Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

William Tyndale: The Apostle to England, 1490?-1536 (1)

Written by Rev. Laurens Roth
Because of Reformation Day, celebrated annually on October 31,the regular series is interrupted with articles on an important figure of pre-Reformation days.
Tyndale's Early Years
When seeking to come to grips with the developments of Reformation in the sixteenth century, it is difficult to know where to begin. The powerful work of God was beginning to show itself on several fronts. One Reformer who is not so well known, but who deserves mention and study is the Englishman, William Tyndale. He was born in the county of Gloucester England around the year 1492. He became a student at Oxford University in his early teens, having a special gift for learning languages. By the time he had completed his classical studies he had mastered seven languages, including Greek and Hebrew. Tyndale could stand in rank beside the Dutch rationalist, Erasmus, who had edited and supervised the first printing of the Greek New Testament in 1516. However, this Dutch scholar did not have the convictions to run a collision course with the teaching of Rome. William Tyndale was such a man. He not only profited from the finest classical scholars in England, but he had a more excellent master and teacher who was soon to teach him a Science that is not in the power of man to impart.

By the time Luther in 1517 was nailing his 95 theses upon the door of the castle church of Wittenberg, there was turmoil in Oxford due to the use of Erasmus' Greek New Testament. Tyndale was forced to move to Cambridge where he was confronted with the unusual piety of scholars studying the Scriptures. The Spirit of God had moved men, like Thomas Bilney, when they read the Greek New Testament. When Bilney read: ÒThis is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chiefÓ (1 Tim.1:15), he was so transformed from his depressing sense of guilt that he recorded, "I seemed unto myself inwardly to feel a marvellous comfort and quietness insomuch that my bruised bones leaped for joy." About 12 years later he was called to die at the stake.

As the eyes of individuals were being opened to the truth of the gospel and the terrible errors of the Roman Catholic clergy, opposition began to be felt in England just as it was being experienced in Germany under Luther's call for reform. By 1520, Chancellor Wolsey, who held the highest position in the Church of England, took steps to remove offensive religious books which were undermining the position and errors of the established church by burning many in a massive bonfire outside St. Mary's Church. This meant that Tyndale and his friends had to be on guard concerning the manner in which they made their new views known.

Tyndale Resolves to Translate the Word of God into English
The more Tyndale immersed himself in God's Word, the more dissatisfied he became. This was not due to ErasmusÕ lack of scholarship. Neither was it due to the searching comments, which the Dutch scholar had placed in the Greek edition to point out the errors of Rome. But Erasmus did not probe the root problem of the church, namely, the terrible ignorance, which blinded it, and the people it was supposed to serve. By the grace of God, Tyndale's eyes were being opened to see the real need of England, which was that the Word of the living God be made available to every individual who had the ability to read. Reformers such as Tyndale, Luther, and Calvin were men who were totally committed to the authority of the Scriptures. It was their final test and the source of the doctrine, which towered above all princes and prelates and popes.

Tyndale moved from Cambridge to a manor, Sodbury Hall, not far from his birthplace, where he was hired to tutor two sons of a certain nobleman, Sir John Walsh. Apparently there, Tyndale immersed himself into God's Holy Word and was led by the power of the Holy Spirit to understand that the foundations of salvation are in Christ's work alone. Besides tutoring, Tyndale engaged in many public disputes with doctors, lawyers and the clergy of the local monastery. He increasingly made enemies as he refuted unsound doctrines and practices with the Word of God. He also preached regularly at the little chapel of Saint Adeline's church. Tyndale's insights into the Scriptures and his zeal were so well received that he began to preach outdoors to the citizens of nearby Bristol. Here the priests sought to destroy his preaching and referred to him as a heretic.

One story has it that it was here that the thought sprang up in Tyndale that if Israel sang Psalms in the temple of Jehovah, should not the gospel speak the language of England? Ought the church and its people have less light at noonday than at the dawn--meaning the early church? Another, more well known story has it that when Tyndale saw a ploughman on his field, he was moved by the sight of this symbol of the hard working, ignorant, superstitious and desperately poor Englishman who had no hope in life. Tyndale and other scholars had the Bible in Latin and in Greek, but of what use was that to the man behind the plough? How could he ever learn the gospel of redemption through the blood of Christ? How could he know that God has spoken, not through the warped and contradictory claims of the church, but through the Scriptures that point to His Son? There was only one answer: "John Ploughman" must be given the opportunity to read the Scriptures for himself in plain ploughman's English.

England Becomes Closed for Tyndale
Tyndale forsook the house of his protector and a life of wandering commenced as he sought to fulfill his goal. This is how one historian described Tyndale.

Tyndale, a man simple in habits, sober, daring, and generous, fearing neither fatigue nor danger, inflexible in his duty, anointed with the Spirit of God, overflowing with love for his brethren, emancipated from human traditions, the servant of God alone, and loving nought but Jesus Christ, imaginative, quick at repartee, and of touching eloquence--such a man might have shone in the foremost ranks; but he preferred a retired life in some poor corner, provided he could give his countrymen the Scriptures of God.

But where could Tyndale find a place to perform this momentous task? Since Tyndale had met with opposition in the Bristol area, it was imperative that he moves. So we find him in London, where he aspired to become the bishop's chaplain. Bishop Tunstall was a classical expert and Tyndale hoped to gain this important bishop's support to achieve his goal. That was not to be, however. He did not have the courage to support such a major endeavour. He knew this undertaking would draw the wrath and ire of the local priests.

In His providence, the Lord directed His servant to a wealthy merchant, Humphrey Monmouth, whose heart had been opened for the cause of learning and reform. Under his protection and financial care, Tyndale began to translate the Holy Scriptures into the common English tongue. Tyndale had just commenced the work in the mid 1520Õs when Chancellor Wolsey and King Henry's began to suppress the printing and importing of literary works that attacked the established church. Bishop Tunstall supported the endeavour to eradicate heretical ideas and the result was that Tyndale was forced to seek out another country to continue his translation work.

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