William Tyndale Essay - Critical Essays

Tyndale, William


William Tyndale 1494-1536

English essayist, religious prose writer, and Bible translator.

As the first translator of the Bible into modern English, Tyndale is among the most notable of early English Protestants. Over eighty percent of his translations of the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament was incorporated into the 1611 Authorized Version (“King James Version”) of the English Bible. In this way his translations continue to affect the way that readers experience the Bible, and his rendering of Scripture influences the language of religious thought to this day.

Biographical Information

Tyndale was born in 1494 in western Gloucestershire. It is known that his family was a prosperous one. John Foxe records that Tyndale spent thirteen years at Oxford, where he learned the Latin and Greek he would later use in his translation work. In 1514 Tyndale was ordained a subdeacon and appeared headed for a career in the church, but the traditional approach to theology frustrated him because it postponed direct study of the Scriptures until after long immersion in religious commentaries and other secondary writings. Tyndale left Oxford the following year and moved to Cambridge, where he stayed for four years. Around this time Tyndale was exposed to two intellectual concepts which would influence the course of his life: the direct study of Scripture and Lutheranism (which at this time was just becoming known at Oxford and Cambridge). Around 1521 Tyndale returned to Gloucestershire, where he became engaged in disagreements with the local clergy, who found his theology unorthodox. It was around 1523 that Tyndale decided to translate the Bible into English. That year he traveled to London and spent six months in the household of Humphrey of Monmouth, a wealthy merchant. Monmouth helped Tyndale emigrate to the Continent, where he was more likely to find support for his translation work. In 1524 Tyndale left England forever. By the fall of 1525 he had found a printer named Peter Quente in Cologne, who was willing to print his English translation of the New Testament. This printing was stopped through the efforts of an anti-Lutheran priest, who alerted the authorities, and Tyndale was forced to flee to Worms. There he found a new printer, Peter Schoeffer, who printed the first complete translation of the New Testament in 1526. By the end of that year it had made its way to England, and Church authorities confiscated and burned all copies. For the next decade Tyndale eluded arrest for heresy and not only continued his translation work—his Pentateuch appeared in 1530—but published pamphlets on theological and political issues. He became engaged in a lively debate with Sir Thomas More, and the two published pamphlets attacking each other's works. In 1535 Tyndale was captured and imprisoned. He was convicted of heresy by August, 1536 and was publicly strangled on October 6, 1536.

Major Works

Tyndale's New Testament was the first published modern English Bible. He translated directly from the original Greek text, and his imitation of the simple style and structure of the source mark him as an excellent writer as well as translator. Tyndale's translation, intended for the simple Christian, set the standard for all sixteenth-century translations to follow. In his New Testament Tyndale included a Prologue (eventually published separately as A Pathway into the Holy Scripture [1530]), which significantly expanded upon Luther's 1522 Prologue to his German translation of the New Testament. Tyndale's Prologue was intended to provide guidance to readers of Scripture. This Prologue would also lay the foundation for the majority of Tyndale's later works expounding the ideas of the Reformation. His first pamphlet, A Compendious Introduction … unto the pistle of Paul to the Romans (1526), summarizes the biblical Book of Romans and explains central Reformation doctrines. In 1528 Tyndale further expanded on his political and religious ideas in two works: The Parable of the Wicked Mammon and The Obedience of a Christian Man. Obedience, often regarded as Tyndale's most important nonbiblical work, argues that the Bible is centrally important to a Christian life. Tyndale's Reformation sentiments—including those expressed in The Practice of Prelates (1530), in which he argues against the corruption of the clergy—attracted the notice of the Bishop of London, who commissioned More to respond. More attacked Tyndale's ability as a translator, and Tyndale's response, An Answer unto Sir Thomas More's Dialogue (1531) is bitterly satirical, calling into question More's motives, and changing the nature of the dispute from scholarly to personal.

Critical Reception

The inclusion of the bulk of Tyndale's biblical translations in the King James Version testifies to the high regard his successors had for his skill as a translator. During his lifetime, however, Tyndale was a controversial figure, and his works were widely burned for the ostensibly heretical ideas they espoused. C. H. Williams argues that Tyndale's success in expressing his views can be determined by the activities of his opponents: “Their vigorous efforts to prevent the circulation of his books, and their attempt … to controvert Tyndale's argument bear eloquent witness to the fears they entertained of his skill in propaganda.” According to Rainer Pineas, Tyndale was an expert at using “sarcasm and irony, which served to ridicule the arguments of his opponents.” Tyndale's style, in both his translations and his other works, is precise, using clear, simple language to best advantage. His lively, unadorned writing led to the “plain style” popular in the seventeenth century and has had a seminal influence on many writers from his time to the present. According to Peter Auksi, in the works of numerous other religious and polemical writers “the literary historian can find a studied plainness in diction, syntax, and appeal or an equally artful richness in rhythm and evangelical similitude that echo Tyndale insistently.” Tyndale's work as a theologian, political thinker, and prose stylist make him a major figure in the history of the early sixteenth century, and his views on religious topics have helped to shape religious thought to the present time.

Principal Works

The Beginning of the New Testament Translated By William Tyndale (translation) 1525

A compendious introduction, prologe or preface unto the pistle of Paul to the Romans (prose) 1526

The New Testament (translation) 1526

The obedience of a Christen man and how Christen rulers ought to governe (prose) 1528

The parable of the wicked mammon (prose) 1528

A pathway into the holy scripture (prose) 1530

The practyse of Prelates (prose) 1530

William Tyndale's Five Books of Moses, Called the Pentateuch (translation) 1530

An answere unto sir Thomas Mores dialoge (prose) 1531

The exposition of the fyrste epistle of seynt Jhon with a prologge before it (prose) 1531

An exposicion vppon the. v. vi. vii. chapters of Matthew (prose) 1533

The newe Testament dylygently corrected and compared with the Greke (translation) 1534

The testament of master Wylliam Tracie esquier, expounded both by W. Tindall and J. Frith (prose) 1535

The bible, which is all the holy scripture (translation) 1537

A briefe declaration of the sacraments (prose) 1548?

The whole workes of W. Tyndale, John Firth, and Doct. Barnes … (prose) 1573

Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Spirit (prose) 1848

Expositions and Notes on Sundry Portions of the Holy Scriptures Together with the Practice of Prelates (prose) 1849

The Work of William Tyndale (prose) 1964


Rainer Pineas (essay date April 1963)

SOURCE: Pineas, Rainer. “William Tyndale: Controversialist.” Studies in Philology 60, no. 2 (April 1963): 117-32.

[In the following essay, Pineas examines how Tyndale's “techniques of language, reasoning, form, and general economy of treatment” guided his controversy with the ecclesiastical establishment.]

William Tyndale, whom his great opponent Thomas More called “the captain of our Englyshe heretikes,” has been studied as a translator of the Bible and as an advocate of doctrinal and moral reformation.1 The specific polemical techniques he employed in his criticism of the existing ecclesiastical system and in his demands for the establishment...

(The entire section is 6501 words.)

William A. Clebsch (essay date 1964)

SOURCE: Clebsch, William A. “Tyndale as Luther's Protégé, 1524-1529” and “Tyndale's Rediscovery of the Law, 1530-1532.” In England's Earliest Protestants, 1520-1535, pp. 137-53; 154-80. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964.

[In the following essays, Clebsch compares Tyndale with Luther as a translator, theologian, and expositor of the Protestants, and he analyzes Tyndale's evolving legal philosophy and how he incorporated it into his theology.]


Ever since Thomas More became official defender of the Catholic religion, English opinion unanimously has acclaimed William Tyndale the chief...

(The entire section is 16159 words.)

C. H. Williams (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: Williams, C. H. “The Propagandist.” In William Tyndale, pp. 84-98. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, 1969.

[In the following essay, Williams examines Tyndale's propaganda treatises and their degree of success.]

It would be a mistake to think of Tyndale simply as a translator of the Scriptures. Important as his New Testament was to become in the history of the English Bible, there has been a tendency to overestimate its importance in the early stages of the English Reformation. That its influence was great need not be argued, but it was delayed and indirect, whereas the propaganda writings were more immediately influential in marshalling protestant...

(The entire section is 6259 words.)

Peter Auksi (essay date fall 1978)

SOURCE: Auksi, Peter. “‘So rude and simple style’: William Tyndale's polemical prose.” Journal of Medieval & Renaissance Studies 8, no. 2 (fall 1978): 235-56.

[In the following essay, Auksi considers Tyndale's polemical prose “which punctuated and accompanied his work in translation.”]


For more than four centuries William Tyndale has eluded the specialized attention of literary historians. Analysts of history have claimed him as the first major champion of Luther's theology in England,1 while chroniclers of Puritanism have regarded him as the originator of various facets of the English Puritan movement.2...

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Bruce Boehrer (essay date August 1986)

SOURCE: Boehrer, Bruce. “Tyndale's The Practyse of Prelates: Reformation Doctrine and the Royal Supremacy.” Renaissance & Reformation 10, no. 3 (August 1986): 257-76.

[In the following essay, Boehrer argues that Tyndale infused The Practyse of Prelates with what is the essence of truly Christian behavior.]

What makes Tyndale's The Practyse of Prelates unique in the literature of the Henrician divorce is nothing less than its entire polemical orientation.1 At a time when the intellects of Europe were rapidly gathering into two distinct camps on the divorce issue, Tyndale sought common cause with no one. Not only did he—as was to...

(The entire section is 9866 words.)

Donald Dean Smeeton (lecture date October 1991)

SOURCE: Smeeton, Donald Dean. “The Wycliffite Choice: Man's Law or God's.” In William Tyndale and the Law: Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies Vol. 25, edited by John A. R. Dick and Anne Richardson, pp. 31-40. Kirksville, Mo.: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1994.

[In the following essay originally read at a conference in 1991, Smeeton argues that “Tyndale's concept of law appears compatible with the Wycliffite tradition that makes the love of law—God's law—central to spirituality as well as to salvation.”]

In response to Thomas More's assertion that acts of almsgiving contribute to one's righteousness and eternal bliss, William Tyndale demanded that...

(The entire section is 4522 words.)

David Daniell (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: Daniell, David. Introduction to Tyndale's Old Testament: Being the Pentateuch of 1530, Joshua to 2 Chronicles of 1537, and Jonah, Translated by William Tyndale, in a modern-spelling edition and with an introduction by David Daniell, pp. ix-xxiii. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992.

[In the following excerpt, Daniell considers Tyndale as a translator and examines the methods he used to translate the Bible.]

William Tyndale's Old Testament translations laid the foundation of our English Bible. They have been even more hidden from general view than his work on the New Testament. Half of what appears in this volume has not been generally accessible...

(The entire section is 7431 words.)

Richard Y. Duerden (lecture date May 1992)

SOURCE: Duerden, Richard Y. “Justice and Justification: King and God in Tyndale's The Obedience of a Christian Man.” In William Tyndale and the Law: Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies 25, edited by John A. R. Dick and Anne Richardson, pp. 69-80. Kirksville, Mo.: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1994.

[In the following essay originally read at a conference in 1992, Duerden examines Tyndale as a thinker, claiming that he is “pragmatic rather than systematic, ethical rather than theological, [and] analogical rather than logical.”]

Previous scholarship has seen Tyndale most often as a translator and derivative theologian.1 Less often, and...

(The entire section is 5735 words.)

David Daniell (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: Daniell, David. “The Wicked Mammon.” In William Tyndale: A Biography, pp. 155-73. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1994.

[In the following essay, Daniell considers Tyndale's work The Parable of the Wicked Mammon as “an exposition of the New Testament teaching that faith is more important than works” and asserts that it is “loosely based on a sermon by Luther.”]

We next hear of Tyndale in Antwerp, that tight, thriving city of trade and commercial enterprise. We do not know when he left Worms or where he was in the two years between the issuing of the Worms New Testament and the Compendious Introduction in 1526 and 8 May...

(The entire section is 9162 words.)

Further Reading


Daniell, David. William Tyndale: A Biography, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994, 409 p.

Provides an overview of Tyndale's life and writings.

Mozley, J. F. William Tyndale. New York: MacMillan Company, 1937, 356 p.

Overview of Tyndale's life, career, and influence.


Anderson, Marvin W. “William Tyndale (d. 1536): A Martyr For All Seasons.” Sixteenth Century Journal 17, no. 3 (fall 1986): 331-51.

Discusses the criticism and abuse of Tyndale, and his resolve to translate the Bible and write theology.


(The entire section is 500 words.)