William Tyndale & Miles Coverdale
Translators of the Bible
6 October 1536, 1569
From the Satucket Lectionary
William Tyndale was born about 1495 at Slymbridge near the Welsh border. He received his degrees from Magdalen College, Oxford, and also studied at Cambridge. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1521, and soon began to speak of his desire, which eventually became his life’s obsession, to translate the Scriptures into English. It is reported that, in the course of a dispute with a promminent clergyman who disparaged this proposal, he said, “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.” The remainder of his life was devoted to keeping that vow, or boast. Finding that the King, Henry VIII, was firmly set against any English version of the Scriptures, he fled to Germany (visiting Martin Luther in 1525), and there travelled from city to city, in exile, poverty, persecution, and constant danger. Tyndale understood the commonly received doctrine — the popular theology — of his time to imply that men earn their salvation by good behavior and by penance. He wrote eloquently in favor of the view that salvation is a gift of God, freely bestowed, and not a response to any good act on the part of the receiver. His views are expressed in numerous pamphlets, and in the introductions to and commentaries on various books of the Bible that accompanied his translations. He completed his translation of the New Testament in 1525, and it was printed at Worms and smuggled into England. Of 18,000 copies, only two survive. In 1534, he produced a revised version, and began work on the Old Testament. In the next two years he completed and published the Pentateuch and Jonah, and translated the books from Joshua through Second Chronicles, but then he was captured (betrayed by one he had befriended), tried for heresy, and put to death. He was burned at the stake, but, as was often done, the officer strangled him before lighting the fire. His last words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”
Miles Coverdale (see below) continued Tyndale’s work by translating those portions of the Bible (including the Apocrypha) which Tyndale had not lived to translate himself, and publishing the complete work. In 1537, the “Matthew Bible” (essentially the Tyndale-Coverdale Bible under another man’s name to spare the government embarrassment) was published in England with the Royal Permission. Six copies were set up for public reading in Old St Paul’s Church, and throughout the daylight hours the church was crowded with those who had come to hear it. One man would stand at the lectern and read until his voice gave out, and then he would stand down and another would take his place. All English translations of the Bible from that time to the present century are essentially revisions of the Tyndale-Coverdale work.
The best summary I know of Tyndale’s writings on grace is found in C S Lewis’s English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama, Oxford UP, 1954), pp 187-191. [Note: this book has been reissued as Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century.] I will go out on a limb and say that any Christian who reads English and is interested in the theological questions of the Reformation ought to read large portions of this work. In particular, I recommend pages 32-44, 157-221 (or at least 157-165 and 177-192), and 438-463.
by James Kiefer
Myles Coverdale (Also spelt Miles Coverdale) (c. 1488 – 20 January 1569) was a 16th-century Bible translator who produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English.
From 1528 to 1535, he appears to have spent most of his time on the Continent. In 1535 he published the first complete English Bible in print, the so-called Coverdale Bible. As Coverdale was not proficient in Hebrew or Greek, he used ‘five soundry interpreters’ in Latin, English and ‘Douche’ (German) as source text. He made use of Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament (following Tyndale’s November 1534 Antwerp edition) and of those books which were translated by Tyndale: the Pentateuch, and the book of Jonah. The publication appeared in Antwerp and was partly financed by Jacobus van Meteren. In 1537, his translations were included in the Matthew Bible. In 1538, he was in Paris, superintending the printing of the “Great Bible,” and the same year were published, both in London and Paris, editions of a Latin and an English New Testament, the latter being by Coverdale. That 1538 Bible was a diglot (dual-language) Bible, in which he compared the Latin Vulgate with his own English translation. He also edited the Great Bible (1540).
His translation of the Psalter is used in the Book of Common Prayer, and is the most familiar translation of the psalms for many Anglicans all over the world. As a consequence, many musical settings of the psalms make use of the Coverdale translation.
(more from Wikipedia)
Since the above Tyndale bio was written, a well-regarded biography of Tyndale has been written by David Daniell, who has also edited modern-language reprints of Tyndale’s Bible , both New Testament and Old. Also available are Wide as the Waters, an excellent overall history of the English Bible, including Tyndale’s and Coverdale’s contributions, and God’s Bestseller, which specifically focusses on Tyndale and the making of his translation.