skip to content

Lines of Thought : Tyndale's New Testament

Lines of Thought

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Until the appearance in the 1380s of manuscripts of the Bible in English (translated by the circle of John Wycliffe in Oxford), Latin was the primary language of the scriptures in England. Since access to the Bible was controlled by the church, Wycliffe’s translations did not go down well with the authorities and they were rigorously suppressed. In the 1520s, just as Reformation teachings from Europe were beginning to influence English clerics – particularly in Cambridge – William Tyndale produced the first printed editions of the New Testament and Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Tyndale was born in around 1494 in Gloucestershire and studied at Oxford, receiving his BA degree in 1512. In 1524 he travelled to the Continent, not having found a patron in England to support his project to print the New Testament, and it was in Cologne that he attempted to do this, in 1525. Unfortunately the authorities raided the printing workshop in which he was working and only one fragmentary copy of this first edition survives (now in the British Library). In 1526 he moved to Worms – perhaps where he learned Hebrew in preparation for his translation of the Old Testament – and managed to print the whole text for the first time. Copies were shipped to England (often hidden in barrels) and were widely distributed in England and Scotland, to the alarm of the authorities.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Although an English Bible would, in 1539, be at the centre of Henry VIII’s break with Rome – the <i>Great Bible</i> of that year was based very heavily on Tyndale’s work – Tyndale’s opposition to the king’s divorce made him an enemy of the Crown. He was betrayed at Antwerp and imprisoned near Brussels in 1535. In the following year he was proclaimed a heretic and condemned to be burned at the stake, a fate which was lessened to strangulation at the stake then his body burned. This copy of a revised version of 1534 followed an unauthorised edition with alterations by George Joye, an English scholar living in Antwerp. It was to prove highly influential: a copy was owned by Anne Boleyn. Tyndale’s work still forms the basis of the English Bible today: according to a recent calculation 83 per cent of the text of the King James Bible comes directly from Tyndale’s Testament of 1534.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>This item is also available in a free to download <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>iPad app</a>, with expert discussion from Professor Eamon Duffy and additional contextual materials.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>This item was included in the Library’s 600th anniversary exhibition <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><i>Lines of Thought: Discoveries that changed the world</i></a>.</p>

Want to know more?

Under the 'More' menu you can find , and information about sharing this image.

No Contents List Available
No Metadata Available


If you want to share this page with others you can send them a link to this individual page:
Alternatively please share this page on social media

You can also embed the viewer into your own website or blog using the code below: