Nowadays there are literally hundreds of English translations of the Bible – one source estimates around 900.
In the 16th century, though, translating the Bible into English was controversial at best and dangerous at worst. The Church authorities were terrified of the radical ideas that were coming into England from the Continental Reformers, and judged – quite rightly – that the way to stop these was to keep the Bible firmly in the hands of the priestly class who read Latin.
One of the pioneers who brought us the Bible in English was William Tyndale, who is remembered today, October 6. Born around 1494 in Gloucestershire, he was educated at Oxford and Cambridge Universities and was ordained as a priest in around 1521. He became committed to the Reformers' cause and started to translate the Bible, moving to Germany not long afterwards where he could work more freely.
After Henry VIII broke with Rome the climate for Reformers became more hospitable and Tyndale moved to Antwerp in Holland, from where his printed Bibles were sent to England. One story from the time tells of how the Bishop of London was fooled by a man named Augustine Packington, who sold him Tyndale's Bibles so he could publicly burn them; Packington, however, passed the money back to Tyndale, who used it to produce more and better editions. So, says the writer, "The Bishop had the books, Packington the thanks, and Tyndale had the money."
Eventually he was betrayed by Henry Phillips, who he had believed was his friend. He was imprisoned in Vilvoorde Castle, spending 500 days there, before being strangled and burned at the stake on October 6, 1536. His last words were, "Lord, open the King of England's eyes!"
Just three years later Henry published his Great Bible, based on Tyndale's work. His translation was also the basis of the Authorized or King James version, used for centuries until the modern era.
Here are 10 quotes from William Tyndale:
1. I defy the Pope and all his laws [lawes]. If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy who drives the plough to know more of the scriptures than you do [said to a priest]
2. I perceived how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth except the Scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue.
3. My overcoat is worn out; my shirts also are worn out. And I ask to be allowed to have a lamp in the evening; it is indeed wearisome sitting alone in the dark. [At prison in Vilvoorde]
4. I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, that I never altered one syllable of God's Word against my conscience, nor would do this day, if all that is in earth, whether it be honour, pleasure, or riches, might be given me.
5. There is no work better than to please God; to pour water, to wash dishes, to be a cobbler, or an apostle, all are one; to wash dishes and to preach are all one, as touching the deed, to please God.
6. Let Christian kings therefore keep their faith and truth, and all lawful promises and bonds, not one with another only, but even with the Turk or whatsoever infidel it be. For so it is right before God; as the scriptures and ensamples [examples] of the Bible testify.
7. For if God be on our side, what matter maketh it who be against us, be they bishops, cardinals, popes, or whatsoever names they will?
8. Christ is with us until the world's end. Let his little flock be bold therefore.
9. The church of Christ is the multitude of all those who believe in Christ for the remission of sins, and who are thankful for that mercy and who love the law of God purely, and who hate the sin in this world an long for the life to come.
10. The Law and the Gospel are two keys. The Law is the key that shutteth up all men under condemnation, and the Gospel is the key which opens the door and lets them out.