Wednesday, December 7, 2022

William Tyndale and his Legacy

By Michelle Shocklee

Last month I shared the story of how Tyndale House Publishers was founded by Dr. Kenneth Taylor in the 1960s. Today I'd like to tell you about the man Tyndale House is named for. 

William Tyndale

William Tyndale was born in a small village in Gloucestershire, England between 1490 and 1494. His family had ties to knights and landed gentry. In his early twenties, William enrolled at Oxford where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree and eventually his Masters in theology, becoming an ordained priest. However, his frustrations with the practice of leaving out the study of the scriptures themselves led him to this complaint:

They have ordained that no man shall look on the Scripture until he is modeled in heathen learning eight or nine years and armed with false principles, with which he is clean shut out of the understanding of the Scripture.

William was a gifted linguist and became fluent over the years in French, Greek, Hebrew, German, Italian, Latin, and Spanish, in addition to English. Between 1517 and 1521, he went to the University of Cambridge where, in 1521, he met with a group of humanist scholars meeting at the White Horse Inn. It was then that William became convinced that the Bible alone should determine the practices and doctrines of the church and that all believers should be able to read the Bible in their own language. By 1523 he'd found his passion and sought permission and funds from the bishop of London to translate the New Testament into English. The bishop denied his request, and after further queries were also denied, William became convinced the project would not be welcomed anywhere in England.

Thankfully William didn't give up. To find a hospitable environment, he traveled to the free cities of Europe—Hamburg, Wittenberg, Cologne, and finally to the Lutheran city of Worms. There, in 1525, his New Testament emerged: the first translation from Greek into the English language. It was quickly smuggled into England. This infuriated the authorities, including King Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, and Sir Thomas More. It was, said More, "not worthy to be called Christ's testament, but either Tyndale's own testament or the testament of his master Antichrist."

The beginning of the Gospel of John, from
Tyndale's 1525 translation of
 the New Testament.

For the next nine years, William would be forced to move around to avoid arrest while he began work on the Old Testament. The Pentateuch was issued in Marburg in 1530, each of the five books being separately published and circulated. During these years, William felt it his Christian duty to help the needy and welcomed many people down on their luck to his table in Antwerp. One such person was Henry Phillips, a man who had been accused of robbing his father and of gambling himself into poverty. Phillips became a frequent guest and soon was one of the few privileged to look at William's books and papers. In May 1535, Phillips lured William away from the safety of his quarters and into the arms of soldiers. William was immediately taken to the Castle of Vilvoorde near Brussels, the great state prison of the Low Countries, and accused of heresy.

In 1536, William Tyndale was condemned for heresy and was executed by strangulation and then burned at the stake at Vilvoorde. English historian John Foxe said William cried out, "Lord, open the King of England's eyes" before he died. 

King James Bible

Today, anyone who has read the King James version of the Bible has read William Tyndale's words. His translations, it would turn out, became decisive in the history of the English Bible. Nearly a century later, when translators of the Authorized, or King James Version, debated how to translate the original languages, eight of ten times, they agreed that Tyndale had it best to begin with.

Your turn: What is your favorite Bible translation? 

Michelle Shocklee
 is the author of several historical novels, including Under the Tulip Tree, a Christy Awards and Selah Awards finalist. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at


*A 2023 Christianity Today Book Award Winner*

1961. After a longtime resident at Nashville’s historic Maxwell House Hotel suffers a debilitating stroke, Audrey Whitfield is tasked with cleaning out the reclusive woman’s room. There, she discovers an elaborate scrapbook filled with memorabilia from the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Love notes on the backs of unmailed postcards inside capture Audrey’s imagination with hints of a forbidden romance . . . and troubling revelations about the disappearance of young women at the exposition. Audrey enlists the help of a handsome hotel guest as she tracks down clues and information about the mysterious “Peaches” and her regrets over one fateful day, nearly sixty-five years earlier.


  1. Thank you for finishing Mr. Tyndale's story. I'm grateful to know about his efforts. There are so many things I don't think to ask about, but I'm glad that authors and historians shares these little tidbits. My favorite translation is New American Standard.

    1. Ugh, sometimes I come back to see if there are other comments on the blog entries and then I see my own typos. Sorry....