Dying For The Word
It happened in the year 1536 in the town of Filford, Belgium. William Tyndale was “tied to the stake, strangled by the hangman, and afterwards consumed with fire.” The account of the execution and the events leading to it were written by John Foxe, an intimate friend of Tyndale.
Tyndale attended the universities of Oxford and Cambridge where he grew in knowledge of the Scriptures and became utterly consumed by them. He then became employed as tutor for children of a wealthy knight, Master Welch of Gloucestershire. This gentleman often invited “abbotts, deans, archdeacons, with divers other doctors, and great benefited men” to dine, and there Tyndale had opportunity to share Biblical truths. “And thus continued they for a certain season, reasoning and contending together divers times, till at length they waxed weary, and bare a secret grudge in their hearts against him,” and some of the doctors tried to turn Welch against Tyndale. Tyndale’s persuasion prevailed however, and the doctors lost their welcome.
Then the “priests of the country, chattering together, began to grudge and storm against Tyndale, railing against him in alehouses and other places, affirming that his sayings were heresy; and accused him secretly to the chancellor, and others of the bishop’s officers.” The chancellor summoned Tyndale and “threatened him grievously, reviling and rating him as though he had been a dog.” But because no accuser could be brought forth he was released. “The grudge of the priests increasing still more and more against Tyndale, they never ceased barking and rating at him, and laid many things sorely to his charge, saying that he was a heretic.”
At that time the religious powers, the Catholic papists, thought it convenient to withhold knowledge of the Bible from the people by disallowing the Bible to be translated into English. It was Tyndale’s purpose to change all that. He wanted everyone to be able to read the Bible in their own language, “that the poor people might read and see the simple plain Word of God.” To do so, he moved to Germany out of the menace of the papists. The first printing of the New Testament materialized in 1529, to the dismay of the Bishop of London who “being sore aggrieved, devised how to destroy that false erroneous translation, as they called it.”
The bishop petitioned a merchant, Augustine Packington, an acquaintance of Tyndale, to purchase all of the printed New Testaments, and the merchant so agreed. This marketer then “went unto William Tyndale and declared the whole matter, and so, upon compact made between them, the Bishop of London had the books, Packington had his thanks, and Tyndale had the money.” With this money the printing of the New Testament was increased, “so that they came thick and threefold over into England.”
This caused no little stir amongst the Catholic clergy “who cried out upon it; that there were a thousand heresies in it, and that it wasn’t to be corrected, but utterly to be suppressed. Some said that it was not possible to translate the Scriptures into English; some, that it was not lawful for the lay people to have it in their mother tongue; some, that it would make them all heretics. And to the intent to induce the temporal rulers unto their purpose, they said that it would make the people to rebel against the king.” The king, harried by the English clergy, outlawed Tyndale’s translation in 1537. And now the clergy went after Tyndale himself.
A Henry Poole traveled from England to Antwerp, Belgium for the sole purpose of befriending and betraying William Tyndale. After making acquaintance at the home of mutual associates, “within short space Master Tyndale had great confidence in him, and brought him to his lodging…to whom he showed moreover his books, and other secrets of his study, so little did Tyndale then mistrust this traitor.” Poole eventually led him into a trap and Tyndale found himself in the emperor’s prison awaiting trial. Refusing an advocate, Tyndale defended his works and faith. “At last, after much reasoning, when no reason would serve, although he deserved no death, he was condemned by virtue of the emperor’s decree.” His lasts words were a prayer, “crying at the stake with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice, ‘Lord! open the King of England’s eyes.’ ”
Tyndale’s translations were of such quality that they were used in the following century in the compiling of the King James translation of the Bible.