William Tyndale, Martyr, Translator, Reformer

William Tyndale, Martyr, Translator, Reformer

William was born a Briton and died a Briton–but he died as something even more than a citizen of the British empire. He had the wonderful opportunity to receive a high quality education in languages and religion. He attended Oxford where he received the Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees. Apparently, William thought that the amount of religious instruction he was receiving was inadequate for an ordained minister and he organized groups of students and ministers to study together. These small groups became sources of sustenance for William as he struggled through a desert of doubt and confusion. William felt that the Church was holding its treasures for itself and not offering anything to the huddled masses that filled the pews. There was a tension between being qualified to read the words of Jesus and being entitled to read the words that were the common possession of all of the People of God.

The language of the people was English and the language of the scripture was Latin. William wanted to throw open the doors of the Church and was particularly equipped to do so. As a student of languages and scripture, he had learned French, Greek, Hebrew, German, Italian, Latin, and Spanish in addition to his native tongue. William’s passion was soon kindled and he found himself thinking of making a translation of the scripture so that any could read the written record of God’s self-revelation to humanity–so that any could meet and become intimate with the God who was revealed there. So William began translating. As he did so, the powerful in the Church began to approach him and order him to stop. The division served the powerful well and helped cement the dichotomy between leaders and followers. William recognized that what he was doing could break down the entrenched attitudes and approaches to Church governance but he was willing to take the risk to move the Church back toward being a people consumed by and enveloped in the scripture. Some clergy went so far as to say that it would be better to follow the teachings of the Church than to follow the teachings of the scripture but William remained unconvinced. The goal was not to destroy the place of leaders within the Church and in the interpretation of scripture but, rather, to allow the People of God once again to interpret together and be formed by their common possession.

William published portions of his translation and was met with nearly immediate resistance. He was condemned by the powerful–those with something to lose by William’s translation–and labeled a heretic for resisting the commands of the powerful. He fled their attempts to seize him and worked on his translation in secret. Eventually, after publishing more of his translation, he was betrayed to the authorities and arrested. They held him in prison before trying him on charges of heresy. Though he defended himself against the charged, he was found guilty and condemned to death. As is often the case, those with power were not afraid to use it to maintain the power–no matter who they had to put down. Tyndale was tied up. He loudly proclaimed the importance of returning community goods–the scripture–to the community. He prayed that the powers might see what they had done and what they were doing. This prayer would be answered but not in his lifetime. He was then strangled and his body burnt. This was in 1536. 75 years later, his translations were used heavily in the translation of the scripture unto English. This new version was the Authorized Version (the King James’ Version) and approved of by the powers. It cost William his life but in laying it down he influenced the world for the better. His passion was contagious and could not be put down with condemnations, arrests, and executions.

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Read more from Joshua Hearne at his personal website and the website of Grace and Main Fellowship, the non-traditional community he ministers with.

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