William Tyndale is one of the more underrated men in Christian history. Most folks don’t know his name or what he did, but if you speak English, he contributed more to your language than almost any other person, including Shakespeare (who helped the English language flourish on the foundation built by Tyndale).
Tyndale was an Englishman in the 1500s, exiled from his homeland and hunted down for his heretical views. England at the time was in the midst of incredible upheaval. The Catholic Church, which had exercised an iron-fisted rule over the whole of Europe, was beginning to see its authority erode with the effects of the Renaissance and the beginning of Martin Luther’s Reformation. Catholicism reacted to change as you would expect anyone in power for a millennia to react: violent persecution and unequivocal oppression.
The England Tyndale grew up in did not have the Scripture in their own language. English was considered a rough and backward language, far inferior to Latin. Many church officials serving in England would serve out their careers in England, never uttering a word of English. Lost in all of this was the common man, the Englishman who knew only English and could not read the Latin Bible. He had to trust in the Latin priest’s interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. By keeping the Bible out of the hands of the masses, the church exerted an incredible method of control over the population.
William Tyndale was the man who changed all that. As he grew in his knowledge of the Scriptures, he became appalled by the growing inconsistency between the teaching of the church and the truth of the Scripture. His simple yet profound conviction was this: the common man should be able to read God’s Word for himself, in his own language.
For this dangerous and radical idea, Tyndale was forced to flee his homeland and publish the first English translation of the Bible while in exile. The author describes beautifully what Tyndale accomplished, “Tyndale, for the first time in English history, gives God room to be God, and give the Englishman room to imagine God in ways that have been denied him – and with a new English that fuses glory with simplicity” (60).
In today’s age, a new translation of the Bible is nothing to get too concerned with. But in the death throes of medieval Europe, withholding the Scriptures from the people was one of the few remaining mechanisms of control that the Catholic Church retained. So it protected that right to the very death. More than just the translation, Tyndale’s views of God were what proved to be his death sentence.
The author writes, “Tyndale would not ultimately burn for the translation, which was an offense, certainly, but as a heretic whose ideas were too contaminated for him to live. Tyndale’s main injury to God was that he did not think like a Catholic” (238). By challenging the church’s unquestioned authority on all things spiritual, Tyndale condemned himself to death. The church hunted Tyndale relentlessly until he was betrayed and found, given a sham trial and ultimately burned at the stake.
Yet by the time of his death, it was too late. The damage had been done. The Bible for the first time was in the hands of everyday Englishmen, and there would be no going back. The church’s corrupt stranglehold on the people was irrevocably broken.
The church has a horrific past of abusing religion for its own selfish ends. I’ve studied much on the history of the church, especially in the Middle Ages. What I read shames me as a Christian. Corrupt and violent men used the vestiges of the church as a medium to control people and enrich themselves. It’s no wonder why Europe has such a skeptical view of the church today. Its track record is horrible.
One man’s courage can change the course of a nation. Tyndale gave validity and a voice to the English language. He helped destroy the corrupt stranglehold the church had on the people. His determination to see the Scripture in the language of the people changed the trajectory for an entire nation. If you don’t think one man can make a difference, look no further than William Tyndale.
Leadership has a price. Tyndale paid a heavy price for his devotion to his cause. He was exiled from his homeland. He was constantly on the run. He did without many of the simple pleasures that we take for granted. After being betrayed, he was imprisoned and ultimately burned at the stake for his beliefs. Knowing all that would happen, Tyndale still embraced the cost as small compared to the good that he would accomplish. He truly was a saint living for another world.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. Tyndale’s impact on Christianity has lasted long after his death. Because he lived not for himself but for others and future generations, we still speak his name. He is a spiritual giant. I am able to preach and teach the word of God in English because of the brave actions of a man who lived 500 years ago.
QUESTION: What are you doing that will survive long after you’ve died?