The careful student of church history is aware of two significant events which occurred during the month of October.
Martin Luther publicized his famous 95 “theses” on the eve of All Saints Day, October 31, 1517. This singular act is regarded as the one that officially started the Reformation.
And on the morning of October 6, 19 years later, another of Christianity’s heroes, was publicly executed at Vilvoorde, near Brussels in Germany.
Just before he was strangled and burned at the stake William Tyndale is reported to have cried aloud, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes!”
Of course, he referred to King Henry VIII who saw Tyndale’s lifework as a threat to the security of his monarchy. But so much more was at state than the authority of the English throne.
“As with Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into German, Tyndale’s English version threatened, and was intended to threaten, papal ecclesiastical authority. In undertaking the work, Tyndale defied the “1408 Constitutions of Oxford”, an English clerical pact further to the suppression of the Lollards and kindred post-John Wycliffe heresies which expressly prohibited rendering scripture in the vernacular” (www.executedtoday.com).
But this had always been Tyndale’s mission – to put the Scriptures in the hands of the common man. In “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs” a young Tyndale is said to have proclaimed: “I defy the pope, and all his laws; if God spared him life, ere many years he would cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture than he did.”
God granted Tyndale’s petition, but this consuming purpose and passion necessitated that he lived a sacrificial and harsh life. The website that bears his name (www.tyndale.com) tells us that having realized he could not translate the Bible in England, Tyndale accepted help from a London merchant and relocated to Germany in 1524. It also reports that there he lived a hand-to-mouth existence, always having to avoid the Roman Catholic authorities; and that he never returned to the country of his birth.
In February 1526 Tyndale printed his first translation of the New Testament in English, and copies soon began circulating in England. However Tunstall, the Bishop of London, in an attempt to put an end to Tyndale’s work ordered the purchase and burning of all the Testaments. But this only furthered the cause, for Tyndale used the money to finance a revised second edition in 1527. Then three years later, in early January, he printed the first five books of the Old Testament, copies of which appeared in England by the summer.
Our discussion now looks at what Tyndale’s life teaches us.
The first thing we glean is that we should give our lives to a purpose bigger than ourselves. His life was consumed with the goal of translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English for everyone.
In their book “So That’s How We Got The Bible” Bob Friedman and Mal Couch remark, “He devoted himself mostly to the New Testament, managing only to translate the five books of Moses, the historical books, and part of the prophets in the Old Testament’s original Hebrew.” And he paid the price for such a dream – a modest and sacrificial life that culminated in his execution.
Second, we should expect obstacles and challenges in fulfilling our life’s purpose. Nevertheless, we must persevere. “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs” reports that while on a shipping trip to Hamburg in order to print the Book of Deuteronomy, Tyndale was shipwrecked and lost everything – the copies and the money to finance the project. Yet, he started all over again and completed the entire Pentateuch in nine months.
Third, let us stand for what is right. As far as Tyndale was concerned, his work was a righteous act for God and no one could keep him from it. Not the Bishop of London, nor the king of England. The latter once offered him mercy if he would return to England and cease from his translation enterprise. Of course, Tyndale refused!
Fourth, we need to leave a legacy. Hardly anyone remembers Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of London who rebuked Tyndale and scorned the latter’s request for help with his work. And when persons think of Henry VIII most conjure up an image of a raging despot. But Tyndale is remembered in awe, and with fondness and respect.
Martyred in1536, this valiant Christian’s work lives on. For it became the basis for the Authorized King James Version (1611) which remains for many today the Bible of preference.
*Please note you can check out other pieces on the Christian life and experience on my blog. Just google His World Digital.