Reformers

The Life of William Tyndale – Part 13

HIS IMPRISONMENT – by Dr. Herbert Samworth •   As we have seen from our previous installment of the life of William Tyndale, he was betrayed and arrested in May 1535. He was taken to the Vilvorde Prison where he would be incarcerated for the remaining months of his life. What do we know about William Tyndale during these final months of his life? Did he ever reflect on the treachery of Henry Phillips? Did they ever meet face to face during these months? There is reason to believe that Phillips would be a witness to the interrogations of Tyndale, but contemporary reports indicate that he remained hidden and out of sight. There is little reason to believe that a person of the character of Phillips would have the courage to confront Tyndale face to face. The Vilvorde Prison where Tyndale was held later would be used as a model for the famed Bastille Prison in France. It was razed sometime in the 18th and 19th century so there remains no physical evidence to indicate where Tyndale’s cell was located. In light of a letter that he wrote while in prison, it would be interesting to know if his cell was located underground. Prison life was harsh in those days and contemporary pictures of Tyndale that show him in relative comfort are certainly wide of the mark. There remains no doubt that the arrest and imprisonment of Tyndale violated the agreement between the Merchant Adventurers and the officials of the Low Countries. Thomas Poyntz proved to be a true friend of Tyndale although his attempts to have Tyndale released ultimately proved to be ineffective. As it turns out, Poyntz himself was accused of heresy by Phillips, was arrested, and only fled when it was apparent that he himself was in danger of being tried for heresy and sent to the stake. Poyntz suffered because of his friendship with Tyndale to the extent that he lost both his property and family. He escaped to England, but his wife and family refused to follow him and remained in Antwerp. There is an amazing contrast between the activities of Thomas Poyntz and Henry Phillips and it is only right to record our gratitude for the efforts that Poyntz made to rescue his friend from the clutches of the officials. Much mystery surrounds the activities of the English officials. It appears that efforts...

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The Life of William Tyndale – Part 12

HIS ARREST AND IMPRISONMENT – by Dr. Herbert Samworth •   By the year 1534 William Tyndale could look back with a degree of gratitude and accomplishment. He had finished the translation and printing of the New Testament in 1526 and a second revised edition in 1534. He also began the translation of the Old Testament with the printing of the books of Moses in 1530. In addition, he had translated the book of Jonah. As we noted in a previous chapter on Tyndale’s life it was during the years in Antwerp, he engaged in a controversy with Sir Thomas More that began with the publishing of More’s A Dialogue Concerning Heresies to which Tyndale replied two years later in An Answer unto Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue. In 1532 and 1533 More replied in a massive book of six parts entitled A Confutation of Sir William Tyndale. This ended the controversy because Tyndale did not reply to More. In addition to his translation work and controversy with Sir Thomas More, Tyndale wrote brief tracts that served as keys to interpret of the Word of God. It is our thesis that Tyndale in his desire to reach the ploughboy not only determined to give him the Bible in his vernacular language but also to provide helps to its correct interpretation. A Pathway into Scripture and the introductions to the various books found in his translations of the New Testament and the Pentateuch furnished such helps to interpretation. His one polemical book apart from the controversy with Sir Thomas More entitled The Practice of Prelates did not prove to be helpful. Because he resided in Antwerp and was not in England, there is reason to believe that the writing of the book cost Tyndale the favor of Henry. Although many in England declared themselves in favor of the divorce, Tyndale was adamant that Henry should remain married to Catherine. However, when he wrote that it was not right of the King to divorce his wife, he was expressing his honest conviction from the Word of God. Considering subsequent events, it would have been better for Tyndale to limit his work to that of translation and not to meddle in affairs of the court. Certainly, we would be willing to trade The Practice of Prelates for a complete translation of the Old Testament from the hand of William Tyndale. Thus, Tyndale in...

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The Life of William Tyndale – Part 11

WILLIAM TYNDALE AND SIR THOMAS MORE – by Dr. Herbert Samworth   When we last noticed William Tyndale, he had completed the publication of the Pentateuch in 1530 and his revised second edition of the New Testament in 1534. We must pause in our narrative of the events of his life to take notice of a verbal battle that ensued between him and Sir Thomas More. It certainly was not the most edifying of contests, but a review of it will bring into focus some of the most important contrasts of the events taking place in England and Europe during that time. On one hand, William Tyndale and Thomas More were two dissimilar men. More, who was about seventeen years older than Tyndale, had achieved fame as a humanist. He was a graduate of Oxford University and the companion of John Colet and Erasmus. More had gained notoriety in his own right with the publication of the satirical Utopia. He pursued a career as a lawyer with great success, married well, and enjoyed a very successful life. There are many who believe that it was Colet and More who persuaded Erasmus to take up the study of Greek. Colet had studied at the Platonic Academy in Florence while More had pursued the study of Greek at Oxford. Thus, there was a direct connection between Thomas More and the beginning of the Reformation with the publication of the Erasmus’ Greek New Testament, the Novum Instrumentum in 1516. On the other hand, Tyndale, while also a graduate of Oxford and a student of the Greek language, had been forced to go abroad to translate and print the Word of God in his native English. We must be reminded at this date, due to the Constitutions of Oxford promulgated in 1408, that it was illegal to possess a translation of the Bible in the English language. Tyndale was basically a fugitive from English law and was residing in the Merchant Adventurers’ house in Antwerp. He enjoyed none of the comforts that characterized the life of More. However, the outward circumstances as different as they may have appeared, were secondary to the differences that characterized the two individuals. It was not a matter of character because both individuals were transparent in their beliefs. However, the issue dealt with the most basic of differences imaginable. For William Tyndale what was supreme in his life...

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Life of Tyndale Livestream

On Monday, August 29, 2016 at 9:45am I spoke in the Crown College Chapel on the life of Tyndale. The live-stream was recorded and the video is posted below:

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The Life of William Tyndale – Part 10

THE SECOND EDITION NEW TESTAMENT – by Dr. Herbert Samworth   The months after the death of Frith were difficult for Tyndale. Not only did he lose the help of a trusted companion, what did his death communicate about the continued opposition to the Word of God by the English rulers? Although he had been tricked into putting his thoughts on the Eucharist into writing, Frith had stated that the doctrine of the Eucharist was not as important as the doctrine of Christ. In his opinion, freedom was permitted concerning those doctrines about which the Word of God did not speak with absolute clarity. However, for English churchmen what was important was what the Church taught. From that teaching there was to be no deviation. Moreover, how could people be sure that the opinions of the church officials were correct when they were denied access to the Word of God? Thus, Tyndale redoubled his efforts to give the ploughboy the Word of God in a language he could read and understand. There is evidence to indicate that Tyndale continued to translate the Old Testament books. However, the main focus of his work was a thorough revision of the Worms New Testament that had been published eight years before. During those years, Erasmus had published a fourth edition of his Greek New Testament containing readings from the Complutensian Polyglot that was finally published in 1522. In addition, the Worms New Testament had been produced under the most difficult of circumstances after Tyndale and Roye were forced to flee from Cologne. With the relative safety of Antwerp and living in the Merchant Adventurers’ house, Tyndale believed that he had the time to do a thorough revision of the New Testament. In addition a number of the Worms New Testaments had been confiscated and the demand for them remained high. Making the situation even more urgent was that pirated editions of the New Testament began to appear in England. They were printed by Dutch printers who were willing to risk producing New Testaments and smuggling them into England because of the lucrative market. This continued even after one of the Dutch printers was arrested in London, imprisoned and later died. However, what appears to be the main reason for the revision of the Worms New Testament was the printing of the New Testament as it had been “corrected” by George Joye. This...

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The Life of William Tyndale – Part 9

EVENTS AFTER 1530 – by Dr. Herbert Samworth   Following the printing of the Pentateuch in 1530 we do not know much about Tyndale’s activities for a period of time. There was no doubt that he continued his work of translation. Perhaps this was when he began his translation on the following books of the Old Testament that John Rogers would incorporate in the Matthew’s Bible of 1537. However, there was one book that Tyndale wrote during this time. It was entitled The Practice of Prelates. There are many who are of the opinion that it the one book of Tyndale that we could safely do without because of its subject matter and how it alienated King Henry VIII. Perhaps we can better understand it when we seek to put the larger context before the reader. While the exact location of Tyndale could not be established by the authorities in London, they were well aware of his basic activities. He was also the subject of much discussion and even of disagreement. There were some who were totally convinced that he was a heretic and should be captured and brought back to England to face charges of heresy. Little doubt existed that such a course of action would result in his conviction and death at the stake. However there were others, who while they thought that Tyndale should be brought back to England, had a totally different view of the man. These were the Evangelicals and were convinced that the time was right for an English translation of the Bible. Thus Tyndale, rather than be burned at the stake for heresy, would be employed in the work of Bible translation. At this time it may appear that they were unrealistic in their hopes, but they were able to persuade the King for permission to attempt his recall. They employed a man by the name of Stephan Vaughn to search and make contact with Tyndale. Several letters of Vaughn are extant today that tell of his efforts. In the event, Vaughn was able to make contact and speak with Tyndale about a possible return. Vaughn reported that Tyndale on one occasion said that if King Henry would permit the free circulation of the Scriptures, he promised to return to England, place himself at the King’s mercy, and not do any more translation. However, it was during this time of discussion that...

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The Life of William Tyndale – Part 8

THE PENTATEUCH – by Dr. Herbert Samworth   Finding that the situation had calmed down in Antwerp, Tyndale returned to the city sometime in 1529. Antwerp provided a number of advantages for Tyndale. First, it would be safer because the city did not have a cathedral with no resident Bishop who would be on the lookout for heretics and no university with a theological faculty. Antwerp was closer to England so the task of transporting Bibles and Testaments would be easier. In addition, Antwerp boasted of nearly sixty printing establishments. Although it was illegal to print heretical books, many of the printers were willing to turn a blind eye if a profit could be gained. Finally, the Merchant Adventurers’ house was located in the city. Not only was this the headquarters of those who would aid him smuggle the Bibles into England; the house itself provided immunity from search and seizure although we will note that these freedoms were violated in the case of Tyndale. Having finished the translation and printing of the New Testament, it was only natural that Tyndale would turn to the books of the Old Testament. As we noted previously, there is uncertainty where Tyndale learned the Hebrew language because most students of his life are convinced that he did not know the language when he departed from England. In reality, it would be some years before the teaching Hebrew became a standard practice in British universities. Regardless where Tyndale learned Hebrew, there is no doubt that he mastered the language. There is good reason to believe that Tyndale perfected his translation of the first five books of the Old Testament during his stay in Hamburg. Thus with a prepared manuscript, it was a matter of finding a printer who would be willing to undertake the work. Although the book purportedly was printed by Hans Luft in Malborow, it was to hide its real origin. It is true that Luft was the printer of Luther’s works and he indeed had presses in both Wittenberg and Malborow. However, the true printer was Johannes Hoochstraten of Antwerp. The book itself contained the books of Moses but there was something distinctive about it. The books of Genesis and numbers were printed in the Gothic or black letter type while the remaining three books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy were printed in Roman type. Scholars have debated the reasons...

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The Life of William Tyndale – Part 7

TYNDALE AND HIS TRACTS – by Dr. Herbert Samworth   Before Tyndale departed from Worms, he issued his first tract, exclusive of his translations of the Word of God. It was entitled a Compendious introduction, prologue or preface of Paul to the Romans. This is the first tract that Tyndale authored and although he did not attach his name to it, it was quickly recognized as his work. It was primarily based on a tract of Martin Luther that he placed before the book of Romans in his September Testament. An enlarged edition of this prologue was also included in his revised New Testament of 1534. The importance of this tract was not only that it served as an introduction to the book of Romans which of all the New Testament books gives the clearest and most logical explanation of the Gospel and the doctrine of justification, but that it was a fulfillment of Tyndales’s vow to make the ploughboy know what the Scripture meant. We will never truly understand the life of William Tyndale until we recognize that the translation and printing of the Scriptures in the English language was but the prelude to instructing people to understand the Word of God. We will have reason to return to this theme a bit later, but for the present, we merely wish to make the point that Tyndale was intent on providing a key to the understanding of the Word of God as well as providing the text. In our last lesson on Tyndale, we conjectured that after he left Worms and the printing of the first complete New Testament in English, Tyndale parted from Roye and went to Antwerp in the Low Countries. Finding that the situation was dangerous, we believe that he left Antwerp and spent time in Hamburg at the home of Mrs. Von Emerson. It was undoubtedly at that time he worked on his translation of the five books of Moses. However before we speak of Tyndale and his return to Antwerp, we must make mention of the first theological book that Tyndale authored. It was entitled The Parable of the Wicked Mammon and is based on the parable taught by the Lord in Luke 16. However, it is not a Biblical exposition of the parable as much as it is a tract dealing with the doctrine of justification by faith. One might wonder why Tyndale...

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The Life of William Tyndale – Part 6

TYNDALE IN WORMS – by Dr. Herbert Samworth   After their effort to have the New Testament printed in Cologne was frustrated, William Tyndale and William Roye fled up the Rhine River to the city the Worms. Just five years before, Martin Luther had taken his noble stand for the Reformation in that very city. Like much of William Tyndale’s life and deeds, there is a paucity of information about his activities. However, we can surmise that he continued on his work of translating the New Testament and made arrangements with Peter Schoeffer to have the work printed in his establishment. Finally, about March 1526 the New Testament was completed. It was the first printing of the complete New Testament in the English language. Unlike the Cologne fragment Tyndale did not add editorial notes. Basically it was the Greek of the New Testament rendered into the English language. It was printed in a neat octavo in Gothic type. Even today it is quite easy to read and one can imagine the excitement of an Englishman reading the Word of God for the first time in his native language. The translation is accurate and lively. There are a number of unanswered questions about this edition. One question concerns the fate of the initial printing of the New Testament that began in Cologne. It was in quarto as the lone surviving fragment indicates. Did Tyndale finish that edition and also have an edition printed in the octavo size? There are some who believe that is exactly what happened. They are convinced that the quarto New Testament was completed in three thousand copies and an octavo edition was also printed in the same number of copies. If this were true, then a total of six thousand copies of the New Testament were printed by Schoeffer. However, most experts believe that Tyndale abandoned his plan to have the New Testament printed in quarto and switched to the octavo size. What may have been the reasons for the switch are impossible to determine at the present time. However, it is a know fact that the three surviving copies are octavo and only the Cologne fragment survives in the quarto size. The result would be that three thousand copies of the New Testament were printed, all in octavo. Whatever may have been the actual case, there remained no uncertainty that the printed English New Testament...

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The Life of William Tyndale – Part 5

TYNDALE IN GERMANY – by Dr. Herbert Samworth   If the earlier events of Tyndale’s life can only be sketched in outline, the years after his departure from England in late 1523 or early 1524 provide even more of a puzzle. We know that Tyndale came to the conclusion that he could not translate the Scriptures into English in London or even in England itself. Consequently he left his native country, never to return. But where did he go and what did he do in the period before his first attempt to print the New Testament in Cologne, Germany? Some have speculated that he went to the city of Hamburg where he was hosted by a widow, Mrs. Margaret Van Emerson until he went to Cologne. However, J. F. Mozley in his magisterial life of Tyndale has given strong evidence that he first went to Wittenberg where Luther and Melanchthon were teaching. In proof of his thesis, Mozley examined the matriculation registers of the University and found under the date of May 27, 1524 the name, in Latin, Guillelmus Daltici ex Anglia or William Deltici from England. What is the significance of the name William Daltici? Mozley demonstrated that if the syllables, dal and tin, were switched, it would be Tyndal. Mozley’s work is a fine piece of investigation and it would be charming to think of William Tyndale, Martin Luther, and Philip Melanchthon conversing together about the events of the day and the work that God was doing in reforming His church. Doubtless, they would also have conversed about the remaining work to be done including the translation of the Scriptures. If the above is correct, it would give us a clue to where Tyndale learned the Hebrew tongue because we are quite certain that he left England ignorant of the Old Testament source language. It would also give us a clue as to his activities from the time that he departed England. But whether or not such was the case, we can place William Tyndale and William Roye, another English priest, in Cologne later that year. Roye’s name does appear on the matriculation list of Wittenberg University so there does not appear any doubt of his presence there at the same time as Guillelmus Daltici. This would also give us a clue as to where Tyndale and Roye made their acquaintance. Roye was not a linguist but...

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The Life of William Tyndale – Part 4

TYNDALE IN LONDON – by Dr. Herbert Samworth   In the rehearsal of William Tyndale’s period of residence in London, we have as many of the original sources as for any time of his life. In his prologue to the books of Moses, published in Antwerp in 1530, Tyndale recounted the events that led him to London. As a result there are many who believe that Tyndale first formulated his plans to translate and print the New Testament while at Little Sodbury. Whether or not this is the case, there is no doubt that what he experienced at Little Sodbury was a confirmation of the desperate condition of those without the Word of God in their native language. We believe that events at Little Sodbury merely confirmed his desire to translate the Scriptures. Even from his days at Oxford, Tyndale had seen the results of the ignorance of God’s Word. This applied not only to the lay people but to those who were in the process of being trained to be spiritual leaders. He remarked in his exposition of John’s first epistle about the time that he heard a clerk prove that Christ was a true prophet by the authority of John the Baptist and then prove that John the Baptist was a true prophet by the authority of Christ. Such use of Scripture never dealt with what the Scriptures taught about the way a person could come to know God and receive true forgiveness of sins. This way of dealing with the Scriptures was reinforced by the method of training priests. They were not permitted to study the Word of God until they had been taught six, seven, and even eight years in heathen philosophy. Upon the reception of their first degree, they had to swear that they held no opinions condemned by the church but what opinions the church had condemned were unknown to them. In Tyndale’s view, the Scripture was locked up by false expositions and false principles of natural philosophy. Thus we can see the force of Tyndale’s vow to make the boy that driveth the plough know more of the Scripture than the priests because the simple fact was that the priests did not know the Scripture. Frequently, we will find Tyndale using the idea of a “key” to unlock the meaning of God’s Word. In the Preface to the Five Books of Moses...

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The Life of William Tyndale – Part 3

LITTLE SODBURY MANOR – by Dr. Herbert Samworth   The narration of Tyndale’s life has brought us to the year 1521. We are now on firmer ground as regards his activities. In that year he left Cambridge University and returned to his ancestral home – Gloustershire. He became a tutor to the children of Sir John and Lady Anne Walsh at Little Sudbury Manor, their home. Once again, we are faced with the question of why should a person, who spent at least eight years at Oxford and graduated M.A. and an indefinite period of time at Cambridge, return to his childhood land to become tutor to two young children, about the ages of eight and ten? Were conditions so desperate that this was the only means of earning a living? It is nearly impossible to make sense of Tyndale’s activities unless we interpret them in the light of his ambition to translate the Word of God into the English language. Although detailed certainly of his activities lies beyond our knowledge, there was a basic pattern that is plain to see. His actions were all directed to prepare himself to translate the Bible into the English language. Several factors appear to make this abundantly clear: his disgust with the theology taught at Oxford, his matriculation at Cambridge to improve his knowledge of the source language of the New Testament, and the activities and conversations at the White Horse Inn would reinforce his basic conviction that the Word of God must be translated and printed in the vernacular if ever there was to be true reformation in the Church of England. Whether his activities were part of a master plan that he had formulated even as a student at Oxford or that he came gradually to see that this was to be to his life’s work is nearly impossible to state with certainty. However, it is abundantly clear that his activities and studies were designed to equip him to be a skilled translator of the Scriptures into the English language. Even his work at Sodbury Manor would contribute to his preparation. For certainly his duties of instructing two young children would leave him ample time to continue his private studies. However, that was not all that Tyndale did while at the home of the Walshes. One of his activities was to go to a monastery called St. Austin’s near Bristol....

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