On October 6, 1536, as a crowd looked on, William Tyndale was tied to a stake, strangled to death, and then burned. His last words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” His crime? He translated the Bible into English.
That was Tyndale’s awful, unforgivable transgression: defying the Church of England, and, at the risk of life and limb, getting the Bible into the language of the people.
Yes, the English Bible (or Bibles) you and I own today did not come about cheaply at first. People like Tyndale, and before him, John Wycliffe (c. 1330-1384), paid a real price to take the sacred words of Scripture — originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek — and transmit them to the general populace in a language they could read.
And although Wycliffe died of natural causes and was not imprisoned and executed like Tyndale, he was posthumously declared a heretic by the Catholic Church and his corpse was exhumed and burned to ashes.
Before Tyndale and Wycliffe, the Bible was considered too difficult for the average Christian to read and understand. That was thought to be the job of the clergy, men who were better educated and deemed more worthy to interpret the Word of God. Let them read the Scriptures and they can teach the people how to live.
But as students of the Bible, Tyndale and Wycliffe knew that God’s Word was not just for the priests and rabbis and pastors. God’s Word was for all His people.
Just read the Five Books of Moses and ask yourself who is being addressed. Or read Proverbs or Psalms. Or read the Gospels and the New Testament letters. These books speak to all of us, not just the leaders and teachers.
Some of the books of the Bible are addressed to the people directly, such as Paul’s letters to the Romans or the Corinthians, among others. He wrote these letters to be read publicly in their midst, in contrast with a legal document that only a trained specialist could understand.
To be sure, there is a role for educated and qualified Church leaders. There is a role for scholars and shepherds. But they must never stand between the flock and the Bible. Instead, they need to encourage their flocks to study and apply the Bible for themselves.
Once that happens, once God’s people begin reading and ingesting and living out God’s Word in their own lives and in their own homes, the effect can be revolutionary.
In his remarkable book, The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization, Indian Christian scholar Vishal Mangalwadi demonstrated how some of the most critically important values that made Western civilization great come straight from the pages of the Bible. This starts in Genesis 1, where the Scriptures declare that God created the human race in His own image, thereby infusing every life with dignity and purpose.
As these ideas made their way into the hearts and minds of everyday men and women, as parents taught them to their children, as biblical concepts informed the thinking of university professors and elected legislators, dramatic cultural changes ensued.
Yet when Tyndale labored to translate the Bible into English, as noted by Christianity Today, “he did this in an era [when] the English Catholic church had in effect a law that made it a crime punishable by death to translate the Bible into English, and when on one day in 1519, the church authorities publicly burned a woman and six men for nothing more than teaching their children English versions of the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed?!”
Can you imagine an environment like that? Can you imagine a day when parents were put to death by Church authorities for teaching their children to recite the Lord’s Prayer in their native language? And can you imagine what it would be like today if we had no direct access to the Scriptures?
According to the American Bible Society, “the number of printed English translations and paraphrases of the Bible, whether complete or not, is about 900.” What a staggering number.
There are free websites where anyone can access scores of different English translations (see here and here). And one of the most popular religious podcasts is The Bible in a Year hosted by Catholic priest Fr. Mike Schmitz.
And yet, with so many Bibles available, biblical literacy has been in steady decline in America, increasingly so with the younger generations.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the Bible is widely available, and if more and more Americans, starting with Bible believers, would read the Word for themselves, putting into practice what they read, the nation would be shaken.
As for Tyndale, his legacy lives on, as the translators of the King James Version, the fountainhead of all English Bible translations, were heavily influenced by Tyndale’s work.
As for his dying words, that God would open the eyes of the king of England, Christianity.com notes that, “The prayer was answered in part when three years later, in 1539, Henry VIII required every parish church in England to make a copy of the English Bible available to its parishioners.”
May we who have the Scriptures available so freely today avail ourselves of this priceless gift.
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a professor at a number of seminaries and is the author of 40 books. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.