Fundamental Baptist Institute

Facts From History About Our

King James Bible.

Written and Published by

by Rev. Ronald D. Lesley, Th. M., D.D.


Chapter VII

William Tyndale


1494 - 1536

One of the best-kept secrets in English Bible History is that of William Tyndale’s Bible. Many people have heard something of Tyndale, but very few have ever read his work or about him. Yet no other Englishman, not even Shakespeare, has reached so many by his life’s work.

Tyndale translated the New Testament twice, and made three revisions before his death. In 1534 the Tyndale New Testament was finished. And it was his greatest work that would bring many souls to Jesus Christ, as their personal Saviour.

Those scholars who prepared the Authorized 1611 King James Bible spoke with one voice. Of course they did, that voice which could never be acknowledged by them was that of William Tyndale. Much of the New Testament in the 1611 Authorized King James Bible came directly from the Tyndale New Testament.

In 1611, there were six million English speaking people, today the figure is approaching a billion. The Bible, or parts of it, is now published in over one thousand other languages.

Tyndale’s as well as the King James Bible opening of John 14, "Let not your hearts be troubled", renders the Greek exactly. The popular Good News Bible , "Do not be worried and upset," is wrong both in sense and tone.

The dozen or so modern English versions in common use today should be greatly studied for their differences. The reader should know how, and why versions differ. There are words, and whole passages left out in all versions except the King James Bible. Yet to the greater number of Bible readers, these exclusions have never been shown, or displayed. There seems to be apathetic interest in knowing if there is a difference in these versions.

Through the new allegiance to Humanism and relevance, modern publishers and the public have been allowed to forget grammar, history, and the men who laid down their lives in the foundation of the Bible in English. We have not been told that the Manuscripts used in the modern versions is other than that used by the great scholars who laid down their lives for Truth. These modern versions are without the test of persecution and blood.

William Tyndale was born about 1494 in Gloucestershire, England. Being a great student he earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree from Magdalene College at Oxford in 1512 and in 1515 the Master of Arts Degree. He also spent some time in Cambridge where he met and listened to with Thomas Bilney preach.

Bilney had read the Greek New Testament Text compiled and scribed by Erasmus. Reading the Greek Text of Scripture he read, "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." Bilney came to the truth that Paul a "chief of sinners" could know and possessed salvation by and through Jesus Christ. The Scripture bringing to him this truth, he also could know salvation through Christ Jesus. This he did through the reading of God’s Word. Bilney became a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone he could reach. He reached thousands.

Tyndale disturbed local priests by routing them at the dinner table with chapter and verse of Scripture. He upheld the translating of Erasmus’ Enchiridion militis Christi. He was accused of heresy, but nothing could be proved against him.

Tyndale’s statement, "I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spare me, I will one day make the boy that drives the plough in England to know more of Scripture than the Pope himself!," is probably from the title page of the work of Erasmus Greek which states that the plowman and the carpenter should know the Bible because it is addressed to them.

John Foxe Acts an Monument record, "Soon after moving to Cambridge, he (Tyndale) became acquainted with Erasmus, the great Greek scholar, who had just completed his Greek Testament. Tyndale quickly made himself familiar with this wonderful new book. He took it up probably at first as a curious work of scholarship, but he soon found that there was more in it than that, and he read it again and again, with ever-deepening interest, the wondrous revelation of the love of God to man, untill his spirit was stirred to its depths. Tyndale could not keep this treasure to himself. He argued with the priests, and exhorted them to the study of the Scriptures for themselves; and it was about this time that, one day, in the heat of argument, he startled all around by his memorable declaration, the fulfillment of which was afterward the object of his life. Tyndale’s Opponent had said, " We had better be without God’s laws than the Pope’s. Rising in indignant protest Tyndale cried, "I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spare me I will one day make the boy that drives the plough in England to know more of Scripture than the Pope himself."

To pursue his intention of translating the Bible, he offered himself to the Bishop of London with an example of his skill as a translator from Greek in his hand. He had translated a speech of Socrates. Tunstall, though a friend of Erasmus rebuffed him. The great Tyndale realized he could not translate the Bible in England.

Tyndale came to London and lodged for nearly a year in the house of Humphrey Monmouth, a merchant, where he quietly pursued his task.

One year of city life showed Tyndale that no mercy would be given by the clergy to any movement that would disturb their living. He saw men around him led to prison and put to death for owning, or reading, a copy of Luther’s writings. He knew well that a Bible translation would be considered a still more dangerous book. Martin Luther had begun to give his German Bible to his countrymen when Tyndale was forced by persecution to leave his own country, England.

"Wherefore," he sadly says, "I perceived that not only in the bishop of London’s palace, but in all England, there was no room for attempting a translation of the Scriptures."

Tyndale accepted the financial help of Monmouth, the London merchant, and sailed for Hamburg in 1524. He lived a hand-to-mouth existence, dodging the Roman Catholic authorities.

In the autumn of 1525, he moved to Cologne and began printing the New Testament. There he was betrayed and forced to flee up the Rhine to Worms. He started printing again, and the first complete printed New Testament in English appeared towards the end of February 1526

In Holland for the benefit of the English common people Tyndale worked vigorously . He was assisted by John Fryth and a friar named William Roye, both of whom suffered death as heretics later. Three thousand completed New Testaments were shipped to England in 1526.

Copies of Tyndale’s New Testament began to arrive in England in March 1526. In October, Cuthbert Tunstall began to have all the copies he could trace gathered and burned. They still were circulated. Tunstall then made arrangements to buy them before they left the continent. This allowed him to burn them in bulk. This never deterred Tyndale from his task. Tyndale used the money for further translation and revision. He was able to print the New Testament at a greater scale in Antwerp.

So successful was this work of destruction that of the first three thousand volumes only one fragment twenty-one chapters of the Gospel of Matthew is known to exist. These pages are in the library of the British Museum. This was the first printed edition of any part of the Bible in the English language from the original language of the Greek.

Tyndale’s New Testament was condemned and agents were employed by the bishop to watch the seaports and seize every copy. But their efforts were unavailing and copies were widely circulated over England. Years afterward the reading of them, or even the possession of one, was prohibited under the sentence of death. They were diligently searched for, and burned, when found by the officers of the church. How satan hates the Word of God!

Foxe tells how Tyndale sailing to Hamburg to print Deuteronomy was shipwrecked and lost everything. All was gone, money, his copies of Deuteronomy, and time. Foxe says, with Coverdale who will be covered later in this book, "Tyndale started all over again, completing the Pentateuch between Easter and December.

Back in Antwerp, Tyndale printed the first five books of the Old Testament in early January 1530. Copies were in England by the summer. In 1531 he translated Jonah; in 1531 a revision of Genesis; in 1534 his completely revision of the New Testament; and again in 1535 a very slightly revised new work appeared.

Later we read in a quote by a scholar named Buschius, "Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament had been translated by a man, who is so skilled in seven tongues, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, English, and French, that when he speaks you might think it is his native tongue." ( His speaking German was taken for granted).

The Bishop of London, Tunstall, with fanatical thoroughness hunted down the first copies and burned many thousands of Tyndale’s New Testaments and Pentateuch . Because of Tunstall, a man of religion and not of Christ, and time only a dozen Tyndale New Testaments survived to this date. (I have had the privilege to hold one of these New Testaments in my hands.)

King Henry VIII’s Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, showed himself violent in his pursuit against Tyndale. He calls Tyndale, in his Confutation, ""a beast, as one of the hell-hounds that the devil hath in his kennel, discharging a filthy foam of blasphemies out of his brutish beastly mouth". Elsewhere, Thomas More calls him, "a deceiver, a hypocrite, puffed up with the poison of pride, malice and envy". Yet the best that More can summon against Tyndale, when all is boiled down, his accusation, is that Tyndale had translated the Greek word for "elder" as "elder" (not "priest") and the Greek word for ‘"repentance" as "repentance" (not "do penance"), the Greek work for "congregation" as "congregation" (not "church"); "charity" as charity not "love", "confess" became "acknowledge". More was on very weak grounds. Even Erasmus, More’s friend, had translated the Greek ekklesia as congregatio. More’s persecution of reformers is a blot on his reputation. His logical base, that the church could not be wrong, was flawed. All that More writes against Tyndale is tainted by a terrible bigotry and viciousness that was politically motivated. It is hard reality, More flogged great men of God as so called heretics while he was Chancellor. With the new Bishop of London, he burned John Tewkesbury, Richard Bayfield, and James Bainham at the stake for the heresy of not renouncing what Tyndale had written. Their only "crime" was that they believed the Word of God.

The Church’s ban known as the Constitutions of Oxford in 1408, which forbade anyone to translate, or even to read, any parts of vernacular versions of the Bible, without express Episcopal permission was the foundation of the great persecutions of many martyrs. (Tunstall, Bishop of London, in inviting More to attack Tyndale, gave him permission to read the offending books.) Many copies of the second Wycliffe Bible were in people’s homes in the early 1400s. The prohibition of the Church still stood, and now printed versions from the Greek, and Hebrew threatened to flood the country. A royal injunction of 1530 forbade buying or owning any English Bible.

We can now buy English Bibles freely. Our persecution of Tyndale is more subtle. Incorporated into the Geneva Bible, Tyndale’s notes and text are still attacked, by people who haven’t read them. They charge the English cannot be understood or attack Tyndale and the puritans as extreme Calvinist, any stick will do. He has been denied his place in the history of sixteenth-century revival of learning. The history of that century has been written entirely in terms of economics, political events, or sociology. It never mentions religion or gives the Bible even a footnote. Such modern or humanistic arrogance should be and is rebuked by this author. The fact of Tyndale’s work should be enough to cause any thinking person to see the bigotry of his and this generation against Biblical authority. The translation of the Greek and Hebrew Bible into his own beloved English language is a monumental work of excellence.

It is commonly said that Luther’s 1522 New Testament gave Germany a language. It ought to be said more clearly that Tyndale’s 1534 New Testament gave to the English it’s first classic tool of learning. Flexibility, directness, nobility and rhythmic beauty show what the English language is. There is a direct line from Tyndale to the clearness and expressive range of the English prose that followed. The sixteenth century began with debate about the worthiness of English. The later poets under Elizabeth and James, Shakespeare above all, showed that English was a language which could outreach Latin in stature. Tyndale and his successors made of English composition a more than a worthy vehicle for the most serious matter of all, the soul of man.

A real manhunt was underway by 1535. Several Englishmen had been or were engaged in the hunt for William Tyndale under orders either from King Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More, or Bishop John Stokesley of London.

Agents were hunting all over Europe. Only one of them actually succeeded in ferreting out the elusive Tyndale and bringing about his demise, Henry (or Harry) Phillips.

Henry Phillips came from a wealthy and therefore notable English family. His father, Richard, had been three times a member of parliament and twice high sheriff. In addition, Richard Phillips held the lucrative post of Comptroller of the Customs in Poole Harbor.

Henry Phillips was registered at Oxford for a degree in civil law. He being a man of some ability was apparently well set to gain a good position and follow a respectable life. But Phillips had another side to his character. Entrusted with a large sum of money by his father to pay to someone in London, Henry reached the big city and gambled away his trust.

Three years later, in the winter of 1536-37, he wrote a series of long, sorrowful letters home. He expressed his terrible poverty and the fact that his dire straits would soon end his life. His parents held out a hand of forgiveness and assistance. He was by then without a friend in the world.

After squandering his father’s money in London, Phillips had evidently come into contact with someone who was still anxious to apprehend Tyndale. Phillips was virtually stranded in Antwerp. He was afraid to return home and unable to leave the city. He was the ideal person to send on a new mission to kidnap Tyndale. Oh, the degradation of sin!

We may never know the identity of the powerful dignitary who so successfully used Phillips as his front man in the arrest of Tyndale, but the prime suspicion rests upon John Stokesley. His hatred was revealed in the blood of the reformers, and he boasted of the number of "heretics" he had killed. Thomas More appeared gentle beside Stokesley.

Phillips receiving his orders, a servant and a liberal supply of money, then set off for Louvain. This city was in the province of Brabant, and the town was strongly against reform. Phillips registered as a student at the university and, to explain his apparent wealth, spoke freely of holding two good benefices in the diocese of Exeter. Those of the diocese were probably his benefactors. From Louvain he could plan his strategy and ride along the direct road to Antwerp about 30 miles away.

Phillips positioned himself in the company of the English merchants. He being of silver tongue and golden hand won the confidence of all except merchant Thomas Poyntz. (Philips reminds the author of satan.)

Thomas Poyntz was the man who gave Tyndale safe lodging in Antwerp. Tyndale frequently was invited to dine with the merchants of Antwerp, and soon was found of Phillips.

The Bible Scholar felt attracted to the easy manner and eloquent speech of the young Judas, Harry Phillips. It was not long before Tyndale invited him to the Poyntz’ home where he dined. Phillips admired Tyndale’s small library, warmly commended his labors. They talked easily of the affairs in England and the need for reform. The young lawyer even stayed overnight as guest of Tyndale.

Thomas Poyntz had suspicion about the stranger, but when Tyndale assured him of the man’s Lutheran sympathies, he put his doubts aside. This was the greatest mistake Tyndale ever made.

Phillips won the friendship of Poyntz, and after a few days the merchant took the visitor on a tour of Antwerp, readily answering all Phillips’ inquiries about the alleys, buildings and chief officers of the town. It was all very amicable. It is said that Poyntz only later realized that Phillips was also gently sounding him out to see whether he would be willing to sacrifice Tyndale for a good bribe. Poyntz apparently did not pick up the veiled message until it was too late.

Henry Phillips had gone after and learned enough from his new friends to know that it would be useless to work through the merchants or the officers at Antwerp. A warning would almost certainly reach Tyndale before he could incarcerate him.

Phillips was right in this. Antwerp was full of eyes, ears, and mouths. Thus Phillips rode straight to the court of Brussels, 24 miles distant and just a few miles west from Louvain.

The English Ambassador Hackett had died in October 1534, and neither Henry of England, nor Charles of the great Imperial Empire was in a hurry to see him replaced.

The Pope was putting the finishing touches to a Bull to excommunicate King Henry the "Defender of the Faith of England," and Charles, because of all this, was not talking to King Henry. Phillips therefore arrived at the Imperial Court at a time when he could act as his own ambassador and with valuable information against one of Henry’s subjects. He obtained the services of the Emperor’s attorney, and with a small party of officers, set out on the road back to Antwerp.

Phillips’ servant arrived at the Poyntz home and inquired whether William Tyndale was at home, and assured the merchant that his master would shortly call back to see the translator. He did not call back. About three or four days later Poyntz left Antwerp to conduct some business at Barrow. Poyntz expected to be away for a month or six weeks and Phillips, knowing this, decided to strike without further delay.

The agent of "others," Phillips, arrived at the Poyntz home May 21, 1535, and, in his courteous and charming manner, invited himself to lunch. He then returned to town where he set the officers in their suitable place for ambush. Phillips’ scheme was working.

At dinner almost as an after-thought he asked Tyndale if he would kindly lend him two pounds. He pretended that he had lost his purse that morning. Tyndale (according to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was "simple and inexpert in the wily subtleties of this world) willingly, handed over the money. Two pounds was enough money for a poor family to live on for two months. The two men left the Poyntz house.

Antwerp was, like all medieval towns laced with winding narrow alleyways that in places refused to allow two men to pass. As they left Poyntz’s home, just such an narrow opening confronted them. Tyndale courteously stepped back to allow his guest to precede him. Phillips stood aside and insisted that the great man of God should have precedence.

Tyndale came to the opening and saw two officers ready to seize him, he hesitated and moved back, Phillips stood over him, pointing down with his finger as a sign that this was the man then pushed William Tyndale forward into the arms of his captors. They bound him with ropes and brought him to King Charles’ attorney’s residence. He was finally confined in the grim castle of Vilvoorde, just six miles north of Brussels.

Vilvoorde castle had been built in 1374. For security it was modeled after the infamous Bastille in Paris. Seemingly impregnable because of its moat, seven towers, three drawbridges and massive walls, it was a real prison. Tyndale was thrown into one of the foul-smelling, damp dungeons with nothing for company but the scurrying rats inside.

Here, in his solitary darkness, Tyndale waited for the end. The merchants, with all their power at Antwerp, were powerless here to save him. His work that remained undone could now never be completed. by him. There would be no joy of family, no more freedom to go and come in the beauty of a day. Tyndale knew he would die, he had "finished the course." He had now fallen into the hands of the Pope.

Thomas Poyntz’s wife sent him an urgent message and he returned to Antwerp immediately. He discovered Tyndale’s room ransacked and all his books and papers taken. Poyntz was furious. This was an outrageous breach of the traditional privilege of the house of the English merchants. The merchants lost no time in sending a letter of protest to the government of the Low Countries.

Letters of indignant complaint poured into the court at Brussels. Letters also began to arrive at the court of King Henry. And behind all this action was the never tiring hand of faithful Thomas Poyntz. But it was a forlorn hope. Emperor Charles V was making up for lost time by turning upon the Lutherans with a vengeance, and Henry Vlll, having expelled the Pope out of England, was anxious to prove he was still a loyal Roman Catholic and certainly no heretic. Just to demonstrate his point, 14 Dutch Anabaptists were sent to the stake in England within a few days of Tyndale’s arrest.

Thomas Poyntz was determined to do something. He wrote to his brother John, who was lord of the manor of North Ockenden in Essex, and urged him to make representation in the court. The death of Tyndale, Poyntz urged, "will be a great hindrance to the Gospel and to the enemies of it one of the highest pleasure." The king never had a more loyal subject than Tyndale, suggested Poyntz, nor a man of higher reputation.

Poyntz’s letter breathes a zeal and loyalty to the reformer that reveals the close relationship between the two men, and their common faith in Christ.

Though Poyntz failed in his attempts to rescue Tyndale, it must stand to the merchant’s credit that he gave himself unselfishly to his attempts. Eventually, he was banished from the Low Countries, lost most of his wealth as a consequence, was separated from his wife and family for many years. When he finally succeeded to his brother’s estate at North Ockenden, he was too poor to live there. He died in 1562, and his epitaph in the church building at North Ockenden speaks of his suffering and imprisonment, "for faithful service to his prince and ardent profession of evangelical faith."

Tyndale knew his trial would be little more than a formality; but during that event he might have opportunity of speaking for his Savior, and thus he must prepare his defense well. In addition, he continued with the work so close to his heart, his writing and translation.

As Tyndale toiled and the autumn of 1535 faded, his chest and head labored with heavy catarrh; he shivered through the day, and shivered all night as well. As he penned Faith Alone Justifies Before God, winter drew on and the light began to fail. He had only a few hours a daylight for writing. The remainder of the time he sat in darkness alone. But he must finish his work, for this was to be his end. There must be no doubt as to why he died.

The winter was harsh, and though he was too bold for Christ to plead for release, and too wise to consider it of any value if he had, he determined to ask the prison governor, who also happened to be the Marquis of Bergen, for a few essentials to help him with his study, and to maintain a little longer the flickering life that shivered in his body. The letter was written in Latin, and it is the only letter in Tyndale’s own hand that has survived.

"I suffer greatly from cold in the head, and am afflicted by a perpetual catarrh which is much increased in this cell .... My overcoat is worn out; my shirts are also worn out .... And I ask to be allowed to have a lamp in the evening: it is indeed wearisome sitting alone in the dark. But most of all I beg and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the commissary, that he will kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may pass the time in that study."

This letter is typical of Tyndale. There is no flattery, no frantic plea for mercy, no long and tedious defense or protests of loyalty, faithful service, humble obedience and so on, all of which is so familiar in letters from 16th-century condemned cells. Tyndale asks for his needs, determines to go on with his study, longs only for the salvation of his captors, and is ready for whatever God’s sovereign purpose may be. Whether his request was granted we do not know.

In August of 1536, the translator was condemned as a heretic. A few days later the pageant of casting him out of the Church took place. In the town square a crowd gathered. The great doctors and dignitaries assembled in formal dress and array. They took their seats on the high platform. Tyndale was led out, wearing his priest’s robes. He was made to kneel and his hands were scraped with sharp instrument as a symbol of having lost the benefits of the anointing oil with which he was consecrated to the priesthood. The bread and wine of the mass were placed in his hands, and at once withdrawn. This done, he was stripped of his priest’s garments, reclothed as a layman, and handed over to the attorney for secular punishment. The Church would condemn, but always left it to the secular officers to stain their hands with the murder. But for Tyndale the end was not yet. He was taken back to Vilvoorde Castle and for some unexplained reason remained a prisoner for two more months.

Early in the month of October 1536, William Tyndale was led out of the castle toward the southern gate of the town. The sun had barely risen above the horizon when he arrived at the open space, and looked out over the crowd of onlookers eagerly jostling for a good view.

A circle of stakes enclosed the place of execution, and in the center was a large pillar of wood in the form of a cross and as tall as a man. A strong chain hung from the top, and a noose of hemp was threaded through a hole in the upright. The attorney and the great doctors arrived first, and seated themselves nearby. The prisoner was brought in and a final appeal was made that he should recant.

Tyndale stood immovable, his keen eyes gazing toward the common people. A silence fell over the crowd as they watched the prisoner’s lean form and thin, tired face; his lips moved with a final impassioned prayer that echoed around the place of execution, "Lord, ope the king of England’s eyes."

His feet were bound to the stake, the iron chain fastened around his neck, and the hemp noose was placed at his throat. Only the Anabaptists and lapsed heretics were burnt alive. Tyndale was spared that ordeal. Piles of brushwood and logs were heaped around him. The executioner came up behind the stake and with all his force pulled on the rope noose. Within seconds Tyndale was strangled.

The attorney placed a lighted torch to the tinder, and the court and commoners sat back to watch the fire burn. Not until the charred form hung limply on the chain did an officer break out the staple of the chain with his hammer, allowing the body to fall into the glowing heat of the fire. After the body was in the full heat of the fire, more brushwood was piled on top. The gathered witnesses marveled "at the patient sufferance of Master Tyndale at the time of his execution," according to Foxe. The attorney and the doctors of Louvain never imagining that within months at least part of the plea in Tyndale’s dying prayer would be answered affirmatively.

William Tyndale was a man chosen of God to fulfill a need for his Church. His testimony was that of the promise of Jesus to those righteous souls of His service who would be like Him.

Mt 5:11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

Mt 5:12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Mt 10:16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

2Ti 3:12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

Tyndale was a man of great learning and talent. He held fundamental doctrinal positions:

"First, he had maintained that faith alone justifies man before God."

"Second, he maintained that to believe in the forgiveness of sins, and to embrace the mercy offered in the gospel of Jesus Christ, was enough for salvation."

"Third, he maintained that human traditions cannot bind the conscience, except where their neglect might occasion scandal."

"Fourth, he denied the freedom of the will."

"Fifth, he denied that there is any purgatory."

"Sixth, he affirmed that neither the Virgin nor the Saints pray for us in their own person.

"Seventh, he asserted that neither the Virgin nor the Saints should be invoked by us."

Next Chapter


Second Edition  Copyright 1997  All Rights Reserved.

Ronald D. Lesley

832 South Post Road

Shelby, NC 28152