on William Tyndale

Ever get sucked into an internet wormhole? I did during lunch today. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a wormhole is when you start to read about one thing, and then think, “Oh yeah, what about that…?” And so you click on a link or do a Google search, which then leads you to something else that looks interesting. It’s a great way to kill an hour.

Anyway, I began by noticing something about William Tyndale, and thought, “I’ve heard that name. What’s he all about?” And the more I read, the more fascinated I became with this “outlaw of God.”

He was an outlaw, like, for real. At least among the Catholic Church and the Church of England. Back then, as with Tyndale’s contemporary, Martin Luther, “the church” was a large hierarchal organization that worked in concert with the government to dictate exactly what the common people knew about God by keeping access to the scriptures limited to the clergy.

Rulers knew that if they could keep religion confined to a building, an official institution, they could continue to control the people. If the populace ever realized their natural right to gather together to worship God outside the confines of this institution, the government’s and church’s control over the people would be compromised.

Tyndale came along and not only translated the Bible into English but also made use of the latest technology to distribute it more widely: the printing press.

So they had him killed. First, he was hunted by agents of the Church of England and had to leave the country. Ultimately, he was betrayed, imprisoned, and tried for heresy. And finally, he was hung and burned on October 6, 1536.

Tyndale’s last words were “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” And the Lord did… sort of.

Just 68 years after killing Tyndale for heresy, King James decided to authorize a version of the Bible. And interestingly, this new version was based largely on Tyndale’s work. Scholars believe about 75 to 80 percent of the KJV New Testament is copied from his translations.

The parts they didn’t outright copy were changed to conform to the Church of England’s pre-existing beliefs. Case in point: The Greek word “ecclesia” that Jesus used was never intended to define a building. This word referred to a congregation, gathering, or assembly. When Jesus said to Peter, “On this rock, I will build my church,” He was actually saying, “This gathering, this congregation, it all starts with you, Peter.”

King James’ team of translators chose the English word “church,” which comes from the Germanic “Kirche.” And that comes from the Greek “kuriakòn dôma.” Both are literally translated as a physical building: “the Lord’s house.” Tyndale’s version was accurate to the Greek ecclesia. The king’s was not.

Side note: I looked at Tyndale’s translation, and found the Old English spelling from 500 years ago kind of amusing:

“…And Iesus answered and sayde to him: happy arte thou Simon the sonne of Ionas for fleshe and bloud hath not opened vnto the yt but my father which is in heve. And I saye also vnto the yt thou arte Peter: and apon this rocke I wyll bylde my congregacion. And the gates of hell shall not prevayle ageynst it.”

So that’s what happens when you fall down internet wormholes about notable figures in Christian history. You end up writing really long blog posts about them. If you’ve made it this far, thank you!