William Tyndale’s Letter While in Prison
August 26, 2012
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William Tyndale had an unequaled mastery of English phrasing, rhythm and style as an individual translator. He dedicated his life in the service of bringing the Bible to the English-speaking people. Tyndale, the translator of our English Bible in 1524, was arrested by the Roman Catholic authorities and put in prison to await his martyrdom. He was incarcerated to an inhospitable dark and damp small 7 feet by 6 feet prison cell dug under and next to the river with no facilities and the interior without windows for 16 months which encompassed a full winter. While there he wrote the following letter to the Governor or a Noble man, the Marquis of Bergen :
“Wherefore I beg of your lordship, and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here through the winter you will request the commissary to have the kindness to send me from the goods of mine which he has a warmer cap, for I suffer greatly from the cold in the head and am afflicted by a perpetual catarrh, which is much increased in this cell. A warmer coat also, for this which I have is very thin. A piece of cloth, too, to patch my leggings. My overcoat is worn out. My shirts are also worn out. He has a woolen shirt, if he will be good enough to send it. I have with him also leggings of thicker cloth to put on above. He also has warmer night caps. And I ask to be allowed to have a lamp in the evening. It is indeed a wearisome to sit alone in the dark. But most of all I beg and beseech your clemency to be with the commissary that he will kindly permit me to have the Hebrew Bible, Hebrew grammar, and Hebrew dictionary, that I may pass the time in that study.
In return may you obtain that which you most desire so only that it be for the salvation of your soul. But if any other decision has been taken concerning me to be carried out before winter, I will be patient. Abiding the will of God to the glory of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose Spirit I pray may ever direct your heart. Amen William Tyndale.”
Tyndale wrote a “book” in prison to defend his chief doctrinal standard: Sola fides justificat apud Deum—Faith Alone Justifies Before God. This was the key issue in the end. The evil of translating the Bible came down to this: are we justified by faith alone? Tyndale stayed in that prison through the winter. His verdict was sealed in August, 1536. He was formally condemned to death at the stake as a “heretic”. He was strangled by the executioner, then afterward burnt up. It is said his last words were, “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes!
As The Cambridge History of the Bible expresses it: ‘England was fortunate to have in William Tyndale a man who could do what was wanted, a man of sufficient scholarship to work from Hebrew and Greek, with genius to fashion a fitting English idiom and faith, and courage to persist whatever it cost him.’ Perhaps his faith and courage were the most decisive factors.