The Powerful Legacy of William Tyndale

by Reverend Anthony R. Locke Psalm 56:1-13 English Standard Version

1 To the choirmaster: according to The Dove on Far-off TerebinthsA Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me;

2 my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly.

3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?

5 All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil.

6 They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life.

7 For their crime will they escape? In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

8 You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?

9 Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me.

10 In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise,

11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?

12 I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you.

13 For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.[1]

A hundred years ago a comet made of frozen gas entered our atmosphere and made impact in Russia, in a swampy forest in western Siberia. When an ice comet travels through Earth’s atmosphere, the friction melts and atomizes the frozen gas into a trail of flammable vapor that spreads from the Earth’s crust all the way back to the highest parts of our stratosphere. When the explosion happens on the surface of the earth, the fire ball has the potential to reach thousands of miles high with the explosive power of a thousand atomic bombs.

The shock wave from that explosion flattened 80 million trees over 800 square miles. The center of the impact left all the trees standing straight up with no branches.

The fireball stretched back into the outer atmosphere, as high as there is burnable oxygen to ignite the trial of gas left in the wake of the comet’s path. This produced so much light that a day later Londoners could read their newspapers under the night sky.

The comet struck at 7:17 am on June 30, 1908. Just over a hundred years ago.

But the energy from that event pales in significance to another explosion that happened 500 years ago in London, an explosion of light that set the world ablaze, and still shines today. That light is the glory of the Son of God shining forth from the pages of Holy Writ. That light wasn’t shining very well for a thousand years before Tyndale.

During the Dark Ages there were only a few Bibles available and almost none of them useful. So what Bible did people use during the Dark Ages?

Let me summarize 1,500 years of Bible History.

The Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek by the Jews 300 years before Jesus’ birth. Then the New Testament was written in Greek. When the Christian got persecuted they took their Greek Old Testament called the Septuagint and their Greek New Testament into Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world.

Those Christians turned missionaries translated the Greek into the language of the peoples of the world. Within 400 years after Pentecost the Bible had been translated into 400 to 500 different languages.

But the Roman Catholic Church wasn’t impressed or grateful. The teachings of the Roman Catholic Church had drifted beyond the Biblical data to include church traditions.

So the Roman Catholic Church, under the pretense of unifying the global church with one reliable translation of the Bible, paid a Latin scholar named Jerome to write an authorized and approved Bible in Latin. This authorized Bible included all the unbiblical traditions from the Pope.

Why Latin? Because fewer and fewer people spoke Latin by the end of the 4th century. This way the only people who could challenge the doctrines of the church were people taught Latin in seminary by the Church professors.

Then they made a church law that any person carrying a Bible not written in Latin was a heretic. If you had a Bible written in your own language you were arrested and burned at the stake. This helped usher in the Dark Ages.

By 500 AD the Bible had been translated into over 500 languages. Just one century later, by 600 AD, it had been restricted to only one language: Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. How sad.

And the light of the glory of the Son of God as revealed in this book became hidden behind dead languages for almost a 1,000 years.

The first person to translate the Bible out of dead languages into the common languages of the day was Englishman John Wycliffe at the end of the 14th century. He only had the Latin as a reference and his copies were all hand written.

Then there was John Huss who tried to get the Bible back into common languages in Prague. He was burned at the stake and John Wycliffe’s original paper manuscripts were used for kindling.

Next to call for common language Bibles was an Oxford professor and the personal physician to King Henry the 7th and 8th named Thomas Linacre. After he learned Greek he compared the Latin Bible and Catholic teachings to the Greek text and wrote in his diary, “Either this (the original Greek) is not the Gospel… or we are not Christians.”

In 1496, John Colet, another Oxford professor and the son of the Mayor of London, started reading the New Testament in Greek and translating it into English for his students at Oxford, and later for the public at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. The people were so hungry to hear the Word of God in a language they could understand, that within six months there were 20,000 people packed in the church and at least that many outside trying to get in!

In 1516 Erasmus produced his Greek New Testament and in 1522 Martin Luther produced his German New Testament.

But the real light that shook the world was the work of William Tyndale who put the Bible into the English language. Tyndale’s New Testament sold over 15,000 copies in the first few years. Thousands of copies were sold to England’s Queen, Anne of Boleyn, as she used the King’s treasury to purchase and smuggle thousands of Tyndale’s Bible in England.

God knew Britain would try and colonize the world in the succeeding centuries. English is the most popular language in the world even today. God made plans early in the Reformation to get the Bible into English so He could accomplish His plans over the next centuries.

William Tyndale was an Englishman. He was born just before 1500, about the same time Calvin, Luther, Zwingli and Bucer were born.

From the time Tyndale was born until he entered college, almost 100,000 people were arrested and imprison by the Romans Catholic Inquisitions, and 10,000 were burned at the stake.

In 1512 William Tyndale became a college student at Oxford University and was ordained a catholic priest.

Tyndale earned money by becoming a tutor to children of wealthy government officials.

He would sit down for meals with the family and listen to their discussions about politics, religion and law.

At one of those table gatherings a high ranking religious scholar from the Vatican was speaking disrespectfully of Tyndale’s alma-mater, Oxford, where thousands were showing up to hear the Bible explained without the aid of Latin.

The Catholic official spoke with elite condescension toward the doctrines of the Reformers in Germany and Switzerland.

With each charge leveled against the Reformers, Tyndale opened up his copy of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament and showed how the Roman Catholic Church was teaching church traditions and not Bible doctrine.

The Roman Catholic Church dignitary finally got angry, stood up from the table and said,

“We had better be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.”

It was in this setting that Tyndale burst forth with the famous words,

“I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, I will cause the boy that drives the plow in England to know more of the Scriptures than the Pope himself!”

And the match was lit, the spark that would change the world.

The Bible of William Tyndale codified the English language so as to make him the Father of modern English.

He was the spark that led to the English Reformation.

But greater than those two put together, Tyndale is the father of the modern English Bible.

95% of the King James Version contains the exact word choice of William Tyndale.

83% of all modern translations still reflect his translation.

Tyndale’s words at that dinner table made him an outlaw.

He fled to Germany and there in 1525 printed his New Testament in English. Immediately King Henry sent paid mercenaries to Germany to kill Tyndale.

In fact, when they set up the printing press to start making copies of the New Testament, assassins from England burst in on the printer and burned all Tyndale’s work. They only thing that survived was his Gospel of Matthew and the preface to the New Testament edition.

Tyndale’s life was in constant danger. During the next ten years Tyndale revised his New Testament and worked on the Old Testament translation into English.

In 1535 authorities arrested Tyndale and brought him back to England to be condemned and burned to death.

His final words heard over the crackle of the flames were, “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.”

Within a year of Tyndale’s death King Henry the 8th separated himself from the Roman Catholic Church and ordered every chapel and church in England to purchase an English Bible for their parish.

People would line up two and three hours before church to take turns reading the Bible out loud for the crowds that would come to hear the Bible read.

That’s why churches in America place a Bible in the front of the church. It is a tradition going back to Tyndale’s Bible that got the English people reading God’s word for themselves.

God’s providentially used William Tyndale to get the Bible into the English language which was then used by God to evangelize the world.

No other book has been so chopped, knifed, sifted, scrutinized, and vilified. Yet, the Bible is still loved by millions, read by millions, and studied by millions.

And even if it wasn’t, It would still be God’s book. God’s word. These are the inspired words that bring us into relationship with the incarnate WORD Jesus Christ.

Today there is a new Dark Age of indifference and apathy toward the Bible. We have copies on our shelves at home, the office and next to our night stand. But the Devil has turned our attention away from the Bible to the news channels, the weather channel and sports.

The light of the glory of the Son of God is still shinning every where people read this Holy Book.

A 100 years ago, a fireball detonated in the middle of Russia and a day later, that light was so great that people in London were able to read a paper in the middle of the night.

500 years ago a fire was lit that shines the glory of the Son of God upon our hearts today. William Tyndale’s vow to make the plow boy know more of the scripture than the Pope is fulfilled for anyone who will read this book every day.

May God bless you with the blessings that are promised for anyone who reads from this book.

Revelation 1:3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


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