Tyndale's bible

William Tyndale's Bible was the very first English language Bible to appear in print. It was first published in the year 1525. It may be difficult for us to imagine today, but during the 1500s the very idea of an English language Bible was shocking and subversive.

A Forbidden Language

Throughout medieval times the English church was governed from Rome by the Pope. All over the Christian world, church services were conducted in Latin. By Tyndale’s day, vernacular Bibles were available in parts of Europe, where they added fuel to the popular and subversive arguments initiated by the monk, Martin Luther – a religious crisis known as the Reformation, which resulted in the splitting of Christianity into Catholic and Protestant Churches. But in England it was still strictly forbidden to translate the Bible into English.

Most people in Europe were unable to speak Latin, and so could not understand the Bible directly. The Church therefore acted as the mediator between God and the people, with Priests interpreting the bible on behalf of their congregations.

But Tyndale believed that ordinary people should be able to read the Bible for themselves, and this spurred him to translate the Bible into English. He wrote that the Church authorities banned translations of the Bible in order 'to keep the world still in darkness, to the intent they might sit in the consciences of the people, through vain superstition and false doctrine... and to exalt their own honour... above God himself.'  But his Bible was highly illegal: the book was banned, and Tyndale was eventually executed.

Tyndale's English

Tyndale's translation of the Bible is still admired for the clear, poetic quality of the writing. An astonishing number of Tyndale's phrases are still in use today, including:

'flowing with milk and honey'

'the apple of his eye'

'signs of the times'

'broken-hearted'

'eat, drink and be merry'

'the salt of the earth'

'the powers that be'

'my brother’s keeper'

'let there be light'

Tyndale's mission was to make the Bible accessible to all. Many of the words in his translation directly reflect his political views, and show us how he was fighting for a shift in the balance of religious power: for instance he uses the word Congregation instead of Church; elder in place of priest; and repentance for penance.

Tyndale's Translation of the Old Testament

In addition to The New Testament, shown above, Tyndale also started to translate the Old Testament into English. The following pages are from Genesis.