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Tyndale Bible

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Tyndale Bible
The beginning of the Gospel of John from a copy of the 1526 edition of William Tyndale's New Testament at the British Library.
NT published1526
Translation typeFormal equivalence
Revision1534, 1535[a]
1 In the begynnynge God created heaven and erth. 2 The erth was voyde and emptie ad darcknesse was vpon the depe and the spirite of god moved vpon the water 3 Than God sayd: let there be lyghte and there was lyghte.
For God so loveth the worlde yt he hath geven his only sonne that none that beleve in him shuld perisshe: but shuld have everlastinge lyfe.

The Tyndale Bible (TYN) generally refers to the body of biblical translations by William Tyndale into Early Modern English, made c. 1522–1535. Tyndale's biblical text is credited with being the first Anglophone Biblical translation to work directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, although it relied heavily upon the Latin Vulgate and Luther's German New Testament. Furthermore, it was the first English biblical translation that was mass-produced as a result of new advances in the art of printing.

The term "Tyndale's Bible" is not strictly correct, because Tyndale never published a complete English language Bible; instead, a completely translated Bible was completed by Myles Coverdale, who supplemented Tyndale's translations with his own to produce the first complete printed Bible in English in 1535. Before his execution, Tyndale had translated the New Testament, the Pentateuch, and the historical books of the Old Testament.[3] Of the Old Testament books, the Pentateuch, Book of Jonah, and a revised version of the Book of Genesis were published during Tyndale's lifetime. His other Old Testament works were first used in the creation of the Matthew Bible and also greatly influenced subsequent English translations of the Bible.[4]


The chain of events that led to the creation of Tyndale's New Testament possibly began in 1522, when Tyndale acquired a copy of the Luther's German New Testament. Tyndale began a translation into English referencing a Greek text compiled by Erasmus from several manuscripts with texts then thought to pre-date the Latin Vulgate (whose Latin Gospel translations owed to Jerome but whose Epistles come from Old Latin versions.) The Vulgate was the only Latin translation in use by the Roman Catholic Church but had accumulated a multitude of small variations between hand-copied manuscript despite several regional efforts over the millenium to make a definitive text.[5][6]

Tyndale made his purpose known to Bishop of London Cuthbert Tunstall but was refused permission. Thwarted in England, Tyndale moved to the continent.[7] A partial edition was put into print in 1525 in Cologne of which there is only one fragment left, in the British Library.[8] But before the work could be completed, Tyndale was betrayed to the authorities[9] and forced to flee to Worms, where the first complete edition of his New Testament was published by Peter Schöffer the Younger in 1526, of which there are only 3 extant copies left. These can be found in the collections of St Paul's Cathedral, London,[10] the British Library,[11] and the Württembergische Landesbibliothek[12] in Stuttgart.[13] After his death in 1536, Tyndale's works were revised and reprinted numerous times[14] and are reflected in more modern versions of the Bible, such as the King James Version.

Tyndale's translation of the Pentateuch was published at Antwerp by Merten de Keyser in 1530.[15] His English version of the Book of Jonah was published the following year. This was followed by his revised version of the Book of Genesis in 1534. Tyndale translated additional Old Testament books including Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings and First and Second Chronicles, but they were not published and have not survived in their original forms.[16] When Tyndale was executed, these works came to be in the possession of one of his associates, John Rogers. These translations were influential in the creation of the Matthew Bible which was published in 1537.[16]

Tyndale used numerous sources when carrying out his translations of both the New and Old Testaments. He also made use of Greek and Hebrew grammars.

  • When translating the New Testament, he referred to the third edition (1522) of Erasmus's annotated Latin/Greek New Testament, the Greek being often referred to as a Received Text, as well as Luther's German version and the Vulgate. Some scholars speculate that Tyndale stayed away from using Wycliffe's Bible as a source because he did not want his English to reflect that which was used prior to the Renaissance,[17] though an independence from previous English translations and customary usage has not been established.
  • The sources Tyndale used for his translation of the Pentateuch however are not known for sure. Scholars believe that Tyndale used either the Hebrew Pentateuch or an edition derived from the Polyglot Bible and may have referred to the Septuagint. Some scholars speculate that his other Old Testament works were translated directly from a copy of the Hebrew Bible. [16]

Reaction of the Catholic Church and execution[edit]

Tyndale's translations and polemical books were condemned and banned in England by Catholic authorities: in particular almost all copies of his first 1526 New Testament, which authorities regarded as particularly flawed, were bought and burned[18] by Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall who had sponsored and helped Erasmus with the translation of his 1518 Latin/Greek New Testament that Luther had used. Catholics, prominently layman Thomas More,[19] the Lord Chancellor of Henry VIII, claimed that he had purposely mistranslated the ancient texts in order to promote anti-clericalism and heretical views.[20] In particular they cited the terms "church", "priest", "do penance" and "charity", which became in the Tyndale translation "congregation", "senior" (changed to "elder" in the revised edition of 1534), "repent" and "love", challenging key doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. (Most of these ideas originated from More's best friend, the Catholic priest Erasmus; however, More insisted that Erasmus' intent was to enrich the meaning not to subvert Catholic teaching.)[21]

In 1535 in Flanders (Brabant), Tyndale was betrayed by an Englishman to local authorities and imprisoned. The Catholic theologian Jacobus Latomus and he spent almost a year and a half attempting to convince each other in a series of private books.[22] This failing, in 1536 he was declared a heretic for his Lutheran advocacy and defrocked. Tyndale now being voluntarily outside the protection of the Church, the Habsburg civil authorities then took him and sentenced him to be strangled to death and the body burned.[23] Tyndale was not condemned because of translating or publishing Scriptures, which was not a crime in Brabant, but for the promulgation of Lutheran views that the Catholic states considered seditious or threatening to peace.[22]

In 1543, The English Parliament enacted Henry VIII's Act for the Advancement of True Religion which banned keeping and using Tyndale's translations by most of the population, and required his "preambles and annotations" be cut or blotted out.(ch 1, s. VI)

Challenges to Catholic doctrine[edit]

Tyndale's translation of the Bible had notes critical of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church had long proclaimed that the only true Church was the Catholic Church. The word church in Catholic teaching could only be used of the Catholic Church,[24] and there was no other organized religion in England at that time. Some radical reformers preached that the true church was the "invisible" church, that the church is wherever true Christians meet together to preach the word of God. To these reformers, the Catholic Church was unnecessary, and its very existence proved that it was in fact not the "true" Church.[25] When Tyndale translated the Greek word ἐκκλησία (ekklēsía) as congregation, he was thereby undermining the entire structure of the Catholic Church.

A Tyndale New Testament in the British Library, London.

Many of the reform movements believed in the authority of scripture alone. To them it dictated how a "true" church should be organized and administered.[26] By changing the translation from church to congregation Tyndale was providing ammunition for the beliefs of the reformers. Their belief that the church was not a visible systematized institution but a body defined by believers, however organized, who held a specifically Protestant understanding of the Gospel and salvation was now to be found directly in Tyndale's translation of Scripture.

Tyndale's use of the word congregation conflicted with the Catholic Church's doctrine that the lay members and the clergy were two separate classes within the Church, and the Catholic teaching of the Sacrament of Ordination.[27] If the true church is defined as a congregation, the common believers, then the Catholic Church's claim that the clergy were of a consecrated order different than the average Christian and that they had different functions within the Church no longer held sway.

Tyndale's translation of the Greek word πρεσβύτερος (presbúteros) to mean elder instead of priest also challenged the doctrines of the Catholic Church.[28]

In particular, it undermined the Catholic Mass and its nature as a sacrifice. The role of the priest in the Catholic Church was to offer the sacrifice of Christ's body and blood in the ritual of the Mass, to bless, to conduct other religious ceremonies, to read and explain the scripture to the people, and to administer the other sacraments. In these ways they are different from the common believers.[27]

In many reform movements a group of elders would lead the church and take the place of the Catholic priests. These elders were not a separate class from the common believers; in fact, they were usually selected from amongst them.[29] Many reformers believed in the idea of the priesthood of all believers, which meant that every Christian was in fact a priest and had, for example, the right to read and interpret scripture.[30] Tyndale's translation challenged the claim of scriptural basis for Catholic clerical authority.

Catholic doctrine was also challenged by Tyndale's translation of the Greek μετανοεῖτε (metanoeîte) as repent instead of do penance.[24] This translation conflicted with the Catholic Sacrament of Confession.

Tyndale's translation of scripture backed up the views of reformers like Luther who had taken issue with the Catholic practice of sacramental penance. Tyndale believed that it was through faith alone that a person was saved.[31] Christ had, by the giving of the Holy Spirit, given the power to forgive sins to his disciples in John 20:20-23.

Tyndale's position on Christian salvation differed from the views of the Catholic Church, which followed the belief that salvation was granted to the faithful who maintained the State of Grace by living in charity, faith and hope, and participating in the Church's seven Sacraments[32] in the light of the Church's teaching. Tyndale's translation challenged the belief that a repentant person should still do penance for their sins after they were forgiven by God. According to Tyndale's New Testament translation and other Protestant reformers, a believer could repent with a sincere heart, and God would forgive without an intent of submission to some formal restitution.

Tyndale's translation of the Bible challenged the Catholic Church in many other ways. For example, Tyndale's translation of the Bible into a vernacular language made it available to the common English-speaking person. Tyndale wanted everyone to have access to scripture and gave the common people the ability to read it for themselves but with a decidedly Protestant orientation in the choice of words used and in its annotations, which were suffused with Tyndale's Protestant beliefs.

The greatest challenge that Tyndale's Bible caused the Catholic Church is summed up by a later story about Tyndale's reason for translating the Bible: to "cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more scripture than the clergy of the day",[33] many of whom were poorly educated. (See Plowboy trope.) By this, Tyndale sought to undermine the Catholic Church's authority regarding the access to and interpretation of scripture, which he saw as detrimental.[citation needed] To Tyndale, a Roman Catholic priesthood was not needed as an intermediary between a person and God.[citation needed]


The importance of the Tyndale Bible in shaping and influencing the English language has been mentioned. According to one writer, Tyndale is "the man who more than Shakespeare even or Bunyan has moulded and enriched our language."[34]

Impact on the English language[edit]

In translating the Bible, Tyndale invented new words into the English language; Thomas More pointed out this was problematic for a "vernacular" translation. Many were subsequently used in the King James Bible.

As well as individual words, Tyndale also is reported as having coined many familiar phrases, however, many of the claimed expressions turn out to have antecedents in the Middle English Bible translations or the German.

Many of the popular phrases and Bible verses that people quote today are in the language of Tyndale. An example of this is Matthew 5:9, "Blessed are the peacemakers."[35] Such Germanic compound words as "peacemaker" are hallmarks of Tyndale's prose, and follow Middle English word-formation principles more than Modern English.

Words or Terms[edit]

  • Passover (as the name for the Jewish holiday, Pesach or Pesah)
  • Scapegoat
  • atonement
    • A concatenation of the words 'At One' to describe Christ's work of restoring a good relationship—a reconciliation—between God and people)[36] is also sometimes ascribed to Tyndale.[37][38] However, the word was probably in use by at least 1513, before Tyndale's translation.[39][40]
  • mercy seat
    • Literal translation of Luther's German Gnadenstuhl.[41][42]


  • the word of God which liveth and lasteth forever
  • let there be light
  • the powers that be
  • it came to pass
  • the signs of the times
  • filthy lucre
  • fashion not yourselves to the world
  • my brother's keeper
    • Wycliffe 1382: the kepere of my brothir
  • judge not that ye be not judged
    • Vulgate: Nolite judicare, ut non judicemini
  • knock and it shall be opened unto you
    • Wycliffe 1382: knocke ye, and it schal be openyd to you
  • a moment in time
    • Wycliffe 1382: a moment of tyme
  • seek and ye shall find
    • Wycliffe 1382: seke ye, and ye schulen fynde
  • ask and it shall be given you
    • Wycliffe 1382: Axe ye, and it schal be ȝovun to you
  • the salt of the earth
    • Wycliffe 1382: salt of the erthe
  • a law unto themselves
    • Wycliffe 1382: lawe to hem silf
  • the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak
    • Luther's translation of Matthew 26:41: der Geist ist willig, aber das Fleisch ist schwach
    • Wycliffe: for the spirit is ready, but the flesh is sick.
  • live, move and have our being
    • Wycliffe 1382: lyven, and moven, and ben

Controversy over new words and phrases[edit]

Portrait of Thomas More by Hans Holbein in the Frick Collection

The hierarchy and intelligentsia of the English Catholic Church did not approve of some of the words and phrases introduced by Tyndale, such as "overseer", where it would have been understood as "bishop", "elder" for "priest", and "love" rather than "charity". Tyndale, citing Erasmus (who was referring to the Latin not English), contended that the Greek New Testament did not support the traditional readings. Controversially, Tyndale translated the Greek ekklesia (Greek: εκκλησία), (literally "called out ones"[43][44]) as "congregation" rather than "church".[45] It has been asserted this translation choice "was a direct threat to the Church's ancient – but, so Tyndale here made clear, non-scriptural – claim to be the body of Christ on earth. To change these words was to strip the Church hierarchy of its pretensions to be Christ's terrestrial representative, and to award this honor to individual worshipers who made up each congregation."[45][44]

Tyndale used ester for páskha (πάσχα) in his New Testament, where Wycliffe had used pask. When Tyndale embarked on his Old Testament translation, he realised that the anachronism of ester could not be sustained; and so coined the neologism passover, which later Bible versions adopted, and substituted for ester in the New Testament as well. Its remnant is seen as Easter once in the King James Version in Acts 12:4 and twice in the Bishops' Bible, John 11:55 as well as Acts 12:4.

Tyndale was accused of translation errors. Thomas More commented that searching for errors in (the first edition of) the Tyndale Bible was similar to searching for water in the sea and charged Tyndale's translation of The Obedience of a Christian Man with having about a thousand false translations. Bishop Tunstall of London declared that there were upwards of 2,000 errors in Tyndale's 1525/1526 Bible, having already in 1523 denied Tyndale the permission required under the Constitutions of Oxford (1409), which were still in force, to translate the Bible into English. Tyndale in the Prologue to his 1525 translation wrote that he never intentionally altered or misrepresented any of the Bible but that he had sought to "interpret the sense of the scripture and the meaning of the spirit."[45]

While translating, Tyndale followed Erasmus's 1522 Greek edition of the New Testament. In his preface to his 1534 New Testament ("WT unto the Reader"), he not only goes into some detail about the Greek tenses but also points out that there is often a Hebrew idiom underlying the Greek.[46] The Tyndale Society adduces much further evidence to show that his translations were made directly from the original Hebrew and Greek sources he had at his disposal. For example, the Prolegomena in Mombert's William Tyndale's Five Books of Moses show that Tyndale's Pentateuch is a translation of the Hebrew original. His translation also drew on the Latin Vulgate and Luther's 1521 September Testament.[47] Of the first (1526) edition of Tyndale's New Testament, only three copies survive. The only complete copy is part of the Bible Collection of Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart. The copy of the British Library is almost complete, lacking only the title page and list of contents. Another rarity is Tyndale's Pentateuch, of which only nine remain.[citation needed]

Impact on English Bibles[edit]

Tyndale's Bible laid the foundations for many of the English Bibles which followed his. His work made up a significant portion of the Great Bible of 1539, which was the first authorized version of the English Bible.[48] The Tyndale Bible also played a key role in spreading Reformation ideas to England which had been reluctant to embrace the movement. By including many of Martin Luther's commentaries in his works,[49] Tyndale also allowed the people of England direct access to the words and ideas of Luther, whose works had been banned in England. William Maldon's account of learning to read to directly access the Tyndale Bible testified to the sometimes violent opposition to the translation's use.[50] Perhaps the Tyndale Bible's greatest impact is that it heavily influenced and contributed to the creation of the King James Version, which is one of the most popular and widely used Bibles in the world today.

It has been suggested that around 90% of the King James Version (or at least of the parts translated by Tyndale) is from Tyndale's works, with as much as one third of the text being word for word Tyndale.[51]

The translators of the Revised Standard Version in the 1940s noted that Tyndale's translation, including the 1537 Matthew Bible, inspired the translations that followed: The Great Bible of 1539; the Geneva Bible of 1560; the Bishops' Bible of 1568; the Douay-Rheims Bible of 1582–1609; and the King James Version of 1611, of which the RSV translators noted: "It [the KJV] kept felicitous phrases and apt expressions, from whatever source, which had stood the test of public usage. It owed most, especially in the New Testament, to Tyndale".

Brian Moynahan writes: "A complete analysis of the Authorised Version, known down the generations as 'the AV' or 'the King James', was made in 1998. It shows that Tyndale's words account for 84% of the New Testament and for 75.8% of the Old Testament books that he translated."[52][dubiousdiscuss] Joan Bridgman comments on the Contemporary Review that, "He [Tyndale] is the mainly unrecognized translator of the most influential book in the world. Although the Authorised King James Version is ostensibly the production of a learned committee of churchmen, it is mostly cribbed from Tyndale with some reworking of his translation."[53]

Many of the English versions since then have drawn inspiration from Tyndale, such as the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible, and the English Standard Version. Even the paraphrases like the Living Bible have been inspired by the same desire to make the Bible understandable to Tyndale's proverbial plowboy.[54][55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The minor further revisions made by Tyndale in the 1535 "GH" (that is, the publisher: Godfried van der Haghen) New Testament edition were not used by future English Bible translations.[1] Tyndale did not contribute to any further TYN revisions found in print due to his arrest on May 24, 1535, being subsequently imprisoned until his execution.[2]


  1. ^ Daniell, David (1 September 2003). The Bible in English: Its History and Influence. Yale University Press. pp. 151–152. ISBN 978-0-300-09930-0. This handsome small volume of 1534, well printed by de Keyser, is the English New Testament as it went forward into other sixteenth-century versions ... A revised version of this New Testament, with minor changes, was made by Tyndale in 1535; it is known as the 'GH' edition.
  2. ^ Kenyon, Frederic G. (7 February 2023). "Tyndale's Version". Bible Research. Archived from the original on 6 February 2023. Retrieved 7 February 2023. Several editions were issued in 1536, but Tyndale was not then in a position to supervise them [due to his arrest].
  3. ^ Kenyon 1936, pp. 47–49.
  4. ^ Partridge 1973, pp. 38–39, 52.
  5. ^ British Library online catalog of sacred books.
  6. ^ Partridge 1973, p. 38.
  7. ^ Pollard 1974, pp. 87–89.
  8. ^ British Library collection item
  9. ^ Teems 2012, pp. 51–52.
  10. ^ St Paul's Cathedral
  11. ^ British Library Collection Item
  12. ^ The Hide and Seek Bible
  13. ^ Thompson 1963, p. 6.
  14. ^ Partridge 1973, pp. 38–39.
  15. ^ Arblaster, Juhász & Latré 2002, p. 132.
  16. ^ a b c Arblaster, Juhász & Latré 2002, p. 53.
  17. ^ Arblaster, Juhász & Latré 2002, p. 38.
  18. ^ Pollard 1974, pp. 87–91; Thompson 1963, p. 7.
  19. ^ Partridge 1973, p. 40.
  20. ^ Partridge 1973, pp. 40–41.
  21. ^ Scheck, Thomas P. (June 2021). "Thomas More: First and Best Apologist for Erasmus". Moreana. 58 (1): 75–111. doi:10.3366/more.2021.0093. S2CID 236358666.
  22. ^ a b Juhász, Gergely; Paul Arblaster (2005). "Can Translating the Bible Be Bad for Your Health?: William Tyndale and the Falsification of Memory". In Johan Leemans (ed.). More Than a Memory: The Discourse of Martyrdom and the Construction of Christian Identity in the History of Christianity. Peeters Publishers. ISBN 90-429-1688-5.
  23. ^ Foxe 1570, VIII. 1229.
  24. ^ a b Partridge 1973, p. 42.
  25. ^ Lindberg 1996, pp. 202–204.
  26. ^ Lindberg 1996, pp. 70–72.
  27. ^ a b Lindberg 1996, p. 99.
  28. ^ Partridge 1973, p. 92.
  29. ^ Lindberg 1996, pp. 262–263.
  30. ^ Lindberg 1996, p. 163.
  31. ^ Luther 1957, pp. 343–353.
  32. ^ TraditionalCatholic.net.
  33. ^ Coggan 1968, p. 18.
  34. ^ Coggan 1968, p. 19.
  35. ^ Partridge 1973, p. 52.
  36. ^ Andreasen, Niels-erik A (1990), "Atonement/Expiation in the Old Testament", in Mills, WE (ed.), Dictionary of the Bible, Mercer University Press.
  37. ^ McGrath 2000, p. 357.
  38. ^ Gillon 1991, p. 42.
  39. ^ "atonement", OED, 1513 MORE Rich. III Wks. 41 Having more regarde to their olde variaunce then their newe attonement. [...] 1513 MORE Edw. V Wks. 40 of which... none of vs hath any thing the lesse nede, for the late made attonemente.
  40. ^ Harper, Douglas, "atone", Online Etymology Dictionary.
  41. ^ Shaheen 2011, p. 18.
  42. ^ Moo 1996, p. 232, note 62.
  43. ^ "Rev 22:17", Believer's Study Bible (electronic ed.), Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, the word ... ekklesia ... is a compound word coming from the word Kaleo, meaning 'to call,' and Ek, meaning 'out of'. Thus... 'the called-out ones. Eph 5:23, "This is the same word used by the Greeks for their assembly of citizens who were 'called out' to transact the business of the city. The word ... implies ... 'assembly'.
  44. ^ a b Harding 2012, p. 28.
  45. ^ a b c Moynahan 2003, p. 72.
  46. ^ Tyndale, William. "Tyndale's New Testament (Young.152)". Cambridge Digital Library. Archived from the original on 19 August 2016. Retrieved 19 July 2016.
  47. ^ Moynahan 2002, p. 72.
  48. ^ Kenyon 1936, pp. 48–50.
  49. ^ Lindberg 1996, pp. 314–315.
  50. ^ Norton 2000, pp. 10–11.
  51. ^ Coggan 1968, pp. 18–19.
  52. ^ Moynahan 2003, pp. 1–2.
  53. ^ Bridgman 2000, pp. 342–346.
  54. ^ Anon (n.d.), The Bible in the Renaissance – William Tyndale, Oxford, archived from the original on 4 October 2013.
  55. ^ Foxe 1926, Ch. XII.


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