He is the most widely read English-language author in history, read by at least ten thousand times more people than Chaucer, yet more than likely you will not recognize his name: William Tyndale. He was a theologian and scholar born in North Nibley, England in 1494 and died at Vilvoorden, Belgium in 1536. (The first date is only an approximation, no one is actually certain about the year of his birth). He was strangled to death and burned at the stake for being the first person to publish the New Testament in Early Modern English. (Others had translated the Bible into English before him, such as John Wycliffe, but Tyndale was the first to take advantage of Gutenberg’s new printing press and widely disseminate his translation.) At the time Tyndale published his New Testament translation, it was a crime punishable by death according to the Roman Catholic Church, and eventually he was found and killed for fulfilling his goal of putting the Word of God into the hands of the common people.

William Tyndale studied at Oxford and received his Master’s degree in 1515. He was a priest, scholar, and talented linguist who spoke eight different languages fluently. He was very much influenced by Erasmus and Martin Luther for their previous work on the Bible. In 1516, Erasmus had published a new Latin version of the Bible, which consisted of two columns of text: the first, his original Greek sources, and the second his Latin translation. He did this so other scholars could check his work. Later, Martin Luther used Erasmus’s version to translate the New Testament into German. Then Tyndale used the Greek sources in Erasmus’s version to translate the Bible into the modern English of his time. Wycliffe had produced a handwritten translation of the Bible before Tyndale, but he had not used the original Greek sources. Instead, he had relied upon St. Jerome’s 4th century Latin translation, which was the only version then tolerated in England. When Tyndale made his translation, even many priests did not fully understand the Latin version.
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