A draft of freezing air drifted across his face and Tyndale shivered in the cold, dank atmosphere of the dungeon. He had been imprisoned for over 500 days – he didn’t how know many days exactly, and he had stopped counting. Every day was much the same, poor conditions, meager food rations – usually cold, hard, moldy bread and brackish water. He tried to keep his mind on God and did his best to pray for his tormentors. After several more days, men came and took him away to the ecclesiastical court, where he was tried and convicted of heresy. When he heard the sentence, his heart dropped. So, he was to die then…before finishing the work he had started.
The guards dragged him through the noisy, heckling crowd, many of whom didn’t even know who he was or why he would die that day. His hands were bound tightly and his thin robe fluttered in the light breeze as he stumbled behind the agents of his captors. His eyes fell on a tall, stout pole surrounded by stacks of tree branches and the man who stood by, face covered with a black cloth. As he was lashed to the stake, and readied for execution, Tyndale lifted his eyes to heaven and with fervent zeal and a loud voice he prayed “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” Tyndale was strangled to death at the stake…by the time the flames began to lick at his body, his soul had already returned to its Creator.
Born in England, William Tyndale was a 16th century scholar and translator, who became a leading figure in protestant reformism towards the end of his life. Tyndale was extremely bright and gifted with languages. He could speak several languages fluently and spoke each one as if it were his native tongue. He started studying for a BA in 1512, and became a sub-deacon in the same year. In time, other clergymen began to find his opinions controversial and in 1522, he was called before the Chancellor of the Dioceses of Worcester and given a verbal rebuke – no formal charges were filed.
During Tyndale’s lifetime, no English translation of the Bible existed and lay people were forbidden from owning or reading Bibles. To do otherwise was considered a serious crime - all Scripture was read and interpreted by priests and other clergymen, but William was convinced that the way to God was through His word, and that scripture should be available even to common people. Thus was born his determination to translate the Bible into English.
Heavily influenced by Desiderius Erasmus, who made the Greek New Testament available in Europe, William Tyndale was the very first man to translate and print the New Testament in English. He also translated considerable parts of the Old Testament, but was unable to complete it before his arrest and execution. His friends, Myles Coverdale and John Thomas evaded arrest and published entire English Bibles for the first time within one year of Tyndale’s death.
Ironically, within four years, the same king who ordered the arrest and execution of Tyndale commissioned four English translations of the Bible (including Henry’s official Great Bible).
In response to a priest who said “We had better be without God’s laws than the Pope’s”, Tyndale responded “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere (before) many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”
*The section in italics, while based on fact, was embellished in the author's imagination.