On Thursdays leading up to Reformation Sunday, we will run short biographies of eight key reformers. If you would like to reprint these in your church bulletin to help your congregation anticipate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, go for it–no need to attribute it back to us; if you find them useful, then by all means use them. So far we have seen Wycliffe, Huss, and Luther. Today, William Tyndale:
“To scatter Roman darkness by Scripture’s light, the loss of land and life I will reckon slight.”
William Tyndale (1494-1536) is known as the Apostle of England. A linguistic genius—he was proficient in at least eight languages—he made it his life’s goal to translate the Bible from its original languages into English, a feat never before accomplished. Forbidden from this task by both king and Church, Tyndale fled England at age 30 to live the rest of his life as an outlaw.
He first hid in Germany where he sat under Luther’s preaching and studied the newly completed German Bible. When Tyndale started his translation, he needed a city with a printing press, a paper mill, only loose Catholic control, and along a river so he could export his work back to England. He settled on Worms, where Luther stood trial a decade earlier. When Tyndale was run out of Worms, he fled to Antwerp. There shippers smuggled his Bibles into England, where they were sold from the docks, all against the King’s direct orders.
Eventually, Tyndale’s operation was infiltrated by an English spy. He was betrayed, kidnapped, and spent five-hundred days in a Brussels dungeon where nearly froze to death. He was then paraded through town, formally excommunicated, and hung to death by a chain as he was hoisted onto a wooden cross. His body was then covered in gun powder and the cross was lit on fire, causing his corpse to explode.
His last words were “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.”