vulgate. Tyndale’s was a simple, honest, straightforward translation, shunning the ornate, euphemistic style of the times. The Bible was now available to all and exerted a powerful influence on the English Reformation, as well as setting the pattern upon which most later revisers worked. Indeed, 90 per- cent of the Authorized Version of 1611 [King James Version] is attributable to Tyndale. His great learning had been made to serve a great cause. He is thus rightfully established among the literary immortals of England–his style characterized by tenderness, simplicity, and grandeur of phrasing. Indeed, the persistence of Tyndale’s work has been called the ‘miracle of English letter.’
“In 1528 Tyndale wrote on Justification by Faith, under the Parable of the Wicked Mammon, with several editions following. With him there was one uniform principle–the infallible authority of Holy Scripture as the rule of faith and practice and the test of all teaching. This he set forth in The Obedience of Christian Man, in which he sought to restore Holy Scripture to its proper place in the hearts of men, holding that the true sense of the Bible–contrary to the scholastic emphasis of the day–is its literal meaning. His view was there- fore much more in accord with the views of our day than with that of his own time. Thus the two great principles of the Reformation were brought sharply to the forefront. So while Luther had opened a closed Bible in Germany, Tyndale had done the same for Britain. And his The Practice of Prelates was an unsparing indictment of the Ro- man hierarchy.
“In 1529 Tyndale repaired to the Low Countries to translate the Pentateuch [first 5 books of the Old Testament]. In this he was assisted by Miles Coverdale, who virtually completed the translation. By this time Tyndale had rejected both Catholicism’s transubstantiation and Luther’s consubstantiation, regarding the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as purely commemorative and symbolic.” –The Conditional- ist Faith of Our Fathers, pp. 90, 91.
In 1527, Sir Thomas More, became Lord Chancellor of England; he championed the Roman Catholic doctrines, engaging in a literary war against Tyndale. “In 1529 More produced his Dialogue of Sir Thomas More, attacking the positions of Luther and Tyndale, and defending Rome.” We may compare him with Tetzel in Germany, who was the pope’s agent and the bitter opposer of Martin Luther. More’s book “dealt with the doctrines that divided Christendom– Tyndale championing the Scripture, and More, the church. This Tyndale answered in 1531 with satiric force. More soon issued The Confutation of Tyndale’s Answers. The exchange became the classic controversy of the English Reformation.
“The bishops had burned Tyndale’s books. Now they resolved that he too must burn at the stake. This Tyndale had anticipated. Meantime, Cromwell had become privy councilor, and Tyndale was invited to return to England from the Continent, under safe-con- duct. But this he felt to be unsafe be- cause of high ecclesiastical resentment. Then Henry VIII [the King of England] turned against him, denounced his writings, and sought to bring him to trial. He asked Charles V [King of Germany] to deliver him, but the emperor refused to do so.
“Tyndale had found refuge in the home of an English merchant in Antwerp, and thought he was safe. But he was lured from home by an English acquaintance, actually an agent for his enemies in England. Decoyed into another jurisdiction, he was seized by the authorities of Brussels in the name of the emperor, and conveyed to the castle of Vilvorde, near Brussels. Here, under arrest, he languished in prison for about seventeen months through a protracted trial for heresy. Finally, on October 6, 1536, he was taken outside the castle to suffer death at Brussels, in Flanders. Fastened to a stake, he was strangled by the executioner, who then burned his body.
“He had expected just that, and his last words were the prayer, ‘Lord, open the eyes of the King of England.’ Significantly enough, the very next year the public reading of the word of God was authorized by royal decree. And five years later a Bible, allegedly translated by various ‘learned men,’ reached the desk of Henry VIII, who ordered that every church in the kingdom be provided with a copy. Tyndale had triumphed. He had left England an unknown exile, and had lived abroad in poverty, obscurity, and danger; yet before his death his name had become a household word in England and was widely known on the Continent. And the Bible had become known in the common tongue of the people. Truth was established.” –The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, pp. 92, 93.
A light in the darkness
These, in short, are some of the most significant experiences of this faithful servant of God, who spared no sacrifice for the cause of the Lord. They show that while the ministry of the gospel may cost God’s faithful servants very much, the results are far superior to those of any other human endeavor and will surpass our greatest efforts and imagination.
William Tyndale was a man with a mission. While John Wycliffe is said to have been the morning star of the Reformation, Tyndale could well be called its moon. He gave what he received, and through his dedication English monarchs and mere men rejoiced to have the light of the word of God in their own language. Like Moses, he died without seeing the complete deliverance of his people from slavery, and in this darkening world the light from his funeral pyre still shines brightly for all who will read the word with honest eyes.
Tyndale’s example is worthy of emulation. Therefore, may God bless these Readings to inspire everyone of us to de- sire and receive the spirit and dedication of past Reformers, prophets, and apostles. As it is written: “Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace.” “… The night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” Acts 18:9; 23:11. Amen! ■