Skip to main content

William Tyndale Statue, photographed by Matt Brown at Victoria Embankment, London

Who was William Tyndale?

Author: Bible Society, 6 October 2021

The English reformer, William Tyndale (1494–1536), was the first person to translate the New Testament directly from Greek to English. Tyndale was a priest and distinguished Oxford scholar who strongly believed that everyone should be able to read the Bible.

In 1523, he asked the bishop of London, Cuthbert Tunstall, for permission to translate and print a new English Bible. But the bishop viewed Tyndale as a troublemaker, so said no.

However, Tyndale pressed ahead anyway, with the support of some merchant friends. He moved to Worms in Germany where in 1525, he produced a translation of the New Testament. Six thousand copies of this translation were printed and smuggled into England hidden inside bales of wool and wine casks with false bottoms.

His version of the New Testament angered Tunstall and the then Lord Chancellor of England, Thomas More. They disagreed with the way he had translated certain biblical words and were unhappy with his footnotes, which criticised the Catholic Church. So smuggled copies of Tyndale’s translation were systematically collected and then publicly burned. This was to backfire spectacularly, however.

A merchant named Augustine Packington was a secret supporter of Tyndale, and persuaded Tunstall that he could get copies of Tyndale's Bible for him to burn. As John Foxe put it in his famous Book of Martyrs, ‘The Bishop, thinking he had God by the toe, said: ‘Do your diligence, gentle Master Packington. Get them for me and I will pay whatsoever they cost, for I intend to burn them all at Paul's Cross.’ Packington forwarded the profits to Tyndale; so, as Foxe said, ‘the Bishop of London had the books, Packington had the thanks, and Tyndale had the money’.

At that time, Henry VIII was opposed to Bibles in English. Tyndale began to translate the Old Testament, but never managed to finish it. In 1536, he was arrested and executed for heresy. But the story didn’t end there. His priest friend, Miles Coverdale, picked up the baton and continued his work.

Share this:

More articles about the Bible

Why should Christians read the Old Testament?

One answer is that the whole Bible is inspired by God, and it’s all his word to us. Another is that it’s full of great stories and wonderful verse that feeds our spirits. Another is that the world of the New Testament...

What’s the Bible story behind Lyle’s Golden Syrup?

Lyle’s Golden Syrup has had a rebrand, losing the famous Bible-based logo featuring a lion and a swarm of bees. But what’s the story behind the original logo? It’s found in Judges 14, where Samson, the super-strong judge...

What does the Bible say about legacy?

Today, when we think about ‘legacy’ we probably think first of making sure our money and property are passed down to the next generation when we die. In Bible times, too, this was an important concern, and people’s first...
Read the Bible icon Read the Bible
Open the full Bible