The Life of William Tyndale, Part 1

England and the Roman Catholic Church

In 1523 London was a walled city with a large cathedral and religious structure.

Many different sects dominated the religious landscape, while forests surrounded the city.

Henry VIII was the ruler and was demanding a war with France.

To fight this war, Cardinal Wolsey was to collect an 18% tax on the people.

Henry was impatient with the Pope, the Church, and his wife Catherine.

Pope Clement VII was not being paid by the monarchy and was watching the situation.

Adrian, who was Pope before Clement, died after 12 months.

Pope Loe X was very corrupt and sold indulgences and offices to whoever could pay.

Erasmus, and others, wrote scathing rebukes of the religious leaders of the day.

Relics were worshiped in a way that defamed the Church.

Many who were loyal to the Church in Rome spoke out against the indulgences and other sacrilegious acts.

These men were ineffective because:

1. They did not go to the root of the problem—ignorance of God's Word and the gospel.

2. They feared the consequences.

William Tyndale

Tyndale was born in a small village to a family who was fairly well off.

He studied at Oxford where studies centered on apparently useless theology.

Erasmus was at Oxford, but then went to Cambridge as he continued to compile the Greek New Testament—which was published in 1516.

Scholars had fled west with the priceless Greek texts as the Muslims invaded Constantinople.

Cambridge was the university of the reformers, many of whom would be burned at the stake.

There, they discussed true doctrinal matters with the aid of the Greek New Testament.

Tyndale took a job as a tutor at Little Sodbury Manor in Gloucestershire, but would travel to Bristol to preach outside the cathedral.

At this time, Tyndale had begun his translation of the Greek New Testament into English.

The Great Hall of Little Sodbury Manor was a place of information as people passed through the area—including raveling friars.

Discussions of the national political and religious scene were held in the hall.

At one such debate, Tyndale crossed verbal swords with a friar exclaiming, “I defy the Pope and all his laws…if God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth a plough shall know more of the scriptures than thou dost….”

Tyndale’s Influences and Obstacles

There were three clear influences on Tyndale at this time:

Discussions with the others at Cambridge concerning the gospel presented in the New Testament.

An elderly priest near Bristol who urged him to stand firm, even against the Church.

The Greek New Testament from Erasmus.

Erasmus wrote in the front of his Greek New Testament of his desire to see the common people reading and knowing the Scriptures.

This was printed and circulated with the blessing of the Pope.

Tyndale shared this sentiment.

In England, the Constitutions of Oxford (1408-09) made it illegal to read the Bible in English without a bishop’s license.

French and Latin were the regal and legal languages while English was left to the commoners.

April 4, 1519 saw seven people executed for teaching their children the Lord’s Prayer in English.

Three years later, a nine-year-old boy was burned for having a scrap of paper with the Lord’s Prayer written in English.

Tyndale arrived in London in 1523 and lived with a local merchant with ties to the German Lutherans.

Luther’s German New Testament was being smuggled into London at the steelyard.

Tyndale continued to work on the translation of the New Testament with the help of John Frith.

The lines of the Reformation were being clearly drawn:

1. Scripture alone for authority.

2. Christ alone for salvation.

3. Faith alone as a way to receive salvation.

Think About It

Why did the Church not want the Bible translated into English?

How was Tyndale exposed to the authentic gospel?

What consequences awaited those who taught or read the Bible in English?