"I defy the pope, and all his laws,” said William Tyndale at dinner one evening. He then added that if God spared his life, he would cause the boy that drives the plow in England to know more of the Scriptures than the pope himself!
Tyndale sought approval from the bishop in London to make a new English translation of the Bible. Permission was denied, and Tyndale moved to Germany in 1524. There he met Martin Luther, completed a translation of the New Testament into English, and began to have it printed in Cologne.
He only printed part of Matthew when authorities heard about the printing. Tyndale and his assistant fled to Worms, where he had the complete New Testament printed. The copies were then smuggled into England concealed in cases of merchandise, barrels, bales of cloth, and sacks of flour and corn.
King Henry VIII opposed Tyndale’s translation and church officials bought copies to burn publicly. Opposition may have helped to increase circulation, and by the time of Tyndale’s death more than fifty thousand copies of his New Testament had been sold in England (some of which, admittedly, had been burned).
At one point a bishop visiting Europe negotiated to buy all the copies Tyndale had of the New Testament so that he could take them back to England and burn them in London. A friend persuaded Tyndale that to do so would enable him to pay off his debts and provide enough money to print more copies with his latest corrections.
Tyndale next turned his attention to the Old Testament and published an English translation of the Pentateuch in 1530 and Jonah in 1531.
British authorities would have liked to have Tyndale returned to England, and he wrote to Henry VIII that if the English text of the Bible were made freely available to Henry’s subjects, Tyndale would return to England and submit to whatever pain, torture, or even death Henry might decide.
In 1534, while living in the home of a British merchant in Antwerp in what is today Belgium, Tyndale published a thorough revision of the New Testament. In 1535 a young Englishman tricked Tyndale into going out of the house, and his enemies had him arrested and imprisoned for sixteen months. Tyndale was tried and sentenced to death. His last words were a prayer: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”