In working at the book of Job, [my associates] and I could sometimes scarcely finish three lines in four days. For obvious reasons, the printing had to be done in secret. However difficult the work had been, by August Tyndale was in Cologne, a city well known for its printing presses, with a nearly completed manuscript.
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Unfortunately, the printers were not always circumspect. One commented to a friend that a certain work they were printing would make all of England Lutheran. The remark was noted by a man with strong Roman sentiments who, through trickery, obtained from the printers a description of the work. This information was relayed to authorities in Cologne and England, and the Cologne authorities immediately prevented further printing of the book.
Tyndale again fled, taking the printed sheets with him. His destination this time was Worms, where Lutheran sympathies were much stronger and the printing safer. Knowing that the English authorities had been forewarned and thus expected his work, Tyndale tried to outmaneuver them by printing two editions, neither of which would bear his name nor the correct names and places of the printing houses. The first edition off the presses was a translation of the New Testament in English.
It carried a simple, unsigned postscript begging the readers to come to the scriptures with pure minds and with eyes single to the truth, that they might harvest spiritual blessings. Tyndale further pleaded that they not be overly critical of defects, for it was his first attempt at translating the sacred books. Not yet totally satisfied with his rendering, he vowed that if God would permit, he would in the future perfect this initial offering.
Once the printing was completed, the help of the merchants Tyndale had met in England became particularly valuable. There were many eager hands waiting to receive them. Having failed in keeping the books from being printed and from entering England, the church took strong measures to at least prevent them from being read. To demonstrate their opposition, church authorities built a bonfire where they publicly burned any books they found. Tunstal and others, including Sir Thomas More, publicly attacked the accuracy of the translation itself, claiming it contained thousands of errors.
The story is told that Tunstal decided the policy of burning books would be more effective if the books could be confiscated before they reached England. While on a visit to Antwerp, he approached a merchant named Packington and expressed his desires to obtain and burn New Testaments because of their errors and evil influence. He offered Packington considerable money to buy all he could.
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Packington agreed to the bargain; but, sympathetic to Tyndale, he went immediately to him and described what Tunstal was doing. Tyndale was quite pleased.
He saw two advantages in such a bargain: the money paid would get him out of debt and provide the resources to continue his work, and the public burning of scriptures would outrage the public. The bargain was accepted. Much of the money which Tunstal had paid to purchase the Bibles for burning had been raised by him from other clergymen. But the books also sold well on their own, in spite of the warnings and the burnings, in spite of arrests and imprisonments of sellers and buyers.
So good was the market for them, in fact, that enterprising businessmen in Holland printed copies of their own and sought to undersell those from Germany. With the publication of the New Testament, Tyndale next translated the Pentateuch; but on his way to Hamburg to print it, his ship was wrecked. All his manuscripts were lost, all his labor destroyed. Fortunately, Tyndale was joined in Hamburg by Miles Coverdale, who assisted him in retranslating the work and who would in time make many significant contributions to the translation of the Bible. Together they worked, and in January of the Pentateuch was printed in English, again with its printing source disguised.
It was shortly after the Pentateuch arrived in England that certain individuals tried to persuade the king to bring Tyndale back to England in peace if he would agree to certain conditions. When negotiations failed, other attempts were made to bring Tyndale to England, though not so peacefully. Appeals were made to the German emperor to surrender him, and instructions were given to kidnap him.
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Living like a fugitive, he managed to elude his pursuers. Despite his frequent uproofings Tyndale continued to work and even to rework that which he had already done. Nothing testifies so strongly of his desire to produce a faithful English version of the scriptures as do his efforts to improve his own previous translations. The corrections he made on the New Testament alone numbered in the thousands.
Scholars generally agree that the changes were indeed for the better, lifting the good work he had done into the realms of excellence. In he lived in Antwerp in a house established by English merchants. There he developed a close friendship with another Englishman, not realizing the friendship to be treacherous. Tyndale was taken to Vilvorde Castle, just north of Brussels, where he was imprisoned. He would never be freed from the dungeon there, suffering its isolated darkness and dampness for over sixteen months. While in prison, he wrote a touching letter which provides clues to his condition and state of mind.
A warmer coat also, for that which I have is very thin: also a piece of cloth to patch my leggings: my overcoat is worn out. He has a woollen shirt of mine, if he will be kind enough to send it.
I have also with him leggings of thicker cloth for putting on above; he also has warmer caps for wearing at night. I wish also his permission to have a lamp in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark. But above all, I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the Procureur that he may kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, my Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may spend my time with that study.
Just two events brought Tyndale out of his dark dungeon. One was a bitter trial; another was an attempt to disgrace him by publicly stripping him of his ecclesiastical authority.
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Throughout his imprisonment he endured intense pressures to recant. Finally, on October 6, , twelve years after he left England, he was led from prison to the stake. There he was strangled, then his body burned. It is one of the ironies of history that Tyndale died not knowing the battle was nearly won.
In the s, the political climate in England underwent many significant changes. Working behind the scenes to effect this change in policy were a number of enlightened men.
A man of peace, Coverdale established good friendships with men of all persuasions; Tyndale, More, and Cromwell all considered him a friend. In , Coverdale had written Cromwell, patiently reasoning the need for an English scripture. Evidently, he helped influence Cromwell, because he later lent support to Coverdale to accomplish that work.
Finally, in , a group of prominent church authorities petitioned the king to allow scriptures in the English language. Some of those chosen to work toward that end, however, were actually obstructionists, and the project quietly died. There were hopes this time for a favorable reception, based on changing opinion and a very flattering dedication to King Henry, who Coverdale compared to Moses and King Josiah in leading the people from darkness to light.
The king, likely weary of ecclesiastical divisions and flattered by the dedication, asked the bishops for their opinions. The English people were at last free to purchase, own, and read a Bible without fear of retribution. Many received the new Bible warmly. But there was still reluctance, even hostility, among a significant number of the clergy.
Though they no longer had the power to seize or burn the scriptures, their strong disfavor worked against its universal acceptance. So Coverdale finished what Tyndale began.
Nevertheless, he was able to maintain deep respect from diverse parties, and thus wield a strong influence on several succeeding biblical translations. In another version of the Bible mysteriously appeared. These were left to some of his friends. The book was meant to honor Tyndale, now deceased; but it was thought wisest not to prejudice the work with his name, which was still bitterly despised by many.
There were several reasons for the license. It was obvious that the public wanted an English Bible, and the petition of by church leaders requesting an authorized Bible had not yet been fulfilled. The books were still not used, read, or taught in churches, where the uneducated might learn and the poor might hear. But finally, even that barrier began to crumble. As early as , Cromwell had considered a decree that English Bibles be placed in every church; but the time was not ripe. And for many, the Bible translations available were still not right.
Conservative clergy particularly objected to pro-Protestant leanings in the notes of the Coverdale and Matthew Bibles. Consider this example harvested from a publication:. Another man, because of his inaccuracy lost a thousand dollars on a deal. Shall I buy it, or is it too high? Other hoary yet much-loved tales communicate the same message about the importance of punctuation:.
She saved his life by transposing the comma. In s, the misuse of a comma in a tariff bill cost the U. We investigate as thoroughly and quickly as possible and relay what we learn.