Sermon: A Man Who Gave His Life that You Might Have an English Bible


Listen to the Sermon:



A Man Who Gave His Life that You Might Have an English Bible

Don Ruhl • Savage Street, Grants Pass, Oregon • March 20, In the year of our Lord, 2016

You have heard me say often that we need to know of those who gave their lives that we might have the Bible and the church today.

Some of those who sacrificed had different views from us on various subjects. You will no doubt find yourself disagreeing with them on some issues. Does that mean we should not remember and honor their work? What about those who died in wars and what about their beliefs? They came from all walks of life. You will find not only Bible-believers with various views, but you will find some who never accepted the story of the Bible. Yet, we honor them. We pray regularly for those still giving their lives. However, I have never ever heard anyone object, saying that some of them might have some crazy ideas. I can guarantee you that they did and that they do. Does that change what they did for you? So it does not change what people in the past 1900 years have done to bring us our Bibles and churches.

One such man we do well to remember and to honor was William Tyndale, who published the first English Bible! In 1525, he printed the New Testament.

The Work of William Tyndale

Mr. Tyndale was born in England.

He attended both Oxford and Cambridge universities. At Cambridge, the influence of Martin Luther permeated the university, which set William’s own heart on reform. However, as he continued his studies there, he discovered that they did not present a systematic study of Scripture, “They have decided that no man shall look at scripture, until he is nursed by heathen learning for eight or nine years and armed with false principles, which clean shut him out of the understanding of scripture.” The problem was, William was addicted to Scripture! Do you know anyone addicted to the Scriptures?

Later, he often met with various church leaders and university teachers, but when they disagreed with him, he would show what the Bible says, which infuriated them, to the point that his life was in danger.

Mr. Tyndale’s knowledge and promotion of the Scriptures became known, and more people embraced him and more people rejected him for it. One man said to him, “We were better to be without God’s laws than the pope’s.” To which William replied, “I defy the pope, and all his laws.” Then he added one of the famous lines for which many people know him, “If God spares my life, before many years pass I will help the boy who drives a plow to know more of the scriptures than you do!”

Thus, he had placed himself on the road to translating the Bible into English. John Wycliffe had made a Bible into English, but it was hand-copied, not accurate, translated from the Latin rather than the Hebrew and Greek, and you could hardly find a copy. Also, the church, if you can believe it, had banned unauthorized translations of the Bible since 1408. Therefore, anyone who broke this ban risked imprisonment and death. In 1519, six men and one woman died in England by burning, because they taught their children the Lord’s Prayer in English, and some other Bible texts, again in English.

Finally, in 1525, he printed the New Testament, but he could not do it in England. Germany was his new home, fleeing England for his life, and finding a more friendly atmosphere for the Bible in Germany. However, even there he had to be careful, because the printer’s press was once raided by a hater of the Reformation. William knew that the raid was coming, so he escaped along with all that he had already printed.

Then people started smuggling his Bible into England. The first time 6,000 copies made it, but several bishops found them, and destroyed them all, except for two. He made some corrections and printed far more the next time.

He started working on the Old Testament.

On one occasion he had to travel, but going back to the printer, he suffered shipwreck and lost all his books, writings, copies of his Bible, money, and time. Then he started all over again. While he did his new translating work, a horrible sickness afflicted the town, but he pressed on and finished his work.

Even as Jesus had a betrayer, so William Tyndale had a betrayer, Henry Phillips. He led Tyndale down an alley where men waited, and Mr. Phillips, who was taller, went behind William, and pointing down at him, identified him.

In a dungeon, knowing his fate, he did not waste time, but continued his work, writing what he believed to be the truth. There was not much light in his cell, especially in winter. He had to wait for hours before the sun would come into his cell. From the dungeon we know that he requested warmer clothes, his Hebrew Bible, his Hebrew grammar, and his Hebrew dictionary, wanting to finish translating the Old Testament. Nothing mattered more to him than getting God’s word out.

In 1536, a court condemned him to death. They brought him before church leaders. They made him kneel before his accusers. They scraped his hands with a sharp instrument. They put plain clothes on him.

His attitude toward the Bible, his translating of the Bible, and his enemies who wanted him stopped, shines forth in this declaration, “I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, that I never altered one syllable of God’s Word against my conscience, nor would do this day, if all that is in earth, whether it be honor, pleasure, or riches, might be given me.” Not surprisingly, he never regretted translating the Bible.

Two months later, in October 1536, they took him to the place of execution. They ordered him to recant, to renounce the work he had been doing. He said nothing. After sometime he finally did say something, and it was the other line for which he is famous for, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” Then they tied him to a stake. They put an iron chain around his neck. Just above the chain, they put a hemp noose, tightened it at his throat, and strangled him to death, as the executioner behind him pulled on the rope. Then they set fire to the brush and logs that they had piled around the stake.

Now get this, in 1539, King Henry VIII, the one who sought the life of William Tyndale, required every church in England to provide their members with an English Bible, put together by Miles Coverdale, which was largely the work of William Tyndale!

In 1611, the king of England had a Bible translated and published, and 76% of the Old Testament was based on Tyndale’s work, and 83% of the New Testament was influenced by his translation. We know this Bible as the King James Version. A king of England once sought the life of a Bible translator, and a king of England sought life for his citizens with a Bible translation! Today, the King James Version of the Bible still influences the work of Bible translators, who will not alter many familiar words because of it.

Finally, the wish of William Tyndale came true, the boy who drove the plow could now know the Scriptures for himself.

Shall We Ever Be Without Bibles?

After what I just showed you, it might seem that we will never be without the Bible. The forces of evil just cannot stomp out the word of God.

However, the people of the Book can.

Amos showed just how bad things got in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They did not like to hear the word of God, nor did they care for the one who spoke the word of God,

They hate the one who rebukes in the gate,

And they abhor the one who speaks uprightly.

(Amos 5.10)

Then Amaziah said to Amos:

“Go, you seer!

Flee to the land of Judah.

There eat bread,

And there prophesy.

But never again prophesy at Bethel,

For it is the king’s sanctuary,

And it is the royal residence.”

(Amos 7.12–13)

Since they did not want the word of God, God would make sure that His word no longer existed or rarely existed in Israel,

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord GOD,

“That I will send a famine on the land,

Not a famine of bread,

Nor a thirst for water,

But of hearing the words of the LORD.

They shall wander from sea to sea,

And from north to east;

They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD,

But shall not find it.

(Amos 8.11–12)

We have such an abundance of Bibles, that we have a hard time seeing how that could ever happen here. However, Amos 8 spoke of the land that gave us the Bible! If the Lord wants us to experience a famine of His word, we will experience a famine of His word!

Do we know of the superabundance of Bibles available in America today? You may not be like me, but you undoubtedly have more than one Bible. You can get one anywhere. You can go to the Dollar Store and purchase one for $1! You can go to our local Bible bookstore and order anything you like. You can download Bibles for free in no time at all. Here are all my Bibles. I have so many Bibles on my computers and electronic tablet, that I do not even know how many I have. Many of the Bible I downloaded for free! I had to pay for some, because they were part of the software.

We can fill the world with William Tyndales, but if we will not read the word of God, God Himself shall take it away from us. Therefore, let us treasure what we each own. When you pick up your Bible to read, please think from time to time of what others paid, their lives, that you might have that Bible in your hand.

Do you know why the Bible is so important? Why have millions of people since the first century, lived and died by the Bible? Ask any Bible-believer and they will tell it is because it is the word of God.

[I used “William Tyndale: Bible Translator,” from Plough; and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, pages 76–83]