This week was the anniversary of the martyrdom of William Tyndale. Perhaps you are familiar with his name; he was the first to publish a printed edition of the New Testament in English, translated from the Greek. Thinking about what he did raises a couple of questions.
Why did Tyndale devote himself to getting the Bible translated into English? What did he accomplish in doing that?
He lived in the early 1500’s. He was–as many of the other “Reformers” of the day–a former Roman Catholic priest. For a thousand years leading up to Tyndale’s great work, the only Bible available was the Latin Vulgate; the Latin translation of the Bible that was the Bible of the Catholic Church. But Tyndale got his hands on copy of the Greek New Testament. Scholar that he was, he began to study and read and, in relatively short order, he was converted. Through the reading of the Scriptures he came to see the errors of the teachings of the Catholic Church and was awakened to see the wonder and grace of the Gospel. Having seen and tasted that for himself, his desire was to get the Scriptures into the hands of the common person (who, even if the common person could obtain a copy of the Latin Bible, he would not have been able to read it!). Tyndale wanted the Bible, in English, translated from the original languages, to be widely available and accessible to every person in the English speaking world. It was his driving passion; it was a huge hope; it was what he devoted himself to. And it is what led to his martyrdom.
Tyndale had come to understand that it is by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, that results in justification before God. That idea was not only the central truth that drove the Reformation, but it was what he had discovered in the Scriptures that he longed for all to be able to read and understand. That desire–for the Gospel to understood through the reading of the Scriptures–was what drove the Roman Catholic Church to put him to death.
Today, most church-attenders have at least one copy of the Scriptures in English–in the language they can read and understand. Many of those have multiple translations, all of which, in some measure, owe their existence to the labors of William Tyndale. But multiple contemporary surveys make it clear that although the Bible is readily available many churched people spend little or no time reading it.
William Tyndale died to make the English Bible available to English readers. This incredible undertaking resulted in his being exiled, shunned, and ultimately martyred at a relatively young age. It cost him greatly to put the English Bible into the hands of English readers.
In the Bible you hold in your hands you have a blood-bought message: the Gospel of salvation that comes through the sacrifice of Jesus. And in the Bible you have in your hands a blood-bought book: a translation that cost Tyndale his life. I am not comparing the relative value of those sacrifices; clearly, Christ’s sacrifice is far and away incomparably greater. I only want to highlight the incredible gift it is to have the Bible–and, thus, the message of salvation–in a language you can understand.
Why would you not take advantage of that gift?