This past semester, my church started a new Sunday School series about the English Reformation. To the English (and to those who speak English), William Tyndale was a great reformer and is incredibly underrated as a great man in the history of the English speaking world.
What Tyndale accomplished for the English is similar to what Martin Luther did for the Germans. He was born in England and educated at Oxford and quickly developed into a brilliant man whose dream was to see the Bible in the hands of the layman, the plower of the field. In this time, the Bible was forbidden to be written any any other language other than Latin and could only be read personally by the clergy. Tyndale hoped that one day, all would be able to read the Bible for themselves.
So he began a journey that would be considered heretical, and “daring”: he began to translate the Bible from Greek to English. He needed a bit of work learning Greek which he pick up from perhaps the great scholar, Melancthon in Germany. He had to move outside of England because he was already beginning to build a reputation for heresy and treason. He began work on the New Testament probably in Germany and had to frequently move around to avoid capture by Church officials. He translated the entire New Testament and would send copies hidden by boat to England. He continued to revise his New Testament and stayed close with individuals who either held connections to or physically with printing presses. After his completion of the New Testament, he began to work on the Old. Sadly, he never finished his work on the Old Testament and was martyred for heresy.
Tyndale becomes an important figure in the English speaking world because his work on the Bible transformed the English language. We in the West often attribute the greatest influence of the English language to Shakespeare, but it was actually Tyndale who coined phrases that even Shakespeare copied.
I think it is important to remember Tyndale when we read our Bibles because throughout human history, we have not enjoyed the freedoms we have now throughout history. Many people have shed their blood to get to the point we are at today. The fact that Bibles are in hotels and freely distributed today is a realization of Tyndale’s dream that someday the plowers of the fields would have access to the Bible.