Each day, millions of Christians open a Bible and read the written Word of God that is graciously given to us by the Creator of the universe. Many of these same Christians possess multiple copies of this Word. Various translations and bindings, sizes and formats may fill the bookshelf of any blessed believer. Sitting among the comforts of Western society, sipping tea while feasting upon this Word, it is all too easy to forget that the Scripture resting in our lap has sailed down to us on a sea of blood.
On this day in history, 6 October 1536, Protestant scholar, reformer, and translator William Tyndale was murdered for his devotion to Christ and His Word. Ten years earlier, in 1525–1526, Tyndale was the first to print the New Testament in the English language, making the Scriptures available to be read by the laymen of his land. “He was the first person to take advantage of Gutenberg’s movable-type press for the purpose of printing the Scriptures in the English language.”1
He perceived that it was not possible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the Scriptures were so plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue that they might see the meaning of the text; for else, whatsoever truth should be taught them, the enemies of the truth would quench it, either with reasons of sophistry, and traditions of their own making, founded without all ground of Scripture; or else juggling with the text, expounding it in such a sense as it were impossible to gather of the text, if the right meaning thereof were seen.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Chapter XII.
Master Tyndale considered this only, or most chiefly, to be the cause of all mischief in the Church, that the Scriptures of God were hidden from the people’s eyes; for so long the abominable doings and idolatries maintained by the pharisaical clergy could not be espied; and therefore all their labor was with might and main to keep it down, so that either it should not be read at all, or if it were, they would darken the right sense with the mist of their sophistry, and so entangle those who rebuked or despised their abominations; wresting the Scripture unto their own purpose, contrary unto the meaning of the text, they would so delude the unlearned lay people, that though thou felt in thy heart, and wert sure that all were false that they said, yet couldst thou not solve their subtle riddles.2
After completing his translation of the New Testament, Tyndale set to translating the Old Testament “finishing the five books of Moses, with sundry most learned and godly prologues most worthy to be read and read again by all good Christians.”2
It ought not surprise that Tyndale’s efforts were seen as a heretical threat to the Roman Catholic Church. In 1535 Tyndale was arrested and imprisoned and in 1536, he was convicted of heresy and sentenced to death.
At last, after much reasoning, when no reason would serve, although he deserved no death, he was condemned by virtue of the emperor’s decree, made in the assembly at Augsburg. Brought forth to the place of execution, he was tied to the stake, strangled by the hangman, and afterwards consumed with fire, at the town of Vilvorde, A.D. 1536; crying at the stake with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice, “Lord! open the king of England’s eyes.”4Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Chapter XII.
And so, as you lift your Bible to partake of its wisdom and truth, do not forget to thank your Lord for the men and women who willingly surrendered their lives so that you may leisurely read His Word. And pray that God would grant you that same uncompromising resolve, for it may be that one day you too will face your own burning stake.
**Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
2. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Chapter XII.