One of only three known copies of the 1526 edition of the illegal Tyndale translation of the New Testament, printed in Worms, Germany.
Why was the Tyndale’s translation illegal?
In England it was forbidden to translate the Bible into a vernacular language. Tyndale had to take his English translation of the New Testament to Cologne to have it printed, but his endeavour was uncovered and he was forced to halt the printing and flee. After his arrival in Worms, he had a new edition printed in 1526, in around 3,000 copies. Some copies were smuggled into England and sold there, but owning a copy of Tyndale’s New Testament still attracted the death penalty. Most copies were therefore destroyed by the authorities, who regarded the distribution of the New Testament in English as a danger to the established Church. Today, only three copies of this 1526 edition of Tyndale’s New Testament are known to survive.
William Tyndale paid for his work with his life. He went into hiding but was eventually arrested in Antwerp in 1535. At that time, he had produced a revised edition of the New Testament, published in 1534, a translation of the Pentateuch, published in 1530, and had begun his translation of the Old Testament. Tyndale was held prisoner in the castle of Vilvorde in Belgium, was convicted as a heretic and strangled and burned at the stake in October 1536. His translation, however, survived and found its way into subsequent editions of the Bible very soon after his death.
How are the 1525 and the 1526 versions different from one another?
In contrast to the aborted 1525 edition, the 1526 edition does not contain an explanatory prologue or printed marginal notes and is smaller, making it even easier to conceal for transport from Germany to England and for people to carry around with them. For the first time, large numbers of ordinary people were given apparently authoritative access to the New Testament in simple everyday language.
How important is Tyndale’s Bible?
It is a poignant reminder of the power of the printed word. Tyndale was keen to use a language that everyone in society could understand and thus constructed very vivid sentences using active language. The impact of his translation has been lasting, and some of the phrases Tyndale coined are still in use today in our everyday language, such as ‘the powers that be’, ‘eat, drink and be merry’, ‘the spirit is willing’ or ‘fight the good fight’. Most people, however, are unaware of their origin. Without the introduction of printing with moveable type in the Western world by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz in the 1450s, Tyndale’s work would not have spread so quickly, and his impact on the world and on the English language would not have been felt so strongly. Once the floodgates had been opened and people had become used to hearing the Word of God in English, the authorities realised that there was no going back and began to publish authorised editions.