William Tyndale, one of the unsung heroes not only of religious history, but also of the history of literature and the English language, died this week (Oct. 6, it is thought) in 1536. Tyndale was an English scholar whose Protestant beliefs and facility with languages would prove revolutionary in furthering the Protestant Reformation, but also in modernizing the way English was written and spoken.
A primary goal of Martin Luther's preaching was to end the overreliance on the Catholic Church and the pope when it came to interpreting God's teachings. Luther wanted people to be able to read the Bible and interpret it for themselves, so he translated it into his native German.
Tyndale did Luther one better. He was the first person to translate the New Testament into English from its original Greek, and because printing presses were becoming readily available, Tyndale's translation of the New Testament, or Tyndale Bible, as it was called, was widely disseminated.
"I defy the Pope and all his laws," Tyndale wrote, "and if God spares my life ere many years I will (even) cause the boy that driveth the plow to know Scripture."
Tyndale's Protestant beliefs did not sit well with the Anglican Church in England, especially its founder and sovereign, King Henry VIII, and when Tyndale wrote a pamphlet criticizing Henry's divorce of Catherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn, Henry vowed revenge. Although Tyndale was on the European continent at the time, agents of Henry eventually arrested him for heresy and burned him at the stake.
But his legacy lives on. By one estimate, 83 percent of the New Testament in the famous King James Bible borrows from Tyndale. Some of the most famous phrases in the English language are his, including, "Am I my brother's Keeper?" "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. " "The patience of Job." "The signs of the times." "With God all things are possible." And even "Eat, drink and be merry."
Tyndale also had a profound influence on William Shakespeare. In his writings and phrasings, Shakespeare borrowed heavily from both the Bible and Thomas Cranmer's first Book of Common Prayer, which itself borrowed heavily from, and some say outright plagiarized, Tyndale.
(by Bruce Kauffman)