The New Testament that was Lost for 470 years
Most copies of the first printed New Testament—translated by William Tyndale and printed in 1526 by Peter Schoeffer in Worms, Germany—were smuggled into England, seized, and burned by church officials.
That’s why only two copies were known to exist: an incomplete copy missing 59 leaves at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and a copy missing only the title page at Bristol Baptist College that had been bequeathed to the college in western England in 1784 by Andrew Gifford, a Baptist minister. Speculation is that the Bristol copy had belonged to an English merchant living on the Continent and came to England when Tyndale’s New Testament was no longer in danger of being burned.
In 1994 the Bristol Baptist College copy was sold to the British Library, which called it “the most important printed book in the English language,” for more than 1 million pounds.
It was assumed that these were the only two copies in existence. But amazingly in November, 1996, while superintending the transfer of a hand-written catalog to a computer, Eberhard Zwink, director, realized that one of the books in the magnificent Bible collection of the Württembergische Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart, Germany, was a 1526 Tyndale, New Testament—complete with a title page.
It turns out that the book’s probable first owner, a German nobleman named Otto Heinrich, had all his books re-bound in 1550. The bookbinder put the 1550 date on the binding and because many of the subsequent owners could not read English, they thought the book was printed in 1550 instead of 1526. Even though two scholarly articles were written about the bindings of Otto Heinrich, neither author recognized the Tyndale New Testament for what it was.
The wood cut on the title page was used on many of the books printed by Peter Schoeffer and was not entirely appropriate for a New Testament. Tyndale would have chosen the words to be inserted in the central panel, which, we now know, was published anonymously: “The newe Testament as it was written and caused to be written by them which herde yt. To whom also oure Saveoure Christ Jesus commaunded that they shulde preache it vnto al creatures.”