William Tyndale – an Excerpt from How We Got the New Testament

The following is an excerpt from How We Got the New Testament, by Stanley Porter.

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  • Cover ArtWilliam Tyndale (1492 – 1536)

Arguably, the greatest translation of the New Testament into English was that of William Tyndale. Tyndale came to Cambridge to study soon after Erasmus left, having already graduated from Oxford. Tyndale used Erasmus’s second and third editions of the Greek New Testament (1519, 1522) as the basis of his translation, which he made in Hamburg, Germany, finally getting it published in 1526, and then revised in 1534.

Tyndale followed Luther’s order of the New Testament, with Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation at the end. He also included, along with the New Testament, “Epistles from the Old Testament,” excerpted poetic and prophetic passages translated out of Hebrew or Greek (from the Apocrypha).

Having fled England, done much of his publishing work in Germany, and then taken refuge in Antwerp, Tyndale was kidnapped by the Belgian king Charles V and executed in 1536, praying that the king of England’s eyes would be opened. Henry VIII’s eyes had been opened, and he was already circulating throughout England a Bible translated in 1535 by Miles Coverdale based on Tyndale’s.

How significant was Tyndale’s translation? Consider such recognizable biblical phrasing as “and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17); “ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 7:7); “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26); “in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28); “be not weary in well doing” (2 Thess. 3:13); “fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:12); “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2); “behold, I stand at the door, and knock” (Rev. 3:20); “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13); “the signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3); “where two or three are gathered together” (Matt. 18:20); “the spirit is . . . willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41); “eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19); “clothed, and in his right mind” (Luke 8:35); “there fell from his eyes as it had been scales” (Acts 9:18); “a law unto themselves” (Rom. 2:14); “the powers that be” (Rom. 13:1); and “the patience of Job” (James 5:11).

All of these memorable verses and phrases, many of them part of our English idiom to this day, are from the Authorized Version of the Bible, but they are taken directly from William Tyndale (with only slight changes). In fact, it has been estimated that nine-tenths of the Authorized Version came from Tyndale’s Bible, and that in some places where the Authorized Version departed from Tyndale, it was restored in later translation.

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Stanley E. Porter (PhD, University of Sheffield) is president, dean, and professor of New Testament at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario. A prolific scholar, he has authored or edited dozens of books, including Fundamentals of New Testament Greek. He is also editor of the Library of Pauline Studies series.

For more information on How We Got the New Testament, click here.