Over Christmas break I read six biographies, one of which I posted about already but which will come up again later this week. Today I want to focus on my favorite biography of the break: that of William Tyndale, by David Daniell called William Tyndale: A Biography. I studied at Tyndale House during the second year of my doctoral research, knew a bit about him, but this book did it for me.
Daniell, a former professor of English at London and the chair of the Tyndale Society, offers here a magisterial biography — both in lucidity and in depth of knowledge. It is a bit for the hardy, after all it is 429 pages, but the pace of the book avoids any dullness and overly-detailed swirl into academia.
Let me put it this way: about 90% of the KJV is Tyndale. England was the slowest of European countries to translate the Bible into the common language, and Tyndale was the guy who got it done. But it cost him his life: for translating the Bible into English, for making it available to the common person, and for providing commoners with the foundation to challenge the Establishment, Tyndale was betrayed, tried, strangled to death, and then burnt.
From Gloucestershire, educated at Oxford, Tyndale was a genius with languages — both in the ancient biblical languages and contemporary English — and turned his interest toward making Luther available to England (which was Roman Catholic and under a clear threat) and for making the Bible available. He translated all of the NT, most of the OT, and his editions were pirated and handed out and sold surreptitiously, and it all makes for a great story.
He had to leave England for Germany to get his work done and to find a publisher.
His goal: “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of Scripture than thou [a learned man].” He got the job done.
Tyndale’s last words: “Lord! Open the king of England’s eyes.”