Guest Blog: Souls at Stake - Tyndale, the Bible and the 21st Century

When St Paul's Cathedral organised a lecture by Jane Williams and Melvyn Bragg on the subject of William Tyndale for their adult learning programme, they could hardly have expected over 1000  people to sign up for tickets. But that is what happened on the evening October 24th 2017.  It was a matter of days before another anniversary - that of the burning of over 3000 translations of Tyndale’s New Testament on October 27th outside of St Paul's Cathedral in 1526 as the authorities tried to hunt him down as he hid in Antwerp, taught himself Hebrew and began to translate the Old Testament.

Melvyn Bragg told the story and drew out the significance of Tyndale’s translation in freeing people from dutiful belief to being able to think for themselves. He described Tyndale as a genius of translation an even greater father to the English language than William Shakespeare a genius of the imagination. And if only Tyndale has only managed to evade capture for another year and given us the psalms as well as the Pentateuch!  Jane Williams cover the implications of Tyndale’s English translation for theology. And in particular dwelt on the contrast between a faith you would be willing to die for and a faith you would be willing to kill for. This a reference to the long standing duel of words between William Tyndale and Sir Thomas More, the latter being a good deal less saintly than Robert Bolt’s Man for All Seasons had led us to believe. When More (himself in the Tower of London facing execution) worked to get Tyndale arrested and burned at the stake as he eventually was.  

As the evening concluded a long line formed as we queued to walk past one of the Cathedral’s priceless heirlooms. One of the 3 remaining copies of Tyndale’s New Testament left in existence. That we read the bible in plain English is in large part due to the life and death of William Tyndale.

Look out for William Tyndale a very brief history by Melvyn Bragg published Oct 2017 SPCK

John Griffiths