by Joe R. Price
By the start of the third decade of the 16th century, William Tyndale had already been on the run for five years. The king of England, Henry VIII, had declared him a felon. Fleeing Roman Catholic authorities in London (never to return to England), he went first to Cologne, France, and then Worms, Germany. What crime had this "evil" man committed? Of what rebellious act of treason was he guilty? He dared to translate and then print the New Testament in the English language!
In England in the 1520's (indeed, throughout Europe during the Middle Ages), unless you were literate in Hebrew, Greek or Latin, reading the Bible for yourself was impossible. You had to rely upon what the Roman Catholic clergy said the Bible contained. You would not have been able to study the Bible for yourself to discern the truth for yourself - much less be free to practice what you learned therein. Rome ruled with an iron hand.
The Catholic Church did not want nor permit a wide transmission of the Bible and its contents. When Tyndale's NT was published in Worms, 6,000 copies were shipped back to England. Medieval historian William Manchester reports, "To the bishop of London this was an intolerable, metastasizing heresy. He bought up all that were for sale and publicly burned them at St. Paul's Cross. But the archbishop of Canterbury was dissatisfied; his spies told him that many remained in private hands. Protestant peers with country houses were loaning them out, like public libraries. Assembling his bishops, the archbishop declared that tracking them down was essential - each was placing souls in jeopardy - and so, on his instructions, dioceses organized posses, searching the homes of known literates, and offered rewards to informers - sending out the alarm to keep Christ's revealed word from those who worshiped him" (A World Lit Only By Fire, 204-205).
Tyndale was eventually arrested and imprisoned for sixteen months in the castle of Vilvorde, near Brussels. In 1536, after being tried and convicted for heresy he was publicly executed, being tied to a stake, strangled to death, and then his corpse burned.
As we consider Tyndale's struggle and sacrifice to provide the common Englishman with readable, discernable scriptures, we are made to thank God for the daily ease and convenience with which we can open the Bible and study it for ourselves. We are made to cherish the privilege that is ours to pour over the divine text, understand it, reflect upon it, think over it so as to bring our hearts and lives into harmony with it, as well as also teach it to others (Eph. 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Pet. 3:18; 2 Tim. 2:2).
If you have been neglecting to read, learn and live God's word, please remember the good fortune you have: education and access - the abundant opportunity to read and know God's word. To not drink deeply from its well is to squander a precious blessing (cf. Jas. 4:17).
The next time you pick up your Bible and read it, remember the sacrifices of countless others who have made that simple act possible. But above all, remember the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave His life on the cross and was then resurrected from the dead so that you know the truth, abide in His word and thus be freed from your sin (Jno. 8:31-36; 1:1-3, 14-18).