‘I will cause a boy that driveth the plow, (to) know more of the Scripture than thou’
YouVersion, a downloaded Bible app for mobile devices, has had over 100 million downloads. There are 900 different translations of the Bible in English. The Bible has even been translated into the fictional language, Klingon. Yet, in England, before 1526, there were only a few hand-written copies of the New Testament in English and reading the Bible in English could result in being burned alive.
William Tyndale translated the whole New Testament, and 15 books of the Old Testament, for the very first time, into common English. He did this whilst living as a fugitive in Europe. At the same time, men and women converted as they read his English Bible, were being burned alive by the Roman Catholic Church. Those killed included his closest friend, John Frith, aged just 28. Tyndale himself was executed, for his work, in 1536.
It is difficult for us to imagine, such extreme and violent hostility towards translating the Bible into English. It has made me ask: Why did Tyndale continue translating the Bible, despite the suffering it brought? What were his convictions?
From a short biography of Tyndale (Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ), it’s clear Tyndale understood Romans 1:16: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes….’
He understood the gospel’s power
Tyndale wrote: “when the gospel is preached to us [it] openeth our hearts and giveth us grace to believe, and putteth the spirit of Christ in us”(1). Tyndale understood that God works in power to save sinners through His gospel. This conviction made him eager to put the gospel in everyone’s hands in a language they could easily understand.
Tyndale solidly understood sin and judgement: “Our will is locked and knit faster under the will of the devil than could an hundred thousand chains bind a man unto a post” (2). He understood the truth of Romans 1:18-3:20: all mankind, without exception, is under God’s anger because of unrighteousness. Tyndale also saw the only solution is found in the gospel – God justly justifying us through Jesus’ death: “neither can any creature loose the bonds, save the blood of Christ only.” (3) It was this concern that many find salvation in Christ drove Tyndale, despite persecution, to translate the Bible.
For everyone who believes
In the 16th century, as the Roman Catholic Church withheld gospel truth from the people, Tyndale’s life ambition was that the life-giving gospel would be in the hands of every man. His most famous words, in response to a Roman Catholic scholar, were “If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost”.(4)
Tyndale clearly based his life on the conviction that for the common man to be justified by faith in Jesus’ death, as revealed in the gospel, the Bible must be translated.
As you keep thinking through his example, why not ask yourself questions like:
How does my view of the gospel/view of the world/concern for other's salvation compare to Tyndale's(/Paul's)?
Do I value Biblical clarity on core gospel truths, as highly as Tyndale? What might my life look like if I were to live out Biblical convictions as firmly as Tyndale did?
1 William Tyndale, Selected Writings, 37
2 Ibid., 39
3 Ibid., 40
4 David Daniell, William Tyndale: A Biography, 40