The only known fragment of the 1525 edition of the New Testament translated into English by William Tyndale.
Who was William Tyndale?
William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536) was a religious reformer. In the early 16th century it was still forbidden to translate the Bible into English, the vernacular language everyone could understand, and doing so and publishing it attracted the death penalty. Tyndale, however, believed in the need for there to be a Bible in English that everybody could read for themselves without the need for interpretation from the clergy. Despite the risks, he translated the New Testament into English based on the original Greek text and on the Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus’s 1516 Latin New Testament.
How did he publish his work?
When his translation was complete, Tyndale found a printer in Cologne, Peter Quentell, who was prepared to print the New Testament in English for him. However, despite Luther’s success, times were still dangerous and the eye of authority was everywhere. Quentell’s shop was raided shortly after the printing of the New Testament had started in 1525, and Tyndale had to flee to Worms with the New Testament partly printed. The book was meant to be the size of a modern paperback and would fit easily into people’s pockets. It was thus very different from the lectern bibles people were used to seeing in churches everywhere. Tyndale’s work threatened to undermine the authority of the church and printing made it possible for large numbers of the text to be produced and thus owned by large numbers of people who could read it themselves or have it read to them. The authorities thus did everything in their power to stop Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament from being printed and distributed.
All that survives of the 1525 New Testament today is this fragment containing a long Prologue Tyndale wrote to accompany his translation and parts of the Gospel according to Matthew with printed marginal notes.