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William Tyndale and the Tyndale Bible

Updated on September 17, 2020
Shelly Bryant profile image

Shelly Bryant divides her year between Shanghai and Singapore, working as a writer, researcher, and translator.

William Tyndale

William Tyndale (c.1494-1536) was one of England's early church reformers.  The repercussions of his translation work in 1525-26 were long-lasting in England, stretching across at least a century, stirred on further by the religious intolerance of his day.  Tyndale was committed to developing a translation of the Bible that was easy to read, even allowing "the boy who plows the field" to understand the holy scriptures for himself.  In this lifelong desire of Tyndale's there is an underlying belief in the responsibility of every Christian to seek  a personal understanding of his or her faith, rather than relying on a faith mediated through the clergy.  In the preface to his translation, he states that experience had led him to the conviction that people would be able to develop depth of faith only if they were able to read the scriptures in their mother tongue.  It was to this end that he committed his life work.

Tyndale lived in a time when the 1408 ban on translations in "the vulgar tongue" was still in place, and throughout his lifetime, he worked in the face of official opposition.  His English version of the Bible was banned in his home country, and had to be printed in Europe and then smuggled back into England.  This did not deter Tyndale from continuing his translation work, and he was eventually imprisoned in Antwerp for his insistence on continuing with his mission.  In 1536, he was executed.  His last words were, "Lord, open the King of England's eyes."

The Tyndale Bible

Tyndale's translation of the Bible aims to speak to the common people in their own language. Its text is presented in a colloquial style, easily understood by his contemporaries. Very few new words were coined for the development of the Tyndale translation. Rather, it employs mostly words, phrasing, and expression that was familiar to Tyndale's contemporaries.

Tyndale's version of the Bible was extremely influential on the development of the Bible in the English language after it was published. Between it and the King James Version of the Bible (1611), six other English translations came out, and influences within each of them can be traced back to Tyndale's translation. The King James (or Authorized) Version is likewise strongly rooted in the Tyndale version of the Bible — some say that up to 80% of the KJV is taken from the Tyndale translation.

Tyndale offered, in his Bible, a fresh translation based mainly on the Latin Vulgate, though he also made close reference to Luther's German translation and Erasmus' Greek text (1516). Overall, Tyndale's work represents a fairly accurate translation that was highly readable for the people it targeted. It was perhaps the most successful English translation of the Bible during the Renaissance in England, when translation of the Bible was such a hot button issue.


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