A Bloody Reminder for Us
Today October 6th marks the 481st anniversary of the martyrdom of William Tyndale. This was a very dark day in the history of Bible publication. While many may not be able to specifically place Tyndale, the name may ring a bell at the very least. Unfortunately, those who do recognize him often disregard his unshakeable faith in place of his sketchy doctrinal views.
While I would also disagree with some of his doctrinal views, I would like to take a moment to highlight his faith and influence in the preservation of the gospel message. From this, I hope that we will all recognize our abundant privilege in being able to possess our own copies of readable Bibles and how we should glorify God with prayers of thanksgiving for using men such as Tyndale to help the Gospel reach us today.
The Shedding of William Tyndale’s Blood
William Tyndale was a man whose efforts to produce the Bible in the common English are easily forgotten within the dusty pages of human history. Historically, he is credited with creating the first English translation that worked directly from the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. Tyndale’s inspiration to produce an English version that could be mass produced for the common people came from two sources: Martin Luther’s German New Testament and Erasmus’ Greek rendering of New Testament manuscripts from Jerome (4th-5th centuries AD).
Tyndale’s attempt at creating an English version was seen as a challenge to the Roman Catholic Church for two reasons. First, clergy prevented laity from handling the Sacred Scriptures in order to maintain the institutional hierarchy. Second, the Latin Vulgate was considered the only acceptable translation to the Roman Catholics. Despite the promise of death and unrelenting persecution, Tyndale nearly completed an English version of the entire Bible over the course of several years. His translation covered the entire New Testament and approximately half of the Old Testament.
Tyndale obtained the full wrath of the Roman Catholic Church on October 6, 1536 when he was betrayed by friends, exposed to public humiliation in an elaborate ceremony, strangled by an executioner, and after dying, his corpse was burned at the stake. His last words are recorded to have been, “Lord, open the eyes of the king of England!” This request would be fulfilled two years later when the King announced the acceptance of “The Great Bible” as the standard version of the Church of England which was largely the work of Tyndale. Tyndale’s better translation later became the basis for the Geneva Bible and even the King James Version and his reformative ideas inspired faith to continue in the struggle to return to the biblical standard.
Our Blood-Stained Bibles
As I write this, I cannot help but to think of God’s providence. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church (and others) seemed to have stamped out the Gospel message. The Bible was not shared with the common people, was not able to be read by the common people, and was replaced with human innovation including an ordained priesthood and forced submission to that priesthood. Yet, God always sought to keep the Bible the standard for right and wrong. He allowed it to get to the masses (Ezek. 47:1-12; Acts 1:8). He allowed the message to ring out. Everyone would be able to experience the saving power of the Gospel because God ensured that His Word would last forever (Matt. 5:18; Luke 16:17; 1Pet. 1:23-25). We are all able to hear and understand in our own languages because of the guiding hand of God.
So the next time you open one of the several copies of the English Bible you possess, think upon the blood that has been spilt to ensure that God’s Word could reach and save you. First and foremost, consider Christ’s blood which was shed to prepare the gospel. But don’t forget God’s providence in allowing the gospel to reach us over two millennia later in our common tongue. Take time to also consider God’s use of people like John Wycliffe, Martin Luther (the 500th anniversary of his nailing of the "95 Theses" will be commemorated on October 31st), and William Tyndale; these people died to ensure that you have a copy of Scripture to study for yourself. Our Bibles are stained with blood. Let us never forget that fact!