William Tyndale: Theological, Political & Economic Ideas

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  • 0:01 Background: Protestant…
  • 1:30 William Tyndale: Life & Legacy
  • 5:36 Impact of William Tyndale
  • 6:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will take a look at the life of William Tyndale. We will examine his ideas and contributions, and learn why he was an important figure in history.

Background: The Protestant Reformation

In order to understand this lesson about a man named William Tyndale, we first need to provide a broad context. The broad context surrounding this lesson is the Protestant Reformation. I'm sure many of you are familiar with it. The Protestant Reformation was an anti-Catholic European movement sparked in 1517 by a monk named Martin Luther. Luther was basically fed up with corruption and what he considered unbiblical teachings in the Catholic Church, and he sought to 'reform' it. Luther taught that salvation was a free gift of God and was not earned by doing good deeds.

On October 31, 1517, he posted a list of 95 grievances with the Catholic Church on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, for all to see. This is called the 95 Theses. This sparked mass anti-Catholic uprisings throughout Europe, particularly among the lower classes. The Protestant Reformation had profound economic, social, and political implications. Ultimately, it helped spread notions of democracy, individualism, and capitalism. The Protestant Reformation lasted throughout the 16th century and into the 17th century (we need to understand it had no clear end date).

William Tyndale: Life and Legacy

Luther was not the only important figure in the Reformation. Others included John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and many others. One of those others was William Tyndale. William Tyndale (1494-1536) was an English scholar who is best known for his English translation of the Bible. Tyndale was deeply influenced by Martin Luther and the Reformation movement. He was particularly disturbed by the fact that the common man was unable to read the Bible for himself.

See, during this time, the Bible was virtually unreadable to most Englishmen because it was only printed in Latin, and only priests and highly educated men knew the language. So, the common man or woman was not able to read the Bible for themselves. If they wanted to know what the Bible said, they had to attend church, and hear it preached to them (and, of course, what was preached was sometimes erroneous, biased, and based on politics).

Now there had been an English translation floating around since the late 1390s. This was called the Wycliffe Bible. The Wycliffe Bible was translated from Latin into English by a man named John Wycliffe (1330-1384). Wycliffe based his translation from a version of the Bible called the Latin Vulgate, which was the standard version of the Bible in Western Christianity. But the Wycliffe Bible was banned and Wycliffe was declared a heretic (in fact, he was so hated by Church authorities that after his death, his body was exhumed and burned).

By the early 1500s, the lower classes were desperate for a new translation of the Bible in a language they could read. William Tyndale took up the task. A tutor and a chaplain, Tyndale was exceptionally educated, being fluent in French, Greek, Hebrew, German, Italian, Latin, and Spanish. Tyndale's sermons often caused controversy. The Catholic authorities felt he undermined their power. He was told to stop preaching in public, but he continued to do so. Increasingly, his life was becoming endangered.

In 1524, he left London to hide out in Germany. There he began work on his English translation of the Bible. Unlike the Wycliffe Bible, which was a word-for-word translation from Latin, Tyndale went back to the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts and basically translated his version 'from scratch.' His New Testament was completed in 1525. The following year, copies began to be smuggled into England and Scotland. His translation was declared heresy and ordered to be burned.

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